VFX Summit 2015: Inspiratonal
This year’s VFX Summit took place in Google Headquarters, Barrow Street, and ran over three inspiring days from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd of November. The focus was on visual effects and animation and the event hosted some very special national and international speakers. Every workshop and talk was engaging and inspiring and ultimately it was humbling to be surrounded by such accomplished talent.
Friday was a day of workshops and for those lucky enough to get the day off work or college, it was a real treat. The highlight for me, was the insightful, inspiring talk by Stuart Sumida. This energetic vivacious man talked for three hours, though it felt like one, about his experience as a paleontologist, working as a consultant for Disney. He then proceeded to give us a class designed for Disney animators. At the end he spoke about the proliferation of animation and how it is everywhere; In the video games his children play and in the movies they watch. “You are designing the world my kids grow up in” he said. I came out feeling privileged to have been there and inspired to do more.
I imagine that we all like to see how other artists work; Their processes, their attitude towards the aspects of their work that they cherish most. Many speakers shared their artistic process, including Oscar winning production designer Annie Atkins, who took us through the painstaking detail that went in to creating the graphic design props for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Brendan McCarthy took us through his experience of writing Mad Max: Fury Road with George Miller. “You can’t script action” he said, so instead they drew it. They storyboarded out the entire movie on George’s electronic whiteboard, experimenting with camera angles and action scenarios. He then revealed a portfolio of stunning illustrations and concept art that he had created for Mad Max and his own comic books. Egg Post Production took us through the development of Hugo the ghost; A character they designed for movie GhostHunters. They took us through the character design decisions; Shades of green for Hugo, his texture, how slimy, if slimy, how drippy, how translucent, how many internal bubbles and so on. Another articulate Irish presenter was Paul O’Flanagan, who also gave a wonderful in-depth talk on Boulder’s work on the new Danger Mouse series. It was encouraging to see this impressive display home-grown success.
The best part about hearing about the process is, of course, the problems. The unique set of obstacles that each project has to overcome in order to make it successful. Annie Atkins spoke about creating thirty-two identical props for Wes Anderson’s multiple takes to ensure continuity across all possible combination of plates. Neil Weatherley, from Framestore, talked about having to recreate shots in CG for The Martian. He detailed other look development decisions like the debate over the colour of Mars and the design of the Hermes. Mark Anderson, from Double Negative, took us through the problems in creating Ex Machina character Ava; Her components, her translucency, the issues these raised in composting, one of which led to re-animating her walk cycle.
There were speakers, however, whose aim was to make life easier for compositors. Eric Risser from Artomatix introduced his algorithm-based software, which will allow designers to make hundreds of dissimilar copies of an object, based on the object’s shape and texture. Jonathan Starck from The Foundry, introduced their software aimed at aiding successful stitching of 360 degree video.
Virtual Reality and 360 video had a huge presence at this event. Speakers such as Solomon Rogers from Rewind VR, Aidan Gibbons from The Mill, and Eric Risser from The Foundry are in no doubt that this medium is going to be a big part of our future. The technology for creating VR content is continuously evolving to answer the need for a more seamless video output. The problems with ‘unwrapping’ VR footage at the moment are extensive; Frame synch, rolling shutter, colour matching across cameras, stitching, and the list goes on. The Foundry, however, are already on the case for solving some these problems in post.
Just when you think that this event can’t get much better, you sit down in front of Jim Morris from Pixar who takes you on his own personal journey through the history of animation and visual effects. Jim was at the forefront of those legendary milestones in the advancement of visual effects. The ones you read about; The use of visual effects in the original Star Wars, the creation of pseudo-pod in James Cameron’s The Abyss, but Jim tells you the first hand story of what it was like on set. A priceless experience for anyone passionate about animation.
The Good dinosaur is Pixar’s latest release. Jim spoke about the premise of the story and some the look development decisions. He talked about the choice to use ultra-realistic backgrounds to compound the notion that nature was a very real force in the movie, one that could give life, but also take it away. We were also treated to a special screening of The Good Dinosaur at The Odeon, Point Village on the Saturday night.
What we found most inspiring was the amount of accomplished Irish talent that contributed hugely to the event, people like Graham Gallagher who had moved to Paris to work for Disney and is now with Windmill Lane, Aidan Gibbons, who now works at The Mill, not to mention the speakers from the home-grown studios like Egg and Boulder. It just shows that there is talent in this country, but it needs to be nurtured, developed and encouraged. Events like this, as well as the on-going work of Animation Skillnet and Screen Training Ireland, help support our students and our studios in our own quest for greatness. Finally, I have to give our sincerest thanks to the organisers of the event, who not only managed to put together one of the most motivating, inspiring events in the industry, but whose friendliness and willingness to help, made a difference to all those in attendance. There was a real sense that they wanted to make the event as enjoyable, for each and every person, as possible. They managed to do all of this without charging a single euro for an event, which turned out, in the end, to be priceless. Thank you.