Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Full movie, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph, VFX, and Digital Art.
[John Robson]: I wanted to push my self further because I knew it would give me opportunities to figure stuff out like this in a project and when it's your own project I feel that you sort of strive to push yourself further because you're putting your own passion into it you know? - This film Epoc or Epoch depending on how you want to pronounce it. It sounds weird to me if I say Epoch but I guess that's the correct way. It's this short film that I directed last year. It's basically about these two immortal beings who are jumping from body to body over the course of history so they sort of influence mankind one person at a time. This can be war, peace, enlightenment, all that stuff. This scene that I want to share with you this is sort of like... It's during World War I and it's basically one of these characters Ram, he becomes so powerful sort of with his rage and corruption and what not that he can't withhold it anymore and he spontaneously combusts. We shot this film out in the desert outside of L.A. We rented an R.V. and had a mobile command station. We had a really tight shooting schedule. I mean most of the film was shot out here in one day and we couldn't afford to come back. This is all a self funded project. Kind of one chance to do everything. There wasn't really like a quick... I mean there wasn't really like a lot of time to sort of experiment with other things. I had to get it right the first time and go with it. So I'll show this scene and I can talk a little bit more about it afterwards. - Yeah sure. - [Older man] Awesome. - Obviously there's a few different things going on here. We shot this stuff in a swimming pool in the valley or basically. - I want to come back to that as well. - Yeah, the whole point was to sort of create this surreal landscape that may or may not be real because it's being told by the narration of the other main character. A lot of this is just sort of just principle photography but this section right here, when I shot it, I actually didn't intend on having this shared explosion. I'll show you the actual plate. Like I said, we didn't have all that much time to experiment with things and someone suggested doing this and I thought it was super cheesy when we were there but I said, okay go ahead and shoot it anyway because it's our actor Nick just pulling his shirt off and flexing. (giggles) When I got back to, you know, when I got back home and started editing it together, I realized this shot is really intense and we got it from a few different angles so I found a way to place it into the scene. The only thing is he doesn't have a shirt on underneath it so we needed to add that element so it's a little more convincing and also we can make something that looks cool. So that's where I got into C4D and this is actually something that I'd never done before. I'd never missed with... - [Older Man] the (mumbles) - Yeah, so I was just sort of experimenting with different things you know. I made this rough camera track of the shot in a few different angles but it's pretty much the same element. I think I bought this shirt off of Turbo Squid for like a couple of bucks. It was already textured, it was already lit. I had so many shots that I was trying to create for this film, that it was just a matter of okay, if I can figure out something that works, use it and move on from there. What I did was... C4D has some sort of tool where they can take two pieces of a shirt and stitch it together and I was trying to figure that out but I was having trouble just because I didn't have that much time. I decided, you know what, it's not even important. For a shot like this, it's so fast you know? It's not even a second long. - Exactly. - It's just really about what's convincing for that shot so I realized that I could just use these two pieces right here and just roughly shape it where I need it to be and then with this geometry just selecting a cloth tag. If you hit play by default it's just going to fall. That's because we've got this gravity force that's in here by default. I'm going to turn this off because we don't need that, because it's surreal. Now to make it explode, I need some sort of force to go through that. We can actually use the standard C4D particles for that. In this case in a tractor. Nothing happens initially because we have to select these tags and under expert we have to include any sort of a tractor or you know, whatever to it. Right now it's pretty weak so we're not going to see anything but if I go in and select a tractor and just crank it up. Now we're going to see it suck in and implode. But we want the opposite of that so just a negative value. So we're starting to see what we want there. We want it to be more powerful. That's closer and just add a little bit more. But right now it's just a few pieces. It's not really like breaking... There's this option here in the cloth tag called use-tear and if we turn that on and we hit play, it looks crazy. - [Older Man] (giggles) - [John] It's really weird. That's because we need more subdivision and instead of using a really detailed model like if we look at the, let's see. Well, actually it's got a lot of polygons but still, instead of cranking this guy up what we can do is just taking the whole object together as a parent and using a cloth surface and if we hold option while we do this it's going to make whatever we select a parent of what's selected over in the object window. So, go like that. By default the cloth surface it can give subdivision to an object. It can also make it thicker so I like to add a little bit of thickness. This is a great tool that I've used for a lot of things. Whenever you have something that's like a plane or something that has really simple geometry and you want to add some more detail without having to rebuild it, it's a great tool. That actually, if we play it now, now that it has more subdivision and thickness, we've got explosion to a bunch of shards. - Nice. - And that's basically what I was looking for. You know, hitting render like that doesn't look that different than the film because it was one of those things where it's like, if it works great move on from there. I could have gone a little bit further and put a foreground and background pass so we could put it in front or behind him. - [Older Man] Sure, sure. - [John] Lit it with a G.I. or whatever Once you get into compositing you're just playing with a bunch of layers so. - Well that's the really important thing I think a lot of folks forget is they'll sit down and they'll try to do an effect like that out of context and you know, you're doing that shirt shot in effect, in context of the edit and once you saw the edit itself you knew that this was only going to be 25 frames, you don't need to spend - [John] Oh yeah. a lot of time on it and you can cut into it at a certain point and you have a little bit of leeway. - Yeah, you have to take broad strokes. If you want to be efficient with your time it's really about starting and laying out the groundwork and figuring out what can look cool. Anyone can jump in and make an explosion effect and that can be a cool thing to show but for the sake of a movie. I didn't make a film so that I can make a cloth explosion you know? It's something that compliments the film This film in particular, my whole goal was to try to create something that didn't have limitations for budget and the realistic expectations for what I was trying to do for a film that cost me 3,000 dollars to make. I wanted to push my self further because I knew it would give me opportunities to figure stuff out like this in a project and when it's your own project I feel that you strive to push yourself further because you're putting your own passion into it. You want to make it look as good as what you feel is right. There's no client input to tell you this or that so you're trusting your own instinct. So you know, when you're comping it together you can throw on a bunch of different layers of stock footage dust and things like that and (mumbles) particles and then a little bit of color correction and it works really well. - It works really well. -[John] And then one other thing I did too with this guy is I got a nice SIM right? But you can see if we just play the final in a loop. There's sort of like a speed ramp, it explodes and then it comes into slow motion. - Right. - [John] So that's something that I figured out in editorial and this is something that if you're trying to do this dynamics, these speed ramps, it doesn't really make a bunch of logical sense because you're going to be messing around with all of these features right? - Yes. - [John] In your settings, render it out at a slower frame rate In this case, the whole film is shot at 24 frames per second. - Right. - So you've rendered out at 120 so you've got a slow mo pass. - Yeah. - Like this. - So you're saying it's over cranking? - [John] Yeah, exactly. So you've got this. You've got more to work with and then in After Effects or whatever compositing program you're using you can ramp that and do whatever you want with it. - That's really hypnotic actually. - (giggles) It's always cool seeing stuff in real slow motion because you miss so much detail in regular speed. That's pretty much it you know? This is a shot that I could have spent days or week on but instead it was something that I just figured out in a couple of minutes and I had so many other things to work on in that film that it felt good just to get that done you know? Maybe I have a free night to spend with my wife and go out to the movies instead of sitting behind a computer. - So let's talk a little bit about the film making process in general and how did you... - [Older Man] Let's take a step backwards. Tell me a little about your background. Where did you go to school? How did you get started? - Yeah, okay, well unlike a lot of my colleagues, I didn't go to an art school. I didn't study designer animation. Everything I learned is just self taught stuff or tutorials and books and things like that and just picking things up over the years. I studied film at UC Santa Barbara. When I graduated I couldn't find a job. I was studying cinematography. It was my true passion just to work in film making but It just didn't feel like the right fit for me at that time. I was working at Radio Shack for minimum wage and I wanted to find a better solution. Back in 2002, motion graphics were all about main titles you know for T.V. and films. I had a little bit of experience in that just from my own projects and stuff like that and so that sort of fueled me further. The other thing was having a passion for understanding visual effects and not so much just like if I read an article in Cinefex or whatever, that's great but being able to do it yourself. That's how I really understand things if I can jump in and do it. - Now were you doing this in school at the time or were you strictly shooting and editing? - We were shooting on 16 millimeter film editing with a flat bed. The only digital thing, right when I graduated I learned Final Cut Pro and I was working in a computer lab? That's where I started getting introduced to things like After Effects and Maya. - [John] I didn't even know where to start and I didn't really... I had some interest in it but it was really more just because I needed these tools to create my film and beyond that what happened was, as I was starting to get better at these things, I saw an opportunity to get into motion graphics. I didn't even know what motion graphics was then. I didn't know that it was a career. I thought that graphic art, graphic design, I thought that was more print stuff. I didn't realize that there was a whole industry where people were actually paying you money to do this stuff. I didn't see it as, here's a new career for me I saw it as, here's a way to pay rent for a couple of months you know? - (giggles) - I'm sorry, go ahead. - I was just going to say, as I started getting into it, it started progressing from 2D over to 3D and that's when I got into C4D. - Nice, so what was the very first thing that you did for motion graphics? What was that very first job? - Let's see, I did a promo for this HBO show called, Soul Food. (giggles) - [Older Man] I remember that show. - And there was this company called, Montgomery Creative and it was one of the big main title places in the early 2000's and there was this opportunity where an animator was sick and I just knew this producer who had gone back there and they brought me in and there like, yeah this guys good, he can handle it and I was sweating like crazy. I think I was there until ten o'clock at night figuring it out. I mean it wasn't hard work but it was just difficult just being in that environment and they kept bringing me back. I'm sure they knew that I wasn't super experienced but I don't think they knew that I had no experience so I got really lucky and I used my freelance work as my education because that's like the best education anyway. You can learn a lot in school. Tutorials are awesome but if you don't practice those things, it's like nothing. Not nothing but I mean you only... At least for me. Some people can read books and they can retain all that knowledge but for me if I don't actually try it and do it myself I'm going to lose it all eventually. - And I think that the application of that knowledge is really the important thing. It's fine to watch tutorials but if you don't ever go out and try and make something of your own, like you said, that's when you really start to learn. - And it's great if like okay so you learn cloth dynamics, that's awesome but if you don't do anything that needs it then what's the purpose of it? - [Older Man] You had a reason to learn cloth dynamics so let's take a step backwards and talk just about tools and creativity. There's an interesting phenomena that's happening right now where people are becoming very obsessed with buttons in software. - Yes, exactly. - The creative goals are not always kept in mind so in terms of your film making work and how you're approaching that, are you approaching the film making from a script writing standpoint or are you walking in the door saying, I want to learn how to do this and this film is a good vehicle for that? For me it all starts with a story. I'm all about coming up with the concept first. Writing out a script and coming up with an idea. Also factoring if I want to show some sort of effect, that's the time when I'll start to think about it. For some of my stuff like I have really strong visuals like for Epoch, there's some scenes where there's a couple that's embracing in the sky. I had that vision from the start and I had to figure out how am I going to do that once I actually film so that's how we go into... - The swimming pool? - Yeah, so this swimming pool shot... - [John] So this stuff right here basically, we used a friend's pool and when I started talking to people I said, okay I've got this idea. I want to shoot people flying but I don't want to use wire rigs and I don't want to do something that's necessarily on green screen where there just jumping or whatever. I want to have it look like there floating and be really surreal so what about filming in a swimming pool? I couldn't find any information on it and my creative colleagues, they were all saying, that's not going to work there's this or that. You're not going to be able to pull a key or whatever and so I just stopped listening to them and I said, okay we're going to shoot this in a swimming pool. We're going to throw a green screen down there. We're going get some scuba gear and a camera housing and try it out. The actors were all for it and they were practicing breathing patterns and stuff so they could hold their breaths for a long time. When I was shooting this stuff, I couldn't even see what I was filming. There's sort of a viewfinder but when you're underwater and you're dealing with all these other things. - [Older Man] It's all guesswork. - Yeah, but I could get the relative framing. It's kind of hard to direct while you're under water because you have to go up get more air and sort of talk and this was in January in the valley so it's freezing cold. We only got the water temperature up to 70 which was still filming all day it was pretty cold. Especially for the actors because we had wet suits on and stuff like that. Yeah, this stuff was fun and it turned out really well. It's got a really interesting look to it. All the particulate matter from the swimming pool that was coming off of the outfits actually looks more like particles which is something that takes a lot of work to recreate. We have this sort of love scene and there is also part of the battle scene like this stuff right here. - Now did you do any rehearsing for that or did you just bring the actors on the day of shooting and just dive in? Sorry, that's, no pun intended. (laughs) - No, we just shot it. These guys are all awesome. They read the script They understood what was going on. We had sort of a sense of what we would do. I like rehearsing but I don't really believe in the idea of spending another day to do all the rehearsals and stuff. Unless it's really, really critical for the film. These guys were all working for free or little pay and it's not like a film that's being paid by a client or something it's just coming out of pocket so it's a little bit different. I don't want to waste everyone's time you know? - In terms of balancing, you talked before about the need to do things sort of for yourself but how do you balance the need to get paid also? Because I mean, you have a mortgage, you have a wife, you know, you've got your family obligations, you've still go to pay the bills. - As my career has progressed. Time has definitely the most important thing to me. It's great to make cool work. It's great to have a great reel and portfolio but the most important thing at the end of the day, especially as we get older, is time with our friends, family, just being away from our work. I think that as artists we get lost in just constantly working you know? It becomes our work and our hobby. If you look at a banker or a doctor or something like that. When they clock out, they're done for the day. Maybe not a doctor because they're always working. But you know what I mean. They take on hobbies. They'll be off golfing or painting or whatever or driving their yacht around. But for someone like me, I go home and I do the same thing that I do at work. It's all related which is great because I love what I do. What's been important to me is learning how to properly work efficiently. How to approach problems almost like a triage. When I'm at work I'm trying to figure out we could do this, we could do that, what makes the most sense? What's going to make the client happy? What's going to make us proud of what we've done and what's going to get us home on time because I don't want to stay late. They don't want me to stay late. They don't want to pay overtime. I don't even want overtime. I don't care about that. I want to be home with my family. That's kind of one thing and the other thing is how do you do these things on the side? The side projects. Well that's tough. That's a good balance. One great thing is I'm not in a hurry to finish any of these things Epoch took nine or ten months. It didn't take that long to make it. We shot it in two weekends. Edited it in a week and then the post which is sort of here and there but it was just because I could once or twice a week get on the computer for a night and stay up late and work on stuff. - The behind the scenes that you have was fantastic. - [John] Well thanks, it was one of these things were one of my friends knew this location. We were trying to find where to shoot out in the desert and we didn't have permits. We wanted to find a place that we wouldn't be bothered. Actually outside of Apple Valley on the way to Vegas. There's these OHV areas where people go to ride dirt bikes. It's kind of like a lawless land. You can pretty much do what ever you want there. We figured that was the perfect place for it. We got out to this dried out lake bed and the whole area, from this angle it looked like desert from another angle, it was all kind of deserty but we did different things like there was the wild west mountain range and then there's sort of like these rolling hills they were a different sort of environment It was really cool just renting an RV and driving at sunrise and just filming out there. I feel like, that's sort of another thing too that I'm always going to cherish about these projects is, no matter where I go with my career, these were a lot of fun to do. It wasn't a union crew where you have tons of people just standing around I mean they're all doing their job but obviously like if you have ever been on a big film set. There's a lot of equipment. There's a lot of people and there's a lot of inefficiency because the right hierarchy of command has to go into each department to make sure that the stuff is going on and for me, It wouldn't work for this. It was nice having a small crew where I didn't even have a DP, basically I had a few guys that I trust who know how to use cameras. Who are also like Mograph artists. So we could sort of like revolve duties and I could trust anyone with a camera and we just figured out what worked best. Who could shoot this better? That sort of thing and then the actors who were awesome. They went out of their way to do everything. Our actress Denise, she ran barefoot in the snow and that was her suggestion. That sort of comradery between the whole cast and crew, was just amazing. We felt like a family when we were shooting this. It didn't feel like a job to anyone. Everyone enjoyed the process. - Film making is such a collaborative process. There's a certain amount of work you can do yourself but you always have to bring people into it at one level. How do you find your collaborators and the people that you work with on your team? - First it's sharing with my wife. She give good feedback. She obviously get me because we're married but she'll let me know if something seems weird or stands out and then beyond that, I have this tight group of colleagues. They're friends but they're people that I work with who, they do similar stuff. I help out on their films too and they give me good feedback and ideas as far as what works and what doesn't and there's that part, there's actually the script where I would say it's a little bit more just sort of in my hands to make the script right but then after we start filming onset, I get a lot of creative advise which is great. There's no sort of hierarchy like I'm the director just do your job. I'm always open to whatever idea there is. Even from the actors and that's what helps make it better. - We've got visual effects, we have motion graphics, we have communication, we have story telling. All of those things are coming together you know? Is it just going to continue to mishmash or is there one thing that's going to merge out of that. - I think that the thing is these days, there isn't really all that much that's just pure motion graphics as far as a sense of the terminology of being sort of things you would see commercially like animated titles or whatever. It really has sort of blended with visual effects because motion graphics (mumbles) we do so much more then just titles or whatever It's kind of a weird term. Also the industries always changing. - Yeah. - [John] I mean we've seen that. I know in the last decade I've seen a lot change. Main titles don't make any money anymore except for like two companies that are the best and they've been the best since 2000. It's hard to say because everything's always changing like things are becoming more interactive. There's different sorts of mediums that we're working with now. A lot of installation graphics and stuff like that so I don't really know. I think that motion graphics is just the terminology that better describes it. For example if I say that I'm a V-effects artist then I think more people would assume that it's a bit more like working on plates for a film or something like that when it's just everything. - So what is the... Can you tell me about the most difficult job that you ever did in C4D? What is the biggest challenge that you ever took on? - I think some of the most difficult jobs that I've done in C4D, it's not so much about the software, it's on a limitation. It has more to do with the type of project and the artist that you're working with and it's really a matter of whether or not the studio you're working with understands what the software is like what it's purpose is for the job. There hasn't really been a project that's been super difficult. It's been more about miscommunication with other people or having inefficient render capabilities. Like if we're running Photo Wheel we need to have enough nodes to render on or else we're just going to be sitting at a screen. I did a few projects from small offices with some friends over the years and sometimes people would, like say if we're rending a whole city. We'd be rendering a whole 3D model of a city so the buildings way out in the background are 3D and they're calculating right? That was before I really learned and we all as a team learned... It's like facades in a movie, all you need to see is that front wall. If there's nothing behind it. If you can't see another angle, what's the point? All those things start adding up, every little thing. Even some of the default setting like the subdivisions higher then you need it to be. If you have something really small in the scene and you can't tell the difference, then you should turn down the subdivision so it's more simplified. Those sort of things. Just learning how to optimize your scene and going in and turning off generators. When the animation is locked, just killing all the generators so it's just G.O. and it speeds up the scene a lot. Before I do a lot of that stuff, that was when I was staying late trying to figure out why everything was so slow. For me, the worse thing is having a heavy scene especially if you're still trying to animate stuff. Sometimes you open a project that someone did and you can't even move one frame forward. It's not hard, there's all the capabilities in there. You can solo stuff out. You can turn things off. You can create layers and you'll get it to work efficiently. It's just a learning process.
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