Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 1: Introduction, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph VFX and Digital Art.
("Do It Again" by Holy Ghost!) ♫ Hey what's the matter ♫ Nothing's the matter ♫ That's why I can't leave my house ♫ You must get lonely ♫ No ♫ I don't get lonely so ♫ That's why I can't leave my house ♫ Head into the city, well I guess it can't hurt ♫ Nothing's on the television on the networks ♫ Take me outta context, take me outta here ♫ Put the windows down, scream in doubt ♫ Really tune it out ♫ Something going on but I don't know where ♫ You're playing with your telephone ♫ You're playing with your hair ♫ The record seems broken ♫ Yeah, I really don't care ♫ Put the windows down, scream in doubt ♫ Really tune it out ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ Do it again ♫ - Kind of our bread and butter over there is graphics and HUD design.
We do a lot of that for future films. We're a small shop, so finding the most efficient means to generate powerful work is kind of something we pride our self in. But again, like Mort's going to touch on tomorrow at SIGGRAPH, we're kind of getting into the photoreal side of it, visual effects as well, so that's something exciting that we're diving into. - Yeah, live action integration, set extensions, matte paintings.
We have a partnership with Bandito Brothers, a production company that we share a space with on this little campus over there in Culver City and a lot of what they bring to the table is action sports and extreme stuff, car chase stuff, car commercials, so, 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. So, it's fun.
It's a nice balance of the two to kind of spend months and months on motion graphics and then to kind of sink your 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 step at that. - Supervising the VFX? - Yeah, there's VFX supervision and just making sure everything looks pretty for Marvel and 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 design background, there's just a lot of things that I kind of lean on other people to help out on and more was huge with a lot of the undertaking of cinema and getting all our CG asset set up.
So yeah, it was a great experience and fun to work with such talent. - So I'm a lead artist over there and have had a little bit of supervision experience. It's cool, because like Allan 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'll use HDR lighting to create a photorealistic CG asset," and sometimes one person can do all those things.
"We need you to 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 do, once you do, take the step up and start supervising as I've done in a more limited basis. I've been more of a lead artist, but it's good to be able to have the conversation rather than, "Oh, I've only done motion graphics." I don't even know the first thing to say about other parts of 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. - Mm-hmm. - And here you guys are both doing visual effects and maybe that might be interesting to talk a little bit about Cantina and sort of how it is straddling those zones. - Yeah, it's more and more with big shows, like 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 and Stephen Lawes, the co-owner over there kind of headed all 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, and I think it- I mean, we kind of pride ourselves on the, I guess what would be like the Dennis Muren School of VFX. You use it. It's a tool to get you to the finish line and it's not... There's a million different ways to approach any given shot. And really, people- There's a great thing that came out last week about you only have- There was a montage of some old 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, then we'll show you a couple projects. People don't question it or if it fits the feel of the film even if it's not necessarily photoreal - Never even comes up. - But it fits. - Yeah, people just buy it and "Okay, I get it. "I'm really focused more on the story than I am to 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 in to the shot in a way that's believable and stylish and works, you know.
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 versus... When you guys are presented with a shot, obviously there's a much longer process that goes in where you, you know, that 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, "No, I want it to flip this way"? - Well, I think, you know, sometimes it's all about a dialog.
and it's about meeting in the middle because I think a director might have this idea in his head of how the shot is and then you might tell him, like, "Well if we do it that way, "that's going to be way more expensive," or way more time-consuming, then, "How about this way?" So it is kind of about meeting in the middle. And on the big shows, that can be really difficult because there's so many people involved and you have to go through so much red tape to even get to the director in getting us here, but that's kind of a job of the supervisor, really, is to open up the part of dialog.
- Yeah, it is that job to kind of present ideas to say "Christopher Townsend, who is the VFX sup on Ultron," you know, 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. And 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. And so, it's kind of that back and forth between him and the model execs because there is 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 and kind of give us a little more slack and taking more risks as far as design and just evolving the HUD.
- It really doesn't just depend on the director too. - Yeah. - Some guys don't trust you (laughs) you know, and don't... 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 president 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 kind of are running the ship over Cantina do a great job of that and Tony Lupoi, the supervisor of ours, that has...
They do such a great job with 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 (laughs) As far as that level of trust, we're getting there, but that's what I know. - How much does the relationship with- like having a production company in-house, how much... What percentage of your work comes from that versus stuff you guys are beating on at a house? Is it 50/50, 60/40? Even if you don't know, I mean, for example, like the last...
Let's take the last three projects that you worked on. Were they done as contract work for much large production or are they done- - Sure, okay. Yeah. Well I mean most of our work is on kind of larger. Larger projects, we're one of anywhere from 5 to 20 vendors. This year, it has been a good year for us and we've worked on Avengers: Age of Ultron. We had Fast & Furious 7. - Furious 7. Hunger Games. - Hunger Games. So those jobs, you know, 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, but, I mean, 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.
We're all asked to do a lot of different things, but yeah, usually it's the small, 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 and getting in there, I really honestly didn't have, like, an education in digital art. I went there- I just knew I wanted a creative career and I love to draw growing up, so, that attracted my attention.
And after a few classes, learning the capabilities of Photoshop and After Effects and CG started to become a big thing, I fell in love with that. I fell in love with motion, in design. That's sort of how I kind of got introduced to it and worked several years in the commercial industry, different motion houses, and yeah, I kind of landed at Cantina and kind of snuggle 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. - So 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... The architecture nowadays is a lot of building on a computer and there's a lot of crossover even in the software that they use, so, I started in 3D Studio Max and Rhino and things like that. I got a job at a school in London, a short stint at Vyonyx, which is a small architectural visualization company that does a lot of high-end.
Essentially, archviz is matte painting. A lot of it is just stills with beautiful lighting and set extension kind of thing. So, ended up back home for a little bit. I'm from Baltimore, originally from Maryland. And through some connections, ended up out here, and did some archviz work and met Sean and Steve when they were at Pixel Liberation Front years ago and got in the door with them, but it was a complete start over for me because I had already had about three years experience in a completely...
I mean, a completely different field politically, I think, and structurally. And ultimately, the output of architecture is building a building. So, the visualization is tertiary, whereas the image in the film industry is pinnacle. It is the end result. So, that was very appealing. And I think I wouldn't change a thing. If I could go back, I would probably study Architecture again because I think it... Everything I do now and everything, the work I like doing, kind of the photoreal stuff, it started with that architecture background.
- Do you feel like this transition in the visual effects- Well actually, let me ask you Stephen, did you do any motion graphics before or 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. So, on the motion graphics and for- Like my role, kind of at Cantina, would not be on the design in a way Allan is. Allan might be the guy who designs it. I'm the guy who kind of tracks it in, sits it in there, makes it, you know, brings it to final.
So that's kind of more my thing. But yeah, it was kind of a dive more into the visual effect 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, where 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 is coming right in hardcore making things look amazing, and 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. So, yeah, it's hard to say, I guess, exactly when they started the transition. Perhaps Iron Man? - I think Iron Man was a big changeover. - Avatar? - Yeah. They worked on- Well, it was Terminator Salvation, then Avatar, and then Iron Man 2. So they had this run at PLF. - 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.
- 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.