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