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.
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We do a lot of that for feature films. We're a small shop, so finding the most efficient means to generate powerful work is kind of something we pride ourself in. But again, like Mor??? is gonna touch on, some more at SIGGRAPH, we're kind of getting into the photoreal side of visual effects, as well. So that's something exciting that we're diving into. - Live action integration, set extensions, matte paintings.
You know, we have a partnership with Bandito Brothers, a production company that we share a space with, have a nice little campus over there in Culver City. A lot of what they bring to the table is action sports and extreme stuff, car chase stuff, car commercials. That's kind of broadened our horizons a little bit, because usually you don't want to see the VFX in something like that, whereas the Marvel work we do is very stylized and very, kind of, future tech.
It's fun, it's a nice balance of the two, you know, to kind of spend months and months on motion graphics and then to kind of sink you teeth into something a little more grounded and photoreal. So, it's a good balance. - What are your roles there? - Well, I'm a designer. And I kind of lead the design on all the graphics portion of any job. And I recently have kind of started working as a supervisor, and Ultron was my first stab at that. - Supervising the VFX? - Yeah, just VFX supervision, and just making sure everything looks pretty for Marvel, you know.
Such a talented cast over there, and everyone's so great at what they do, and they can all bring something really different, which Ultron was a great collaborative experience for me. Coming from over a design background, there is just a lot of things that I kind of lean on other people to help out on. And Mort was huge with a lot of the undertaking of Cinema and, you know, getting all our CGS sets set up. So yeah, it was a great experience and, you know, fun to work with such talent.
- I'm the lead artist over there, and have had a little bit of supervision experience. It's cool because, like Alan said, it's a pretty small team, a lot of generalists, people who can bring a lot to the table. So on any given day, someone might be asked to, "Okay, we need you to design maybe a graphic," and then the next day it's, "All right, we need to use "HDRI lighting to create a photorealistic CG asset." And sometimes one person can do all those things. We need you to do track shots, we need you to roto, we need you to comp.
And that's wonderful, to have that kind of flexibility. And also to be able to, once you do take the step up and start supervising, as I've done on a more limited basis, I've been more of a lead artist, but it's good to be able to have a conversation rather than, "Oh, I've only done motion graphics. "I don't even know the first thing to say about, "you know, other parts of the visual effects." - Maybe that's actually an interesting thing to talk about, is sort of the boundary between motion graphics and visual effects, because it seems to be breaking down a lot now.
You guys, you introduced yourself as a designer. And yet, here you guys are both doing visual effects. Maybe that might be interesting to talk a little bit about Cantina and how it is straddling that, the zones. - Yeah, it's, you know, more and more with big shows like, you know, all the Marvel movies and even some of the smaller ones, those lines are getting really blurred. And I think Cantina kind of sits in that niche.
You know, Stephen Lawes as the co-owner over there, kind of headed all of this up, introducing the Iron Man HUD. And I think that kind of blew off the roof as far as UI design and kind of blending motion graphics with film. And yeah, it's still a pretty small niche, but more and more it's becoming really saturated and it's a fun position to be in. - Yeah.
- It's fun to work on these big films and kind of dictate the evolution of that art, being introduced to these new wave of films in Hollywood. - Yeah, I think it, I mean, we pride ourselves on the, I guess what would be like the Dennis Muren in the school of video effects. We use it, it's a tool to get you to the finish line. There's a million different ways to approach any given shot. Really, you know, people, there was a great thing that came out last week.
There was a montage of some guy that put together this piece that said, "You only ever really see bad CG. "CG isn't necessarily ruining films. "It's just that, when it's bad, you notice it." But when it's great, and we'll show you a couple projects, you know, people don't question it. Or if it fits the feel of the film, even if it's not necessarily photoreal, but it fits, yeah, people just buy it and, "Okay, I get it." You know, "I'm really focused more on the story "than I am the CG." So we kind of, we really believe in that and we believe in that's where that line starts to blur.
It's, like, "All right, you can design "something that looks cool. "But then how do we sit it into the shot "in a way that's believable and stylish "and works?" And there's many different ways to get there. And, as we'll talk about, it's efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. - Now, how much of that comes from the director, you know, versus...? You know, when you guys are presented with a shot, obviously there's a much longer process that goes in where you have a script that you guys get to take a look at, and there's interaction with the production team for the movie.
But then at some point, someone hands you a plate and says, "Okay, now make this car flip "where it wasn't flipping before." At that moment, how much input do you guys as artists have, versus the director says, "I want it to flip this way"? - Well, I think sometimes it's all about a dialog, and it's about meeting in the middle, because I think a director might, you know, have this idea in his head of how the shot is. And then you might tell him, "Well, if we do it that way, "that's going to be way more expensive "or way more time consuming.
"How about this way?" So it is kind of about meeting in the middle. And on the big shows, that can be really difficult, you know, because there's so many people involved and you have to go through so much red tape to even get to the director and get in his ear. But that's kind of the job as supervisor, really, is to open up-- - Yeah, it is that job to kind of present ideas to, say, Christopher Townsend, who was the VFX sup on Ultron. We come in ready.
We come in with concepts, ideas, looks, ready to go, and just to get conversations going, and he comes in with his own ideas, as well. What's great about working with a supervisor like him is, he is an artist and so he knows exactly where we're coming from. And that's not always the case. It's kind of that back and forth between him and the Marvel execs, because there's a lot of tape we kind of have to climb through.
But for shows like this, I feel like Cantina has such a good rapport with Marvel now that they really do trust us. They kind of give us a little more slack and taking more risk as far as design, and just evolving the HUD. - It really does just depend on the director, too. Some guys don't trust you, you know. They don't know your resume, they don't know who you are. They think, "Okay, I'm going to come in with a heavy hand." But that's where relationships come in and you have to kind of from the beginning set a precedent that, like, "Hey, we'll get this done for you "and we'll," you know.
It takes a long time to get that kind of reputation. But I think Stephen Lawes and Sean Cushing, who are running the ship over at Cantina do a great job of that. And Tony Lupoi, another supervisor of ours, they do such a great job of just communicating. And that, it's trust, you know. It's trust, so they can throw you something and we just kind of go to town and play. And we're getting there, (chuckles) as far as that level of trust, we're getting there. - How much does the relationship with, like, having a production company in-house, what percentage of your work comes from that versus stuff you guys are bidding on out of house? Is it 50-50, 60-40? Even if you don't know.
You know, for example, let's take the last three projects that you worked on. Were they done as contract work for a much larger production, or were they done-- - Sure. Okay. Yeah, most of our work is on larger projects. We're one of anywhere from five to 20 vendors. This year, it has been a good year for us and we worked on Avengers: Age of Ultron, we had Fast and Furious 7, - Hunger Games. - Hunger Games. So those jobs, there could be a massive amount of vendors.
That's most of our work. We do have the occasional sprinkling of smaller, like sometimes a commercial here and there with Bandito Brothers. We do have pet projects, as everyone does, things that we're developing in-house. If there's a percentage, I mean, I'd say, like, 75% of the time, we're working on something that's part of a larger wheel. We're a cog in a very big wheel. But that's fun. We like being small, and we like being the small fish on the big thing, because it's, again, every day is different and we're all asked to do a lot of different things.
But yeah, usually it's the little guy on the big job, which is fun. - In terms of skills, then, how did you guys get started? - Well, I went to school at Otis College of Art and Design. You know, getting in there, I really, honestly didn't have, like, an education in digital art. I just knew I wanted a creative career. And I loved to draw growing up, so that attracted my attention. After a few classes, learning the capabilities of, you know, Photoshop and AfterEffects, and CG started to become a big thing, I fell in love with that.
I fell in love with motion in design and that's sort of how I kind of got introduced to it, and worked several years in the commercial industry, different motion houses. Yeah, kind of landed... At Cantina, you're kind of snuggled into more of a design role. But that's sort of how I got started in it. - Yeah. I took a little bit of a different route. I started in architecture. - Oh, wow. - I went to the University of Florida, studied architecture there, and I pretty much knew pretty early on I didn't want to be an architect, but I loved the discipline.
I loved architecture nowadays is a lot of building on a computer, and there's a lot of crossover, even in the software that they use. I started in 3D Studio Max and Rhino and things like that. I got a job out of school in London, a short stint at Vyonyx, which is a small architectural visualization company that does a lot of high-end, essentially arch-vis is matte painting. You know, a lot of it is just stills with beautiful lighting and set extension kind of things.
You know, ended up back home, I'm from Baltimore originally, from Maryland, and through some connections ended up out here and did some arch-vis work and met Sean and Steve when they they were at Pixel Liberation Front years ago and got in the door with them. It was a complete start-over for me, because I had already had about three years experience in a completely, a completely different field politically, I think, and structurally. And ultimately, the output of architecture is building a building, you know? So the visualization is tertiary, whereas the image in the film industry is pinnacle, it is the end result.
That was very appealing. I think I wouldn't change a thing. If I could go back, I would probably study architecture again because I think everything I do now and the work I like doing, kind of the photoreal stuff, it started with the architecture background. - Do you feel like this transition, individual effects... Well, actually, let me ask you, Stephen, did you do any motion graphics before you got into visual effects, or was it, you just dove right into the visual effects out of it? - I dove more into the visual effects out of it.
On the motion graphics end, for, like, my role at Cantina, would not be on the design end the way Alan is. Alan might be the guy who designs it, I'm the guy who kind of tracks it and sits it in there, brings it to final. So that's kind of more my thing. But yeah, it was kind of a dive more into the visual effects side. So that was something, I think, when Cantina started, they had this niche, this wonderful niche, this wonderful connection with Marvel and with other, pretty accomplished, people out there.
But they knew they wanted to go on the visual effects end, and so they saw, I think, with me, I'm like, "Hey, I want to do that "and I want to go in that direction, too." So there was a common kind of goal there. - So at what point did the motion graphics come into play for Cantina? Was it through the original Marvel work? Was that sort of how they...? Because it seems to me, correct me if I'm wrong, that that's really kind of their niche, so to speak. They're bringing that aspect of it to the visual effects business, where it's not, there's other places, like DD or someplace like that, that it's coming right in hard core, making things look amazing.
You know, making the unreal real. Whereas you guys are bringing a design component to it. - Right. Well, to be honest, Stephen Lawes kind of started introducing that in the Pixel Liberation days, before I got there. Yeah, it's hard to say, I guess, exactly when they started to transition. Perhaps Iron Man? - I think Iron Man was a big changeover, yeah. Well, it was Terminator Salvation, then Avatar, and then Iron Man 2.
So they had this run at PLF that-- - Yeah, where they sort of, they sort of put themself in that niche category. And then once they started Cantina, they brought all those contacts with them. And so we joined up and kind of just started rolling on these jobs that they already set up. (electronic pop music) - Unfortunately, we can't include Robert's face, or any of the talent's face in there quite yet, until the DVD is released.
But yeah, you guys are actually the first people to actually see that. - That was fantastic. One of the things that strikes me the most when we were watching that is that you guys mention photoreal a lot over the conversation. And there's a quality to all of these renderings that can only be described as real, even though they're completely artificial constructs. They feel like things that would exist in the real world. How has that changed from a working standpoint for you guys, in terms of the software that you use, the render times involved? - That kind of affects a little bit of everything.
I guess more than that, it just challenges us to find efficient means to pull off that sort of glassy quality of the HUD, or making things sit in a little better. And that, I got to give credit to Chris Townsend. He's actually the one on Iron Man 3 who pushed us to create a more photographic feel. And we were, like, "What does that even mean, "like, photographic graphics?" At first I was, like, you know, it was really challenging to just process that.
But you know, once getting into it and figuring out techniques that were still efficient to pull off and were visually satisfying. - Anyway, you can actually see that. There's depth of field, there's a little bit of camera shake, a realism to the movement that doesn't feel computer-generated. There's a lot of subtleties that add up to that feeling that you're talking about. - Yeah. And those are all details that are, you know, time consuming, but for a purpose.
- And I think that's where the having the, not just the design sensibility but the visual effects sensibility, that's where that comes in. So you have people who are excellent compositors, not just great designers, but understand matching grain and depth of field and camera shake and things like that. Like, oftentimes we have the conversation of, "Well, if we actually shot this, what would we do?" Like, if this was a real thing, how would it be shot? What lens would you use? How much shake would there really be? And I think that's what, that all kind of plugs into this HUD and how we think about it, and that also dictates how we pitch it to them, you know, pitch it to the client, like, "Hey, we're thinking "this would look cool "because that might actually be how it works." - Is there a place that you've been asked to go to that you haven't been able to get to yet? Like, have you met a challenge that you couldn't meet? - I would say, more than not getting there is not getting it approved.
There's a lot of great ideas that go back and forth. And it's whether or not the client wants to take that risk. Oftentimes, they're just not quite ready for such a change. And, you know, the HUDs are a great example of that. And having a supervisor that can kind of fight for you on some new ideas to lay on the table is always great. I can't really think of anything we haven't been able to achieve, like, at least internally.
- And we would never tell. (Rob and Stephen laugh) No, but I second all of that. So it's really about the supervisor, the supervisor who oversees the whole thing. He's kind of the conduit of information from the vendor to the director. There's times where a guy really is gonna fight for you and other times where it's a little bit of a safer decision, and that's just, you just got to roll with that. You got to-- - Put it in your back pocket and bring it up again next time around.
- There's even, there's times where we can show stuff, show work that we did that maybe hit the cutting room floor, maybe didn't make it. But we can show it to be, like, "Hey, we did this, too." And that happens quite a bit. - Right. You guys brought some files with you. Maybe we should take a look at some of those. Tell me a little bit about the file that you're going to... Like, give me some context for where it's-- - This is actually... Primarily, our software is AfterEffects. That's where the HUD rig lives, and that's where the bulk of our animation and compositing is done.
So C4D for us is more of a asset generator, just to really help push, like, the dimensionality of the HUD. So in here what we have is sort of a simplified version of our AfterEffects rig that we just import right in. And all those cards kind of floating in space, with the little cool annotations that I geeked over setting this up, those are all the true z-space of the widgets that live in AfterEffects.
For instance, on this shot, we are showing off the boot-up of the helmet, the Mark 43 helmet that kind of gets overlayed on RDJ's face. So having the rig in there makes it super quick for us to kind of plop in our CG asset, do what we need to do with it-- - See where things line up. (Alan and Stephen talk over each other) - Describe a little bit of the technique. I see some MoGraph going on. - Yeah, so this is, it's pretty straightforward.
We have a poly effects going on. And then Mort will kind of drive through that a little bit. - Yeah, so this, I mean, we get these beautiful models from ILM. They do all these, all this in a modeling of Iron Man's suit. And so you get this wonderful kind of poly structure. When we were doing tests to kind of get that scan look, we thought, "There's such a nice poly build, we can just do "a simple kind of white, using a plane effector "fed through poly effects." Poly effects kind of allows you to get that tessellated kind of look.
And then you can control the fall-off via the plane effector. So we just kind of would, you know, play with this and the size of the fall-off and that kind of thing. So we came to a happy place on that. I think actually the end result was a little bit of a finer, we actually ended up subd-ing it, so it felt really kind of crystallized. But it was a very simple build. I think we, again, with the idea that we're gonna do this 70 times or however many HUD shots we had, I think it was...
- Well, in total, that was, man, close to 90 HUD shots in the film. A lot of them didn't make it. But just for efficiency's sake, (Rob speaks too low to hear) Yeah, and so coming up with techniques that we can set up very easily and hand off to other artists. - And repeat, over and over and over. Yeah, you don't want it to be, you know, rocket science. You know, we kept it pretty simple. Again, another thing is that, instead of a 4D, you get kind of a pretty cool result, like, "Oh, yeah, this is cool," and then you start rendering out some passes.
So we had a series of kind of like an x-ray texture, we had a kind of a metal texture with a light rig set up, and then a cell render, and then a depth matte. And so you start playing with all those layers in comp. And it takes on a whole different thing. It's amazing what you can achieve with a simple texture and a depth matte. (crosstalk) Immediately, you're, like, "Oh my gosh, that's"... It's kind of greater than the sum of its parts. - Now, you guys do most of your rendering in V-Ray, or using the internal renderer for this stuff? - This is all internal renderer.
Most of what we do, again, just for being able to do it very quickly and get passes out, again, we rely more on cheating some reflections and that kind of thing in the comp. Certainly other jobs, we rely on V-Ray. - Yeah, required. - Octane and things like that. But for this, it's mostly just the standard C4D renderer. - Nice. You talked about efficiency before. Like, when you guys are first sitting down to approach a job, tell me a little bit about your mindset and how you come to the most expedient solution, because that's, a lot of times, that bogs folks down.
They get caught up in minutia and... - Yeah, that's actually a great point. As a designer, I don't even think about that at first. For me, it's like internalizing the brief of whatever the job is, and immediately, like, sketching. So I like to put things down on paper first. I don't limit myself to, you know, words like efficiency and things like that because that just messes with my mind and kind of hinders my creative flow.
But after that, once we start thinking, "Okay, how are we going to integrate this "into the story," like, "How is this going to fit?" Then all those questions start to come into play. So I try to keep it separate from the design process, and it's kind of its own little, like, annotation to the side. In the beginning, that's not even in my head. I'm just, like, balls to the wall, "Let's just make cool stuff." And then usually people have to calm me down.
(Alan and Stephen chuckle) They're, like, "Okay, we have to actually make this." - It's similar to, screenwriters kind of work in the same way, where they tell, "Don't write to a budget. "Write the best story you can." Make the best image you can. We'll figure out the efficiency later on. We can always peel things away and simplify. It's always, like, "Let's make the coolest thing we can. "We don't care." - Do you ever get to a spot, though, where you're, like, "Oh my God, "they've destroyed that thing that I"-- - Oh, yeah. - "Loved and made"? - I don't think there's ever been-- (crosstalk) I haven't had that feeling.
Yeah, it happens to everything. - Daily. (all laugh) - But emotionally then, how do you deal with that? I would imagine it's a field where there's lots of reject-. It's the same way in the design world. I'm sure VFX can't be much different, where you put your heart and soul into these things and then someone who hasn't worked as hard on it comes in and sits down and says, "Eh, I don't know, I'm not feeling that." - Yeah, it's tough. - Cold beer. (both chuckle) - Yeah, alcohol.
But I think, you know, just though experiencing, like, kind of learning just the way things happen, not to get too attached to things. I do my own side stuff so, like, that's where I can, like, really get going. You know, at the end of the day, this is their product. And we're hired to do the best we can do to help their story. So that's kind of the way I kind of separate the two. - You mentioned side projects.
You guys both, do you both find time to do things outside of work creatively? - You know, it depends on what it is. I think that, for me personally, I take on stuff, I don't go home and do VFX all the time. If I'm going to watch tutorials or kind of R&D, I try to mesh that into my day somehow. But yeah, I think there are projects we're doing internally as a company that are maybe a deviation from what we normally do and let us kind of stretch ourselves out and let us play.
And we'll use that project as an R&D for something that's maybe coming up. Like, oh, explore it here and we'll screw it up here, and there will be no kind of punishment or penalty of consequence of that. And then implement kind of what we learned on a future job. But there's always stuff we do personally at home. For me, it's photography and things like that. I feel like most VFX people are-- - Absolutely. - Into photography and love shooting their own stuff. You need that, you need something you can sink your teeth into that's your own, when you're constantly serving someone else.
- Yeah. I mean, you have to have that outlet. - Where do you find the energy, though? You mentioned you try and incorporate stuff in your day, though. You clock out at 5:30, which I know is not really the case. Let's assume that it's 5:30 for the sake of this interview. So at the end of the day, where do you find the energy to go out and shoot stuff or to work on side projects? - For me, like, I love all art, different mediums, traditional, everything.
Just seeing things online or, you know, going to check out a friend's show, that gets me amped and that inspires me to find the energy to put in the time. - For me, it's getting up out of a chair. If it's anything that, you know, like you say, going to a gallery or going out. I mean, Los Angeles is so amazing, it's an amazing place to just take a camera. I feel like I don't leave home without my camera. Just being on your feet and out in the world and not staring at a computer, that immediately can just wake you up.
I think it's important to do that. I think artists in general have a fidgety, like, "I need to be doing," so like busy hands, you know, like, they need to be doing something at all times, even when they're not. And so I think yeah, as soon as you get away from the job, there's just, some guys play music, or play in bands, or some guys surf and run and just, it all depends on what they do. But that is absolutely crucial.
- That's a good point, too. Yeah, I think a physical outlet is also really important, too. - It's huge, yeah. - There's this great quote. I think it was Richard Williams. I could be wrong, but he said, like, "You can't create the illusion of life if you don't have one." I heard that, I think, back in the Otis days and always kept that in the back of my mind to remind myself, like, "It's time to get up, "it's time to go have a life." But yeah, having some sort of outlet physically is super important, whether it's doing martial arts or going to the gym or running.
- But it does, it even, in a weird way, can even tie back into the work sometimes, you know, where maybe, for example, if you have an interest that somehow makes its way into a project you're working on, or, certainly for me, the photography tangent isn't such a big tangent, but understanding how a camera works is pivotal, and you can bring that into the work. That's when it's really fun, it's, like, "Oh, I do this on the outside," and they can bring it to the company and bring it to the work.
Not necessarily martial arts, but... - Well. (both laugh) - Yeah, but its, it's just kind of finding time isn't hard. You almost make the time to, like, do other stuff. - So what's next for you guys? You guys are working on the biggest movies of the year, you're doing amazing design and VFX work. Where do you go from here? - I mean, just continuing on for now. And I know Cantina's got a lot of pet projects lined up that we kind of want to explore on our own.
But in the meantime, some big jobs coming in that we'll probably have some fun on next year, this year and next year. Yeah, just staying in shape. - Yeah, that's... - Yeah. - Are there any skills that you don't, if you feel like you don't have now that you want to develop? - All the time. I think I'm always trying to get better at something. And for me now, it's actually C4D. I'm pretty new to Cinema.
I was trained in a different 3D software. So the transition for me has kind of been my personal challenge, you know, at work. These guys are all wizards at it. So I fee like, "Eh, hey Mort, how do you do this?" But yeah, for me, I want to sharpen my skills with that. - That's a big deal though, working in a collaborative environment where you can share ideas with people. There's a lot of folks that work at home by themselves and not having someone to bounce ideas off of or ask questions.
That's a big limitation. - I think more often than not artists tend to stick together. Artists are keen to share. I think if you want to hoard all your work and not show anybody, then, well, that's going to be kind of a sad existence. And ultimately, people are going to learn either way. Everyone that works with us, I think, is keen to share ideas. It only makes you better. I mean, it's kind of, you've kind of died as an artist if you say, "I know everything.
"I'm done learning." And that's never going to stop. Yeah, as far as the next thing, I mean, for me, I've gotten to a point with C4D where I'm comfortable. But there's always stuff, there's always stuff that... Lately it's been projection man. I've taken that as far as it can go. You know, we've started using Octane Renderer, kind of the GP rendering. That's very exciting, you know, having that kind of capability. Again, at a small shop, where we don't have the luxury of just throwing it on the server, throwing on 400 prox and just letting it cook and getting a render back an hour later that's perfect.
Or 10 minutes later. So yeah, just kind of continuing on with pushing what can I do within the framework of our setup now? How far can we push things and make better work? - You brought another file with you from Need for Speed. This is a really good example of a true VFX shot, right, where you have to make something that both wasn't there before and is transparent to the viewer.
- Yes. And I think it would be good to kind of get this conversation going, to bring up what we were tasked with here. I'm going to show a little breakdown of this whole sequence, because, I guess, to preface. Everything you're seeing here are actual cars, actual drivers in these cars, actually crashing and risking their lives doing this stuff.
So this was in Need for Speed, directed by Scott Waugh, which was a Bandito Brothers and DreamWorks co-production. And we did most of, we did about 1,000 visual effects shots for this film with a pretty small team, 12 or 15 people. Tony Lupoi supervised for us, excellent supervisor. This sequence is a pretty major moment in the film. This big crash, this big race here at the end of the film where there's this big crash sequence here.
This McLaren takes a tumble. So as you can see, there's quite a bit of patchwork and you see this little kind of kicker, like, lever arm that propels the car up and allows it to tumble in a certain way. It's amazing to us that there is, it's controlled chaos. And Scott Waugh, the director, has a background in stunts and he can kind of tell a driver to go here, do this, at this speed, and it'll roll generally where we think it will.
For us, that, there's an amazing-- - That's real. - That's real, you know. You can't beat that. Actually one of the drivers, Greg Tracey, who does a lot of stunt supervision and stunt driving himself, he told me years ago, "Amazing is relative. "You think what we do is amazing and crazy. "We look at what you guys do "and we think it's amazing and crazy "and we don't quite understand it." - There's no command z on that, though. - No. - No undo's there. - Yeah.
So the big thing here was, again, we're not brute forcing it, we're not just rendering the whole thing over again. We're really trying to work with as much of this wonderful chaos that's in camera, the dust effects, the kind of explosion of dust that happens here. We did build some custom particles and things like that to kind of patch in certain areas. So if we freeze frame here, you can see, you know, crash cams and that kind of thing.
So we did kind of have to patch it up. But the whole mission of the film is to really make people not question that these are real cars and that these are actual drivers. And they are. - So let's start from the beginning. You get this plate, which is the original shot, right? So what's the very first things you guys have to do? - The very first thing we do is track the shot. We use PFTrack. We've used a little bit of Buju, but mostly PFTrack. We'll kind of get a good track for the shot and we'll probably, I think we started the paint work pretty early on, just to start cleaning up the plate.
So painting out these crash cams. You know, there's some buried in the hill there. And then the next thing is to, so we have this nice model, this nice 3D model. And we knew really, the main focus is this back portion of the car here. We wanted to retain... You get all these nice scratches here on the front of the car. We wanted kind of to retain as much of that as possible. You'll see in the end, we did end up tinting the window a little bit. So yeah, the first step was tracking the scene, getting a nice track.
So we brought that tracking data into here. We did do, ultimately, kind of a scene track and then an object track on the car. And the object track kind of gets you most of the way there, but it wasn't perfect. One thing right off the bat was that these are kit cars. This roll cage you see here, that's this big armature underneath, is of a different proportion than the actual factory model. So we had to take that into consideration.
This is a little bit of a bigger, kind of, caboose on this thing than what the actual model is. With that in mind, we kind of brought our car into our environment here, set up some basic bounce cards. They look crude, but it's, again, just enough to sell it. Let's not kill ourselves rebuilding everything when what is really going to be reflected, you know, on this car.
And then one thing, I guess, just kind of, for me, when I start an animation like this is, I like to pick my A, my kind of A point. You know, where is it, where does it start, and where does it end? And I set those two keyframes first. So in this case, think if I can open Camera Curves here, it's a pretty simple rotation. And it's overcranked, it's in slow motion, so that helps.
It's nice and smooth. But I like to set, kind of, this keyframe, oops, let's not do that, and this keyframe and just set those first, x, y and z. And then just interpolate. And so what I did early on was, I didn't set up any shaders or anything or any lighting. I would just render kind of a crude, just with basic Cinema 4D textures, render a crude pass of this. And it became a back and forth between AfterEffects and Cinema in terms of the animation.
So then we ultimately did set up some nice shaders and some lighting. I made those bounce cards invisible to the camera. And so it still kind of looks, like, very, very crude. This got us about 70% there. - It's a big step along the way from what you originally started with, though, in terms of realism. - Sure. Yeah. So we get a lot of this kind of movement here, really was nice. And again, all we're worried about, this kind of, this back area here.
With that in mind, we even, in earlier versions of this, even animated this back wheel to try to match how this back wheel was rotating. And again, it's kind of, like, you can fight against that or you can say, "Well, let's try to retain that back wheel "and kind of roto it back in "and use, again, as much of that stuff "in camera as possible." So we had that, and I have some stills here that start to break down the comp phase. We kind of went from this, we had some paint work happening here, you know, lots of kind of patching going on.
This is kind of where you first quickly feather it in and see how this is really in that animation phase, kind of looked like this. - Doesn't even line up. - Doesn't even line up. And it doesn't always perfectly. And again, going back to the fact that it was a different proportioned car altogether. There was some stretching and warping and that kind of thing. And then ultimately bringing those, you can see, bringing those final pieces back in. And we said, like, "Let's retain this window, "let's bring in that practical wheel." And those little, kind of final, touches really just sell it.
Like, looking at, I don't have a render now, but looking at this CG wheel's completely static, versus the next version with the actual. It's, like, night and day. It's a completely different shot. So again, that mix of the olden days, Dennis Muren, ILM stuff, "Let's take the practical and the VFX and merge them," rather than just VFX the whole thing. So this was a perfect example of that. And this was another shot that we used the same strategy.
This Lambo crash sequence, same method where we had to... This rotation was quite intense to get that to work. But same strategy there. Pretty simple lighting in this case, just the sunlight, you know. And we used V-Ray on this stuff. Yeah, so that's kind of the gist of those shots. And a big credit to, again, Tony Lupoi, who was our sup.
Sometimes you don't need to explain exactly what you're doing to the director. They just kind of want to see it done. But again, he's a master of creating that dialog and helping them understand kind of what we're doing and why we're doing it. These were really, I think worked out really nicely. I don't think anyone would really question these as VFX shots. - As you're showing me this stuff, you mentioned earlier the idea of, you know, working with the practical and working and having that and the digital stuff work together.
Have there been, or do you guys feel like there are things such as good VFX or bad VFX? Every movie that comes out right now, every TV show, has visual effects in it. And honestly, even a simple show, like a cop show, will have set extensions or having to paint out crowds that were shooting up for there. There almost aren't any non-VFX shoots anymore. But yet, you hear people blaming VFX for a movie's failure or success, you know, giving it credit when it's there.
Is there such a thing as good VFX or bad VFX? - I think in any case it starts with the story, and using VFX as a tool. And it should only be used to supplement the story. Sure, I guess you can have bad visual effects, but I think it's, you know, you can get away with maybe effects that aren't incredible, but if there's a great story and those visuals are supplementing the story, then you can kind of suspend that disbelief.
But I think what we run into a lot nowadays is, the story is reliant on the visual effects. So I think that's where it gets a little confusing, and where the visual effects can become kind of a scapegoat, because you're basically asking the studio to kind of write the story, as well, and kind of explain what is even going on in this show or film. But yeah, that's what can get a little dicey. - And oftentimes, there are money and time constraints.
And we know from behind the scenes that those are very real concerns that affect the work. So you'll see some films where a comp is maybe, like, "Ooh, that..." We don't necessarily even blame the artists. It's, like, "Oh, they might have run out of time." And audiences, the thing is that, you know, we work on this stuff, we see it, we watch films in a certain way, with a critical eye. But my parents can pick out bad CG.
They can look at a shot and be, like, "Ooh. "That's not real," or, "That took me out of the story." Like using, maybe Wes Anderson as an example. He uses a lot of practical stuff, but when he does use VFX, it has a certain style and flair. But it works for his style. So yeah, you really only notice it when it's not good. And this is a perfect example. And I think a lot of what we do, people might even think that, you know, Robert Downey Junior's face is somehow, you know, like, 3D mapped or something, projected, or CG.
You know, you get a lot of funny questions on that. And we think that's a good thing. When people start to, like-- - When you're not taken out of it, when you cut from real world and then cut into this digital environment, the audience shouldn't, that shouldn't alter their perception. It should just roll. - Right on into it. - So whether it's an invisible effect or not, it's really a tool and it's kind of how you use it to supplement the story, that kind of determines whether it's good or bad.
- Nick Campbell, motion graphics artist, photographer, and entrepreneur
- Marc Potocnik, designer and 3d artist
- Tim Clapham, VFX artist and educator
- Alan Torres and Stephen Morton (Cantina Creative), design and visual effects artists
- Aaron Limonick, concept artist
- Mike Lowes, 3D animator and technical director
- Lorcan O'Shanahan, motion graphics artist
- Scott Keating, 3D artist and illustrator
- Clear Menser, visual effects artist
- John Robson, motion graphics artist and filmmaker
- Grant Miller, VFX supervisor
- Tomasz Opasinski, creative director and movie poster artist
Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.