Meet the Artist - Jeff Okun

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Old 04 April 2007   #31
Originally Posted by unchikun:
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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #32
Dave

Originally Posted by DaveA: 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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #33
Donna

Originally Posted by D-NA: ...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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #34
Peter's Question 1 of 3

Originally Posted by chips__: 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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #35
Originally Posted by JeffOkun: 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 ? =)
__________________
Peter Hartwig
vfx sup at duckling
www.duckling.dk

me: www.idiotbarn.com
 
Old 04 April 2007   #36
Originally Posted by chips__: 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!
 
Old 04 April 2007   #37
Peter 3 of 3

Originally Posted by chips__: 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!
 
Old 04 April 2007   #38
CG Artist?

Originally Posted by GoldenCamel: 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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #39
Sean Penn

Originally Posted by Tripple-I: He looks like Sean Penn, just throwing it out there.


I have been told that before... Also, like BIll Mahr too.
 
Old 04 April 2007   #40
Smile Invisible

Originally Posted by himani: ... 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"....
:-)
 
Old 04 April 2007   #41
Sean

Originally Posted by sean72:
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
 
Old 04 April 2007   #42
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
__________________
Peter Hartwig
vfx sup at duckling
www.duckling.dk

me: www.idiotbarn.com
 
Old 04 April 2007   #43
Talking Hello Jeff! Thanks for visiting my school!

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!

Last edited by ditroi : 04 April 2007 at 07:21 PM.
 
Old 04 April 2007   #44
splendid works, Jeff,
very inspiring !!
 
Old 04 April 2007   #45
Peter's Question

Originally Posted by Pumbaa: 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
 
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