Meet the Artist - Jeff Okun

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  04 April 2007
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?

  04 April 2007
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?

  04 April 2007
Originally Posted by JeffOkun: 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.

Korpus School of Art + Gallery
Facebook Page | Blog
Downtown Los Angeles

Last edited by Rebeccak : 04 April 2007 at 12:12 PM.
  04 April 2007
Nazirull's Question part II

Originally Posted by Nazirull: 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.
  04 April 2007
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 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
  04 April 2007
Thanks a lot for answering my question.

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

Best wishes to you,
Eduardo S. Janiszewski

Zupi Portal (eng)
  04 April 2007
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
Peter Hartwig
vfx sup at duckling

  04 April 2007
Invisible Work

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
  04 April 2007
Hi Jeff,

Would you liked to become a VFX artist if you were born a second time?
  04 April 2007
He looks like Sean Penn, just throwing it out there.

It is our duty to transcend words and images in order to encounter REALITY
  04 April 2007
Originally Posted by JeffOkun: 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 i right? 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.
Wacom practice

  04 April 2007
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?


  04 April 2007
Future for VFX.

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,

VFX Problem Solver

Last edited by leova : 04 April 2007 at 07:51 AM.
  04 April 2007
thanks for answering my question.
cheers, sneakybunny
The Hamster made me do it...

  04 April 2007
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!
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