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.
[Grant Miller]: No one really tells you in school that you can do whatever. And I think that's important. You know if you like something and enjoy doing it, you can make a job of it. It's a lifelong learning process. - Grant, tell me a little bit about the work you guys do at Ingenuity Engine. - So we do really a wide variety of commercials, television, film. Primarily commercials now. Like 70% commercials and then the other 30 is TV and film. And it's, you know, the television shows we do aren't really kind of effects shows. It's a lot of just making Brooklyn Nine-Nine look like they shoot in Brooklyn. Making Parks and Rec look like they shoot it in Indiana. You know, stuff like that. - That's fantastic. Really the, the really hidden... - Yeah, the invisible, you know, "Oh, it wasn't snowing there?" "Oh, it wasn't fall there?" So, a lot of that sort of stuff. - Maybe we should take a look at some of the work then. - Yeah, absolutely. So this is our breakdown reel, which is kind of different from our show reel, that it's got a lot of before and after stuff. You know, the Smart car, we replaced the whole street that it was shot on because we needed the glass interaction and stuff like that. You know this was shot on a stage with just a little bit of the wall built. And then we did plates for all these backgrounds and comped everything in. The door on the car was - Oh yeah. - never there. The car was never there. The Ferris wheel and all the insertion for all that stuff. - Excellent. - Harold and Kumar was our first stereo 3D film. - Wow. - So that was a... - That really changes the pipe line I'm sure. - They say it's like twice as hard because it's like two eyes, but it's like six times harder. - Yeah. (laughing) - It's a total lie. Bruce Willis walking on the roof of that bus was not actually walking on that bus. He was... They had a stunt guy that did a lot of stunts for him that really is uncanny how much we used the stunt guy. - Oh wow. - I think it was 60% stunt guy, - Wow. - 40% Bruce Willis. - Really. - It's kind of crazy. He has a prosthetic nose that he puts on and it's just, from any, from-- - A distance. - 10 meters away you can't tell the difference. It's pretty nuts. This was shot recently in China. Kind of a block south of Mongolia. It was really - Wow. - one of the more miserable shoots I've ever been on. We had... - That does look like a pretty bleak place. - It's, it was like 30 degrees. - Wow. - Tops and like 50 mile an hour winds. We replaced so much of that footage. It's, you know, we just have the cars. It's like, we have a salt flats here in the States. It's really nice and you know, has majestic mountains in the background and not terribly freezing. - So a lot of the work you guys do is, you know. It's not quite making something out of nothing. It's taking something and making something more out of it. - Yeah. You know so this is, we shot a little patch of green and then now they're in a giant stadium with all the extra factors and stuff. So yeah, we work with a lot of production companies. So we're kind of, we're that, kind of a visual effects company. We're kind of like a production company's hire typically. And we really, a lot of the jobs we do, we're brought in very early on. You know during the creative process to kind of figure out what the best way to shoot something, what the most cost effective methodology and stuff. It ends up being great for the production company 'cause they can save hundreds of thousands of dollars not building out a big thing on a stage. Just kind of building the section we need and then doing whatever. Or renting, you know Dodger Stadium for an afternoon when it's like, just a stadium in the background. We have 10 other stadiums we've built for other jobs. - Yeah. - Let's just use one of those and stick it in there. So the benefit of working at Ingenuity, we do such a wide variety of work that we have film projects that are longer term that we get to dig in and do a really good job on and "Oh, the sim takes four days?" "Screw it, it takes four days, it's fine." And then we do commercial work that we really have to think creatively on how we could even possibly get this done in two weeks. - Yeah, wow. - Like we did a Britta job recently that was our first big deep compositing job inside of Nuke. And without deep compositing, making that transition, we wouldn't have been able to do the job in time. - Yeah that's a really important trend, I think in terms of image control and you know, compositing in a really more structured way. Where you're actually able to access a lot more information inside the image. - Yeah, I mean you can extract exactly what you need. If I need to, you know, a map for just that pen and it needs to be a perfect different color it's very reasonable to do that. - You have an example of some deep compositing you can show me? - Yeah, for sure. So, this is a shot from the Britta job. We can watch the commercial after this as well so you can see the whole thing in context. And these are the cans rendered with deep holdouts. - Mmhmm. - The cans are falling everywhere. They're falling in front of umbrellas, behind taxis, in front of this girl, behind this chair and to do traditional roto on this we'd have to get the plates, do very tight roto and then pull that back into 3D, use it as hold outs, and - Mmhmm. - You know, kind of come back and updia their side with a render. - Right. - And then if that roto is off a little bit or needs to change at all, - You have to load-- - It's that whole process all over again. - Mmhmm. - So, here's a simplified version of that same comp and the roto is just live in Nuke. So this woman is, you know, kind of cut out and roto-ed like you normally would and then projected onto a card in 3D space. - 3D space. And that 3D space is based on the projection that you guys have calculated using the tracking engine. - Yeah so, your track camera in deep is very important because you're rendering not only the CG for it, but also the projected mats for it as well. - Right. - And as long as that's the same camera everything lines up perfectly. - Mmhmm. - So we have her card in 3D space and then we can see her relative to the point cloud of where those cans are, which Nuke generates for you. So, now I can suddenly place her exactly behind the can that's supposed to fall at her feet. Or exactly in front of the splash that's supposed to blow up behind her. - Is the process of tracking, so you know, the girls walking towards the camera right now. - Mmhmm. - Are you getting the depth information from her based on measurements on set? Or are you guestimating based on the tracking engine? - So we took detailed measurements on set of kind of where everyone was and then fed those into the tracker to get kind of an accurate, a more accurate solve. And then we know, we know where that bench is. - Mmhmm. - We know where those umbrellas are back there, so we can kind of place her card what looks-- - Within a range. - Within a range. And then it's also, I mean it's an artistic deal. It's what looks right, does she feel like she's at the same spot as the can beneath her feet? Uhm, you know, so that sort of thing. - That's fantastic. - Do you find that you end up having to often come back and do revisions based on client review? - Absolutely. - Like how involved would the Britta folks be involved in that shot? Would they sit down and look at it and say "We need to, we do need to move that can "over here to the left a little bit." - The agency and the director are more inclined to give those notes and that was an important part of the Britta job. We had, it was two week turnaround from edit lock to completion. But we had a week of dev time. - Right. - Where we went and built 30 or 40 falling cans and bottles with their various spray elements. Because, you know you think, "Oh it's just a ton "of cans falling from the sky." "You just put a ton of cans and drop 'em." - Drop 'em, yeah. - But the clients and the director and the agency all want "You know, I want this can to bounce off this fire hydrant "kind of half way through the shot." And you don't get that sort of control if they're all just simulated. - So they're all hand placed, all of those cans. - Wow, every single one? - Every single, you know, we place them in groups sometimes for the background ones that kinda didn't matter so much. But all the foreground hero CG cans were all-- - So it's all key frames? - It's all... Yeah, so we backed out the caches. So we'd sim, we'd sim a single can doing the spray and then you had kind of, "let's roll through all these cans". "Oh, that one has a cool wobble to its bounce." We'll, you know-- - Lift that out. - That will be where, you know, it hits the fire hydrant. That'll be the can. - Nice. - So, that was the way it was set up. And then, you know as far to speak about the roto, and the changes and stuff. - Mmhmm. - We made roto changes and fixes and tweaks up until the last day of delivery. - Wow. - And that's not possible without decompositing it. - Sure. - If you had to, on the last day changed the roto and then round trip it back through the rendering, you missed your deadline. - (laughing) That's a bad thing. Can you show us the full commercial? - Absolutely. So this is the full Britta spot. Sky replacement on this stuff. The squirrel on the can. All the cans falling here in the foreground. This shot that we-- - There she is, yeah. - That we talked about. The poor dog in that just gets destroyed. This wide shot of the whole city getting messed up. - That's awesome. - It was one of those commercials that it's, you know, it's rare. We do a lot of advertising and... - Mmhmm. - Most of the stuff we do commercials for, you're like "I don't know." But I have a Britta filter. It's the best. You like feel good about, you like "I hope more people drink more water instead of cola." It was like a feel good spot. As opposed to trying to sell someone a flat screen that they don't need. (both laughing) - Do uhm, the pipeline that you guys have in there is based primarily on Nuke? Or is there a different, or is it a compositor based on the different jobs that you work on? - So work exclusively in Nuke for all of our 3D and 2D compositing. - Mmhmm. - We do a bit of after effects work for motions graphics and stuff like that, but even then, there's a lot of that that we've seen benefit to transitioning into Nuke. Just in terms of the way it can be set up with the 3D system and how all that works. So that's even starting to be 70, 30. We use 3D Studio Max for all of our 3D. - Mmhmm. - And then we render everything out in Vray or Maxwell. Those are like the two big renderers that we us. And deep helps with that as well. Like we just did a car commercial where we rendered the cars out of Maxwell and, but you can't render a fume or volume metrics or anything in there. So we render the fume in Vray and then you render both deep, and deep merge is just, they just go together and look great. - Yeah. - Instead of trying to get the hold outs to line up. - Yeah. - And it just never really looks right. - That would be terrible actually. (laughing) Do the projects you're doing inside of Nuke, what are the render times? Like, give me an example of a typical shot from the time you get the plate from the editor. - Mmhmm. - To the time you give them the finished pro-- So let's take review and changes out of it. And let's imagine that didn't happen and you just get one shot. How long would that take to get through the pipeline? - One shot of maybe that Britta stuff. - Yeah. - So, someone, typically we're doing two shots a day of placing cans and doing preview renders of that stuff, and then animating and checking and doing like a low res render of that and making sure those looked right. So that was kind of half a day per shot. - Ok. - And then the roto process for each one of those was a solid day. The thing about the deep though was that we could do looser roto and then just kind of go fix the few mistakes once the-- - Oh, I see. Once you know what it looks like. - locked animation was there. It's like "Oh, this one can on this one frame "kinda needs to be behind her hair." - Mmhmm. - From there, so half day of that. A full day of roto by the time you add it up. - Mmhmm. - And then, probably another half day of comp. The comp was not terribly difficult. We kind of had the look of how the cans are supposed to fall and all the passes to make them realistically kind of lay 'em on the ground and stuff. It's fine. You know there's a million cans and a ton of stuff going on and you don't really notice it. And we had shot a few cans on set, kinda hero against black. - Right. - And that really helped sell it too. If you can have, if you can have one or two real ones the other fake ones are "yeah, this is fine". - Do you know which ones are real and fake? - Who knows? - Ahh. - I couldn't pick them out, honestly. - That means you did a good job. - Even in that shot, there's real cans falling. Like they would throw, they would throw cans up and then have them fall in the shot and it's really tough to tell. - That's funny, wow. - But we had all the resources to be able to make that happen. Uhm, we had really good reference photography, really good measurements, good HGRI's and stuff like that. And that's what it really takes. There's a lot of, there's a lot of prework that goes in that I don't think people really realize. You know, I'm on set working the entire time. To make sure that we have the information that we need when we go back. - Mmhmm. Now, your involvement in the process, your title is Creative Director, right? - Yeah Creative Director, Visual Effects Supervisor. - So your job is really to sort of shepherd the project through the pipeline. - Yeah, there's two of us that share that same title at Ingenuity and we each take a project all the way through. So if-- - Start to finish. - Start to finish, this is my project and I'm the one that's-- And we both do a lot of time on the box, as well. So we do a lot of work. But it's important that, when the project's not mine, I'm listening to my business partner David, who started the company, you know he has a note on this, it's his job, it's his note. That's, you know, and I'll give feedback on that and we'll certainly talk about it, but at the end of the day, that's the important part. You can't have too many cooks in the kitchen. I mean, it really, I see a lot of group projects in schools and stuff like that fail because they don't have a director. I mean there's a reason you have one guy directing a movie and not a committee. - Right, right. - For better or worse, it doesn't work. - Somebody has to make a decision. - Yeah, exactly. - And stick with it. - And you need someone to make a decision. - Mmhmm. So how did you get started in the business? You're Creative Director now, but how did you start out? - I never was an art kid. I was not the kid that was in our class in high school or the kid that was in drama or whatever. I was kind of a jock and was on the swim team and was, you know just not, I was not into that at all. But I had programmed in high school and I played a lot of video games at the time. And I had started to kind of mess around with the level editors for video games and you know thought "someone has this job". And that's what it really was for me. I came back from MU and thought "I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life." What I thought I was supposed to do 'cause no one really tells you in school that you can do whatever and I think that's important. Uhm, you know if you like something and enjoy doing it, you can make a job of it. - Mmhmm. - I mean there's so much more opportunity than just kind of these five categories that it feels like that when you're a junior or a senior in high school, it seems like there are eight jobs in the world that you can do and really there's like eight million jobs in the world you can do. Uhm, so I thought "Someone's making these video games, "I could go do that as a job." I'm decent enough at programming and decent enough at, you know, kind of doing this stuff and making levels and whatever. I could, I could do this as a job. So I looked around for art schools and found this program in Phoenix that seemed like it was a good fit. It's in sunny Phoenix and that was nice. So I went down there and really just, I had a lot of credits from high school. I took a lot of AP classes and stuff like that. Which I can't, I mean you should 100% be in every one of those classes you can possibly be in since it's so cheap. - Yeah. - I was done with math and science and all of my English by the time I got to college 'cause I had three years of that stuff in high school. And you know, it's 300 bucks a credit, instead of 3,000. - Yeah. (laughing) - So, I went year 'round at UAT and took like 24 credits a semester and was just out in no time. It was really good timing because by the time, I moved to Los Angeles after school and started looking for a job. And it was a good time to be looking for a job. The industry was kind of up and up. - What year was this? - Uh, 2006. - Ok, yeah. - Yeah. - What was the first place you worked at once you got out of school? - Uhm, so I worked at Naked Sky. A little game studio in downtown Los Angeles. Working on Destroy All Humans. - Oh, yeah. I love that game; that was good. - And I was just doing tons of modeling. I was just modeling, modeling, modeling, modeling, everything and it really... It was nice 'cause it just, it was just speed and modeling. You know it was kinda training to just do that. - Right. - And then I went and worked at EA, in the Marina. - Yup. - And then my first real kind of supervisor position was at Meteor Games. I started out as the Lead Technical Artist and then was pretty quickly promoted to Lead 3D Artist and then just Lead Artist of kind of the whole studio over the course of a year and a half. - Wow, that's a rapid rise. - And I really, I enjoyed games, I enjoyed the game space. It's nice to run around in a world that you've created and look at things and... But we never actually finished that game. The project got cancelled before... And they laid off their entire 3D department. - Mmhmm. - And it's just such a long turnaround. It's like you know, you make a game and you work for two years and it may not actually ever be released. Or if it does, it might be a dud and no one really plays it. You know so, that part really kind of, that job really tainted my view on that. So a guy who'd worked for me there, left and came back to Ingenuity. - Oh wow. - And we got let go, laid off on a Friday, and I got a call from Ingenuity on a Saturday that said "Hey, John says you're really great." "Would you want to come in on Monday and work?" - Wow. - And like "yeah". "Do you like have a reel or anything?" And I was like "No, I don't have anything." Hopefully John is right. (both laughing) And fortunately he was, but honestly at the time I had no idea what I was doing. I mean I didn't know, I'd never done visual effects before. I would just, gone to school for games. - Yeah. - Uhm, you know, so it was here's all of these tools and all of this stuff that you have no idea about. So every night, it felt like I was going home and going online, just watching tutorials. Figuring out how to do 3D tracking. How to composite in Nuke. How to do realistic rendering and offline rendering instead of just, you know, we just did texture maps and oral maps and rendered it in the game engine. I'd never pushed render on global lumination before. So, it's a lifelong learning process. You know I mean, it's one of the things I... You know if you stop learning in this industry, you're just going to dinosaur out in like two years' time. - Right. - 'Cause the tools we use now even, are drastically different than the tools we used two years ago. - They really are. - Uhm, you know, even if it is the same tool. It's got twenty new features that you could be saving hundreds of hours of time with if you would just learn how to use 'em. People're like "Oh I know Maya or I know Max." "And I've been using it since Maya 7." And you're only using Maya 7's features? Like, you're not using Maya. (both laughing) You're using, you know, a butter knife when you have a chainsaw. - Yeah. (laughing) - So, you know, that sort of stuff is really, I think important to kinda take away. - Is there one piece of advice that a kid coming out of college or not going to college and learning themselves, what's the one thing that you would tell them? - Internships. I mean you really, you cannot, I cannot speak highly enough for finding a place that will let you do work in production. And there's good internships and there's bad internships. I know some guys that have worked at other studios, that I won't name, that are just running to get coffee and doing drives and drops, - Not learning. - and taking tapes to the place. And then there's our internship, which we, you know it's a paid internship. It's very selective in terms of your portfolio coming in. You have to prove that, to me, that I'm not going to waste my time on someone who doesn't have any sense. But once you're in there, you're learning. I mean you're around a bunch of people who do this stuff and know and can answer questions. And you're not doing, "let's do a sky replacement "on this perfectly clean blue sky." It's like no, that sky's got-- - That never happens. - a ladies hair in front of it and an explosion in the background and you're going to replace it anyway. - Yeah. - You know, that's really the thing that working in production gets you. And you know, over the course of three months, three months for us is five or six projects or seven or eight commercials that you'll have on your reel. So even if we don't hire you, someone else will. You know, and that's the thing. You need to have work on your reel that looks like you know what you're doing. And that's really what an internship provides. So, you know, I would highly recommend people take those opportunities as much as they can. And then get themselves in a position to get those opportunities. Go to industry events. Meet people. I was presenting at Sig Raf and people walk up to me afterwards and say "Hey, I really liked your presentation." "I'm based in Los Angeles." And I have a face with a name. I already know that you're not a weirdo. That you can speak to me. That you sound like you might be intelligent. So, you know, your foot's in the door there. And there's a lot of those opportunities. I mean there's so many meet ups and events and stuff that you can go to and just really pound the pavement, you know. - Is there a, for people coming in, is there something, like once they get, they do get to that process, is there some advice you can give them for, you know, sitting across the table from you, and like, selling themselves? I think the most important thing is just being honest. You know, people try to lie about their skill set and say they're all capable of doing all this great stuff. I would rather hear that you're intelligent and able to learn, because the fact is, you might be capable of doing one thing, but we might need you to do another, and as long as you can pick that up, like I did over a course of an evening of tutorials, and come back and do it the next day, then you're fine. - Yeah. - And it's not the sort of environment-- I mean people watch stuff at work. If you don't know how to do something, take a couple hours out, go online, watch a tutorial about how to do it and then make it happen. That's fine. And I'm happy to, I'm happy to pay our guys for that, because they're all staff so-- - Yeah. - We're paying for the future. - They're going to bring that back. - Yeah, you know, I'm paying for that knowledge, and I'm happy to do so. - Yeah. - Uhm, and I think that's the most important thing is really just being capable to go into a new piece of software that maybe you haven't learned or haven't figured out yet, and get the thing you need to do - Yeah. - accomplished.
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