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.

Rob Bredow to Deliver “Solo” Keynote at VIEW Conference

Rob Bredow behind the controls of the Millennium Falcon

Visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow behind the controls of the “Millennium Falcon.” Photograph courtesy of ILM.

One of the highlights of VIEW Conference 2018 is sure to be Creatively Driven – The VFX for “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” a keynote presentation by the film’s visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, who is also senior vice president, executive creative director and head of Industrial Light & Magic.

I’ll be at VIEW this year, covering the conference for Cinefex, and in anticipation of the event I thought I’d dig out an interview I did with Rob earlier this year, while I was researching my own behind-the-scenes article on Solo. I spent a full hour talking with Rob, and a further ten hours chatting with other members of the effects, creature and costume teams – plus the film’s director, Ron Howard – which meant there was a lot of material that had to hit the cutting room floor!

So, here are a few outtakes from my interview with Rob Bredow that didn’t make into the Cinefex article.

Solo: A Star Wars Story in Cinefex 160

CINEFEX: The Millennium Falcon looks a little different in Solo, right?

ROB BREDOW: Right. The concept behind it was that Lando’s kind of a flossy guy! He would add a couple of racing stripes to his ship. It’s got a really well-kept interior, and he would really care about its appearance – there actually used to be some lines about that in the script that didn’t make the final cut. If you look in the background of some of the shots, there’s even a trophy case with a model of the Falcon inside. Our idea was to honor the original design, but during the story to do things that reveal more and more of the Falcon that we all know and love from A New Hope.

CINEFEX: Did you tweak any of the other vehicle designs to fit in with the time period of Solo?

ROB BREDOW: We did a slight earlier generation AT-ST, sort of World War I-inspired. It has operators up in the top of it, so it is similar to the AT-ST that we saw in Return of the Jedi, but it has a big cannon mounted on the front for ground-to-ground combat. That was kind of consistent for everything we did in the film. The Star Destroyers are the ships we know from A New Hope, but there is one new version that has some radar dishes. That only made the final cut in the form of a hologram, but it is in the movie for a second or two!

CINEFEX: Han flies the Falcon through the notorious Kessel Run – what does he encounter along the way?

ROB BREDOW: Well, the environment evolves as we go through the Kessel Run. The Maelstrom is made up of giant space storm clouds – we theorized maybe it’s nitrogen – and there are these giant blocks called carbonbergs, that crash into each other and you have to avoid as you’re flying through the uncharted maw. The things you’re really looking to avoid are the gravity well and the multi-tentacled space monster! It literally is the ‘there be monsters’ section of our movie, harking back to some of those old classic stories.

CINEFEX: You used front projection to provide views out through the Falcon’s cockpit. Did you do that anywhere else in the film?

ROB BREDOW: Yes, for the scenes inside Dryden’s ship, there’s a 360-degree front projection screen wrapped around the windows. Everything you see out those windows was completely finaled in camera. Dryden visits two different locations in the film – Vandor and Savareen – and at a moment’s notice we could flip between the two. Our director of photography Bradford Young used the front projection as one of the main components of his lighting, and all the reflections on the set were captured in camera. I would say the result is better than if we had done a bluescreen or greenscreen composite – and certainly much more efficient for postproduction.

View Conference 2018

Read the complete 22-page Solo article in Cinefex 160, available from our online store. Rob Bredow’s presentation on Solo: A Star Wars Story is scheduled for Tuesday 23 October at VIEW Conference 2018, which takes place  at the Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR) in Torino, Italy, October 22 to 26, 2018. Check out the full program and register for talks, workshops, panels, and masterclasses at the VIEW Conference website.

Now Showing – Cinefex 161

Cinefex 161

Cinefex 161 has landed — not in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, but on newsstands and in mailboxes all around planet Earth. With NASA’s iconic Apollo 11 lunar module planted firmly on the cover, our October issue is packed with stellar images and out-of-this-world content — including Joe Fordham’s feature story on First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle and starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, the young aviator from Ohio who flew his way to a moon landing during the summer of ’69.

Dig deeper into Cinefex 161 and you’ll find in-depth articles on director Ruben Fleischer’s gritty superhero tale Venom, Oliver Daly’s tale of a boy and his robot dog, A.X.L., Albert Hughes’ Ice Age drama Alpha, and Jon Turteltaub’s yarn centered around a ravenous Charadon megaladon, The Meg.

Watch a video preview of Cinefex 161:

Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to update you with her official mission report on Cinefex 161:

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

In every generation, there are a few world events so significant that we remember where we were when they happened – often in excruciating, sensory detail. I am a Baby Boomer, so mention the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I vividly recall the smell of Ajax cleaner the school custodian used to scrub our desks at night. I remember that same custodian coming into my third-grade classroom to whisper in Mrs. Trask’s ear, her eyes welling with tears, the uncomfortable hush that came over the class, and her announcement, in quivering voice, that the President had been shot.
Six years later, the whole world watched the moon landing that had been promised by that felled President. I was a 14-year-old that late July 1969, stuck in the family station wagon for a trip to visit my grandparents in northern California. Not content to follow the news reports on the radio – although we did that, all the way up the old 99 highway – my father broke all speed records to get us to our destination and in front of a television screen in time for Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface. It was thrilling, a moment of both promise and pride.
Those feelings and memories came rushing back when I saw our First Man cover for Cinefex 161. Joe Fordham outdid himself with his coverage of Damien Chazelle’s stunning film. If you’ve never read a Cinefex article before, read this one.
And while you’re at it, read Graham Edwards’ story about an incredible Czechoslovakian Wolfdog named Chuck who was such a great performer, fewer than expected computer animated wolf shots were required to bring Alpha to the screen. Read my account of writer/director Oliver Daly’s finding inspiration in the world of desert motocross racing, resulting in his A.X.L. feature film, and about the puppetry – both practical and digital – that put the ‘dog’ in a boy and his dog story. Finally, if you’re in the mood for hardcore bad-assery, check out our coverage of The Meg and Venom.
Cinefex issue 161: No tricks. Just treats.

Cinefex 161 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy is already making its final approach to your mailbox. And don’t forget our iPad edition, which features tons more photographs and exclusive video content.

Spotlight – Armen Kevorkian

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

Armen Kevorkian is executive creative director and visual effects supervisor at Encore VFX, and includes in his career highlights Love, Simon, Titans, The Flash, Supergirl and Black Lightning.

Armen Kevorkian

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I’ve always been interested in filmmaking and directing, but more or less fell into visual effects. I went to film school and got an internship working on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Then, an entry level position opened up in the visual effects/post department and I jumped at the opportunity. I spent several years learning the ins and outs of visual effects, and I’m constantly expanding that knowledge with each new project.

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: It’s rewarding when you’re able to visualize something in your head and bring that image to life for everyone to see.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I hate when shots don’t turn out the way I imagined. That, and running out of time, which is always an issue in visual effects.

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: One of my first visual effects supervisor jobs was for a series that had fairly significant visual effects needs – including CG creatures and set extensions – and a limited budget. Also, visual effects tools weren’t as advanced then, so creating the work was more challenging. It was nerve-racking, and a make-or-break moment for me, but I worked around the clock to make sure everyone got what they wanted. At the end of the day, we pulled it off.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I encounter a lot of strange situations and requests as a visual effects supervisor. One moment that stands out is when a very low budget sci-fi television movie that I worked on was nominated for an Emmy. The film was about a zombie mammoth that came to life in a museum – not your typical awards fare! We cut together a great reel and were nominated alongside some incredible projects, including one produced by Steven Spielberg.

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Almost every film and television series has visual effects now, in part thanks to advanced software and hardware that allow us to create better work faster. Productions are relying on visual effects more, since it’s sometimes easier – and more economical – to achieve certain shots in the back-end. A lot of time it ends up looking better, too. Also, the distinction between content formats is falling away. Audiences expect a certain level of quality, regardless of whether they’re viewing in a theater, on television, or on a mobile device. With social media, you get immediate feedback via online comments and reaction videos, so you learn pretty quickly how your work is received by the audience. This was unheard of 20 years ago.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: This is already underway, but I think that when visual effects is fully integrated within production, it enables more successful results. When artists and storytellers are on the same page, projects run more smoothly and with better collaboration.

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Be passionate. It’s advice that applies to any job,  but the visual effects industry can be stressful and frustrating, and enjoying what you do makes it easier to get through the tough spots.

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

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: District 9 is so well done, especially the way the CG alien is perfectly integrated throughout the film. You really feel the emotion.

Star Wars: A New Hope remains one of the greats. It was ground-breaking at the time and really holds up.

My final spot is a tie between Transformers and Iron Man. Growing up with those cartoons and toys, I found it entertaining and fascinating to see these characters come to life. The visual effects don’t take you out of the story, but rather bring it to life. The films mark a shift for the superhero/action genre, and the people behind them deserve credit for trying things that had never been done before. That takes guts.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Popcorn! I can’t watch a movie without popcorn, even if I only have a few pieces. And a cherry ICEE.

CINEFEX: Armen, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Matthias Wittmann

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

Matthias Wittmann is a real-time supervisor at Method EXP, the immersive arm of Method Studios. His visual effects animation credits include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I, Robot, Tron: Legacy, Maleficent and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. He’s also worked on augmented and virtual reality projects such as Robin Hood VR, Alien: Covenant – In Utero and Passengers – Awakening.

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

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: I went to Filmakademie in the ‘90s, and my plan was always to make visual effects for movies. Actually, that’s not true! I thought at first that I wanted to be a director, but I found visual effects – animation in particular – more interesting. At that time, there were no big visual effects companies in Germany, especially not for feature film. A company in Berlin called Spans & Partners was doing really great commercial work, and I joined them as an animator. I stayed there for two years, but I knew that to do film I’d have to go somewhere else. I went to a shop called HDO-Oberhausen and another one, Elektrofilm, that had opened a few rooms to work on movies like House of the Dead, The Shaft, aka Down (not to be confused with Shaft – this movie was about a killer elevator!). I met some people from Digital Domain on Little Vampire, and a few years later in 2003 they asked me to come and work with them. That was my big break. I jumped at the chance to work on Hollywood movies, and moved to Los Angeles.

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

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: Creating life! As a character animator, you do so much to bring your characters to life. You really understand them, and they have real personalities – they’re not just moving through the frame.

Switching to real-time takes that to the next level. When you can make a character that actually recognizes you and interacts with you, it’s uncannily cool. I’m working on a project now where I’ve programmed a virtual human to have emotions so, if you disturb him with your VR hands, you can make him happy or nervous or mad. The other day, for the first time, I poked him on his head and he became angry. It was so cool! I try to write everything with enough fuzzy logic that it’s not absolutely predictable, putting in a lot of “if-then” situations so that I don’t always understand why a character did something, but it’s still within the realm of his behavior.

Everyone’s talking about AI, machine learning, neural networks. Those things are super important for technology and development, but they’re not what brings a character to life. The basic idea is: “What would my character do? How do I hook up the behavior tree so that he feels like a self-consistent intelligence?” The newest neural network doesn’t solve those problems – common sense and experience does. Computer vision will help a character to see and understand what’s around him – feed him with optical input and this segment of his brain will determine what it saw – but what does he do with that information? When he sees a chair, does he sit down? Destroy it? Run away because he’s scared of chairs? To give a character personality and emotion, you need those tools as a piece of the puzzle, but you have to structure the puzzle yourself. That’s my part, and that’s what I enjoy the most.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: I know everyone says the same thing and I will too – there’s never enough time. There are so many possibilities that you could try out, and sometimes the tools you’re using are not made for the things you want to do; that’s especially true in interactive work now. Putting together functions in a way you want them to work isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time.

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

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: I’ve had some big challenges in my career, but the most scared I’ve been was for something I worked on in film school, where we sometimes did projects for outside vendors. In 1996, there was a movie being made in Germany called Die Raettin, which means The She-Rat. They wanted us to create a talking rat. Now, rats have hair, and we had not done any hair yet in Germany – or in the school. I think Jumanji had just come out in theaters but at that time, outside of Hollywood you couldn’t just write a shader.

I had heard there was a procedure in PowerAnimator that would let you create hair with traveling particles, and I thought maybe that could work. I asked if the school would build an animatronic rat as a backup plan in case the CG didn’t work. They did – it cost $30K. I modelled this rat in PowerAnimator – all nurbs, no polygons – and gave it dynamic fur with the particle system, and moving whiskers, which took six months. We filmed two sequences, one with the CG rat and one with the animatronic rat. The client chose the CG rat. It was a very rewarding experience because I was still a student, and that success catapulted me to a different level. It was really cool in the end, but really scary getting there!

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

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: In the early days, it felt like visual effects was more useful – you had to create something to make a movie possible. The effects are still fantastic-looking, but a lot of the breakthroughs seem more about making things easier and improving, rather than inventing. That’s one of the things that attracted me to real-time. It feels like it did when I first studied computer animation. Pioneering.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: The field I’m working in now is really new, so it will probably change a lot over the next few years. We need to come up with solutions to new challenges. That’s the fun part. This will keep me interested for the next few decades.

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

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: You have to make up your mind who you are and what you want to work on, and pursue that relentlessly. That’s not to say you have to sell your soul or work 24/7 for nothing. But you have to make consistent choices to advance. When you’re just starting out, it’s survival, but with the right mindset, the visual effects industry can be a great place.

I’d also say that, whatever you do and whatever you create, make sure your own product is the best it possibly can be. Don’t aim for “good enough.” Do the best you can in the time you have – knowing it will never be enough – and look at your product. Would you accept it?

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 WITTMANN: John Carpenter’s The Thing – the effects were absolutely needed to show people something totally unimaginable. The defibrillation sequence where the Thing bites off the medic’s hands, takes over the corpse and ends up turning into a spider-like being and running off – people didn’t understand what they just saw. It was totally unimaginable at the time, until the effects made it something they were able to see.

Starship Troopers – it’s the pinnacle of interaction between live-action and CG. It’s so completely believable and intense, a masterpiece in terms of bringing those two things together. It’s much easier now to integrate things believably, but it’s still hard.

War for the Planet of the Apes – it was fantastically done all round. The choices in character development, the animation, the acting. You forget all of the technology around it. When you see the apes fighting with real people, the CG snow on their fur – you never have to think about it. They’re believable characters, and you accept the whole thing.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

MATTHIAS WITTMANN: Chocolate croissants. When my wife and I go to movies, it’s usually on a Saturday or Sunday morning when the theaters are pretty empty. We stop first for coffees and croissants and sneak them in!

CINEFEX: Matthias, thanks for your time!

Counting Down to VIEW 2018

We’re gearing up for VIEW Conference 2018, which brings top professionals to Italy for a week of talks, presentations, and workshops covering computer graphics, interactive and immersive storytelling, animation, visual effects, games, and virtual, augmented and mixed reality. For the first time, Cinefex will be at the event, reporting on the proceedings and catching up with our friends in the industry.

Conference director Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez has just announced the latest speakers, workshops and masterclasses, plus the event’s venue – the newly restored Officine Grandi Riparazioni (OGR), a late-19th century industrial building that now houses a 20,000 square meter Innovation Hub and Arts Center. The full program for the digital media conference – which takes place in Torino, Italy, October 22 to 26, 2018 – is now available online at the VIEW Conference website.

Joining the list of previously announced speakers at VIEW 2018 are Rodeo FX visual effects supervisor Thomas Hullin presenting the company’s work on Game of Thrones, RISE executive visual effects producer Florian Gellinger discussing Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Weta Digital’s head of R&D Paolo Emilio Selva talking technology innovations at Weta. In addition, DNEG’s animation director Troy Saliba and digital effects supervisor AharonBourland will be peeling back the skin of Venom.

VIEW Conference will also showcase the European premiere of SIGGRAPH’s 2018 Computer Animation Festival and the Italian premiere of La Noria with Director Carlos Baena during its digital movie festival, VIEWFEST, 19-21 October, plus a special “Women in Animation” panel featuring Paramount Animation president Mireille Soria, Cartoon Saloon creative director Nora Twomey, Pixar director of photography Danielle Feinberg, and LAIKA storyboard artist Emanuela Cozzi.

Keynote presenters for VIEW 2018 include five Oscar winners: composer Hans Zimmer, ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren, senior vice president of creative strategy at Magic Leap John Gaeta, creative director for Google Spotlight Stories Jan Pinkava, Side FX founder CEO Kim Davidson, Paramount Animation president MireilleSoria, head of ILM Rob Bredow, and Cornell Professor Donald Greenberg.

VIEW Conference 2018

VIEW Conference 2018 workshop highlights

  • “The Humor of Buster Keaton” – David Misch, producer, stand-up comedian and screenwriter
  • “Visual Storytelling: All the Story Nuggets You Didn’t Know You Were Seeing” – Danielle Feinberg, director of photography, Coco, Pixar
  • Smallfoot: A Big Myth – Understanding Explained” – Karl Herbst, visual effects supervisor, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • “Making Characters Great Again” – Mike Ford, visual effects supervisor, Sony Pictures Imageworks
  • “A Graphic Look at Animation Posing and Staging” – Troy Saliba, animation supervisor, DNEG

VIEW Conference 2018 masterclass highlights

  • “Designing the Monster” – Glen McIntosh, animation supervisor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, ILM
  • “Art Directing with Vision and Purpose for Games” – Henry LaBounta, senior art director, Electronic Arts
  • “Visual Effects for Computer Animation” – Bill Watral, visual effects supervisor, Incredibles 2, Pixar Animation Studios
  • “The Comprehensive Art of the Elaborate Storyboard” – Emanuela Cozzi, storyboard artist, Laika
  • “Character Walks” – Alex Williams, head of animation, Escape Studios
  • “Post-production in 2D Animation” – Marino Guarnieri, director
  • “Compositing Visual Effects in 2D Animation” – Marino Guarnieri, director
  • “CG Cartoony Animation” – Simone Giampaolo, animation director, Aardman Animation
  • “Acquiring and Lighting a Backplate for Visual Effects” – Daniel Shutt, 3D teacher, Escape Studios
  • “Immersive Sound for Virtual Reality” – Gianni Ricciardi, audio director WANT Musik and Matteo Milani, sound designer, Unidentified Sound Object

Studios, schools and companies represented at VIEW Conference 2018

20th Century Fox, Aardman Animation, AATOAA, AnimationApprentice , AnimationMentor, AVMCAP, Baobab, Cartoon Saloon, Cornell University, CSC, Disney, DNEG, Electronic Arts, Escape Studios, Filmcomission Torinon Piemonte , Foundry, Google, HBO, IED, IJsfontein, Ilion, Image Engine, IMASTERART , Industrial Light & Magic, ITS Piemonte, Junior Enterprise Torino Politecnico, King, Laika, Mackevision, Magic Leap, Marvel Studios, MTGx, Netflix, NFB, Nordeus, Paramount Animation, Pininfarina , Pixar Animation Studios, Pixeltrain, Pixomondo , Ready At Dawn, RISE, Rodeo FX, RVX, Setteventi, SideFX, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Sucker Punch Productions, ToVR, Unidentified Sound Object, Unity Technologies, Universal Pictures, VIMA, WANT Musik, Warner Animation, Weta Digital

Productions and projects presented at VIEW 2018

  • Adrift
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Black Panther
  • Book of the Dead
  • Cinderella the Cat
  • Coco
  • Crow: The Legend
  • Deadpool 2
  • Fauda
  • Game of Thrones
  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Hotel Transylvania 3
  • Incredibles 2
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Kids and Family
  • King’s Quest
  • La Noria
  • Lone Echo
  • Lost in Space
  • Smallfoot
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • The Breadwinner
  • Venom
  • Westworld

For the full program, and to register for talks, workshops, panels, and masterclasses, visit the VIEW Conference website.

Spotlight – Catherine Mullan

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

Catherine Mullan is an animation supervisor at MPC. Her career highlights include her work on four Harry Potter films, Happy Feet, The Chronicles of Narnia, Maleficent and Tim Burton’s Dumbo.

Catherine Mullan

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: Whilst I loved movies growing up, it never occurred to me that working in the industry was a possibility. I was only ever presented with more traditional career paths and, of course, this was back in the days before the internet. I always loved to draw but also liked math and problem solving, so I was looking for something that could combine both the creative and the technical.

When faced with the decision of what to do next, I stumbled across a book in my school’s careers library that ultimately set me upon this career path. The book allowed you to cross-reference different subjects, then listed courses suited to those subjects. This is how I discovered the computer animation course at Bournemouth University in the UK. Although I had little knowledge of the subject, I applied and was accepted. It was there that I discovered a love of animating. The university had ties with the London studios and upon graduation I was invited to interview with Framestore. Luckily for me, I was offered a job as a junior animator, and that’s were I really started to learn about animation.

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: A beautifully animated performance, one that evokes feeling, that makes me sad or brings me joy. I love to review the work of the animation team, and often I’m presented with an idea or an execution that surprises me, that really brings character and believability, and I know the audience will buy it. This is the best part of my job.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

CATHERINE MULLAN: I do find it hard when teams disperse, when the end of an era is reached. It’s a changeable industry – teams come together and move apart often. When I look back on projects, I’m proud of the work, but I also think so fondly about the crew. The bonds that are created during a production are a huge part of what makes this industry special. I’m also a sucker for a sad story and I’m known to blubber watching movies!

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: I can’t quite find an answer to this. Every project I’ve worked on has presented its own challenges – from animating a simple shot as a junior animator to supervising a large team on huge project, and the hundreds of tasks in between. If you’re growing and pushing yourself to the next level, the work will always be a challenge.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

CATHERINE MULLAN: I remember a near miss from several years ago – a beatboxing camel toe! It was a cringeworthy shot I was scheduled to animate. I was dreading it! Much to my relief, the show I was working on pushed longer and it was reassigned to another artist. Phew!

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: The size and scope of the projects have grown massively since I joined the industry. A project 15 years ago would consist of a couple of hundred shots, whereas now 1,000 is normal. Each year the boundaries are pushed and the seemingly unachievable is achieved.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

CATHERINE MULLAN: I would love to see more women working in creative roles in film, visual effects and animation, especially as leads, supervisors and directors. Whilst it seems more women are joining, the shift isn’t nearly enough.

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: Do plenty of research. There is so much information available online – podcasts, blogs, articles like this. There are lots of tutorials and free software available for students, so try it out at home before spending a lot of money on a course. You have to love your chosen field and education is expensive so, if you go down that route, choose the school wisely.

For many disciplines, it’s key to use real-life reference. Don’t start a piece of work without it. Don’t be scared to show your work – in fact you must seek feedback from those who work in your field. Constructive criticism will only help you learn and grow. Do persevere – it will not come easy, but the rewards can be great!

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

CATHERINE MULLAN: Jim Henson’s Labyrinth – I loved this movie growing up. A powerful story, filled with in-camera effects and marvelous puppets. I learned only recently that the owl in the opening credits is considered the first realistic CG animal to appear in a movie.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day – one of my favorite movies of the time. The visual effects were groundbreaking and allowed the T-1000 to become one of the most terrifying characters in movie history.

The Jungle Book (2016) – I loved the remake of the Disney classic and was blown away by the visual effects. Across every discipline, the work was pushed to a new level, from the creation of the characters and environments to the animation and effects. The team at MPC did a spectacular job creating such imagery.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

CATHERINE MULLAN: I don’t like to eat when watching movies – it’s too much of a distraction. However, my favorite cinema in London does serve delicious wine to your own comfy sofa.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Catherine!

Spotlight – Todd Vaziri

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

Todd Vaziri is a lead artist and compositing supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic. His list of career highlights includes American Pie, Avatar, six Star Wars and two Star Trek films, three Transformers movies and an episode of The Colbert Report, and you might enjoy rummaging through his entertaining effects-centric blog FX Rant.

Todd Vaziri

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

TODD VAZIRI: I saw Return of the Jedi on my tenth birthday, and afterward devoured anything I could find about how the film was made. I vividly remember reading an official Lucasfilm magazine about the film – there was an entire section on the miniatures and stop-motion animation in the Endor battle, created by a company called Industrial Light & Magic. That made an enormous impact on me. Seeing how the magic was created didn’t ruin the movie experience for me at all. Quite the contrary – I was intrigued and inspired to see pictures of modern-day magicians creating these amazing illusions, like Paul Huston setting up the AT-ST on the miniature Endor set. Years later, I discovered Cinefex, which satisfied my cravings for more detailed stories on how these intricate visual effects were created, and the challenges faced by artists in bringing these otherworldly effects to life. Strange to think that Paul Huston is a colleague and friend now – we worked together on a shot for The Force Awakens.

After film school, and a few years spent writing about visual effects for my website, Visual Effects Headquarters, I packed up my car and drove from Chicago to Los Angeles with the dream of working in visual effects. I was fortunate enough to have been given a chance by Van Ling at Banned From the Ranch Entertainment. Aware of my visual effects writing and understanding my passion for the craft, he gave me a chance to help test out a new piece of software called Commotion, which was, at the time, a brand new and revolutionary tool for rotoscoping and digital painting. Van was a tremendous mentor and I owe him so much for giving me a chance.

In 1998, Todd packed up his car and drove to L.A. to pursue his dream of a visual effects career.

In 1998, Todd packed up his car and drove to L.A. to pursue his dream of a visual effects career.

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

TODD VAZIRI: At the start of every production, I am overwhelmed with anticipation. The prospect of doing something new and exciting in a movie is daunting, intimidating and exhilarating.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

TODD VAZIRI: When the harsh realities of the project schedule kick in, along with the inevitable design changes – that’s when I reach for the Kleenex.

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

TODD VAZIRI: I’m a bit of a heat ripple snob. Most digital effects trying to replicate heat shimmer from jet engines don’t appeal to me. They frequently end up, from a design perspective, too sci-fi and fantastic, calling attention to the effect rather than allowing it to exist as a part of a realistic scene. For Avatar, we tackled several shots with intense jet engine heat ripple, and I privately tasked myself with creating the best-looking heat ripple system we’d ever produced. The effects team and I worked together on a system that included the right kind of particles, the right animation, the right kind of displacement and blur, and other design elements that are usually ignored – like refraction, shadowing, and tiny bits of soot. I was really proud of how it all turned out. Later, hearing that Jim Cameron loved the look of our heat ripple made me very happy.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

TODD VAZIRI: I had to create dog urine for an Adam Sandler film. I used Particle World in After Effects to create the pee stream, and the splashing and splatter on the ground. I drew roto mattes and color-corrected the photography to simulate the growing puddle of pee. If I remember correctly, I think I also had to paint out the dog’s testicles.

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

TODD VAZIRI: Between the time I started doing feature film work and today, the biggest change has been the ubiquity and democratization of high-quality, highly complicated visual effects. Complex fantasy environments, creatures and invisible effects are no longer solely available to the five or six biggest-budgeted movies per year. Filmmakers like Scorsese, Cuarón, Iñárritu, DuVernay and del Toro now have access to effects that were previously unavailable to their types of films. As a movie fan, I’m thrilled that a movie like Ex Machina can be made today, with the same kind of complicated, high-quality visual effects that previously were relegated to only the biggest superhero films or sci-fi blockbusters.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

TODD VAZIRI: Where to begin? I’d like to see a more level playing field on many dimensions. Right now, movie studios are understandably taking advantage of massive global incentives to make films in certain localities, but this severely tilts the scales and has serious repercussions on all sides.

In addition, just like the rest of Hollywood, we need to make visual effects production a more diverse, inclusive environment. There are too many people making movies who look like me, and who have similar histories, tastes and skill sets. We will be able to tell more dynamic, interesting stories by including more women and people of color in our industry.

We have a work-life balance problem in our industry, too. The hours and stress take their toll on visual effects workers around the world. Finally and more broadly, it is inexplicable how little power the visual effects industry has in Hollywood, while our work remains critical to the success of modern films.

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

TODD VAZIRI: The advice I’d give is similar to the advice I’d have for anyone who is interested in Hollywood filmmaking. Firstly, understand that this is not a glamorous job. The people who make films, both in front of and behind the camera – and behind the computer – are passionate and committed to their craft. If you’re not all-in on this as an idea, you might want to consider something else.

More practically, young visual effects artists sometimes get hung up on questions like: “Which piece of software should I learn?” My personal view is that the most successful visual effects professionals in my sphere are not obsessed with software or the technology itself, but are more interested in using those tools to create the imagery or tell the story that’s in their heads. I’m not technically minded at all, and yet I get by because the tools have become so accessible and approachable that even a dummy like me can operate the controls. Also, it’s incredibly important for young visual effects artists to watch and analyze non-visual effects films, and study as much photography as possible.

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

TODD VAZIRI: Citizen Kane – don’t roll your eyes at me, millennials! You’ll watch this black-and-white movie and like it! Orson Welles and his team were using the camera to tell a story like no-one did before – you can see many now-standard cinematic techniques used for the first time in this film. They pushed every department to its limits and beyond; the film includes special effects and optical work, several ingenious matte paintings, animation and miniatures. Gregg Toland’s deep-focus photography gave the film a striking look, as did all of the hidden optical tricks made possible by Linwood Dunn’s optical printer breakthroughs – like the massive set extensions at the political rally, or the building of Kane’s mansion, Xanadu.

Star Wars (1977 theatrical edition) – come on, do I really need to say why I chose this?

The Abyss – Jim Cameron’s epic underwater adventure used pretty much every single visual effects trick in the book, including the debut of a creature of a kind never seen before on film – the computer-generated pseudopod. The movie is an encyclopedia of photographic effects from the dawn of cinema to that moment, and simultaneously presents a prelude to cinema’s digital era.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

TODD VAZIRI: Popcorn, no butter, a tiny bit of salt.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Todd!

Announcing VIEW Conference 2018

VIEW Conference 2018

VIEW Conference 2018, the premiere international event in Italy on computer graphics, interactive techniques, digital cinema, animation, virtual and augmented reality, gaming and visual effects, has just released its five-day program of events, which delivers a dream line-up for visual effects professionals and fans alike.

ILM's Dennis Muren is one of the keynote speakers at VIEW Conference 2018

ILM’s Dennis Muren is one of the keynote speakers at VIEW Conference 2018

One of the stars of the show is undoubtedly Dennis Muren, senior visual effects supervisor and creative director at Industrial Light & Magic, who will be closing the conference with an hour-long keynote presentation entitled Visual Effects: Defining that Critical, Elusive and Final 5%. During his career, Muren has collected nine Academy Awards honoring his contribution to films including Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park. A key member of the ILM leadership team, he now collaborates with ILM’s supervisors on every film handled by the company.

Also at VIEW will be Rob Bredow, senior vice president, executive creative director and head of ILM, whose presentation Creatively Driven – The VFX for Solo: A Star Wars Story draws back the curtain on his role as visual effects supervisor on the latest space adventure to be set in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, the conference features a host of supervisors talking about their latest work, including David Vickery on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Dan Glass on Deadpool 2, Geoffrey Baumann on Black Panther, and many more. Meanwhile, John Gaeta, senior vice president of creative strategy at Magic Leap and visual effects supervisor of the groundbreaking The Matrix trilogy, explores virtual worlds with his presentation What is the Magicverse?

Also speaking at VIEW Conference 2018 is veteran film composer Hans Zimmer

Also speaking at VIEW Conference 2018 is veteran film composer Hans Zimmer

For many, the highlight of the conference will be Step Into My Music, a keynote speech delivered by the acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer, who has scored and co-scored over 150 projects including the films Blade Runner 2049, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, The Dark Knight trilogy, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator. Others will be attracted by VIEW’s unique offering of masterclasses with some of the industry’s top practitioners.

This year, for the first time, Cinefex will be at VIEW Conference, interviewing the speakers and bringing you exclusive reports from the event. Make sure you subscribe to our blog and social media channels for regular updates.

VIEW Conference 2018 takes place 22-26 October, 2018, at OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni), Turin, Italy. Visit the official VIEW Conference website to book your place now.

Spotlight – Kyle McCulloch

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

Kyle McCulloch is a visual effects supervisor at Framestore. Ask him what his career highlights are so far and he’ll tell you, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Beauty and the Beast, Thor: Ragnarok and Pan.”

Kyle McCulloch

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: I was a nerdy kid in film school who loved stop-motion and animation work. I was obsessed with the great fantasy films of the 80’s – Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story – and just wanted to be a part of making that kind of magic. I was actually a pretty terrible student, and couldn’t get an internship doing anything animation-related, so I took what I could get and started as an intern in the marketing department for Curious Pictures, an animation studio in New York City. Over a couple of years there, I weaseled my way into reception, then the tape room, then production, and finally into the role of junior compositor.

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: As much as I love the digital wizardry that we create in post, I still get goosebumps watching the combined might and skill of a film production put something remarkable on film. Standing in the Great Hall from Harry Potter, or watching the Milano from Guardians of the Galaxy fly on a stage at Shepperton, I often think how completely geeked out my 15 year-old self would be.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

KYLE McCULLOCH: A lazy reliance on CG and postproduction. The best results happen when the various creatives and departments work together to make a plan, and everyone works hard to do their bit to the best of their ability. It’s always a bit crushing to be presented with an avoidable, uphill battle in post, where the bulk of your energy will be spent fixing rather than polishing.

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: I think I faced some of my biggest challenges as a visual effects artist working at The Orphanage. It was a remarkable group of people who were constantly hitting above their weight in terms of the quality of the work they did. We were a relatively tiny shop with limited resources, but we still managed to create and finish some stellar stuff. I’m still really proud of the Iron Man HUD. There were many, many late nights – and a fair few moments where I was absolutely sure we weren’t going to be able to deliver – but in the end we made something iconic. I get a major rush seeing each new iteration of the HUD in the progressive Marvel Studios films, seeing how different artists interpret and continue to grow what we started.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

KYLE McCULLOCH: I didn’t actually get to work on it myself, but The Orphanage did a rather remarkable melting penis sequence in Planet Terror. It still gives me nightmares.

Kyle McCulloch

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: The thing that constantly surprises me is the scale at which visual effects is operating today. Working on a Marvel Studios show, you can’t help but be impressed at the scale and scope that they deploy visual effects in their films. I couldn’t have imagined projects like that 10 years ago. The other – welcome – change is that visual effects is seen as more of a partner on film sets, helping the other creatives and departments to achieve their goals. We’re no longer the strange folks in the corner painting things green!

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: Don’t start at one of the big shops! I was so fortunate to spend my first few years working in a smaller facility. We may not have been doing the most glamorous work, but being a part of a small team meant I got to sit next to, and learn from, a much wider variety of artists and technicians. I was given lots of opportunities to grow and challenge myself, and learned to think on my feet and solve problems. Those were all things that served me well once I made the switch to the big facilities.

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

KYLE McCULLOCH: The NeverEnding Story – as a wee boy, this movie captured my imagination completely. It’s all practical work, and much of it doesn’t fit the aesthetic of what audiences expect today, but I still love everything about this film.

The Matrix – talk about a game-changer! This film still holds up, and was such an amazing example of how visual effects would come to be integral in the visual storytelling media. I mean, how many news stories did they do about bullet time?!

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – this film was really personal for me. I was still doing commercial work in New York, and I’ll never forget sitting in the theater watching this film, thinking, “I HAVE to go work on features!” It was magic, taking audiences to a complete other world, and represents what I love most about visual effects.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

KYLE McCULLOCH: Two tubs of popcorn – one sweet and one salty.

CINEFEX: Kyle, thanks for your time!

Now Showing – Cinefex 160

Cinefex 160 - From the Editor's Desk

For the fourth time in our history, the cover of Cinefex is graced by the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. Yes, pick up a copy of Cinefex 160, our new August issue, and you’ll be nose to nose with the Millennium Falcon herself. Our editor, Jody Duncan, shares her own thoughts on the history of Cinefex covers below, but before she brings you up to speed on Star Wars, spaceships, and the arcane rituals of Percentages Day, here’s a quick rundown of our latest edition.

As the front cover suggests, we’re leading with comprehensive coverage of Solo: A Star Wars Story, in which the Industrial Light & Magic team discusses galaxy-spanning visual effects, creature designer Neal Scanlan talks about Rio Durant, sabacc table aliens and everyone’s favorite Wookiee, and Ron Howard shares his experiences as a film director journeying through a galaxy far, far away.

In fact, while our primary mission remains, as always, to cover in detail all the effects disciplines from digital to practical and beyond, in Cinefex 160 you’ll find a movie director at every turn. J.A. Bayona talks dinosaurs in our groundshaking story on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, while Peyton Reed contributes to our larger-than-life coverage of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Add David Leitch’s reflections on Deadpool 2 into the (dubstep) mix, and we think you’ll agree that Cinefex 160 has most definitely got it where it counts.

"Star Wars" in Cinefex

Here’s Jody with her latest school report:

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

Cinefex 160 features the tenth Star Wars cover in the magazine’s history – which means that over six percent of our covers have been devoted to George Lucas’ space fantasy. (Full disclosure: I came to that percentage only with the help of a friend. I somehow missed Percentages Day in elementary school, and have never learned how to calculate them.)

Frankly, the six percent solution was not as impressive a number as I’d hoped for. It doesn’t sound like much – until you consider the 500-plus visual effects movies we’ve covered in our nearly 40 years. It means that, on average through our history, we’ve had a Star Wars cover every four years or so. No other film franchise comes close.

So, pick up issue 160 for its cover feature, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and stay for our coverage of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Deadpool 2 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. (The Jurassic Park franchise has had only three covers, by the way, which calculates out to less than two percent. What a slacker.)

It’s back to school time – don’t miss Percentages Day!

Cinefex 160 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy is already heading at lightspeed towards your mailbox. And don’t forget our iPad edition, which features tons more photographs and exclusive video content, including visual effects breakdown reels for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Solo: A Star Wars Story prepared especially for Cinefex by Marvel Studios and ILM respectively.