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 – Andy Burrow

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

Andy Burrow is a visual effects producer at Outpost VFX, and lists his career highlights as including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Maleficent and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Andy Burrow

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

ANDY BURROW: I started in scanning and recording in 2001 at Framestore, and gravitated to visual effects when the industry dropped negative and went almost exclusively digital. I began working in visual effects at Lipsync in 2012 and haven’t looked back since.

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

ANDY BURROW: Undoubtedly the people I work with at Outpost. I have so much fun on a daily basis with my colleagues. Even if we are in an incredibly stressful crunch time we manage to keep the spirits up, although these are pretty infrequent. Also, being 10 minutes away from the beach doesn’t hurt.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANDY BURROW: Generally penalty shoot-outs in England soccer matches. But I felt a lot better after the Colombia game!

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

ANDY BURROW: The director of Maleficent was originally a matte painter, so as fast as we were creating the environments for the show he was annotating them and we’d almost have to start again from scratch.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANDY BURROW: It’s far too rude to mention here!

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

ANDY BURROW: Unfortunately, it’s tighter schedules for ever-decreasing budgets.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANDY BURROW: That everyone in visual effects is treated fairly with regards to work-life balance, as in other industries. This is something that Outpost genuinely cares about – for the first time in a long time I really look forward to coming to work.

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

ANDY BURROW: Be prepared to work hard and you will reap the rewards. And make sure you go to the pub with the more senior artists – you’ll be surprised how much you learn.

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

ANDY BURROW: First up would be the original Clash of the Titans. As soon as I saw it, I knew I would love movies forever. I still think the stop motion can’t be bettered and it was just so magical to watch as a kid, pure escapism.

Second would be The Matrix, I’ll never forget seeing bullet-time and thinking, “What the **** is going on here?”

Lastly, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I was blown away at the time as a teenager and the visual effects still hold up now.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANDY BURROW: A hot dog smothered in ketchup and mustard, naturally.

CINEFEX: Andy, thanks for your time!

2018 Emmy Awards Nominations

70th Emmy Awards

The buildup to the 70th Emmy Awards began yesterday, when the Television Academy announced over 9,100 nominations in 122 categories. Television Academy chairman and chief executive officer Hayma Washington commented:

“The continued growth of the industry has provided opportunities for acclaimed new programs to emerge, while allowing last season’s break-through programs to thrive. In addition, 36 performers – ranging from new discoveries to revered international stars – have received their first-ever acting Emmy nomination across all categories of scripted programming. We are honored to recognize both television’s seasoned veterans and rising talents. This year’s nominations continue to represent increased diversity and inclusion in front of the camera. And, there is a wealth of new and returning programs that reflect so many of today’s critical issues.”

"Game of Thrones" received 22 nominations in the run-up to the 70th Emmy Awards, more than any other show.

“Game of Thrones” received 22 nominations in the run-up to the 70th Emmy Awards, more than any other show.

The nominations in the two categories for special visual effects honor not only well-established series like HBO’s multi-award-winning Game of Thrones – the most recognized show this year with 22 nominations in all – but also newer streaming shows such as Altered Carbon and Lost in Space. Streaming giant Netflix led the field overall, narrowly beating HBO’s 108 nominations with a grand total of 112.

Here’s a breakdown of the visual effects nominees, plus those for prosthetic makeup and fantasy/sci-fi costumes. There’s a long list of key supervisors and artists credited for each show – we urge you to visit the Emmy Awards website to get all the names, and to check out the nominations in all the other categories.

Outstanding Special Visual Effects

  • Netflix’s Altered Carbon (Out Of The Past)
    Senior visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell
  • HBO’s Game Of Thrones (Beyond The Wall)
    Lead visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer
  • Netflix’s Lost In Space (Danger, Will Robinson)
    Senior visual effects supervisor Jabbar Raisani
  • Netflix’s Stranger Things (Chapter Nine: The Gate)
    Senior visual effects supervisor Paul Graff
  • HBO’s Westworld (The Passenger)
    Visual effects supervisor  Jay Worth

Outstanding Special Visual Effects In A Supporting Role

  • TNT’s The Alienist (The Boy On The Bridge)
    Visual effects supervisor Kent Houston
  • Netflix’s The Crown (Misadventure)
    Visual effects supervisor Ben Turner
  • FOX’s Gotham (That’s Entertainment)
    Visual effects supervisor Thomas Joseph Mahoney
  • Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (June)
    Visual effects supervisor Stephen Lebed
  • USA’s Robot (eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00)
    Visual effects supervisor Ariel Altman

Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Limited Series, Movie Or Special

  • FX’s American Horror Story: Cult
    Department head makeup artist Eryn Krueger Mekash
  • FX’s The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
    Department head makeup artist Eryn Krueger Mekash
  • HBO’s Game Of Thrones (The Dragon And The Wolf)
    Department head makeup artist Jane Walker
  • CBS’s Star Trek: Discovery (Will You Take My Hand?)
    Special makeup effects department head Glenn Hetrick
  • HBO’s Westworld (The Riddle Of The Sphinx)
    Department head makeup artist Justin Raleigh

Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes

  • HBO’s Fahrenheit 451
    Costume designer Meghan Kasperlik
  • HBO’s Game Of Thrones (Beyond The Wall)
    Costume designer Michele Clapton
  • Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (Seeds)
    Costume designer Ane Crabtree
  • Netflix’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events (The Vile Village: Part 1)
    Costume designer Cynthia Summers
  • HBO’s Westworld (Akane No Mai)
    Costume designer Sharen Davis

Voting for the final round begins August 13, and the 70th Emmy Awards will telecast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, September 17. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards airs Saturday, September 15.

Making the Summer Grade

Cinefex 160 Banner

What do Solo: A Star Wars Story, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Deadpool 2 have in common? Well, for a start, they’re all featured in our summer issue, Cinefex 160, out mid-August and available to preorder now.

The films have more in common than we realized, actually, as Blackmagic Design told us recently. Three of the four were graded by digital imaging technicians using the same DaVinci Resolve Studio software. Talking about his work on Deadpool 2, EFILM senior colorist Skip Kimball commented:

“The biggest challenge in balancing the look of Deadpool 2 was to seamlessly integrate a high volume of visual effects shots that came in from many different vendors. The footage was shot over many weeks at various stages and locations, so my aim was to make sure everything was kept fluid and cohesive. For example, the convoy scene is 10 minutes of action, but elements were shot on bluescreen and on location during different times of day. It took many external mattes combined with Power Windows, along with Resolve plugins like camera shake, blurs and many tricks to make it all come together.”

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) takes charge while Domino (Zazie Beetz) looks on. "Deadpool 2" photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) takes charge while Domino (Zazie Beetz) looks on. “Deadpool 2” photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Kimball worked closely with director of photography Jonathan Sela to create the final grade, acknowledging the fact that while Deadpool frequently dips his mercenary toe into the world of the X-Men, the two franchises have very different looks.

“I’ve worked on several previous films with Jonathan,” said Kimball. “His work is so even and straightforward, and I’m able to get what he exposed on the screen fairly quickly, which is a testament to his craft. The look for Deadpool 2 has less contrast, is a bit softer, and is not as saturated, which all serves Jonathan’s vision.”

Commenting on his overall approach to the colorist’s craft, Kimball added:

“I basically start from scratch as I look at the footage, and color grade based on instinct. I try to start off with being able to show the cinematographer what they exposed, and from there we build on it. If I get stuck on a shot, I walk away from it, then come back. The scene is not done until you can play all the way through without stopping.”

Solo: A Star Wars Story benefited from postproduction work by senior colorist Joe Gawler at Harbor Picture Company, with equivalent work on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom being handled by senior colorist Adam Glasman of Goldcrest.

Spotlight – Helen Newby

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

Helen Newby is head of compositing at Cinesite. Helen lists her career highlights as The Shipping News, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Skyfall , The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mute.

Helen Newby

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

HELEN NEWBY: Back in ’91, I was lucky enough to land a job at RSA Films as assistant to photographer and director Lester Bookbinder. I learned all sorts including attending the telecine and postproduction sessions. It led me to have a rethink and I went on to train on Domino, a film-in, film-out digital optical system. At the time, Mill Film Shepperton had a Domino system in place and a position opened – and that’s how it started. I remember grading and outputting the title sequence for Beautiful Creatures through Domino in 2000 and thinking it was magic.

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

HELEN NEWBY: When a sequence is finaled, I like to think about the myriad parts that went into it – including the lucky accidents.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

HELEN NEWBY: Running out of time.

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

HELEN NEWBY: V for Vendetta in 2005. It was my first show at Cinesite and I was tasked with compositing a shot previously started in Inferno. It was a lovely wide shot of Natalie Portman in the ‘Evey Reborn’ sequence. The client-side visual effects supervisor was due to fly home and was waiting for this one last shot – which added an interesting edge. On the plus side, I was bought flowers when it finalled.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

HELEN NEWBY: Three talking dog shows. Really.

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

HELEN NEWBY: From a compositing point of view, the way we used to work and make images was very different to now. We had no access to cameras or anything outside of the 3D scene, unless we popped into Maya. The idea of projecting onto a piece of geometry was not an option. Interestingly, greenscreens still seem to be a regular feature.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

HELEN NEWBY: Alongside constant advancements in technology – whether it’s the way on-set data is gathered or how we process it – comes a faster pace to the whole process. I would like to see these advancements being used to the benefit of our industry, to allow us to find new and unexpected approaches and techniques, rather than them causing any detriment.

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

HELEN NEWBY: Be flexible – the industry is changing alongside technology. Be open to feedback – only one version can end up in the final film.

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

HELEN NEWBY: Solaris (1971) – technically it’s not an effects movie. Oh, but the opening 20 minutes … the set design …

Forbidden Planet – the matte paintings, the models, Dr Morbius and his ‘brain booster’ machine. And a serious Leslie Nielsen!

Ex Machina – I think maybe I love it for the same reasons I love Solaris. It has a slowness, an unrushed quality. The minimalism of it all. Oh, and that dance scene!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

HELEN NEWBY: Popcorn, giant-size for stealth reasons.

CINEFEX: Helen, thanks for your time!

The Cinefex Interview – CelluloidNation

Left to right: Mike Brown, host of the CelluloidNation podcast, Jody Duncan, Cinefex editor-in-chief, Joe Fordham, Cinefex associate editor.

Left to right: Mike Brown, host of the CelluloidNation podcast; Jody Duncan, Cinefex editor-in-chief; Joe Fordham, Cinefex associate editor.

“Every time Cinefex comes out, it’s a little slice of history.”

So says Cinefex associate editor Joe Fordham, quoting one of the many kind things said to us by filmmakers through nearly 40 years of publishing.

You can hear more from Joe and Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan in this exclusive 90-minute interview with Mike Brown, host of the CelluloidNation podcast. Want to learn how Cinefex first started? The answers are here. Want to know how we go about writing a Cinefex article? Listen in and find out.

During the wide-ranging discussion, you’ll hear the stories behind some of Jody’s and Joe’s favorite – and not-so-favorite! – articles. Some of these are tales we’ve never told before. Hear how Jody ended up writing one of C-3PO’s lines in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, or how Joe scooped an hour-long interview with a barefoot Peter Jackson in the editing suite of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Mike’s podcast has something for every fan of big-screen effects, old and new. So pour yourself a hot beverage, relax into your favorite armchair, and treat yourself an hour and a half in the company of the Cinefex editorial team.

Spotlight – Stephen Clee

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

Stephen Clee

Stephen Clee is an animation supervisor and animator at Method Studios, and lists his career highlights as Okja, Thor: Ragnarok, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

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

STEPHEN CLEE: Way back in high school I wanted to be an architect – until I did some work experience at an engineering firm and nearly died of boredom. I loved the design aspect but hated how mundane most of the tasks were. My drafting and design teacher, who also taught the digital animation course at my school, saw that I had a passion for the creative part of the work and told me about Capilano University. I applied to their well-respected 2D animation program but was promptly rejected due to my – in hindsight – utterly terrible portfolio. I decided that I really wanted to pursue animation as a career, so I spent a year working in a restaurant while taking as many drawing courses as I could in my spare time to build a better portfolio. I was accepted the following year.

My first job was on Reader Rabbit, a Flash-animated children’s show for Studio B, now DHX. I worked in television for a few years at local studios Atomic and Bardel to get some experience under my belt and improve as an animator. In 2007, I went back to Capilano University to learn 3D and got a job working in videogames upon graduation. Visual effects had always interested me and offered the higher level of quality that I was striving for, so, two and a half years later, I quit my job at Capcom and took a three-month contract at Method Studios, then CIS. I’ve been there ever since. Working at Method has helped me grow as an animator and work on a myriad of different projects ranging from Avengers to Okja. Getting to work here has been my big break and taught me more than all my other jobs combined. I’ve been fortunate enough to find mentorship here and grow in my career as an animator, lead and supervisor.

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

STEPHEN CLEE: So many things make me happy at work: taking a really challenging shot to completion; finding creative solutions with the animators for their shots; working with my colleagues to come up with better acting choices; figuring out better workflows with the team; being surprised in dailies by a fun performance choice an animator makes. And finishing the last shot on a show!

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

STEPHEN CLEE: Probably the most frustrating part of the job is when we get drastic edits to a sequence while under the gun to deliver. It can be tough for morale when things change that are out of our control, or shots are omitted when we’ve put a lot of work into them.

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

STEPHEN CLEE: Puppeteering Okja the superpig on set for five months … then getting back into the studio and realizing we had to animate to everything we shot. Our goal was to build a relationship between Mija and Okja, and getting that right took lots of interaction between our CG, our on-set ‘stuffie’ puppets, and the actors. Director Bong Joon-Ho was amazing in that he would give us nearly minute-long shots with a barely-moving camera in which to let our creature breathe. That offers you a lot of opportunity but also a ton of room to fail. He was open to our ideas and we were often able to make the creative choice over the easy one. We didn’t shy away from letting the actors push, hold, ride, or sleep on Okja and because of that I hope you believe their bond to be real. It was by far the most rewarding show of my career, and the most difficult.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

STEPHEN CLEE: Being on set at two in the morning puppeteering the head of a six-ton superpig with my arm in a foam-filled sock representing a tongue sticking out of its mouth ‘licking’ the face of a 12-year-old actress – Ahn Seo-Hyun – who was playing a crying emotional scene in front of a crew of middle-aged men operating a Technocrane with incredulous looks on their faces. Yeah, that’s probably the weirdest.

Watch Stephen Clee puppeteering superpig stuffies in this Netflix featurette on the visual effects of Okja:

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

STEPHEN CLEE: The quality of the work overall has gotten to be so high. It’s amazing to watch television shows like Game of Thrones and see sequences like the convoy attack that Image Engine did last year, and be utterly convinced that dragons exist and are out there burning up the countryside. I also love that recent movies like Blade Runner: 2049, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Dunkirk are emphasizing blending special and visual effects together to make things feel even more real. I think utilizing more practical effects and achieving things in-camera really helps push the quality bar and lets visual effects focus on what we’re good at.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

STEPHEN CLEE: I’d like to see an increase in the speed of our rigs and rendering to the point that we could get real-time feedback consistently at a high level of detail. My dream is to get myself and my animators focusing on the creative, not burdened by the limits of our technology. I’ve seen a lot of these types of workflows being developed and would love to be a part of working with them.

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

STEPHEN CLEE: Start small and don’t be discouraged if you fail. I think working in television for a few years helps imbue a sense of confidence in your skills because of the quick turnaround. It teaches speed, accountability, great posing and fundamentals in a short amount of time. Visual effects can be a tough nut to crack for some animators jumping in right out of school as the level of detail and quality can be intimidating and the timelines quite demanding for someone lacking experience. Becoming a good animator takes a long time. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and still learn from my colleagues on a near-daily basis.

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

STEPHEN CLEE: Jurassic Park – for a kid born in the early ‘80s, this landed at the perfect time in my life to inspire and awe. The introduction to seeing the T-rex for the first time in the movie theatre was terrifying and opened up a whole new idea of what I could do with my life.

The Incredibles – Pixar … Brad Bird … superheroes … I mean, what else do you want? The animation in this film is still some of my favorite work out of Pixar. The acting choices and the simple, graphic style of the film really hold up.

Mad Max: Fury Road – talk about spectacle and the marrying of special and visual effects in a beautiful way. The way the story was told defied all normal convention and was so refreshing. I love how insane some of the design choices were – any film that thinks a man strapped to a truck playing guitar is a good idea is all right in my books.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

STEPHEN CLEE: The theater down the street from me serves booze. So, beer and Sour Patch Kids.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Stephen!

Spotlight – Sandra Balej

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

Sandra BalejSandra Balej is a digital effects supervisor at Method Studios, and lists her filmography highlights as Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: It was not the love of effects that got me into this industry but my love for movies in general. As long as I remember, I have loved to go to the theater to watch a movie up big! We had this amazing old-fashioned theater where I grew up and my parents took me there to watch movies like Babe and Cinderella. I still remember how I loved the whole experience, when the lights went out and the curtains opened – yes, they had curtains back then – and I was taken to this other world for few hours. I guess I just kind of got addicted.

If I had to pinpoint one moment when I decided I wanted to work in the movie industry, it was when I watched my first action film in theater: James Bond in The World is Not Enough. Granted, looking back, I question the quality of it, but I just loved the action and explosions. While I was still a teenager my aspirations were all a bit naïve: “I want to be a director.” But over years of doing research, I realized that I wanted to have a sustainable career where I actually might have a chance to break into this industry that seemed so out of reach. Visual effects seemed to be the right choice. That’s when I decided to go to Vancouver Film School.

Luckily, it turned out I love doing effects. I got a job in Germany right after I graduated, at a small visual effects company, Exozet, mostly doing effects for television. The CEO Olaf Skrzipczyk took his chance with me, hiring me as a generalist but mostly focused on compositing. He and his team taught me so much and groomed me into a proper artist. I will forever be grateful they took me under their wings. We used Fusion back then to composite and that’s what helped me to get my first big break in Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous. Still to this date, it’s one of my favorite projects I have ever worked on. Fusion compositors were hard to come by in Germany at the time, so the compositing supervisor Rony Soussan took his chance and hired this greenhorn of a compositor.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: Seeing the fans’ reaction to a movie you have been working on for a very long time. Working on high pressure effects movies with tight deadlines, you sometimes lose sight why you were doing in it in the first place, and whenever I start working on a new project I go into this kind of hibernation mode where I put my real life on standby and give everything to the project. Probably not the healthiest approach, but I just can’t help but pour all my energy into something once I start. The year I was working on Doctor Strange, we just had finished delivering the Comic-Con trailer so I was able to escape for a few days. I was a bit in zombie mode after working such long hours but then I saw the fans’ reactions to the trailer. It was goosebump-inducing. That for me makes it all worth it.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

SANDRA BALEJ: Omits. I know they are part of the process of moviemaking and need to happen, but it still hurts when a shot gets cut – especially when you’ve in a lot of work.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: Designing a particular new environment for Ant-Man and the Wasp. I can’t say much since the movie is not released yet, but coming up with this very important look for the movie with the creative team has been the most challenging thing of my career so far.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

SANDRA BALEJ: It was part of that Comic-Con trailer I mentioned earlier. It was a Sunday morning when I got this frantic call from our producer that Marvel needed 10 more frames for a trailer shot – not a weird request in itself. I was the comp supervisor back then, so I just rendered the frames and sent it to them. What was weird was that I received a phone call from Victoria Alonso herself to thank me for doing it on such a short notice. She’s probably already forgotten about it, but I really appreciated the gesture.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: In these times of social media and the internet where the fans have lots of opinions, moviemakers have become a bit more flexible in postproduction. Social media platforms and test screenings give them the chance to have their finger on the pulse of the fanbase’s wants and needs. As a consequence, the effects industry has to plan accordingly to keep up with any last-minute changes that need to happen.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

SANDRA BALEJ: I wouldn’t shed a tear if we saw fewer stereo-converted movies. I like a good 3D movie like any other guy, but that mostly goes for native stereo movies. The conversion companies nowadays don’t get to spend a lot of time on the process and the experience suffers from that.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: Try to find a life-work balance. The effects industry is tough on body and mind, especially when you start out. After 10 years in the business, I am still struggling to find it, but sometimes it helps to remember that this is a marathon not a sprint.

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

SANDRA BALEJ: The Man from Nowhere – I am a big fan of South Korean cinema, and this film is very much a case of incredible invisible effects. Some of the stunt work and the subtle use of effects is just incredible. I worked in Asia for some time as well and it was a great experience. I enjoy seeing the amazing progress the effects quality has made over the last few years over there.

Gravity: I have always been a fan of Alfonso Cuarón’s famous long shots. The 17-minute-long opening shot in Gravity was absolutely stunning.

Independence Day – this classic inspired me a lot when I was a kid. The effects still hold up so well even today. My favorite shot is the spaceship’s first appearance when it’s coming out of that big cloud. Perfect example of how cloud tank footage can sometimes beat heavy effects sims.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

SANDRA BALEJ: I’ll go with the classic – popcorn. But not that weird salty stuff you guys have in North America. I thought I was poisoned the first time I tried it.

CINEFEX: Sandra, thanks for your time!

Now Showing – Cinefex 159

Cinefex 159 - From the Editor's Desk

Sometimes we just can’t decide what to put on the cover of our new issue. Given the lineup of great films in Cinefex 159, is it any wonder we went for one of our legendary double cover options?

On one cover you’ll find a glorious portrait of Thanos, the undoubted star of Avengers: Infinity War, courtesy of our talented friends at Digital Domain. The other cover rewards with a stunning image of Parzival, the virtual reality avatar of Ready Player One’s Wade Watts, crafted by those clever artisans at Industrial Light & Magic.

Whether you end up with Thanos or Parzival – or complete your collection by grabbing both! – you’ll get the same great articles inside. Here’s Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan to guide you through the contents of our June 2018 issue, Cinefex 159.

Jody Duncan – From the Editor’s Desk

A friend recently pointed out that while we tend to think of ‘nostalgia’ as a benign term, its suffix suggests that it is a malady of sorts, and those who wallow in it are exhibiting unhealthy states of mind. Pardon my pathology, then, but as I considered our new issue 159, I became curious as to where we – ‘we’ meaning Cinefex, cinema and the art and craft of visual effects – were 100 issues ago. ‘What was going on with issue 59?’ I wondered. So I turned to the handy ‘Cinefex back issues’ page on our website to find out.

On the cover of that issue was a shot from James Cameron’s True Lies, Cinefex story written by founder Don Shay. A blurb on the web page describes the film’s main visual effects vendor, Digital Domain, as a ‘startup company.’ Twenty-four years later, that same startup, along with Weta Digital (only a year old when Cinefex 59 hit the stands) delivered some of the most extraordinary computer character animation ever seen on screen with Thanos, in Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War, which graces the cover of our current issue.

The True Lies page also notes the film’s 100 digital and traditional visual effects shots. A hundred visual effects shots barely gets you five minutes into Infinity War, which boasted a total of nearly 3,000! Another difference? Cameron hung poor Jamie Lee Curtis from a hovering helicopter to get his shots in True Lies. Today, that task would fall to a digital double, and Jamie Lee could stay comfortably in her trailer.

Ah, yes, things are so different now … how I long for the good old days of slow-speed white Ford Bronco freeway chases and $1.15 a gallon gasoline and The X-Files and Sheryl Crow and Dumb and Dumber … wait, huh?

Okay, enough of that. We’re all happy to be in the present, covering the colossal Avengers: Infinity War, along with Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Pacific Rim Uprising and the artful and intriguing Annihilation, from Ex Machina director Alex Garland. The successful marriage of visual effects and art department concepts in this last is of particular interest.

Enjoy the summer!

Cinefex 159 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy is already punching its way towards your mailbox. And don’t forget our iPad edition, featuring tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

Jurassic World VR Expedition — Q&A

Jurassic World VR Expedition logoIn Universal Pictures’ Jurassic World, advances in genetic engineering lead to the creation of a dinosaur theme park on the remote island of Isla Nublar. By the end of the movie, the genie is out of the bottle and the prehistoric beasts are roaming free.

The sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — covered in our August 2018 issue Cinefex 160 — picks up the story three years later. Meanwhile, a new virtual reality experience neatly bridges the gap between the two films, by inviting dino-devotees to explore the island and save as many of the wandering critters as they can.

Launched on June 14, 2018, at over 100 Dave & Buster’s venues, Jurassic World VR Expedition whisks four people at a time to Isla Nublar. Hopping aboard a proprietary two-axis motion base rigged with HTC Vive headset technology, each brave quartet navigates through jungle, valley and coastal environments in search of seven prehistoric species — gallimimus, brachiosaurus, stegosaurus, mosasaur, pteranodon and, of course, the iconic velociraptor and T-rex. Scanning devices allow them to tag each animal as they spot it. If interactivity is not their thing, they can set their scanners aside and simply enjoy the ride.

Jurassic World VR Expedition was created by The Virtual Reality Company under license from Universal. Cinefex caught up with writer and director James Lima, visual effects supervisor Carey Villegas, animation supervisor David Schaub, and VRC co-founder and chief creative officer Robert Stromberg, to discuss the creative and technical challenges involved, and the place of the experience within the ever-evolving world of virtual reality.

With "Jurassic World VR Expedition," The Virtual Reality Company development team of animators, visual effects artists, and technicians took a novel approach to VR, combining visual effects and gameplay to achieve the level of integrity expected of cinematic-quality virtual reality. (PRNewsfoto/The Virtual Reality Company)

With “Jurassic World VR Expedition,” The Virtual Reality Company development team of animators, visual effects artists, and technicians took a novel approach to virtual reality, combining visual effects and gameplay to achieve the level of integrity expected of cinematic-quality VR. (PRNewsfoto/The Virtual Reality Company)

CINEFEX — Millions of people are already familiar with Jurassic World, whether through watching the films or playing the videogames. What does this virtual reality experience bring to the party?

JAMES LIMA — This is a portal into the Jurassic World franchise, another way to enter into the story universe. Because virtual reality is immersive and has some interactivity, there is this level of agency that you just don’t get in watching a film. At the same time, we didn’t want to abandon the emotionality that you get from a film. We wanted to add the sense of fear, the magnificence, all the things that inspire us and make us love the medium of film.

CINEFEX — Cinematic sensibilities are all very well, but virtual reality has a rather different visual language. You don’t have cuts, or establishing shots, or closeups. How did you go about choreographing the action, and directing the attention of viewers?

JAMES LIMA — I started looking at the choreography of old musicals, because people like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were geniuses. They would typically do a single shot with a 1,000-foot magazine, and it was brilliant in terms of how they moved from one idea to the next. The construction of the set focused your attention into a general area, then a sound or a movement narrowed that view to a specific area. Another thing we looked at was the first virtual reality experience ever created — Disneyland. When you go to Disneyland, you transition from one environment to another, and the sounds and smells are different, and suddenly you’re in a new location.

CINEFEX — In Jurassic World VR Expedition, you’re trying to direct the attention of four people at once. Does that complicate things?

ROBERT STROMBERG — Well, you’re being driven through the environment remotely, so the points of interests approach all four people at the same time — although you still have the choice of where to look. Using those points of interest — whether it’s something visually stimulating or a sudden shock — we purposefully draw the attention of all four people to certain areas.

CINEFEX — Does the experience change depending on where you sit on the motion base — left, right, in the middle?

DAVID SCHAUB — Yes, we’ve choreographed things that way. The person seated on the far left is going to get one experience, and the person on the right is going to get a different experience. We get velociraptor moments on the left that are very profound, but at the same time we don’t cheat the people on the right because later on they get their own close-up opportunities. It’s all balanced out.

CINEFEX — Are these the same dinosaurs that are in the movies?

DAVID SCHAUB — Absolutely. The models and textures came from Industrial Light & Magic. They were massive files, of course, but we very carefully decimated and retopologised them, while keeping the resolution high — somewhere around 100,000 polygons for each dinosaur. Then we took them through a typical visual effects pipeline, rigging them, building all the controls you would need for a film, and animating them. All that got piped through to Unreal Engine, so you are in fact seeing dinosaurs rendered in real time at 90 frames per second. If you were standing up, you could literally walk around them.

CINEFEX — How do you keep up the image quality when you’re rendering all these complex assets in real time?

JAMES LIMA — We put all of the dinosaurs through a texture evaluation stage — that helped us to match what was done in the films. Also, Carey Villegas did something that surprisingly is not common in virtual reality or videogames. Like a colorist, he went through and relit all the scenes, all the dinosaurs, with kind of a director of photographer’s eye. It was cool. A lot of people would come in and watch what he was doing, and they were like, “I’ve never seen this before.”

CAREY VILLEGAS — I think that was probably one of the more complicated things we had to figure out. We had ILM’s full suite of textures, yet there was no way to utilize all of those great things because you’re limited with the color correction tools you have available in game engines right now. They don’t give you the kind of control that we’re used to in a digital intermediate, say, where we can pretty much have our way with any portion of the image. We figured out how to extract the best parts of each texture, and distilled them down into the two or three or four fundamental components that we needed.

CINEFEX — How important was this process to the overall look of the experience?

JAMES LIMA — Critically important. One of the challenges that I put to the team was that I wanted this experience to happen at first light — there’s this time of day before the sun rises that’s spectacular, but it’s not your classic orange sky picturesque thing. The first iterations they gave me of what that light would look like in the game engine was, to put it mildly, perfunctory. They looked like bad matte paintings. But then Carey got in there and suddenly we started finding the magic.

ROBERT STROMBERG — I would also say that the quality of the experience is only partly about image resolution, or how much we can render as fast as possible. That’s why we brought in seasoned visual effects animators, with their decades of accumulated experience. That’s what takes it to another level.

CINEFEX — Did the high frame rate affect the way the animators worked?

DAVID SCHAUB — We started animating at 24 frames per second because that’s our world. Then we transitioned over to 30, because that divides into 90. But when we started actually looking at the stuff at 90, we found it tended to soften a lot of the animation. Those hard hits that you really need to enforce big gravity impacts, we had to pump those up. That was one of those interesting discoveries.

CINEFEX — Did the artists work in front of monitors in the usual way, or were they able to put on headsets and work in the virtual world?

DAVID SCHAUB — Maybe 90 percent of the time they were working as normal, on the desktop. Occasionally we would put on a headset because, while something may look wonderful on the monitor, in the virtual world you pick up on things that you just don’t see in the 2D view. If a character is slightly off balance, for example, an animator might not pick up on that. When you put on a headset and walk around, you get a different perspective and see all those flaws.

In "Jurassic World VR Expedition," up to four people at a time put on an HTC Vive headset and board a Dave & Buster's motion simulator, where they will be transported into what remains of Jurassic World for a five-minute interactive expedition. (PRNewsfoto/The Virtual Reality Company)

In “Jurassic World VR Expedition,” up to four people at a time put on an HTC Vive headset and board a Dave & Buster’s motion simulator, where they will be transported into what remains of Jurassic World for a five-minute interactive expedition. (PRNewsfoto/The Virtual Reality Company)

CINEFEX — How did you integrate the animation with the movements of the motion base?

CAREY VILLEGAS — You know, we work with motion simulators all the time in the visual effects world — typically six-axis bases with rotators that we can pretty much move any way we choose. In this case, however, we were limited to a simple two-axis rig with just pitch and roll, because it has to be durable enough to run thousands of times all day long.

CINEFEX — So was it simply a case of piping the animation data into the motion base and getting it to respond accordingly?

DAVID SCHAUB — Not quite! If we used data straight out of the box, people got motion sickness. It was a little distressing, actually, because everything we tried in the beginning was just instant vomitosis!

CINEFEX — Sounds messy. How did you get around that?

DAVID SCHAUB — We stripped it down to bare bones and went one layer at a time. The first pass was basically just a glide through the experience. Then it was about deciding things like how much of a bank do we need to put into the turns? If we put in a little bit too much — guess what? — we started to feel nauseous. Once we got that first gliding layer, we started introducing bumps over every single rock — that really made you feel like you were grounded. It really was an artistic choice. All the time we were looking for that sweet spot.

CAREY VILLEGAS — Even then, we couldn’t just pump our data straight into the platform and expect the visuals to be in line. Instead, we came up with a technique that reads what the platform is actually doing physically, because the inertia is different depending on how many players are on it. That really reduced the possibility for motion sickness. It was something we had to push hard for, because that wasn’t built into the design of the platform.

ROBERT STROMBERG — We also had to get over latency issues. Our inner ear is so sensitive that, if things are off even a fraction, you feel it. And we learned that people are very sensitive to where the horizon is. That always has to be where it needs to be, because we’re aware when it’s not.

CINEFEX — It sounds like motion sickness is caused by lots of different stimuli, all interacting with each other. How did you isolate each individual thing that was causing a problem?

CAREY VILLEGAS — Every time we added a new physical component, we would bring in different people as test subjects. Then we would try and figure out what it was — latency in the frame rate, or some motion that we’d introduced that wasn’t sitting well with the inner ear. By building things up with this layered approach, we were able to quickly decipher where the problem lay.

CINEFEX — How important is the interactive dimension, using your scanner to tag dinosaurs?

JAMES LIMA — The idea was to keep it simple and fun so that even Aunt Pickle could do it, but it’s not necessary to the experience. It’s the icing on the cake. Colin Trevorrow, the executive producer and writer of Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, rode on it and he was like, “I couldn’t give a f*** about using the scanner!” But some people are kickass with this thing, and they’ll tag themselves a lot of dinosaurs.

"The Dreamsmiths Unleashed" in Cinefex 151

CINEFEX — Towards the end of 2016, we published a long article in Cinefex issue 151 looking at the state of the virtual reality industry. One observation that kept coming up during interviews was that virtual reality was a bit like the Wild West — wide frontiers, no rules, everyone trying to stake their claim. You commented, Robert, that it was like trying to build an airplane in flight! How have things moved on since then?

ROBERT STROMBERG — Well, we’ve attached the wings!

CINEFEX — That’s progress.

ROBERT STROMBERG — Right! Actually, what I have seen over time is a big shift from working with people from the gaming community to a bigger presence of visual effects artists. That’s making a big difference to the quality. There’s a bar that visual effects reached a long time ago and we want to take advantage of that. It’s a kind of embedded knowledge about what we need in order to make things look real. That’s not to say that there isn’t some sort of fusion with elements of the gaming world. We just wanted to take it to a higher level, and work with people who wanted to be bold. Our biggest hurdles have been in trying to find that perfect balance.

CINEFEX — Creative advances are one thing, but how does the business model stack up?

ROBERT STROMBERG — This experience will be the widest-released virtual reality content to date. Our first rollout is with the Dave & Buster’s franchise, going out into 116 stores. It’s a little bit of a business experiment, but I think it’s positioned in a way that’s unique and for the first time has great potential for revenue, because we’re putting it into a place where people are accustomed to spending money. We’re going after other share partners and outlets, of course, and it’ll eventually be worldwide.

CINEFEX — So, has virtual reality’s time finally come?

JAMES LIMA — You know, I really think this is as exciting a time as 1992, when Jurassic Park ushered in the digital era of filmmaking. Here we are with that same franchise and we’re doing it again with virtual reality — this might even be considered a first step into what film might one day become. We’re at that baby stage right now of a whole new technology, a whole new medium. It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.

Special thanks to Jeff Fishburn.

Spotlight – Rudy Grossman

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

Rudy Grossman

Rudy Grossman is a digital effects supervisor at Atomic Fiction, and lists his career highlights as Pirates of the Caribbean, Deadpool, Maleficent, King Kong, Star Wars, X-Men and Game of Thrones.

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: My first big break was at a visual effects studio focused on creating photorealistic humans using a proprietary facial motion capture system called LifeFx. We were working with Jim Carrey doing some tests for a Warner Brothers project and it was an amazing learning experience – the first time photoreal facial motion capture had been used to create a digital actor. Looking back, it really was pretty groundbreaking. A lot of super-talented industry gamechangers came out of that group, including Dr. Mark Sagar, David Taritero, Kevin Smith and Guy Williams.

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: I love the whole visual effects process. From the early planning and preproduction, to prepping the asset builds, putting together the shots, adding that last bit of polish, and finally sitting in the theater to watch all that hard work come together on the big screen. Working in this industry has provided me with so many amazing experiences, traveling and living around the world, experiencing different cultures, getting to meet and work with directors and actors who have inspired me so much, people I’d never in a million years imagined I’d meet. Most of all, making so many friends along the way, and watching them grow and succeed in their own career paths, seeing colleagues who once shared the same wide-eyed enthusiasm when new to the industry, now veteran supervisors.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

RUDY GROSSMAN: The first 10 minutes of Pixar’s Up. Oh, no it’s happening again, just thinking about it. What kind of question is this? Everything’s going blurry …

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: Switching from front-end character setup to lighting. After years of working primarily in rigging, model, creature effects, facial mocap and tech-anim, it was difficult to switch into back-end work – lighting and compositing.

During King Kong, I was involved in creating Weta’s first facial mocap performance, with Andy Serkis playing the title character. It was months of long hours, working nights and weekends. Around the same time that we were delivering the last Kong face shots, an email went out asking if anybody could light shots. I had a little experience lighting, but not enough to make a reel, so I was really excited about the chance to get more experience. To be honest, I was also already completely exhausted! I don’t know where the burst of energy came from – I guess it’s like when you get close to the end of good book and you just don’t want it to end. Anyway, next thing I knew, I was moved over to a different building where I was assigned a lighting shot – this completely awesome shot of Kong towards the end of the film. So there I am at my desk, thinking this must be a mistake, there’s no way they are going to assign this awesome shot to me, sooner or later the production team will stop by and reassign it to a more experienced lighter. My heart was literally racing with excitement, and a little fear.

That night, I slept under my desk so I could periodically wake up, check the renders, and resubmit if anything was broken. Next morning, I was informed the shot would be handed off to a different artist. I understood, and mentioned that I’d just submitted a version to dailies, so they could review its current state for handing it off. They reviewed the shot, liked it, and decided I should keep going with it. More shots were assigned and, before I knew it, I had enough shots for a lighting reel, which then led to more jobs in lighting and eventually compositing too. Weta’s supervisor Chris White and production coordinator Rebecca Downes were incredibly supportive about transitioning me into lighting. Their encouragement was inspirational.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

RUDY GROSSMAN: Creating the facial blood flow effect for the three CG photoreal pixie characters in Disney’s Maleficent. In reality, the human face has subtle hue shifts as blood is dynamically compressed and drained by the motion of our expressions, temperature conditions, and emotional states. At the time, this had been an unexplored area in feature film CG characters. Mathias Whitman, the facial animation supervisor, and John Feather, the face lead, were equally passionate about doing everything we could to make these characters feel real. We listed blood flow as one of our goals while strategizing for the project, but we couldn’t find the resources to get it started. I had promised them that if we couldn’t find anybody to work on this, then I would do it.

A few months passed and we still couldn’t get anybody allocated to take this on, so I started working on it as a side project, mainly in the evenings and weekends. Paul Debevec’s ICT team shot some amazing reference footage of one of our main actresses going through an extreme range of facial expressions. Using this, I was able to really understand what conditions caused the blood to flow in and out of the different facial regions, and the effect that had on the skin’s subsurface scattering. The first step was re-creating the performance of the blood flow – to do this I used a cgfx shader. This way, I could quickly and interactively focus on fine-tuning the way blood moved within the face and not have to wait around for lengthy render times. The first time it all worked, interactively animating the character’s face and watching the blood flow change in real time was super-exciting!

The next step was taking the formula from the cgfx shader and using that to create higher resolution results with an appropriate time delay on the blood flow recovery. I plugged those results directly into the subsurface scattering of our V-Ray skin shader. Besides adding an extra illusion of life to the characters under normal conditions, it was also really helpful to add realism when they were yelling or upset, and having the faces flush slightly while flying at a higher altitude in colder air.

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: The biggest change has been globalization. The visual effects industry, once very centralized in California, is now spread widely across world. But the challenge of making visual effects is still as exciting. As our community continues to grow and get better and better at making visual effects, the complexity of the movies being made and the appetite of our audience is also growing.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

RUDY GROSSMAN: There is still a lot more we can do on-set, during our acquisition phase, to improve our overall process and allow higher quality work to be achieved more efficiently in areas like digital lighting and lookdev. We need to periodically question our standard workflows and find new ways to get better results.

It would be amazing to see more improvements in plausible simulation. Instead of trying to narrow in on the exact dynamic settings to accurately achieve the desired outcome, we should be flipping this on its head, and have our desired outcome accurately determine the settings required to achieve it – essentially resulting in simulations which are driven by the creative target.

I would also love to see improvements in markerless motion capture. The ultimate goal would be to accurately track and construct correlated 3D deforming data of actors’ faces, bodies, costumes and hair on-set under the actual lighting conditions, synced with the filming.

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: First, think about what you want out of life and what’s important to you. If consistency and predictability are a high priority – like living in the same town with the same routine – then this industry may not be the best fit. Most people in visual effects move around through different job opportunities. It used to be moving up and down the California coast; now it’s moving to new countries. You will know this career is the right choice for you if the work calls to you, gives you a sense of satisfaction, and you have fun doing it.

Second, find a place where you like the people you work with. If you find yourself at a studio where the people around you are mean-spirited, get out – it’s a toxic environment and you will be unhappy every day you are there. Atomic Fiction is a really good example of a studio filled with fun people who are excited to work together. I’ve worked with Ryan Tudhope and Kevin Baillie for years, and I know their intentions are sincere and they care about the people who work here.

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

RUDY GROSSMAN: Deadpool – a surprise hit that kind of came out of nowhere. It is such a fun movie to watch, and it was a fun movie to work on. The team at Atomic Fiction really came together and built a foundation that launched us forward into several exciting projects. I’m super-proud of what we achieved. For a lot of us, it was also a great chance to work with Jonathan Rothbart again. It was like a visual effects reunion!

Maleficent – the pixies’ faces are digital re-creations of the actresses. That required a herculean effort from everybody involved, and the results were simply gorgeous. A significant portion of the face mocap technology used in the film had evolved from the face development work at IMD, and it was really exciting to see the evolution of that technology, and its results recognized with Nicholas Apostoloff’s sci-tech Academy Award.

King Kong – it was a great team, with an unwavering commitment to strive for quality. Peter Jackson is one of those rare big-feature directors that puts in the effort to make people feel involved, appreciated, and important to the process. Spielberg, Zemeckis, and George Miller are other great examples of that rare group. The years of previous work in facial motion capture that had barely seen the light of day, the initial controversy amongst the actor’s guild during the testing in the late 90’s, and even the initial skepticism within our own industry, finally came to fruition with a fully believable, emotionally complex performance. The film itself won an Academy Award for best visual effects, and Mark Sagar was given a sci-tech Academy Award for leading the charge that established performance-driven facial motion capture within the filmmaking process.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

RUDY GROSSMAN: Lounging in a recliner seat while dipping cantucci biscotti into a glass of Vin Santo. It’s like milk and cookies, but for grownups!

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Rudy!