Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 3: Transition from gaming to VFX industry, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph VFX and Digital Art.
- So at what point in your career did you make the transition to doing exclusively animation for VFX and you know, for commercials or theatrical? -Yeah. That was probably season four of Andromeda. So after the video game got cancelled with Ubisoft it was managed ... A friend of mine was working on the in house visual effects team at Andromeda and thought I'd drop there and needed to learn the whole visual effects language and everything very quickly. - Sure.
What was the pipeline that they were using at the time? - We were using LightWave almost primarily there. I think a lot of the assets, the ships and everything were already in there. - Right. - And LightWave at the time had a long pedigree of visual effects the shows in. - Yeah. - So anything in pipeline-wise on a show like that and I think this is rather unique to an in house visual effects team is literally the creative process would be we would read the paragraph in the script.
That what they were looking for, for what that visual effect shot could be and there wasn't even an edit of the show yet so we didn't even have ... We got to even decide how long the shots might be. - Wow! - And I think that's really unique. So, I just had to fill the idea from a paragraph of you know, around the corner in the building might be the writer. Or one of the producers of the show. And so, we were really nicely involved and then you were just needed to fill in that part right to sometimes even bypassing story boards to just rough animatics right in the computer. - Yeah, you do.
So, normally in the VFX process you would start off, like you can start right off with the script and then go into story boarding phase. So you guys would even bypass that completely sometimes? - Yeah. Well, for the science fiction shows we often already have the assets of either ships or maybe a recurring set. - Sure. - So, we could block in the actual shots and even sometimes it would because this might happen before even shooting would go on, that it gave them an idea for when they did go to camera of maybe how this could flow.
Maybe after they would see the ... If we got there early enough sometimes we might have an animatic of a fight sequence of the show and they might be able to then go film some extra cut aways to make it more exciting to bouncing back and do reaction shots and stuff like that. Well, it is always nice to have storyboards. There's also something nice and fluid of very basic rough animatics you can get in there. - So much of the time when you're working on visual effects you're starting literally from nothing.
Sometimes it's not even a ... You know you have a play to work from and you have to do something completely CG but to have a list of assets already available to you on a show like that must be an interesting situation. - And you also have a bit of a vocabulary visually from okay, you're on season four and this is some of the things they like to do. - The ships are supposed to look like this and the sets looks like this because they've had this battle and the scars on the. - Yeah. - So, the transition from doing the game stuff to the visual effects work that would have been about 2000? - I think it was, yeah either 2000 or 2001.
- Okay. - Yeah. - And that was right about the time the digital revolution was really taking off. People had been able to do work on computers for you know, about a decade already at that point but it wasn't really readily available. So, how did that sort of blossoming of technology happen around that time? How did that affect the work that you guys were doing? - No, that's a good point. I think at the time, they were just starting to realize and started asking for a lot more in even in the television world.
I still remember, I think even Andromeda, the effects might have been done at standard definition. I don't think we're even into high def yet or anything like that. - Sure, sure. - Might even have still been film scans if I remember. But things like it started to become even in television actually cost-effective to do 3D tracking of shots. - Right. - To start unlocking those you know, visual effects. The okay, it's a static camera here comes a visual effect and moving into an effect that needed to take place on something static.
- Yes. -Moving camera and moving actor an effect done to the actor on a TV budget. It was just moving a lot of the ideas from film actually breaking into television. But I think what they need addition of in television there was often an understanding that everyone realizes you know, we are in lower budgets here and that you can have a bit more fun with it. - You know, it didn't need to hit that standard of Jurassic Park or what have you.
So, it felt to me that there's a lot of shows that had a lot more playful visual effects than what you'd be seeing in the film. - Right. - People were just excited to have let's just do it, let's just try it and then the audience has enjoyed it. - They felt lucky to be seeing that. - Yeah. - And it's changed a lot now though because the people come to expect the same level of quality on television that they see in the theater. How was that? -Yeah. - It's got to be putting some pressure on your guys to deliver. - For sure. I mean, it was just incredible television work being done out there.
And, again with the rise of the kind of cameras that they're able to have on television sets now, and everything of course in high definition or recorded even beyond that and down simple done with. - Has there ever been a time where you've worked on a shot and couldn't get there? - I used to base it on how many revisions that I have go through for a shot and that was my success rate. But sometimes I realized, maybe a given client that their journey of ...
They're not sure at the beginning of where they wanted to end up, and they needed to see more actual different versions to go through and then they may be absolutely thrilled with what they had as an end result. But in the past I might think, oh well, you know, I only got there with them on the 10th revision. So, I've failed, I've wasted time and money let's say but they may be very happy with that result and that's where they needed to go. Another client may very much know right off the bat this is what they're going for.
Their notes one after the other are logically progressing to that result of what they want. And for me that's wonderful when you have that but I still think it's a two-way communication that I need to be able to be receptive for them to do that and they need to know what they want to so. - (chuckles) So, when you guys are first getting a job and the client walks in the door with a script, can you describe the process that you'll go through. So, from the script all the way through to delivery.
- Okay, sure. I might do ... Mind if I do a commercial opposed to a film? - Yeah, absolutely. - So, let's say, when I think back to the smashing gas pump commercial as opposed to one of them. - Right, that was a Honda one, right? - It was a Hyundia Spot if I recall. And so, in that process we have the visual effects company then we also have the client being Hyundai but then there's also a-- - An agency? - An agency involved in that triangle as well.
And either we will be pitching the idea of here's our idea for selling your product in this case the car. They have a specific you know, car they're wanting to sell. I don't remember if we were the ones that came up with the smashing glass concept. I believe in this case it would be the agency and then we need to come up with I believe in this scenario, we were involved with pitching ideas and everything on how the actual commercial would be shot, which was pretty cool because you have a chance to maybe even go in and again through animatics, story board how this could all look as a final product before even one camera has been set up.
- Fantastic, does that happen often? For commercials that is. - For commercials much more often, yeah. And I mean, you have so little time with commercials as well to shoot them and they can be very, very quick turnarounds. Sometimes on visual effects maybe I may as short as three weeks, beginning to end, and yeah, so it can go quickly. So yeah, from animatic, trying to try and rough it out as much as we can on the computer.
And because of the way the embassy is, you know, we have a small enough shop that a lot of us where a lot of hats. You know, we're not just strictly okay this person is an animator and that's all they will ever do. They will have that specialty for sure but you know, many of us have various tasks that we can take on as needed for a given project. So, in this case as the animatics being put together we're trying to take guesses of what assets we're going to need and try to have every thing going parallel because we don't have time to do one step then the next step, then the next step.
So, modelling is being roughed together even as the animatics. I'm prototyping let's say a dynamic system for making guesses of okay, I'm not even sure what camera angles we're going to be doing it but can I make something really fast, really maneuverable for smashing these glass gas pumps? We don't even have the design for the gas pump finalized yet. - Yeah. - I don't know how tight or how wide we're gonna be. We're gonna have hundreds of them or just two. So you need to stay really, really flexible and be really comfortable with things changing and just not take it personally.
And then once everything, you know, off they go to shoot it then and when the footage comes back we all start tracking it madly as quickly as we can because the faster we can get the shots tracked then the faster we can get temps of the effect in there. - Right. - We try to render roughly-lit gray shaded version of the commercial as early as possible because in parallel, as soon as we have a shot tracked then of course, the compositors are in there trying to clean it up if they have to do any keying or a lot of roto just for separating elements cleanly.
And if we can get them even a rough CG, elements of a gray gas pump falling over in this shot then they know where to focus their roto, they know where to focus their keying. Problems can come up early. We find out what renders slowly. So it's strange. I mean, traditionally it's very much A then B then C then D but if your pipeline gets compressed enough then you kind of want to try to get everything as parallel as possible and it's ...
- So, now you've ... You're working in parallel and about how many people, you know, let's take that Hyundai spot again. - Yeah. - How many of the ... You know, you've got 25 staff on hand but you guys don't work on all one project at a time there's overlaps. - No. Definitely overlap. - Yeah. - Yeah and of course, you know with how competitive visual effects are these days as well, I mean you can't have staff sitting there idle as well. - Right. - So, sometimes you need to take on a bit more than you might be comfortable with but that's the world we live in. - Yeah.
- So, you may have a bit more parallel going on (laughs) than you would hope for. Or it could be something as simple as let's say you do bid on a project and you get the contract but then they have delays. So, maybe their shooting ends up going a month later than expected but it's a good piece of work to do. But now, you have two projects going on at the same time or another one finishing or. - Right. - Yeah, so there can be some good joggling. - Let's talk a little bit about you know, you as an artist.
Do you create work outside of your full time gig? - I do. Not as much as I should and that's actually something I was thinking of. Just with this interview and everything and just about how important I think it is to make sure to keep working on things outside of your workplace when you're in the industry. I think it keeps things more creative and it can be a playful place where you don't have that pressure of immediately needing to go for the goal of specifically what the client is after.
And I find when I, even just putting together this little scene, just when you don't have a specific goal right away and you can just sort of follow your own instincts and build your own workflows, and start, you know, developing a relationship with the tools that you're interested in specifically because you do enjoy them. Probably what before all the computer stuff when I got into initially and I'm not great at it but I do enjoy it as stop motion animation.
- Fantastic. - You know, it involves the computers a bit these days with the recording and editing of everything but. Yeah, I mean my wife has a bachelor in fine arts and my father-in-law is a potter and does a lot of clay sculpture. - Nice. - And I do envy how much enjoyment they get out of, of just producing outside of the workplace sometimes. So, yeah, that's something I'm trying to get back into more.
Even if it's just a simple thing of just doing some sketches if I'm having a cup of coffee. And for myself I am a bit intimidated by my fine arts skills compared to my wife and I have some very talented friends on the fine arts side. - Sure. - But that's not what it's about. It's, sorry, for your own enjoyment and advancement and whatever, wherever it is that you're at.
So I'm trying to get more involved with doing my own projects because that excitement carries through into work I find. It's crossed now but I think that the movie industry getting so huge between where I think initially it was smaller groups of artists working on things wearing a lot of hats to it's moving a lot to almost crafts people if you were. Like just so many teams are so huge that I sometimes feel you know, I would never want the role of someone that's, I used the make the joke of someone who has the role of making their, the deciduous leaf-maker.
I never want the field to go that specialized. - Sure. - That would be a little bit scary. - Do you feel like it actually could go that specialized? Because I get the sense that we're heading into a period where that niche workflow is sort of breaking up a little bit. - Yeah. - Where people are becoming ... It's turning into more of a bring your own software, bring your own hardware kind of world. Where people are being asked to do, artists are being asked to do more and more different parts of the job. Yeah, I hope that the software makers will save us from that world of the software.
You know, each new grand blockbuster or not necessarily blockbuster. It could be a smaller, more independent film but everyone keeps raising the bar in terms of what can be done with visual effects. And as we're asked to do more if the tools don't get also that much more capable I think there's the danger of us getting that excessively specialized that you would need such a grand number of people to work on the film that you might have someone that's just working on feathers folding back and forth for years.
- Yeah. - Rather than having more creativity and what have you. - It seems like you ... - It seems like it's that massive workflow is already coming into play. You know, I went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy over the weekend and there were literally hundreds of people listed at the end of the movie, hundreds. - And you know, it's virtually impossible to get a move of that scale done without that many people. And I'm not sure if I necessarily see it changing like that to where one person could even think of taking on a project that size or even a hundred people.
- Well, that's why I hope the software can or our tools or also the techniques that people use can evolve enough to keep pace with the challenges of what people are asking for from visual effects that it can stay a creative role for a lot of the people working on the films. That's my hope.
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