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Vancouver Visual Effects Society 2009 Event Review
VES Vancouver Celebration of Visual Effects
It was standing room only at the pre-show cocktail party, mingling by the fireplace and bumping elbows and wineglasses with artists, supervisors and producers at the Visual Effects Society (VES) "Celebration of Visual Effects" event in Vancouver on November 14, 2009. The soiree was hosted by the VES Vancouver Section and held in the Teredo Lounge at The Sandbar Restaurant on Granville Island. After drinks, appetizers, fancy pizza, and a few business card exchanges, we all crossed the street to the main event at the Emily Carr University of Art & Design Theatre.
The fourth annual event was introduced by VES Director Nancy Mott, followed by a screening of the VES "50 Most Influential VFX Films of All Time" montage, featuring an inspiring assortment of clips from the 1902 classic A Trip to the Moon to Tron to Star Wars. “We're on the cusp”, said Mott. “We started as a TV series town...my challenge to everyone here is to keep it up...”
The first presenter was Image Engine Design, featuring the evening's emcee and VFX Supervisor Jon Cowley (Watchmen, Twilight: Eclipse, The X-Files: I Want To Believe) and VFX Supervisor/COO Peter Muyzers sharing their work on the feature District 9.
Included in the challenges of creating over 300 shots, primarily of the aliens, was a late-in-production decision to add clothing to the characters, as well as creating believable, expressive eyes. Most plates were filmed in Kliptown, South Africa, with a hand-held Red One Camera, using a stand-in in a grey suit, who had to be painted out for each scene. Concept art and maquettes for the aliens were designed by Weta Digital.
The second presentation was by CIS-Vancouver's Head of Digital Studio Jason Dowdeswell (Invictus, Zombieland, Tropic Thunder), featuring work from the feature Angels & Demons. Having previously worked with Director Ron Howard on The Da Vinci Code, CIS was prepared for the research and quality standards required to complete over 200 shots in 5 months. One challenge was recreating the interior of St. Peters Basilica in Rome, which included surreptitiously taking digital photos on site to be used later as textures projected onto 3D geometry. “It is the epicenter of faith, the Pope's house. To do this, it had to be done right - the challenge on a show is the last 10%”, said Dowdeswell, referring to the final tweaks needed in VFX production to make everything more believable. Actors were filmed over green screen on a carefully crafted faux marble floor, that was later replaced by a digital floor requiring a combination of rotoscoping and green screen techniques.
Next up was Ben Cole (10,000 BC) from MPC Vancouver, who was R&D and Pipeline Lead for the feature Watchmen. “Watchmen was supposed to be a simple show to get the Vancouver facility started,” said Cole, as the VFX production bloomed to over 300 shots produced by about 50 people. Shots included the CG cape on Night Owl, the prison sequence with the pod craft, water simulations for the harbor shot and more. Much of the MPC London pipeline was brought to Vancouver, enabling them to get up and running with a proprietary bag of tricks for crowds, digital doubles, lightning, etc.
Considering that Vancouver's VFX industry was built on the TV series market, the next presenter was VFX Supervisor Ivan Hayden from Supernatural, now in its 5th season. From his early years on Stargate SG-1 and Andromeda, to his current in-house Supervisor position, Hayden has created countless hours of VFX. The Supernatural team uses a 2.5D method of creating many of their shots, due to tight production schedules. “Don't be afraid to use your digital camera for all your texture needs, on set, with the lighting”, says Hayden. Hundreds of stills are taken while on-set and combined with 3D elements to create the shots, everything from set extension to amorphous smoky effects to Paris Hilton's head replacement.
On-set Supervisors Winston Helgason and Bob Habros, and VFX Artist Mark Roth also showed work from District 9 done by The Embassy, including the exo-suit and the alien pet. After warming us up to their 3D robotics with a sampling of commercials from the Citroen campaign, Helgason explained how the original 60 shots of the exo-suit turned into 110 shots, to be completed by about 25 crew in 3.5 months. Their quick and clean breakdowns showed the exo-suit's arm being blown off by an RPG, getting hit by a truck, taking bullets and more. Roth created textures for the Weta model, using 4K texture maps. Habros spent a month in Johannesburg shooting HDRI's on set, tracking camera data, lenses and measurements.
Last but certainly not least was VFX Supervisor Chris Harvey (Tooth Fairy, X-Men: The Last Stand, Journey to the Center of the Earth) from Prime Focus, a global company with studios in London, Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Vancouver and India. Harvey showed some recent work from the feature G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, on which they provided 130 shots. “We developed an asset management system to go between facilities,” said Harvey, adding that they frequently share shows between locations and communication flow is critical. On G.I Joe, they were afforded the opportunity to do some model design for the ships, “except for the ones that were Hasbro toy-locked,” said Harvey. They worked with artists at Digital Domain on the nanobyte sequences as well.
Sponsors of the event were VFX Community, Annex Pro, Autodesk and Oceana Digital. More information on the Visual Effects Society and how to become a member is here.
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