About Graham Edwards

I'm senior staff writer at Cinefex magazine. I also write novels. In a former life, I produced animated films for theme park rides and science centres. If you offer me a cold beer, I won't say no.

Spotlight – Oliver Schulz

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Oliver SchulzA visual effects supervisor at RISE, Oliver Schulz considers his career highlights to include Black Panther, Babylon Berlin, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

CINEFEX: Oliver, how did you get started in the business?

OLIVER SCHULZ: Initially, my goal was actually not to get involved in computers. I had always loved drawing and painting, but I think it was my brother who introduced me to Maya. I tried it out for two or three weeks, closed it and probably didn’t get back on for three or four months. When I did reopen it I was hooked, in particular with the 3D capabilities.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

OLIVER SCHULZ: The process of bringing together all the little parts and fitting them together for that grand end result. I find that to be really rewarding. Also, coming into work in the morning and screening renders that were sent into the farm the previous night. Being impressed by what turned out well, and seeing the surprises – that never gets old.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

OLIVER SCHULZ: When renders were sent in the previous night don’t come out!

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

OLIVER SCHULZ: The sequences that we did for the first Captain America – we got pretty close to the end deadlines there, but ultimately we pulled through those crazy weeks. Getting up during some of those mornings were notable feats of strength and stamina.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

OLIVER SCHULZ: Standing on the set of Captain America: Civil War in Atlanta and seeing the locations where many other notable productions had been filmed – that was a surreal but incredible opportunity. For example, The Walking Dead was shot in the same areas we were setting up in.

RISE constructed the mountain city of Jabariland as a fully CG environment for Marvel Studios' "Black Panther."

RISE constructed the mountain city of Jabariland as a fully CG environment for Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

OLIVER SCHULZ: I think one trend that is becoming mainstream is the increasing amount of last-minute changes, and how frequently they come in. This reflects overall advancements in how streamlined the technology and workflows have become.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

OLIVER SCHULZ: The continued development of our workflow processes – where we can improve and what we can do away with.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

OLIVER SCHULZ: Train your eye. That is the most important thing for anyone interested in this field. Know how to quickly and efficiently distinguish between what is good and what doesn’t work. This will save you time and give you more energy to go into other tasks which require more attention.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

OLIVER SCHULZ: Actually, a couple of videogames come to the top of my mind first. The cut scenes from the 1990s PC game Command and Conquer: Red Alert. Also, the cut scenes from the first Warcraft were impressive at the time. For movies, I would say the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, with the work done to create Bill Nighy’s tentacle-faced antagonist, Davy Jones – for me, that is one of the most successful visual effects character creations of all time. Oh, and Cameron’s Avatar, too.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

OLIVER SCHULZ: I don’t do snacks in cinemas. Only beer from time to time.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Oliver!

Spotlight – Simon Ohler

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Simon OhlerSimon Ohler is a pipeline developer at RISE, with career highlights including Black Panther, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Cloud Atlas.

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business?

SIMON OHLER: I wanted originally to be a director and a graphic designer. In university, there was this 3D course that I decided to enroll in and it was then that my eyes really opened up to the possibilities of what this field can achieve. I knew that this was what I wanted to do and from then on worked towards getting into more facets of 3D work.

One scenario I wanted to work on was large-scale destruction sequences, such as a city being toppled. So, for my final university project, I did a 30-second shot of a building collapsing during an earthquake. Even with all the resources available now, this is still a challenging task – 10 years ago even more so, as many of the tools that are pretty much industry standard now just weren’t available back then. Fortunately, the sequence came out quite nicely, and landed me my job at RISE.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

SIMON OHLER: The chance to work as a team. When I was starting out, a lot of the tasks you had to complete whether as a student or in a similar role were solitary. In a team environment, you share a lot of previously unknown or unconsidered approaches and techniques that will benefit your own workflow. The people here definitely make coming into work all the more enjoyable.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

SIMON OHLER: Those short turnarounds.

RISE delivered visual effects for the Netflix series "Babylon Berlin."

RISE delivered visual effects for the Netflix series “Babylon Berlin.”

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

SIMON OHLER: The first Captain America film, which was also the first Marvel Studios production we had worked on. At the time, this was all about proving our facility could easily deliver and produce quality work in an already competitive industry. That was certainly challenging for me as an individual, but was also critical in making sure we got off on the right foot with what turned out to be a heavy visual effects-dependent franchise. Some of these earlier difficult tasks included matching perfectly an effect that another vendor had built. This was highly rewarding when we got it right.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

SIMON OHLER: Those happy accidents – although, of course, you cannot always foresee them. For example, when something breaks in the viewport and it just looks awesome. You have to love those magical moments.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

SIMON OHLER: Open formats becoming a standard for data exchange – not only from one application to another but often from one studio to another. Having formats like alembic and vdb at your disposal make the transfer of data much, much smoother compared to previous pipelines. You can now easily build off something that a team of hundreds of developers were previously working on – all you have to do is integrate it into your workflow.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

SIMON OHLER: Something that is already happening is the shift towards real-time rendering. There are already examples of feature-length animated movies being rendered in real-time engines. When it comes to photorealistic visual effects, this is still limited to single characters and smaller, more manageable sets. But, some years from now, I imagine we’ll be assembling sets and placing effects elements with a much clearer preview of how everything will look in the final shot.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

SIMON OHLER: Pay attention to detail and never work with the mindset that tasks are truly finished. When something is done, don’t stop there and say “I’m fine” – there are probably a hundred different ways that it could reworked or improved upon. Keep an open mind and continually test your own abilities – those are the top pieces of advice I can offer.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

SIMON OHLER: Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds – I would say it is the film that brought me into the world of visual effects. Seeing what they did, I wanted to be a part of the destruction and mayhem sequence developments. Mad Max: Fury Road – because it was a really nice blend of CG and practical effects. And the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For a specific shot, I would say the scene in War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise is escaping with his family by car, and as they look back a freeway overpass is completely flipped on end with them barely having cleared it. It looks like a massive special effect with the level of detail that was put into the shot.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

SIMON OHLER: Beer, if available.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Korbinian Hopfner

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Korbinian HopfnerKorbinian Hopfner is a Houdini effects TD at RISE, and has worked on films including Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy and Exodus: Gods and Kings.

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Korbinian?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: When I first watched the massive battle sequences in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I thought that I would like to get involved in this line of work by helping to make these visual effects-heavy productions. I started by reviewing as many available tutorials as I could find. My research also included how effects were achieved throughout previous decades when digital technology was in its earlier years – particularly in understanding how exactly they got around the technical hurdles by developing their own tools and processes. It still motivates me to take my work further.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Those lucky shots where the first attempt gets to final – that’ll always make me smile.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: The sad sight of a broken espresso machine and the chilling reality that the day has only begun.

RISE was part of the global visual effects team on Marvel Studios' "Doctor Strange."

RISE was part of the global visual effects team on Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange.”

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Probably Captain America: Civil War, where we went through a lot of look development phases for a specific effect and needed to change it in a very short time.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: We had to create an effect for rocks that consume light. Conceptually, that was a strange task.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Effects work is always a very time-consuming process – at least, it can be when it comes to big simulations. Of course, every year it becomes easier as the software and hardware are continually improved upon. A positive aspect of these advancements is that becoming involved in this industry is easier now for beginners. The software has evolved to be more user-friendly, albeit still offering the tools that artists need to complete their tasks.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Real-time photorealistic physics and simulations – I would definitely like to see this more and more implemented.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Start with some simple tutorials, followed by an internship. If you’re still on board after that, I guess you’re good to go for the next level. Go step by step, and don’t ever give up after a hiccup. Keep practicing.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: I would begin with the classics – Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. They still have some of the most ground-breaking effects of all time. I mean, who doesn’t get goosebumps when the T-1000 melts through the iron bars? Seeing that in theaters for the first time is a memory that will be hard to top, if even. The third one would certainly be Mad Max: Fury Road. Every time I rewatch the sequence where they are racing through the encroaching mega-sandstorm, there are always previously unnoticed details I love discovering.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Movie time is popcorn time. I choose you, salty popcorn!

CINEFEX: Korbinian, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Matthias Winkler

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Matthias WinklerA CG supervisor at RISE, Matthias Winkler picks out his career highlights as Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War and Babylon Berlin.

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Matthias?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: I was working for a small advertising agency and picked up a trial version of Maya after seeing Finding Nemo. I wanted to know how they were able to create those characters and environments. That was my first experience getting into 3D and from then on it was just further expanding into this field.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: Seeing your renderings being massaged into the plate by talented compositors.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: Checking renders in the morning, and having incomplete renders in sequences where you really needed them.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: The project I’m currently working on, due to the increased amount of different departments we had coming together, and exchanging work frequently to make the effects work on a certain character come together in a short amount of time. Thanks to our great pipeline TDs and our visual effects supervisor, it worked out just fine, and the camera got really close to some of our digital assets and effects. Really, really close!

RISE created hologram visual effects for the car chase in "Black Panther."

RISE created hologram visual effects for the car chase in “Black Panther.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: I find myself thinking of the time when I was starting off as a modeler and had first got my hands on the newly available lidar scanners. That was a real game-changer.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: I would like to have better processing speed capabilities. Say about 777 times better than they are currently.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: Finding Nemo, Edge of Tomorrow and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. For a particular sequence, the beach battle in Edge of Tomorrow really blew my mind. I liked the whole cinematography and the production design, especially the rig and the animation of the Mimics – really impressive.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

MATTHIAS WINKLER: Beer and bubblegum.

CINEFEX: Matthias, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Esther Trilsch

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Esther TrilschEsther Trilsch is a rigging TD at RISE, and lists her filmography highlights as Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Babylon Berlin and Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver.

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Esther?

ESTHER TRILSCH: I was actually more interested in drawing initially, but I realized I wasn’t that great at it. I remember looking at how 3D artists work creatively, and started to experiment with these approaches. Cinema 4D was my starting point, but at the time there weren’t many tutorials available. What I could find was all in Italian so it was kind of a bummy start! That first contact with 3D got me headed in the direction of wider visual effects work. Over the course of my studies, I realized that approaches taken with 3D characters and anatomy are very close to what got me originally into illustrating. It was a natural step heading into a wider visual effects environment where I could learn not only more about my own interests, but also the other necessary components for this field of production.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ESTHER TRILSCH: Certainly when you reach the point where the character you’ve been working on becomes ‘alive.’ Building something up that will benefit the company and help us grow as a whole. The tools we have created and use in-house, catered to our needs, offer new experiences and continually challenge us to develop further.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ESTHER TRILSCH: There are always pros and cons. It is a fast-changing industry and a lot of stuff that you develop will soon need to be upgraded or swapped out entirely – that can also be seen as a pro as it keeps you moving and learning. The impact of globalization on the effects industry is something we all might be concerned with. Regarding outsourcing, talent is something I think we should be more mindful of moving forward.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ESTHER TRILSCH: I feel slightly challenged right now! I’m working on my first project in the role of supervisor, where I am now responsible for other people and their work. Each show has its own set of challenges and, while they may be similar from show to show, they still require strategizing for how we reach our end goals. Of course, bringing any project together towards the end, keeping everything in check, has its expected hurdles.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ESTHER TRILSCH: As a rigger, you have to take care of the anatomy of the characters and actors which need to be built. So, there are moments when you need to do things that you previously thought would never come across your plate. Funny requests are expected in this line of work!

RISE created visual effects for the Netflix series "Bablyon Berlin."

RISE created visual effects for the Netflix series “Bablyon Berlin.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ESTHER TRILSCH: One trend that I see the industry moving towards is incorporating machine learning into more day-to-day workflows. Over the last two years, I have heard of increased instances where this type of AI is becoming part of the tools we use daily. This will change a lot of workflows for us – for example, processes like transferring motion capture data into usable animation data is becoming faster.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ESTHER TRILSCH: I am interested with where machine learning may take this industry, but also cautious – it might drastically reduce the amount of work we get ourselves. It is encouraging to see the increase of women working in visual effects. I would love to see an even more dramatic increase over the coming years. From my perspective, I feel it is fairly easy to be respected in this profession.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ESTHER TRILSCH: Learn programming as early as possible. You will need it! Try to balance anatomical and mathematical skillsets, as these will aid you tremendously as you begin your own careers. It will save you a lot of trouble further down the road and get you into positions where more responsibilities and possibilities are available to you.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ESTHER TRILSCH: Blade Runner 2049 – a very good example of a mix of high quality visual effects work with practical effects. The Lord of the Rings trilogy – I remember the first time when I saw Gollum just being completely awestruck that this was possible. Jurassic Park – for the time, those were impressive creature builds.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ESTHER TRILSCH: Chicago Style Popcorn – caramel and cheese mixed!

CINEFEX: Esther, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Andreas Giesen

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Andreas Giesen is an effects supervisor at RISE, with career highlights including Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Dark, Babylon Berlin and Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver.

Andreas GiesenANDREAS GIESEN: I started by working in the gaming industry. Back then, the limitations were much bigger than they are today, especially regarding model and rendering detail. It was a great experience for starting as a generalist and getting to know Maya in-depth, but soon I looked for new challenges and started as an intern in the visual effects industry.

While I continued working as a generalist in Maya, I started to focus on effects simulations and the software package Houdini. Already in my childhood I had made funny short films with stock muzzle flashes, explosions and lightsabers – AlamDV rocks! – so this was the next logical step. I continued gathering experience at RISE with Houdini as an effects TD over the years, before becoming the effects supervisor for Captain America: Civil War. That was really challenging but also a huge opportunity.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ANDREAS GIESEN: The most fascinating thing about this job is that it never gets dull around here. Every project, regardless of genre or production size, has its own set of new challenges. Of course, there are aspects that are repeated or similar to previous assignments. But overall I would say the constant flow of new challenges and ideas is what keeps me coming to work.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANDREAS GIESEN: When people use the render farm with the motto: “I don’t always render 12-hour frames, but when I do they’re completely black.”

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ANDREAS GIESEN: It would Captain America: Winter Soldier, my first project here in a supervisor role. Everything from the scope to the complexity of each task made it feel at the start like I had undertaken a mammoth challenge. Fortunately I was with other like-minded colleagues who were able to help us realize what was tasked.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANDREAS GIESEN: While building the crowd system for Babylon Berlin, we had one crowd agent who always lost his pants when coming out of the cloth simulation. That was weird.

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CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ANDREAS GIESEN: I would say the increasing number of complex visual effects shots in a movie today. Six years ago, you would only have one or two films released where there is a city destruction sequence. Now every second movie has a city that gets obliterated. That makes it way more difficult to create something new which is really outstanding.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANDREAS GIESEN: I think we can go – and are going – further with streamlining the visual effects process so that we can complete even greater amounts of tasks within our set timeframe. We’re also relying more and more on procedural approaches, which save a lot of time in the end.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ANDREAS GIESEN: Keep experimenting by doing your own projects. Don’t expect there to be someone to hold your hand or show you how to do this or that. To get into this industry, you need to keep learning and experimenting first-hand. Whether by nonstop viewing of tutorials online, learn what you are good at and where you would like to improve. Never handicap yourself by believing you can’t get it how you imagined it or by passing the work on to someone else. It’s also important to work within a team that you can learn from. Your own ambition and passion ultimately will be the key factors that will carry you through the highs and lows of visual effects work.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ANDREAS GIESEN: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, definitely – these films were a part of what inspired me to get into this field. The early crowd sequences such as the massive battle were impressive to see on the big screen then and still are to this day. Another one is The Matrix movie. You cannot imagine how many times I tried to do a proper bullet time effect in my childhood – quite difficult with just one camera and a person who has to stand still for minutes!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANDREAS GIESEN: Popcorn with an appropriate balance of sweet and salty goodness.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Erik Schneider

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Erik Schneider is a compositing supervisor at RISE. His filmography highlights include Black Panther, Babylon Berlin, Exodus: Gods and Kings and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Erik SchneiderCINEFEX: Erik, how did you get started in the business?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: When I was in school, I had friends who were working on a small sci-fi project. This was one of the first instances where I considered the impact of visual effects in opening up new means of storytelling for the big screen. It was also at the time when everyone was anticipating the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After I saw my friends’ project, I wanted to get involved – we started with working on a fantasy trailer. Of course it was horrible! But it was these early works that really got me going further into the field. At the time we were playing around with Maya and Shake. We all thought we should have begun learning these tools earlier in our lives because they were at this time challenging to use – we were only scratching the surface of the software’s full potential. Years went by and then a friend who was already involved in visual effects production described his role as a compositor. It was amazing to see how they worked and the end products of their work come together.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: Going to the theater and seeing a film you worked on being projected onto the big screen.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: Going into a screening and the people around you are aggressively eating. Not a fan of that.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: Well, this is before I joined the RISE team. Back when I worked on Exodus: Gods and Kings, there was a wide shot in the sequence Moses where guides his people across the Red Sea. The effects department was already under a lot of pressure because they also were assigned the towering waves that return after the sea closes. However, the water simulations were not holding up. We had to patch in dozens of smaller elements to re-create a larger body of water. It was a tremendous task but we ended up with something really nice given the circumstances.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: It has to be a film I worked on where the story centers on children who are able to fly by farting. Needless to say, the effect they had originally gone with did not work at all, even for this premise. I now had to make these kids fly with the power of compositing!

RISE created visual effects for the Netflix series "Bablyon Berlin."

RISE created visual effects for the Netflix series “Bablyon Berlin.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: A few years back we were experimenting with elements such as explosions, fire and smoke. Now, almost always, these tasks are done by the effects department, which is great for the visual effects overall. But sometimes I do miss watching these elements come together.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: A lot of my industry colleagues are becoming more mindful about the incorporation of machine learning into our workflows. I am a bit hesitant about this stuff in general, but also in terms of how it will benefit the artists themselves. If it advances to the point where we as compositors no longer have to fix edges, for example, we will soon be out of work altogether.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: Don’t doubt yourself or the work that your perform – nobody gets it right the first go around. Keep developing your skillsets and, more importantly, find out what it is that you want to do in visual effects. Even during the most intense turnarounds and outstanding tasks, if you are still happy knowing that you are doing what you love, you can handle the challenges.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner 2049. All these films showed me things that I previously had never thought achievable for the big screen. They made me curious to understand how exactly they undertook these incredible feats in their respective eras.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ERIK SCHNEIDER: Club Mate – a German drink with plenty of caffeine.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Erik!

Spotlight – Jonathan Weber

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Jonathan WeberJonathan Weber is a visual effects supervisor at RISE, and lists his career highlights as Black Panther, Cloud Atlas, Captain America: Civil War and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Jonathan?

JONATHAN WEBER: Loving movies, I started getting to know the industry by working for a short period at Markenfilm, Hamburg, in advertising. After I decided to move on, I was very lucky meeting the right people who started RISE a few months later and took me under their wings. I love the visual effects people in the industry, I love images and I’m good with computers – that’s a good combination for working in visual effects. Our big breakthrough was Cloud Atlas, I guess, and then Iron Man 3 started off the whole Marvel wave for us.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

JONATHAN WEBER: When new plates begin arriving and the artists start jumping around like happy little drug addicts, getting their next shot!

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

JONATHAN WEBER: When it’s beautiful and sunny outside, but the crunch is asking for overtime.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

JONATHAN WEBER: Let´s say Captain America: Civil War, because of the spectrum of different tasks combined with the amount of shots for the show. This signaled we had reached the next level for RISE. Close-up CG characters, lots of effects elements, seamless integration of CG elements with real-life characters, many, many set extensions, and over 300 shots. Still makes me dizzy thinking about it all!

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

JONATHAN WEBER: So many of them, especially on when on set. One in particular was when the entire crew was on standby for this trained cat to jump into frame in front of the greenscreen. The animal trainer told the cat ‘jump’ over a thousand times. As you would expect from a cat, nothing happened at all.

RISE created a CG Jabariland environment for "Black Panther."

RISE created a CG Jabariland environment for “Black Panther.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

JONATHAN WEBER: From PAL 720×576 to high res 4K HDR and source material of 8K. From tape measure and set drawings to extreme precise lidar scanners.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

JONATHAN WEBER: Overall speed improvements in every department, so we can focus more on the creative aspects of the job. Faster and more reliable machines for working and rendering.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

JONATHAN WEBER: Watch a lot of movies and get an eye for what is seen through the camera lens. This is not only important for matte painters and compositors, but for everyone. Even the most tech-savvy effects artist becomes a better visual effects artist by knowing what the final image should look like – and it saves a lot of iterations, for sure. Also, check the internet for resources. In whatever field you want to get involved with, there are plenty of online materials available – YouTube, web tutorials and blogs. The internet is pure gold for visual effects artists and an invaluable resource for continually building up your own capabilities.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

JONATHAN WEBER: Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Star Wars. Going for these classics, you simply can´t go wrong. All of them have spectacular imagery combined with amazing music and sound. Terminator 2 in particular still gives me shivers whenever the T-1000 appears.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

JONATHAN WEBER: Beer, Coke, nachos with cheese dip, ice cream confectionery, and sweet and salty popcorn – just the right combination of them all!

CINEFEX: Jonathan, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Markus Degen

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Markus DegenAs managing partner and CCO at RISE, Markus Degen lists his career highlights as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver.

CINEFEX: Markus, how did you get started in the business?

MARKUS DEGEN: As a teen, I saw Pixar short films such as Luxo Jr. and Red’s Dream and just knew then that I would like to do the same. The Commodore Amiga became my partner in crime – I utilized 3D software at night and slept in school in the day.

When I was searching for a university that offered at least some CGI courses – it was 1991 in Austria – there was only a single one: Master Studies of Visual Media Art at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. I was going to a music school, had not any contact with visual arts while growing up, and had no idea what to expect there. We are talking about a Nam June Paik kind of art study where they also just started to experiment with computer graphics. And I was the naive small-town boy without a clue about art, applying to get in a study where they take eight students out of 2,000 per year. Where, when you ask for application forms, the snotty secretary tells you that no one gets accepted at the first attempt, on principle. Anyway, with my CG skills on the Amiga I created some dark and extraordinary images like nothing anyone there had ever seen before. I got in immediately. My technical CG skills surpassed any teacher’s knowledge there, but still, studying there was one of the best times in my life and I discovered my art side.

After graduation, I travelled to Berlin, stumbled on a visual effects house and they took me as an intern for some roto work. Two years later, they sent me supervising for a movie called Tropical Malady in the depths of a sweat-drenched, mosquito-ridden jungle in Thailand. We were far from the nearest city, the overall experience was a ride, and the film ended up winning the 2004 Prix Du Jury award at Cannes. They called my firefly tree the icon of the festival and authentic cinema – they didn’t know it was CG. There I got the taste of it. The three co-workers of the company at that time became friends and, in a crazy moment after lunch, we had the idea of founding our own company.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

MARKUS DEGEN: Creating things that don’t exist.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

MARKUS DEGEN: More and more, visual effects are now only recognized by non-industry people and audiences alike when they are bad. Of course, this is a testament to how far the visual effects industry has developed by becoming indistinguishable from practical sets and so on.

RISE created visual effects for "Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver."

RISE created visual effects for “Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver.”

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

MARKUS DEGEN: The moment when you are standing on set and witnessing the client’s approach fail catastrophically. The immediate sensation that follows – of 200-plus pairs of eyes all turning towards you to hastily solve the issue – makes for a pretty fun experience.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

MARKUS DEGEN: Those truly weird experiences you cannot always share. One memory I have, however, is when a production team told us that they did not have the time to shoot a sweeping panoramic opener flying through the peaks of a high altitude mountain range. That’s when you find yourself strapped on the side of helicopter capturing as much detail of the ranges with your DSLR as you can so your team can build them from scratch.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

MARKUS DEGEN: Visual effects artists are doing the creative work that previously other departments and roles would be responsible for. A lot of the creativity involved with compositions and lighting, for example, are become more mainstream visual effects tasks. This trend has not slowed down, either.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

MARKUS DEGEN: As far as visual effects have come, they are not always recognizable. I would like to see both the industry and the artists who do this incredible work begin to get wider recognition and being credited properly. Their work alone allows for a much broader spectrum of stories to be told on screen than in previous filmmaking eras.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

MARKUS DEGEN: Train your eyes. Constantly.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

MARKUS DEGEN: I think the first movie that created a visual effects impact on me was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The effects were so much a part of the story told, and aided the emotional impacts felt. I wanted to get involved in this form of storytelling where we imagine the previously unimaginable. Blade Runner 2049, because of how visual effects added this tangible sensation to the environment aesthetics. The blend of digital and practical came out very well. Avengers: Age of Ultron would be my third, naturally, because I worked on it!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

MARKUS DEGEN: Gin and tonic.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Markus!

Spotlight – Oliver Hohn

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

A compositing supervisor at RISE, Oliver Hohn lists his filmography highlights as Black Panther, Babylon Berlin, The Dark Tower, Doctor Strange and Captain America: Civil War.

Oliver HohnCINEFEX: Oliver, how did you get started in the business?

OLIVER HOHN: I remember discovering compositing and what it involved back when I was studying media technologies in college. I started out with Cinema 4D, Maya, Shake, Fusion and other compositing tools that were available at the time. Eventually the first version of Nuke 4.5 as well. I began working on music videos, commercials and other similarly-scaled productions. I would also occasionally undertake internships. An earlier memory that I will never forget from this period was a feature that needed wires painted out from a sequence set in an outdoor rainy night location. What a lovely visual effects memory that was.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

OLIVER HOHN: The before and after of our work – it always amazes me when it all comes together.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

OLIVER HOHN: Checking edges – especially over and over and over again …

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

OLIVER HOHN: The first Captain America film was challenging in terms of our turnarounds. Intense!

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

OLIVER HOHN: When I was working on the last few frames of Captain America and realized that 4:00am had arrived. I was the only one not passed out on a couch.

RISE created hologram effects for "Black Panther."

RISE created hologram effects for “Black Panther.”

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

OLIVER HOHN: The technology we use daily and the overall increase in how fast new versions and tools are made available. Also noticeable are the amount of visual effects shots per production, regardless of whether it’s a television or feature project. Ten years ago, you would have maybe a handful of visual effects work per project – now even the low budget, smaller productions are able to afford hundreds.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

OLIVER HOHN: At the moment, a nice long holiday!

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

OLIVER HOHN: Work on yourself. Work on your eye. Keep doing shots. Do the stuff you like, over and over. Experience is gold in this business. Do as much as you can and do not be afraid to fail. Experimentation is encouraged.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

OLIVER HOHN: Starship Troopers – I think it still looks amazing given the time it came out. I last saw it a few years back and would probably hold the same opinion of it today. Also, Mad Max: Fury Road and Captain America: Winter Soldier.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

OLIVER HOHN: Beer, preferably German.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Oliver!