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PaulHellard
04-18-2007, 07:25 AM
http://features-temp.cgsociety.org/stories/2007_04/blood_diamond/jokun_mta_banner.jpg


Jeff Okun has completed the visual effects work on the Warner Brothers award winning film, 'Blood Diamond'. A special feature on his experiences in Africa during the production, is posted HERE (http://features.cgsociety.org/story.php?story_id=4012).

Working closely with Edward Zwick, the film’s Director, Co-Writer and Producer, Jeff was charged with creating invisible visual effects for the film. The mission statement for this project was, ‘If the audience sees a visual effect then we have ruined the film.’

The visual effects for this feature film range from virtual set extensions and extensive matte paintings to full 3D work and computer generated weapons and events of warfare to enhance the reality of the action sequences and add spectacular action ‘beats’ that propel the story forward.

Okun is known for creating ‘organic’ and invisible effects, as well as spectacular ‘tent-pole’ visual effects that blend seamlessly into the storytelling aspect of the project. “I feel that my job is not to showcase what can be done with the technology but to serve the story using visual effects where and when needed.”

Okun has also worked on wide-ranging effects as seen in such films as the award winning Tom Cruise film, THE LAST SAMURAI, the sci-fi hits STARGATE, SPHERE, RED PLANET, DEEP BLUE SEA, LOLITA, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, DEATH TO SMOOCHY, THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS, DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER, THE LAST STARFIGHTER and David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME.

His credits also include music videos from such varied artists as Sting, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Janet Jackson, Wayne Newton, Bryan Adams, Amy Grant, Dolly Parton, Prince, Michael Jackson, the Neville Brothers and Rod Stewart, in which he created many amazing in camera and special optical effects.


Jeff also created visual effects tracking and bidding software that is in wide use within the industry, as well as creating the revolutionary visual effects technique dubbed the "PeriWinkle Effect" and the "Pencil Effect", that have been used in many projects to help achieve a more realistic sense of danger and accurate budgets.

Jeff also serves as the Chair of the Visual Effects Society and the Chair of the VES Awards Committee, having spear-headed the creation of the VES Annual Awards. He is a respected member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (sitting on the steering committee), the Academy of Television Arts and Science, and BAFTA as well as a member of the board of directors for the Gnomon School of Visual Arts.

If you have any question for Jeff Okun, please feel free to post them here. Although Jeff is traveling right now, he is enthusiastically hoping to appear very shortly to write the replies. Please make him welcome to CGTalk 'Meet the Artist', Jeff Okun.

Stryker3D
04-18-2007, 10:04 AM
Jeff,

First off I want to thank you for being an inspiration to the younger generation of visual effects artists like myself. I was fortunate enough to attend the VES Awards show as a guest this year, and I want to congratulate you on coordinating the show, and having it be a huge success.

This is my first year in the Film VFX industry, and naturally I am learning so much in such a short amount of time.

1) What is your take on the younger generation of VFX artists? What advice do you have for someone starting out?

I get the sense that the Industry is more concerned about churning out the next effects extravaganza and not nearly as concerned about the story or the VFX craft. That is why I respect your work so much, because of your patience and attention to detail. I know we all strive for that level of realism, but fall short due to budgets and near ludicrous deadlines. I recall John Knoll commenting about this at a screening of Pirates 2 last fall. He was saying he was concerned with where the industry was going with these tighter and tighter post schedules.

2) Do you see any change to this trend, and how do you feel about it?

3) Finally, of all the projects you've worked on, which one is closest to your heart? I think we'd all enjoy reading about what made that show or sequence so memorable for you.

Thank you for your time Jeff. And thank you for your service and dedication to the visual effects community.

Sincerely,
Dereck

Rebeccak
04-19-2007, 04:24 AM
I really enjoyed reading the CGS article and the impact that it had on you and the other filmmakers emotionally - I thought it was one of the most interesting articles I've read so far. This was a great film and one which I was surprised to see make it to the big screen. What is the difference for you between working on a film with a greater humanitarian message and one that is an entertainment blockbuster? It would be interesting to hear you discuss the pros and cons of working on different kinds of films.

Also it would be interesting to hear what your experiences were like working with Zwick, who seems to have directed some amazing projects.

Thank you for your time!

Sneakybunny
04-19-2007, 04:32 AM
Thankyou for setting time to chat to the cg members,

quick question.

1) Could you advise us in your wisdom a list of skills sets you should be proficient in to enter into VFX industry, im a max and maya generalist.

Nazirull
04-19-2007, 04:37 AM
Mr Jeff Okun,

Being new to the field, this is the first time ive heard about you and after reading the first post, i thank god coz we have someone whos doing it to serve the story more than just to showcase a new softwares for doing things in movies.

The most mesmerizing moment for me in movies, talking about special effects that serve the story so well, was the bullet time. It was new, fresh and spot on and also gobsmackingly awesome (at least for me).

I always try to put myself to the special effects guys in movies and imagine myself having a new movie and trying to come up with something gobmacking and original and at the same time serve the story good.

The effects in recent movies , to me is a case of 'ive seen that before in this other movies bla bla'

A good example is how movies after the LOTR like to use the mass tool to show huge battlefield of armies....i think its overused.

My question to you would be...how do you do it? How to come up with something original, bullet-time like....and serve the story. Of course first youve go to have a good story.

Thanks for your time and so sorry for the long post.

mullet
04-19-2007, 11:43 AM
Hi jeff - I enjoyed the CGtalk article on blood diamond, it was interesting to hear that there are people out there still able to enjoy life after all the atrocities that have happened (and are ongoing)

- what's your take on recent productions with environments that have been entirely filmed on green screen - do you think there's a future for it?... have they been succesful? (a recent example being 300) My personal feeling is that (300 in particular) lacked a sense of scale - is this due to a lack of traditional experience, or are we just very new to the technology, as compared to where we were with digital humans only just a few years back?..

thanks.

Djampa
04-19-2007, 02:15 PM
I still can’t quite balance the whole thing out, can’t quite put any of it in the proper perspective. The only thing that separates me from them is that I happened to be born here and they were born there.

Doesn't matter what we have... but who we are. (and what the bleep do we know?)

Congratulations on receiving one of the best awards you could attain in your entire life... you know well what I mean. ;)

Technical questions ? Well, after reading all your interview, besides the unbelievable ability you had to handle VFX issues in such environment, specially psychologically, among all the technical difficulties what was the most challenging task for you and why ?

BTW thanks for sharing part of experiences there.

Thanks Paul Hellard one more time for such fantastic opportunity ! :)

Thanks for your time Mr. Okun,
Cheers,

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 03:12 AM
Hi Derick

1) What is your take on the younger generation of VFX artists? What advice do you have for someone starting out?

Okay now… my take on the younger generation of VFX artists? Well, in general I am amazed by them. You all seem to be incredibly creative, dedicated and love what you are doing. That is a fantastic thing. And will carry you far within the business.

One of the things that I am not real happy about – and this is not necessarily tied to the ‘younger generation’ of VFX artists – is that a great many of you do not seem to observe the life around you. I am talking about shadows and highlights, caustics, mists, distances, lighting and so on. This is essential for creating believeable effects when you are doing the “Invisible” work.

My advice for someone starting out is to take a drawing course so you learn to observe nature in a manner that will serve you in your career. That and to hang out with working friends, drop by facilities that you would like to work at and to make a killer demo reel. One of the things not to do on a demo reel is put on tons of the same type of work – unless you want to just do that kind of work.

2) Do you see any change to this trend, and how do you feel about it?

Sadly, I see this as a continuing trend – shorter schedules, less money and worst of all, less caring about the quality of the work. The issue seems to stem from the fact that everyone is afraid to fail, so we all kick into 24/7 work schedules and make it happen. If we did fail, there are 50 people ready to take the job from us. I see this happening all over the entertainment business – in the sound editing, in the editing, in the preping, the posting, the shooting. It appears that these days starting without a script but with a release date is the norm. So we all need to keep in mind why we do this!? I do it because I love it and that means that even when the deadlines are short, the creatives are lacking, I do it for me – up to my standards. Now that does not mean that I draw an unreasonable line - I have learned how to make it all work no matter what the issues. And I have learned that we are not really VFX supervisors or compositors or whatever, but really VFX PROBLEM SOLVERS. So start keeping track of the little tricks and secrets that really worked or saved your bacon – including a little bit of praying!

3) Finally, of all the projects you've worked on, which one is closest to your heart? I think we'd all enjoy reading about what made that show or sequence so memorable for you.

I would have to say that whatever was the last project I did is the one closest to my heart! In this case, Blood Diamond. I mean, if you read the story, you know that not only did I learn a great deal about life but, we put out a pretty important film as well. Does it ever get any better than that?

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 03:29 AM
From Rebecca:

1) What is the difference for you between working on a film with a greater humanitarian message and one that is an entertainment blockbuster? It would be interesting to hear you discuss the pros and cons of working on different kinds of films.

There is not much difference between working on the two types of films except the responsibility to the reality and accuracy of the story – that’s not really an effects issue. However, the feeling inside that you get when you feel that you are helping to tell a story that needs telling means that you have an extra burden on you – and that kind of burden can be freeing and invigorating!

Now if your question is really more to blockbuster type films and the VFX in them not carrying the burden of having to look and act real, then, yes, blockbuster entertainment films are much more forgiving in that respect. However, that does not mean that you can let your quality guard down. What it does mean is that you need to understand the physics of what you are doing and then start cranking it up to a much higher level.

2) Also it would be interesting to hear what your experiences were like working with Zwick, who seems to have directed some amazing projects.

Edward Zwick is an amazing human being. His track record shows that he never backs away from difficult subject material and that he is a person who loves to expose, and thereby help correct, the wrongs of the world. Look at Glory and Blood Diamond, Last Samurai, The Siege and so on. He is also one of the smartest guys I have ever met. He is a very passionate guy when he is directing, and good is not as good a great, if you know what I mean. He demands the most of himself and of the people who work with him. And that is exactly the type of person you should strive to work with because it demands that you do better than you think you can.

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 03:36 AM
1) Could you advise us in your wisdom a list of skills sets you should be proficient in to enter into VFX industry, im a max and maya generalist.

To me the best skill set you need is be able to see. So many of us have a preconceived notion of what things look like, but when you actually take a look, sometimes it does not look anything at all like what you thought.

Next, political salvy – I have been sunk more times than not by my own political short comings. By this I mean, you have to interact with so many different types on a project, each with their own agenda’s, needs and desires – rarely having anything to do with the project at hand. Learn how to listen, and save yourself a great deal of grief.

When it comes to specific software, I pretty much leave that up to the people who know them inside and out. If I know what it should look like, and I can communicate that to the artists, then it would be silly of me to dictate to them what to use. They are the experts to me.

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 03:47 AM
My question to you would be...how do you do it? How to come up with something original, bullet-time like....and serve the story. Of course first you’ve go to have a good story.

Well, you do it by looking around! Bullet time was actually used several years earlier in Coke commercials for the Japanese Olympics. And it was also used before that in a few French TV commercials.

The point here is not who did it first, but who applied it with the right touch to the right situation so that it soared above the rote use.

I am always looking in other mediums for fresh ideas. I love to read the magazines about stage craft, magic, special venues and photography. I really love to go to museums and look for inspiration from the old masters (impressionists are my favorites).

And in the end, just like when you write a song, it is usually seeing something old in a new light and combining it with something else that yields a great idea on how to do something new! Something never before seen.

I harken back to Stargate, when we were trying to come up with the Stargate effect. We tried everything. We looked everywhere. And then I happened to mention to Roland Emmerich that I loved the work of a Spanish film maker who used mercury and water as the portal to the neither world. He loved that idea and I went off to start playing with water. What ended up as the final result was a happy accident. We got a 3 foot wide, 4 foot talk clear plexiglass container full of water and shot 126 lbs of air pressure into it through a 1 inch wide nozzle. It lifted the entire contents of the container, moved it over a few feet and it all landed on my DP, Dave Stump! It was the funniest thing I have ever seen. We reduced the pressure to 16 lbs and that is what is in the movie.

Back to your question: This is the key and the fun of what we do!

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 03:53 AM
- what's your take on recent productions with environments that have been entirely filmed on green screen - do you think there's a future for it?... have they been succesful? (a recent example being 300) My personal feeling is that (300 in particular) lacked a sense of scale - is this due to a lack of traditional experience, or are we just very new to the technology, as compared to where we were with digital humans only just a few years back?..

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a huge thing. We are going to see it used more and more and probably will define a whole new type genre of film.

With “300” the issue of scale has more to do with not putting the little things in the frame that give the mind the invisible clue of the scale of things. And I believe that was on purpose. They were trying to do a graphic novel not a live-filmed action adventure movie. And to me, they were very successful. Now if you would like to discuss personal takes on the project, well, I got tired of the look before it was all over. But that is just me.

The technology is new, but old at the same time and we are only just now learning out to harness it to full effect. It is almost as if we had it, mis-applied it, forgot it, rediscovered it and are now amazed by it all over again. Go figure.

bcwarner
04-20-2007, 04:00 AM
And I have learned that we are not really VFX supervisors or compositors or whatever, but really VFX PROBLEM SOLVERS



This is so true and such a great way to approach the work.

Great interview and I think an eye opener for many of us.

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 04:01 AM
Among all the technical difficulties [on Blood Diamond] what was the most challenging task for you and why ?

The most challenging task on Blood Diamond was putting together the refugee camp. Technically, it was the set that had the least reality to it and carried the largest burden to be real. When we filmed it there were only about 15 tents there and a bit of a chainlink fence. The dialogue is “This is what a million people look like… the 2nd largest refugee camp in Africa”

Ed always figured that by this point in the story we could afford for it not to be perfect. I, on the other hand, was determined to make it perfect. I hired Syd Dutton at Illusion Arts to create the camp. He tried a number of procdural approaches to it, but in the end just ended up painting it. And in my opinion, did a fantastic job! Beyond compare.

I supplied a number of references for him as well as tons of photographic elements of tents and people. But he took it to another level using both my photographs, and people as well as painted tents, CG people and people he stole out of other angles of the live action camp.

I am just knocked out by Syd and his company. They are just the best.

Nazirull
04-20-2007, 07:16 AM
Hi Jeff,

Thanks for taking ur time replying us all!

Its great to know the background story of that portal effect in Stargate. I remember watching it on the big screen and went 'whoa'. Trully, id never seen anything like. It was awesome. My eyes were plugged to the portal, imagining the world beyond it.

Knowing it was sorta like an accident makes it cooler. The way i work (ok here comes the new boy shouting out loud about nothing) is very rigid, have specific plans picture in mind that i wanted to achieve. You have made me realise the fluidity and the importance of ideas to flow and try many things in between.

Thanks again Jeff! I'll be watching Blood diamond soon!

unchikun
04-20-2007, 07:42 AM
I said to myself... what vfx in Blood Diamond?..... aha!

Will there possibly be a presentation at Siggraph of some of the VFX techniques used on the film? VFX mapping with GPS seemed very interesting, would be curious to see how these elements were assembled. Was there much tracking of handheld footage?

Also could you elaborate on this: "...when a white person comes through and takes pictures of the children, the kids generally disappear in the next few days never to be seen again."

Lastly, whats next for you?

Thanks.

DaveA
04-20-2007, 11:20 AM
Mr. Okun,

Thank you for taking the time to share a bit of yourself with the forum.

My question is this: In the pre-CG days of VFX, a common mantra in the industry was that a good VFX artist should never rely on only one particular tool or technique as a means to solve all problems. Rather, they should be open to using anything and everything at their disposal to get the shot. Is that still good advice in today's CG instensive world? If so, do you see it being taught in today's VFX schools?

3D-Pangel

Rebeccak
04-20-2007, 01:08 PM
From Rebecca:

1) What is the difference for you between working on a film with a greater humanitarian message and one that is an entertainment blockbuster? It would be interesting to hear you discuss the pros and cons of working on different kinds of films.

There is not much difference between working on the two types of films except the responsibility to the reality and accuracy of the story – that’s not really an effects issue. However, the feeling inside that you get when you feel that you are helping to tell a story that needs telling means that you have an extra burden on you – and that kind of burden can be freeing and invigorating!

Now if your question is really more to blockbuster type films and the VFX in them not carrying the burden of having to look and act real, then, yes, blockbuster entertainment films are much more forgiving in that respect. However, that does not mean that you can let your quality guard down. What it does mean is that you need to understand the physics of what you are doing and then start cranking it up to a much higher level.

2) Also it would be interesting to hear what your experiences were like working with Zwick, who seems to have directed some amazing projects.

Edward Zwick is an amazing human being. His track record shows that he never backs away from difficult subject material and that he is a person who loves to expose, and thereby help correct, the wrongs of the world. Look at Glory and Blood Diamond, Last Samurai, The Siege and so on. He is also one of the smartest guys I have ever met. He is a very passionate guy when he is directing, and good is not as good a great, if you know what I mean. He demands the most of himself and of the people who work with him. And that is exactly the type of person you should strive to work with because it demands that you do better than you think you can.
Thanks very much for your responses! I've enjoyed reading all of your responses to the questions so far.

JeffOkun
04-20-2007, 01:14 PM
Knowing it was sorta like an accident makes it cooler. The way i work (ok here comes the new boy shouting out loud about nothing) is very rigid, have specific plans picture in mind that i wanted to achieve. You have made me realise the fluidity and the importance of ideas to flow and try many things in between.


No worries my friend. This issue of being fluid is much bigger than you think. As a matter of fact, learning to think on my feet, problem solving a shot as it happens, has been a way of life for me for a long time now. The opportunity where I get to pre-think a cool look and then actually get to execute it as well is not as frequent as one might think. Of course that does get to happen a lot, but it some how always feels as if the life has been drained out of it - know what I mean?

Do not be afraid to experiment, push a button that you do not know what it will do or just toss out the whole thing and start over, but doing it differently! Great stuff happens sometimes!!! And of course... sometimes not too.

nobodee
04-20-2007, 05:29 PM
Hello Jeff,
I really enjoyed reading the article. It made me think about so many different things... thank you for that. I rarely read or think about VFX in the movies, but the article shed a little light on the whole thing. :)

It's awesome that you worked on Sphere and The Last Samurai :love: I really, really liked TLS and I think it just didn't get enough attention... the movie is straightforward beautiful!

I don't know what I could ask you, but I always like reading about funny accidents and interesting 'behind the scenes' stuff, like the Stargate effect you talked about a few posts back. So, could you share some more fun stories? Those are always great to read :)

Take care and continue doing the awesome job!

- Donna

Djampa
04-20-2007, 08:26 PM
Thanks a lot for answering my question. :)

Awesome to read all the other replies you wrote here too.

Best wishes to you,

chips__
04-20-2007, 10:34 PM
Hello Jeff

First of all, I think we all really appreciate you taking your time here to share and answer questions.

You've mentioned Illusion arts. How's the rest of the team or setup you're using on a film like blood diamond? larger vendors? smaller boutiques? individuals?

The intro mentioned shot tracking and bidding software that you've developed? I'm in the process of building an asset and job tracking system at the company i was just hired at, along with my fellow vfx sup. Can you share some info on that? is it commercially available? anything you can tell us? :)

Jeff, when you're on set on a film like blood diamond, standing in the middle of africa, having to make spur of the moment decisions... do you ever wonder if what you're going with will actually work? or are you completely sure about the process from that point already?

thanks so much

Peter Hartwig

himani
04-21-2007, 03:05 AM
Just wanted to say that after seeing Jeff's presentation at the VES "Show and Tell", I went back and re-watched the film with his effects contribution in mind. There were so many things going on that I had no idea were effects in the film... invisible effects are supposed to be the holy grail for an effects artist, but if no one knows that they exist, well therein lies the rub.

It's nice to see a forum where work "unseen" like Jeff's on the film is discussed, admired and congratulated. - KK

GoldenCamel
04-21-2007, 11:06 AM
Hi Jeff,

Would you liked to become a VFX artist if you were born a second time?

Tripple-I
04-21-2007, 11:25 AM
He looks like Sean Penn, just throwing it out there.

Nazirull
04-21-2007, 11:47 AM
Of course that does get to happen a lot, but it some how always feels as if the life has been drained out of it - know what I mean?


Thanks for responding to my reply of ur answer to my question! (i know, it sounds weird).

I kinna know what u mean though. I can look at my finished piece and say that ive put on so much ideas and effort into it, so many tales behind that piece. So much fun and adventure.

Or i can look at another piece and say, 'good, everything went as planned'

I mean it takes the fun out of it ...am i right?

Yep...im afraid of pushing that button and see what happen...i dunno why. Probably too comfy with my current workflow...which definitely has to change!

Thanks for the advice man.....a really have to kick my butt more..have to keep moving. :)

sean72
04-22-2007, 12:27 AM
Hello Jeff,

I live 20-30 minutes North of your film set in Port Edward and heard little bits and pieces about the movie through local friends and acquaintances who worked on the film or supplied the set with things (including the decals for the plane and etc.). Ironically, several months before the filming, I was in Maputo and parts of Mozambique on assignment as well (and stayed at Hotel Avenida).

We saw the movie when it came through and enjoyed the story and the local scenery and those streets in Maputo. I would have to agree with another post here that I didn't remember seeing much if any VFX in the movie, so you did your work well.

As for questions - I am learning to use Vue 6 Infinite to generate realistic clips and effects and recently experimented with Matchmover from RealViz. I got my composite test clips close, but didn't realize how much time and effort match moving involved! My test footage was 16:9 DV - is it easier to get good tracking points in HD and higher resolution footage?

I really like to see how VFX can be used to assist in telling a real story compared to fantasy. I assume it is easier to make fantastical/sci-fi effects rather than to try to simulate real world physics since the audience knows more of what the real world effects should look like while they have a limited frame of reference for fantasy/sci-fi scenes - would you agree? With your experience in both, do you prefer one kind of project over the other?

Thanks,

Sean72

leova
04-22-2007, 07:47 AM
First, I would like to thank Mr. Jeff Okun for a great article. Best article about vfx and its role. Amazing! Thank you.

I'm a big fan of your work for a long time and your invisible effects/solutions always full of inspiration.

I know you serve as the Chair of the Visual Effects Society, my question is about a future of VFX organization. VFX is a new player in film and TV and its place is not clearly specified. Where is so many unresolved questions like: credits in film, workflow and integration with other departments, who is responsible for what.
In my opinion solid structure/rules will help to establish equal place of VFX in film making process, give artist more freedom and power to create what they best on. Do you think we can create something like ASC, I.A.T.S.E., DGA for VFX? Does Visual Effects Society interested to evolve in this direction? Or we need to start thinking about creating something else? What would be your suggestion/opinion? Is it possible and how?

Thank you again,

Lev
VFX Problem Solver
http://leova.com

Sneakybunny
04-22-2007, 10:20 PM
thanks for answering my question.
cheers, sneakybunny

Pumbaa
04-23-2007, 08:55 AM
Wow Mr. Okun, I so envy both your skill and your job, being able to travel the world like you have, learn stuff about everything.. I crave for that kind of stuff.

So okay, over to my "question", and appologiez in advance if this question don't belong here.

I feel that I somehow know the answer to all this (practice makes perfect).. But, what to do when your at the age of 24 and you see people that's 17 or even younger producing stuff that's hundreds of levels better then what you could produce? I can't really find the time to work and develop my skills even though I really want to. I feel the interrest is there, and the will to improve, but the time simply is not.

Also I really am trying to observe my environment, but I get the feeling that I don't really understand what I see or something. I mean, what I see don't seem to get stuck inside my head if you know what I mean. When I watch the nature, everything seem so obvious "of course that shadow is supposed to be there and of course it's supposed to have that color because of that" etc but when I later on sit down trying to recreate it, I have no idea what it should look like.

Reading about people "isolating themselves" in a room and doing nothing but drawing makes me wonder, how do they find the time to do it?? Bills has to be payed etc etc..
What is your tip to people like me to do? I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one walking around with these thoughts. At least I hope I'm not.

Thank you in advance sir!

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 11:59 AM
Will there possibly be a presentation at Siggraph of some of the VFX techniques used on the film? VFX mapping with GPS seemed very interesting, would be curious to see how these elements were assembled. Was there much tracking of handheld footage?

Also could you elaborate on this: "...when a white person comes through and takes pictures of the children, the kids generally disappear in the next few days never to be seen again."

Lastly, whats next for you?

Thanks.

Hi!

Thanks for the kind words but there will be no presentation for me at Siggraph this year. However, there was a great amount of tracking on this project - both for the hand held and the mounted camera shots. The reason being that it was very important to allow the creative freedom of the camera in the telling of this story. That subjective camera motion drew the viewer deeper into the terror and the beauty of the story we were telling. Eduardo Serra, our DP, took a very deliberate approach to how he filmed the movie. While each camera style and exposure (over, under and at stop) was intenional, there was really no other way to draw the audience deep into the character and the character of the story without that handheld camera.

When I say that if a white person comes through a village or township taking pictures of the little kids they disappear - I mean exeactly that. It would appear that it is not uncommon for white people to take pictures of kids and then use the photo's to sell the kids. The kids disappear... forever. It is not a pretty story, but it is real. And quite sobering for me.

Thanks for your comments and questions!

Best,

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 12:30 PM
In the pre-CG days of VFX, a common mantra in the industry was that a good VFX artist should never rely on only one particular tool or technique as a means to solve all problems. Rather, they should be open to using anything and everything at their disposal to get the shot. Is that still good advice in today's CG instensive world? If so, do you see it being taught in today's VFX schools?

3D-Pangel

That is still the bottom line. You never really know when you are going to be stuck and what is going to break through for you. The best laid plans....

But in real life, even when you successfully acheive what you set out to do, it may not be enough to take the day. So we go back to that whole notion of being fluid, of keeping an open and active mind, and always, always be looking for something better.

My real life example of the Stargate has been told already, so here is another one: On the Last Starfighter, when I got hired on to help insure that the film's VFX would be delivered on time, the first thing I did was run some calculations that showed that if everything worked perfectly, the first time through, and we could operate all the computers and new film recorders 24/7, the film would not be delivered until 11 months after the opening date. What to do?

The director, Nick Castle, and I spent the next period of panic looking over every single shot and it's planned technique with the single thought in mind of "How can we simplfy and or delete, and still tell the most exciting story possible"?

Fortunately we had a great group of talented and creative people working with us at Digital Productions, Ron Cobb, Brad DeGraf, Gary Demos, John Whitney, Jr. and, well just everybody there.

Together we came up with several groundbreaking techniques to simplify the computing time while not changing the shots themselves. We explored using models and miniatures, and did use optical printing tricks with the CG images and so on to get the amazing amount of fantastical images done on time and on budget.

Back to your question: Do I see this being taought in VFX Schools? No. But then, they are not there to teach that. To make you aware of it, yes. It is up to you guys and girls who are in school or seeking a vfx education to dig in deep and read all about the past and 'how they did that' then. When you know that, when the magic of that fire is lit inside you, you will begin to seek out not only reference material on it but you begin to watch the older films to see what worked and why.

And when you know that stuff, when you have expanded your palette of tools & techniques, only then can you confidently understand the 'why' and 'how' of what the software does now, learn to trick it into doing what you need and make vfx decisions on set and in post that will get you where you need to be effectively.

Hope that this long and rambling reply answered your question!

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:02 PM
...I always like reading about funny accidents and interesting 'behind the scenes' stuff, like the Stargate effect you talked about a few posts back. So, could you share some more fun stories? Those are always great to read :)

- Donna

Funny things that happened on The Last Samurai, or Sphere or Blood Diamond? Hmmmmm. Well then...

Does this one count? It was October 14, my wedding anniversary, and Tom Boland, my vfx producer, and I where in Japan filming The Last Samurai. It was the day that the crew photo was planned. However, I had been trying to track down a period village that I had heard rumor of. On the 13th, our Japanese production office had finally found the place and wrote out the instructions of how to get to it in Japanese and English... well, most of it anyway.

So at 5am we hit the railway station and off we went... on a journey that was supposed to be a few hours each way. Around 2pm after riding 2 bullet trains and one old fashioned deisel train we arrived at what we thought was the destination. Of course, each time we got off a train we thought that as well, but when we showed our instructions to the conductor they would take us to another train. Following our instructions, we hailed a cab for what we hoped would be a very short ride to the Village.

We showed the driver our written instructions. He grew very excited, began making placating hand gestures, then ran off. He returned after several minutes and indicated that we hop into his car and off we went.

Mind you we speak no Japanese and no one we found spoke English.

Our first big clue was that, after he got his tank filled up, he got on the phone and began laughing, pointing at us over his shoulder and so on... to several different people. Call after call. We were stymied. We were confused. And we remembered that we had a Japanese cell phone! With a pre-programmed number to the Japanese production office! So we called. And got only Japanese speaking people. After several attempts we got an English speaker and asked her to speak to the cab driver and find out what was going on.

Via this means we discovered that:

1) This cab drive was going to cost us $1200 (I think)
2) We would not be back in time for the last train out of this village, and
3) We had traveled something like 600 - 1200 miles so far and had another 200 miles or so more to go.

I said it before and I will say it again... What to do?

Well, Tom negotiated with the driver via our cell phone translater to cut the fee to a flat $500. Next, we extracted a promise that no matter what, even if we do not get to our destination, he get us back in time for the last train home.

SO with all deals done, our driver put the peddle to the metal and suddenly we were passing everyone in sight... on a very narrow, long, intensely winding road with a sheer clift on one side, a solid rock mountain on the other side... and on occasion, a tourist bus coming head on at us.

I literally called my wife and said my goodbyes. Tom in the meantime was becomming very car sick. And our driver was having the time of his life!

We eventually arrived and I began taking pictures of textures and so on. I shot exeactly 37 images before the driver grabbed both Tom and I by our collars and literally threw us back in the car and began the return drive down the mountain at crazy speeds, risking life and limb.

We returned to our hotels at 2am. We had to get up at 5am to move to the next location... about halfway back to where we were the day before.

And yes! We sure did use those images in the film! If you look really hard, you can almost see a bit of one in a really wide shot of the Samurai village at night. Yep. It was definitly worth the trip.

Hope you enjoyed our little adventure. And this is the short version.

Thanks,

Jeff



So Tom and I

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:18 PM
You've mentioned Illusion arts. How's the rest of the team or setup you're using on a film like blood diamond? larger vendors? smaller boutiques? individuals?

On Blood Diamond we used 8 different vendors. They ranged from a single individual to bigger shops.

We pick the vendor based on history (mine with them), their artists (the people who are actually doing the work), the vendor's attitude (they need to be excited about the job), and finally, inevitably, price (needs to be fair for what we are asking them to do). Now that formula changes on each job.

Here is a list of who we used:

Illusion Arts
Rising Sun Pictures
Flash FIlm Works
Pixel Magic
Cos Effects
CIS
Brian Jennings
Look Effects

chips__
04-23-2007, 01:30 PM
On Blood Diamond we used 8 different vendors. They ranged from a single individual to bigger shops.

We pick the vendor based on history (mine with them), their artists (the people who are actually doing the work), the vendor's attitude (they need to be excited about the job), and finally, inevitably, price (needs to be fair for what we are asking them to do). Now that formula changes on each job.





obvious follow up question :) how does one come into consideration ? =)

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:30 PM
The intro mentioned shot tracking and bidding software that you've developed? I'm in the process of building an asset and job tracking system at the company i was just hired at, along with my fellow vfx sup. Can you share some info on that? is it commercially available? anything you can tell us? :)


I build my system using filemaker pro. It grew and changed over the years and I have long since passed it over to people smarter than I am. George Macri at Pixel Magic is one of those guys. Another incarnation of my system is still blossuming with my various past coordinators, Rom Adriano and Jack Geist (who is now producing himself, having won a VES Award for Magnificent Desolation).

It was for sale for several years by a company that has since gone out of business. I would be happy to tell you more privately.

All I can say is good luck and have fun! I had a blast designing and perfecting mine!

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:55 PM
Jeff, when you're on set on a film like blood diamond, standing in the middle of africa, having to make spur of the moment decisions... do you ever wonder if what you're going with will actually work? or are you completely sure about the process from that point already?
Peter Hartwig

Hey Peter! The answer to this one is:

I worry all the time! How can you not wonder if you are making a huge mistake?

Sometimes I see a movie that makes me feel like I should just quit becuase I could never do anything as elegant, smart and good as that. That feeling haunts me each and everytime I take a job on. And no matter how much you think you know, or how much experience you have, you can always screw up. Stuff happens.

But then, history says that so far I have managed to salvage screw-ups, sometimes even turning them into victories.

So everytime I make a choice I am aware that the opportunity for failure is here. And while I never yet been caught short, it does make things exciting and thrilling. And maybe that is why I really love what I do. At least it is never boring.

The process of prepping a show, and then living it while you gather all your plates and shots and measurements, references and so on has nothing to do with feeling confident that you are making the right decision. Things can change so fast on a set and unless you need to protect the shot above and beyond the show, you need to roll with them. However, there are those times when you need to stand your ground. And let me tell you how hard it is to have an entire film crew staring at you waiting for you to say it is okay to shoot and you just cannot say it because there is just no way to make it work like this.

Having a back up plan helps. That and knowing how you can cheat, fake, change, steal, barrow or pitch a new version of the ever evolving plan. You know, just staying focused.

It also helps to know who to call when you think you are in trouble. Getting advice is a wonderful thing... and the VES, I think, has helped foster this exchange of ideas and opinions. Once was the time that we were each protecting our secrets from each other!

So in conclusion, yes, it's a bit scary, but it is also an amazing rush!

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:57 PM
Hi Jeff,

Would you liked to become a VFX artist if you were born a second time?

I thought I was one?

If I could be born a second time, I would prefer to be Zak Starkey - the Drummer for the Who and Oasis.

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 01:59 PM
He looks like Sean Penn, just throwing it out there.

I have been told that before... Also, like BIll Mahr too.

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 02:06 PM
... invisible effects are supposed to be the holy grail for an effects artist, but if no one knows that they exist, well therein lies the rub.


True. And this begs the question that maybe we have made what we do to 'famous' for our own good. Think about it for a minute. Before we started showing how we did what we do to the public (DVD behind the scenes material & TV Shows such as the now defunct MOVIE MAGIC) we were the only ones who really knew how it all worked.

Now, every director, producer, movie & TV studio executive has read or seen it all. And now they are telling us how to do it, when to do it and why to do it.

If I get asked to just push the "Do it" button one more time... let alone the "do it faster" button or the "Secret button" that will "Just Do it"....
:-)

JeffOkun
04-23-2007, 02:14 PM
As for questions - I am learning to use Vue 6 Infinite to generate realistic clips and effects and recently experimented with Matchmover from RealViz. I got my composite test clips close, but didn't realize how much time and effort match moving involved! My test footage was 16:9 DV - is it easier to get good tracking points in HD and higher resolution footage?

I really like to see how VFX can be used to assist in telling a real story compared to fantasy. I assume it is easier to make fantastical/sci-fi effects rather than to try to simulate real world physics since the audience knows more of what the real world effects should look like while they have a limited frame of reference for fantasy/sci-fi scenes - would you agree? With your experience in both, do you prefer one kind of project over the other?

Thanks,

Sean72

Hi Sean!

Thanks for writing. I loved the Avenida by the way, but the Palano was my favorite!

It is much easier to track and match move to higher resolution images. Much.

Also, you are correct about reality vs. fantasy. The issue being that everyone knows what reality looks like, acts like and is like while not a great deal of us have flown in space, confronted aliens, surfed wormholes to new dimentions or driven vehicals through the center of the Earth to discover the Mole people.

But, doing reality is fun too. It is your chance to see if you observe life in a special and fun way that others agree on.

However, doing Sci-Fi and fantasy is the opportunity to create new worlds that maybe no one has ever seen or been to. Opening up minds to new possibilities.


And, you can combine the two into something completely different - real but fantastical.

It's a great time to be alive!

Be well!

Jeff

chips__
04-23-2007, 02:23 PM
Hey Peter! The answer to this one is:

I worry all the time! How can you not wonder if you are making a huge mistake?

Sometimes I see a movie that makes me feel like I should just quit becuase I could never do anything as elegant, smart and good as that. That feeling haunts me each and everytime I take a job on. And no matter how much you think you know, or how much experience you have, you can always screw up. Stuff happens.

ah that's 'nice' to know. You're right, some times a film comes along where everything has been solved so nicely and elegant that it just works perfectly. Maybe that's when it can really be defined as art?

So everytime I make a choice I am aware that the opportunity for failure is here. And while I never yet been caught short, it does make things exciting and thrilling. And maybe that is why I really love what I do. At least it is never boring.


hehe, thats good =)

The process of prepping a show, and then living it while you gather all your plates and shots and measurements, references and so on has nothing to do with feeling confident that you are making the right decision. Things can change so fast on a set and unless you need to protect the shot above and beyond the show, you need to roll with them. However, there are those times when you need to stand your ground. And let me tell you how hard it is to have an entire film crew staring at you waiting for you to say it is okay to shoot and you just cannot say it because there is just no way to make it work like this.

Having a back up plan helps. That and knowing how you can cheat, fake, change, steal, barrow or pitch a new version of the ever evolving plan. You know, just staying focused.

It also helps to know who to call when you think you are in trouble. Getting advice is a wonderful thing... and the VES, I think, has helped foster this exchange of ideas and opinions. Once was the time that we were each protecting our secrets from each other!

So in conclusion, yes, it's a bit scary, but it is also an amazing rush!

I like the term 'living' the show. Maybe it's the only way to be involved enough to make sure you get what you need and cover everything.

I've always found that the people who don't want to share their 'secrets' are the people who are above average, but not extremely good. Where as people who rest in the fact that they are really good at what they do, and know that they can come up with new solutions if needed, are really nice about sharing and helping!

thanks for all your input... it's greatly appreciated!

Peter

ditroi
04-23-2007, 07:18 PM
This is Diana Huang from Tom Leeser's Senior Thesis class at Otis College of Art and Design. Thank you again for coming to my class to talk about this movie. This is really a fantastic movie and the article here is absolutely interesting on all levels. I am so glad your team was able to give some aid to people and help out the community with projects like rebuilding roads and furnishing the schools. It is too sad to think about at times but this stuff needs to be known so people can take action. Well when I have the money I'm going to do a whole bunch of stuff like the Kiva.org micro loan program. Thanks for doing this! Happy to have met you!

shibumenon
04-23-2007, 10:50 PM
splendid works, Jeff,
very inspiring !!

JeffOkun
04-24-2007, 07:12 AM
I feel that I somehow know the answer to all this (practice makes perfect).. But, what to do when your at the age of 24 and you see people that's 17 or even younger producing stuff that's hundreds of levels better then what you could produce? I can't really find the time to work and develop my skills even though I really want to. I feel the interrest is there, and the will to improve, but the time simply is not.

Also I really am trying to observe my environment, but I get the feeling that I don't really understand what I see or something. I mean, what I see don't seem to get stuck inside my head if you know what I mean. When I watch the nature, everything seem so obvious "of course that shadow is supposed to be there and of course it's supposed to have that color because of that" etc but when I later on sit down trying to recreate it, I have no idea what it should look like.

Reading about people "isolating themselves" in a room and doing nothing but drawing makes me wonder, how do they find the time to do it?? Bills has to be payed etc etc..
What is your tip to people like me to do? I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one walking around with these thoughts. At least I hope I'm not.


The issues you raise seem all about desire and not at all about ability.

So my advice to you is to really look inside yourself and see what you really want to do with your life. And when you discover what it is... Now is the time to do it. Do not wait. Do not hesitate.

Why? I am going to share with you a hard fact of life that I learned. When it was explained to me I did not get it. But now I do. I hope you fare better.

When you are younger, not married, no children, no real responsibilities, you are free to experiment, learn, suffer, live deeply, and still survive. As you grow older, you become more 'involved' and 'responsible' and before you know it, burdened with the task of providing a more stable life for yourself and your loved ones.

So the time to dive into something, give it your 200% effort, live, eat and sleep it is NOW. Because now you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Now you can make those bold experiments. Now you can afford to fail. And only in so doing will you find your true calling in life. And that true calling will provide you with everything you need for the rest of your life.

For me, I slept on the floor of an editing room for months on end - never going home because from 8:30am - 5:30pm I was a gofer at a graphic design firm that also happened to be making a short film. From 5:30pm - 5:30am I was the assistant editor's "whatever" guy - I emptied film bins, got them coffee and food, took their clothes in for dry cleaning, baby-sat their kids, whatever they wanted, in exchange for the valuable lessons I was getting by just being allowed to witness the process and ask questions. They drove me hard, but to me, it was a fantastic period of squalor and grace, of personal growth and understanding, of learning fantastic new things!

That kind of test and discovery led me into VFX and what I do now. And I love what I do more than any other work I have ever done or can think of doing. This is my joy and my love in life.

Now I have a beautiful and wonderful wife and two kids who are 13 & 17. A mortgage, bills and so on. So if the opportunity came my way now, there is just no way I could afford to do what I did.

And you know what?! I had no idea that it would all lead to this! I wanted to be a photographer, a musician, then a music producer, then a stand-up, then I was just confused.

The next bit is about concentration. IT wounds to me like you see but do not concentrate. That you are in a hurry and look but do not commit what you see. You are solving problems that haven't been asked and then you come upon answers so easily that you just don't remember them because you didn't 'earn' them.

The solution to this is to give yourself some rules and limits - challenge yourself to do something specific within a given deadline and have at it. It doesn't have to be complex or very difficult to start with.

An example, one of the people I ended up mentoring contacted me and asked if I would give them a vfx task to complete within 48 hours. Then, when they sent it to me, would I critique it.

I sent them an image from a film I had done and asked them to recreate the frame with all original stills. What they sent me was horrible but showed effort. The next one was better and before long they were sending me QT movies of little sequences I had dreamed up for them.

I am suggesting that you do that for yourself.

As a final note on this, I will share with you one of my great failures. Ever hear of the 48 hour film festival? It started at one of the vendor companies I used and I was intriqued by it. So I entered. When it was my turn to make a complete film in 48 hours I made this truely horrible thing called Flush.

Everything went wrong from being chased out of my locations to the actress I had cast not having the correct evening wear. I tried like crazy to rescue it - but only made it worse. The only good thing about it was the main title sequence - which I shot in a bathroom in the Sherman Oaks Galleria while they were tearing ti down. It is online somewhere - have a look if you dare.

I hope I have somehow managed to answer some portion of your question.

Good luck,

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-24-2007, 07:15 AM
This is Diana Huang from Tom Leeser's Senior Thesis class at Otis College of Art and Design. Thank you again for coming to my class to talk about this movie. This is really a fantastic movie and the article here is absolutely interesting on all levels. I am so glad your team was able to give some aid to people and help out the community with projects like rebuilding roads and furnishing the schools. It is too sad to think about at times but this stuff needs to be known so people can take action. Well when I have the money I'm going to do a whole bunch of stuff like the Kiva.org micro loan program. Thanks for doing this! Happy to have met you!

Hi Diana!

I so enjoyed seeing you guys and the amazing work you all are doing. You can ask Tom, I was really impressed with what I saw.

And your suggestions on how to help and who to do it with are a great beginning. But just understanding that it all really and truely is out there and needs the help is quite the thing right now.

Thanks!

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-24-2007, 07:22 AM
First, I would like to thank Mr. Jeff Okun for a great article. Best article about vfx and its role. Amazing! Thank you.

I'm a big fan of your work for a long time and your invisible effects/solutions always full of inspiration.

I know you serve as the Chair of the Visual Effects Society, my question is about a future of VFX organization. VFX is a new player in film and TV and its place is not clearly specified. Where is so many unresolved questions like: credits in film, workflow and integration with other departments, who is responsible for what.
In my opinion solid structure/rules will help to establish equal place of VFX in film making process, give artist more freedom and power to create what they best on. Do you think we can create something like ASC, I.A.T.S.E., DGA for VFX? Does Visual Effects Society interested to evolve in this direction? Or we need to start thinking about creating something else? What would be your suggestion/opinion? Is it possible and how?

Thank you again,

Lev
VFX Problem Solver
http://leova.com

Hi Lev,

First off, the ASC and the VES are both "Honory Professional Societies" as opposed to the DGA & IATSE - which are a guild and a union.

A guild or Union does what you are asking about - they involve themselves in acts of "Collective Bargaining" dealing with salaries, pensions and health benefits for their members.

An Honory Society is not allowed to do those things. They are only for gathering together professions to share, talk, challenge and push forward the barriars of their art. They can set standards, but only as suggestions as they do not have the power to enforce them.

Therefore, yes, we should be thinking of how to become a Union or Guild - however the VES, just like the ASC, can never become one. To do so, by law, they would have to be completely disolved and restart from scratch, following the laws and rules as set forth by both the State and Federal Governments and whichever group theywould be wishing to become.

I will write to you privately and fill you in on my past efforts in this area.

Thanks for asking,

Jeff

Sixslow
04-24-2007, 07:42 AM
Hey man, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions

heres a few more for you ;) :

I don't have the slightest clue how to look for a school for visual effects or even how to research it online to find tutorials so i can learn a little bit at home... how would i go abouts doing this?

also, I love playin around with cg programs (im not good in anyway) but im pretty sure this is what I want to do when I get older as my career (i just turned 18, but i love cg stuff and the idea of visual effects intrigue's me.) what programs do you need to do visual effects ?

last one, what are some of the main skills you need to become a successfull creator of VFX.

Thank you very much for your time
-gale

JeffOkun
04-24-2007, 08:03 AM
obvious follow up question :) how does one come into consideration ? =)

Easy! You send me a real and some info on the company, the artists and the goals!

Jeff

JeffOkun
04-24-2007, 08:20 AM
I don't have the slightest clue how to look for a school for visual effects or even how to research it online to find tutorials so i can learn a little bit at home... how would i go abouts doing this?

also, ... what programs do you need to do visual effects ?

last one, what are some of the main skills you need to become a successfull creator of VFX.

Thank you very much for your time
-gale

Hi Gale!

I would contact the Gnomon School of Visual Effects. They are fantastic. Even if you do not choose to join them, you can see what kinds of stuff you should be looking for.

Of course there are the USC and UCLA film schools and their VFX Clubs that could help you as well.

I would also ask around on these forums for advice on what are good schools or ways to learn or get a foot in the doer.

And then there is always that old tested chestnut, working for free at a VFX company when you can spare the time in exchange for some training.

The programs you need to know depend entirely upon what it is you are trying to accomplish. Loads of programs = loads of solutions. I would not worry about that right now though as it changes as you decide what you want to do... you may want to be a shader writer or a compositor or lighter or do it all... so just start talking to people, like in this forum for example, sharing what you want to do and they can guide you to the right programs to use.

And for you last question, well, what a great way to get me to summarize my whole overview!

I feel that you need to learn to see. You need to learn to problem solve. You need to learn how to think on your feet. To not be afraid to experiment. To be able to hold the ideal of the end product in your head so you can see the bits and pieces that you need when they show themselves to you or what you have to create. You need to love what you are doing so that you derive joy from doing it! You need to really be a fan so that you can ask about it, study it, and never stop learning how to do it! Remember: Always be thristing for more because that is growth! The joy is in the jouney...

Those are the tools that I think you need to be a successfull supervisor! Oh, and one more thing: The ability to create! Think large, think where no one has gone before, do not acknowledge the limiations and just do it!

Thanks,

Jeff

Stryker3D
04-24-2007, 06:26 PM
Jeff,

Thank you so much for the response to my questions. I think your last post delves at the core of what a VFX artist is all about; from the sacrifices you put in, to the learning of the 'fundamentals.'

I think any profession one chooses will have it's tough goings; but it's loving what you do that gets you through the rough patches.

Continue the great work!

hanias
04-24-2007, 08:42 PM
Hi Jeff,

First I want to thank you for your time...

Well I entered VFX field almost 2 yrs ago, I work in Lebanon(Middle East).

The field is evolving here but still not as professional as what u guys do. I'm really eager to learn and improve in this field more. I would like to ask you, is it in any way possible for me to do training in one of the post production companies in the US, or is it definitely out of the question? If yes how, if not then what's your advice for me in order to improve and reach the pro level..

PaulHellard
04-25-2007, 04:25 AM
Its Time, gentlemen.

Thanks Jeff for your valued insights and for bringing your tremendous stories to this quite different feature on CGSociety and CGTalk's 'Meet the Artist'. Your encouraging words will stay here for everyone who passes by in search of career inspirations.

Thanks to everyone who posted their questions. Jeff is travelling at the moment and has been above and beyond the call to come online to answer your questions.