Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 2: Avengers: Age of Ultron Breakdown, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph, VFX, and Digital Art.
(ethereal music) (techno music) - Unfortunately we can't include Robert's face or any of the talent's face in there quite yet until the DVD's released, but, yeah, you guys are actually the first people to actually see that.
(all laugh) - That was fantastic. One of the things that strikes me the most when we're watching that is you guys mentioned 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, and they feel like things that would exist in the real world, and how has that changed from a working standpoint for you guys in terms of the software that you use, the render times involved? - Yeah, I guess that kind of affects a little bit of everything, but I guess more than that it just challenges us to find efficient means to pull off that sort of classy quality of the HUD or making things sit in a little better.
And that's, 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?" You know, at first I was like, you know, it was really challenging to just kind of process that. But once, you know, getting into it and figuring out techniques that were still efficient to pull off and were visually satisfying. - But you know what, you can actually see that.
There's depth of field, there's a little bit of camera shake, and 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 time-consuming but for a purpose. - And I think that's where having 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.
Often times 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 all kind of plugs into this HUD and how we think about it, and that also dictates how we pitch it to them, 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, you know? So there's a lot of great ideas that kind of 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 the HUDs are a great example of that, and having a supervisor that can kind of fight for you on some new ideas to kind of lay on the table is always great, but I can't really think of anything we haven't been able to achieve, at least internally. - And we would never tell. (all laugh) - Yeah, we, yeah. - No, but I second all of that. Yeah, it's really about the supervisor who oversees the whole thing.
He's kind of the conduit of information from the vendor to the director, and there's times where a guy really is going to 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. - Put it in your back pocket, and bring it up next time around, you know? (laughs) - And there's even, I mean 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, right. You guys brought some files with you. Maybe we should take a look at some of those. - Sure. - So tell me a little bit about the file that you're going to, like give me some context for where it is. - So this is actually, so primarily our software is After Effects. 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 an asset generator, and just to really help push the dimensionality of the HUD, so in here what we have is sort of a simplified version of our After Effects rig that we just imported 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 After Effects. So for instance on this shot, we are showing off the boot-up of the helmet, the Mark 43 helmet that kind of gets overlaid on RDJ's face. And so having the rig in there makes it super quick for us to kind of plop in our CGI set, do what we need to do with it, - [Man in Black] See where things line up.
- [Man in Gray] and then kick it back out, yeah. - So describe a little bit of the technique. I see some Mograph going on. - Yeah, so this is pretty straightforward. We have Poly Effects going on and then Mort will kind of drive through that a little bit. - [Mort] Yeah, so this, I mean we get these beautiful models from ILM, they do all this modeling of Iron Man's suit, and so you get this wonderful kind of poly structure. And when we were doing tests, to kind of get that scan look, we thought well, it was such a nice poly build, we can just do a simple kind of wipe using a plane effector fed through poly effects.
So poly effects kind of allows you to get that tessellated kind of look, and then you can control the falloff via the plane effector, so we just kind of would play with this and the size of the falloff 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 Sub-D-ing it, so it felt really crystallized, but it was a very simple build.
I think we, again, with the idea that we're going to do this 70 times or however many hot shots we have, I think it was-- - Well in total there was, man, close to 90 HUD shots in the film. - Wow. - A lot of them didn't make it, but just for efficiency's sake. - But you still end up having to do that. - Yeah. And so coming up with techniques that we can set up very easily and hand off to other artists. - And repeat. - Yeah. - Over and over and over again. - You don't want it to be rocket science. So we kept it pretty simple. And again, another thing is that instead of a 4D you get 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 mat, and once 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 to depth mat. Just immediately you're like, "Oh, my gosh." It's kind of greater than the sum of its parts. - Are you guys doing 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 kind of cheating some reflections and that kind of thing in the comp. Certainly other jobs we rely on V-Ray.
- Yeah, they require it. - Octane and things like that. But for this it's mostly just the standard C4D renderer. - Nice. And you talked about efficiency before. 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. - Yeah, that's actually a great point. As a designer, I don't even think about that at first. So for me it's like internalizing the brief or whatever the job is, and immediately sketching.
So I like to put things down on paper first. And I don't limit myself to 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 annotation to the side, but yeah, 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. (all laugh) Like okay we have to actually make this. - It's similar to screenwriters kind of work in the same way. 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, but 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 loved and made?" - I don't think there's ever been an instance where I haven't had that feeling.
Yeah, it happens to everything. (laughs) - Daily. (all laugh) - But how do, emotionally then, how do you deal with that? I would imagine it's a field where there's lots of rejection. 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. (all laugh) - Yeah.
But I think just experience and kind of learning just the way things happen, not to get too attached to things. I do my own side stuff, so that's where I can really get going, but at the end of the day, this is their product, and we're hired to the best we can do to help their story. So that's kind of the way I separate the two. - You mentioned side projects.
So you guys, do you both find time to do things outside of work creatively? - 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, and if I'm going to watch tutorials, or kind of R&D, you know, I kind of 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 punishment or penalty or 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 and things we, for me it's photography and things like that. I feel like most VFX people are into photography and love shooting their own stuff. And you need that, you need something you can sink your teeth into that's your own when you're constantly serving someone else.
- Yeah. Yeah, I mean you have to have that outlet, you know? - Where do you find the energy though at the end of the day? You mentioned you try and incorporate stuff into your day though. You clock out at 5:30, (laughs) which I know is not really the case but let's assume it's 5:30 for the sake of this interview, yeah. - (laughs) Sometimes. (laughs) So anyway 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, I love all art, different mediums, traditional, everything, so just seeing things online or 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, and if it's anything, like you said, 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. And 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 kind of a fidgety like "I need to be doing something," like busy hands.
They need to be doing something at all times even when they're not. And so I think 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, it just all depends on what you do. But that is absolutely crucial. (laughs) - Yeah that is a good point too. I think a physical outlet is also really important too. - It's huge, yeah. - There's this great quote.
And I think it was Richard Williams. I could be wrong, but he said, "You can't create the illusion of light "if you don't have one." And I heard that back in the Otis days and always kept that in the back of my mind to remind myself 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. - Yeah, and 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. So that's when it's really fun is like, "Oh I do this on the outside and can bring it to the company "and bring it to the work." So not necessarily martial arts but.
- Well, you know. (both laugh) - Sometimes. - Yeah. - Yeah but it's just kind of finding time isn't hard, you almost make the time to do other stuff. - So what's next for you guys? I mean you guys are working on the biggest movies of the year, you're doing amazing design and VFX work. Where you do you go from here? - 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, so yeah, just steering the ship. - Yeah. - Are there any skills that 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, so I was trained in a different 3D software, so the transition for me has kind of been my personal challenge at work, and these guys are all wizards at it.
So I feel like "Uhh, hey, Mort, how do you do this?" (laughs) 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, and I think if you want to hoard all your work and not show anybody, then that's going to be (laughs) kind of a sad existence.
And ultimately people are going to learn either way. And everyone that works with us, I think, is keen to share ideas, and it only makes you better. You've kind of died as an artist if you say, "Oh, I know everything," or "I'm done learning." And that's never going to stop. So 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. Lately it's been projection man, I've taken that as far as it can go, and we've started using Octane renderer, and kind of the GPU rendering, and that's very exciting, - Very, yeah.
- Having that kind of capability and again at a small shop where we don't have the luxury of just throwing it on a server, throwing it on a 400 prox and just letting it cook and getting a render back an hour later that's perfect or ten minutes later. So yeah, just kind of continuing on with pushing what can I do within the framework of our setup now, you know, how far can we push things and make better work?
- 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.