A big fat “Hurrah!” for CG from Rocket Jump Film School

I spotted this short paean to computer generated visual effects on Twitter earlier today. It’s premise is that CGI visual effects are actually good for movies, and that it’s only considered to be a bad thing, because we only tend to notice bad CGI, whilst most CGI, the good stuff, is invisible – there are some overdue nods to superlative digital environments in there, including those for TV.

I’ve been generating CGI since 1995, which is a bit like the time in the middle ages, at the cusp of the renaissance in the context of computer graphics history. Back then I was constantly having to argue the toss and justify whether what I was doing was art/design/creative/valid, and we are still fighting similar battles now. I too get frustrated with the bad and unnecessary CGI, but equally, I still love to see the good stuff – particularly so when I don’t spot it until it’s pointed out to me later on by the likes of Cinefex, or via VFX breakdowns on the web.

This visual essay makes the point that CGI is great for some things e.g. environments, crowds, vehicles, etc, but not (yet) great for others – digital characters are still something of a work in progress. It also rightly asserts that many films and TV shows wouldn’t have happened without superb, affordable CGI. A good example being Game of Thrones. All tools have their place and value, whether they are practical or digital. So, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Rocket Jump Film School for articulating what I believe, so passionately, and far more eloquently than I am able in this short video.

Great book – The Wizard of MGM: Memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie

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Terrible cover, great book – The memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie

I recently finished reading through this brilliant look at mattes and miniatures. Don’t be put of by the cover, this book is an excellent memoir from MGM’s head of effects during Hollywood’s golden age. The manuscript, that Gillespie penned in the sixties, has only recently been published, and so it does suffer from slightly below par photographic illustrations, but this is amply compensated for by their quantity, coverage and the privileges of the authors extensive access.

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Miniature effects scene from Thirty Second Over Tokyo

Penned decades before the pre-digital era, the focus of the book is made up of practical and optical effects, mostly by miniatures and matte paintings. The language verges a little towards lines that sound like they came out of Mad Men at times, but not too much. Gillespie can definitely tell a good story, loves a tangent, and goes into he kind of in-depth details that will make Cinefex jealous.

Fascinating and brilliant, can’t recommend it enough!

Available from Amazon

* I borrowed this shot from one of the best miniatures resources on the web, the blog of Kiwi, NZ Pete (can’t find his real name) – Matte Shot – a tribute to Golden Era special fx

VFX breakdowns of some superb digital set extensions from CGEV

From the box office takings, it would appear that the FIFA vanity project United Passions isn’t going to be seen by many people. Given the revelations coming out of FIFA HQ recently (and for quite some time before then) that’s probably what the film deserves. However, French VFX studio CGEV put together some very nice digital sets for the finished film, and they at least deserve a viewing via the above show reel.

Creating movie effects on a TV Schedule – ILM’s work for Agent Carter.

Wired/FX Guide have posted a very concise look at the VFX work done by ILM, on the TV show, Agent Carter.

The television VFX work looks spectacular, but it’s even more interesting to see that these grandees of the effects industry are producing work for television*.

Is this a sign of the growing maturity of episodic television, or more related to economic conditions within the film industry?

*This isn’t the first occasion that ILM have worked on a television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles would be one previous example.

Trying something new: A 1:6 scale miniature set, with 3D tracking and digital extensions…

Having worked exclusively in digital formats for the past 15 years, I have recently been making a concerted effort to resurrect some of my practical design skills. Around five years ago, I started to sketch more frequently, as I began to take on more of a design lead on projects. It proved a great complement to pixels.

More recently, I have looked to expand upon this positive experience and started to explore the use of miniatures in filmmaking. The shots below are of a miniature I have been developing for a sequence of shots based on a snowy environment I have designed. Two faces of a section of a building have been constructed, and set within a snow covered landscape. This miniature set design will ultimately be extended through the use of digital set extensions and 3D tracking.

Shot of the in-progress, 1:6 scale, miniature set, featuring snow and ice effects
A shot of the miniature including snow and ice effects.

The shell of the building was made out of foamcore, which was then clad in balsa. The balsa was ridiculously pristine when first applied, but has since been aged and weathered with heavily diluted ink washes. The snow is a combination of polystyrene base, on top of which, model railway snow effects and marble dust (to add sparkle) have been applied. The icicles are made by applying model railway water effect gel to waxed paper. Once dried, they are glued to the eaves of the building. It’s not finished yet, but so far, it’s proved to be a hugely, enjoyable indulgence.

Detail shot of 1:6 scale miniature set, featuring snow and ice effects
Detail of the miniature in it’s current stage of development.

As with any miniature, depth of field has proved problematic. The only way to counter this, has been to dramatically stop down. Testing has shown f16 to be the absolute maximum, but to achieve optimum results, I am going to need to reduce the aperture even further. The direct consequence of this, is that I then need ridiculous levels of light.

I’m currently looking at stop motion techniques to achieve small apertures, with less light and longer exposures. This approach will allow for better digital environments through better depth of field and improved image quality and resolution compared to video capture.

I wanted to post these before Fortitude is screened tomorrow, as I started work on this last Autumn but business has been very busy and limited the opportunities to work on these kinds of personal projects.

Work schedules permitting, I’m hoping to have the first sequence completed by the Spring

An earlier shot of the miniature set, prior to adding snow and ice effects.
Shot of the miniature prior to the application of snow and ice effects.