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Old 05-14-2008, 07:14 AM   #1
PaulHellard
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Paul Hellard
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Ben Snow :: Meet the Artist




Ben Snow
VFX Supervisor
Industrial Light & Magic


It’s a long way from a goat farm near Burra Creek outside Queanbeyan outside Canberra in the Capital Territory of Australia, to San Francisco, California USA.

From Canberra, to Star Trek: Generations, Casper, Twister, Mars Attacks!, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Deep Impact, The Mummy, Galaxy Quest, Pearl Harbor, Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Van Helsing, King Kong, The Spiderwick Chronicles and now Iron Man.

For a extended version of this incredible journey, go to the Feature story on CGSociety.

To talk to the man himself, please feel free to post your questions and comments

Please make welcome to CGTalk’s Meet the Artist, Ben Snow.
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Last edited by PaulHellard : 05-14-2008 at 07:30 AM.
 
Old 05-14-2008, 07:59 AM   #2
felicitymoore
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Felicity Moore
matte painter/concept artist/texture artist
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Hello Ben,

First off, thanks for taking the time to do this

I'd like to ask, how early on do you tend to get involved with a project, especially where the vfx plays a huge role interacting with live actors?

I saw 'The Spiderwick Chronicles' last week, could you talk about that a bit please?

How often were you able to review the vfx as they were developing?

As a vfx supervisor, how much direct contact would you expect to have with a matte painter or concept artist, for example? Or would you pass instruction through the lead?

Do you advise and define the pipeline to be used, or is that a decision reached according to the whole team?



Thank you!

Felicity
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Last edited by felicitymoore : 05-14-2008 at 08:50 AM. Reason: Added more questions!..again!
 
Old 05-14-2008, 08:26 AM   #3
TheMiyamotoMusashi
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Miyamoto
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1. How old are you and how long in this industry?
2. How much do you work per day, and per week?
3. Which books have influenced you the most and you have learned the most from ? Recomend any art related or programming ,whatever CG book that influenced you?

Asta la vista baby, keep rocking , we love you ILM
 
Old 05-14-2008, 03:23 PM   #4
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Thanks for taking the time to answer these!!!

What do you enjoy most about your position at ILM and what do you dislike the most?

Thanks for doing this. Look forward to seeing some of your answers.
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Old 05-14-2008, 03:25 PM   #5
Furiaceka
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Hi Ben ! Greetings from Italy !

I hope you'll read these questions, because I'm really affascinated of computer graphic's world, and I love all works by ILM.

1) What makes a company like ILM great ?
2) Which are the first problems making IRON MAN ?
3) What the Computer Graphic's Industry needs today ?
4) Which is the thing that you prefer, in IRON MAN character ?

So, thank you again and more greetings from Italy !
Mark from Rome.

Last edited by Furiaceka : 05-14-2008 at 03:43 PM.
 
Old 05-14-2008, 04:10 PM   #6
hakanpersson
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Håkan Persson
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Thanks for taking your time! I hope you have time to answer my 2 questions regarding working as a VFX supervisor.


What would you say is your main skill/talent. The one that allows you to do the work you do so well and make you feel comfortable in that position (which I assume you do). I guess that, at the level you work, it just got to be more than just experience?

What is the most common (or perhaps preferred) way to get to work as a vfx supervisor. Example, would you say that a CG background ranks higher than film background? I am trying to understand if this is more of a producer role or a visual effects artist role.


Thanks again,
Håkan Persson
 
Old 05-14-2008, 06:06 PM   #7
Jassar
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Alhaitham Jassar
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Hello Ben!
In your opinion, what would you personaly prefer to see in a vfx-heavy movie: graphics that are more artistic or more realistic?
 
Old 05-14-2008, 06:30 PM   #8
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Hi Ben,

Thanks for the opportunity to ask a few questions. Here are mine:

1) After transitioning from artist to supervisor did you miss actually doing shots?
2) What are the big differences between ILM and Weta in terms of digital pipeline?
3) Does ILM ramp up and down with every project or is the number of people working there quite constant?

cheers!
 
Old 05-14-2008, 08:23 PM   #9
BColbourn
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Ben Colbourn
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Hi Ben,

A quick question, prior to leaving australia did you have any artistic interests besides being a film fan? Did you do any kind of traditional art or were you simply a fan trying to break into the industry that you love?

Also, how does one talk their way into an ILM party? haha
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YeAH!
 
Old 05-14-2008, 08:57 PM   #10
thatoneguy
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Gavin Greenwalt
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Ben my question would be related to the final point in the article and that is specialization.

There seems to be a catch 22 of FX supervision in our industry and that is:
1) It seems like most FX Supervisors are hired internally
but
2) The really big studios have a huge emphasis on specialization.

So what are your recommendations on how to stay generalized but also stand a chance of being employable. There isn't exactly a "help wanted: VFX Supervisor" ad in the paper. Do companies such as ILM have positions which are more open to generalists to further develop towards supervision competancy almost like a pre-production team who experiment on a small scale?
 
Old 05-14-2008, 11:07 PM   #11
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Hi Ben

My name's Daniel, i'm from Venezuela and i'm currently training myself to be a proffesional animator in the near future.

2 things:

How did it felt the first time you went to SIGGRAPH?

Was it difficult for you to make the decision of traveling to another country to find and get a possition in this industry?

I am working very hard for being able to answer those questions myself,.. but it would mean a lot to hear it from you, after knowing a bit of your professional life reading the article on CGSociety

thanks in advance!
 
Old 05-15-2008, 04:56 PM   #12
bensnow
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Reply to Felicity's Questions

I'd like to ask, how early on do you tend to get involved with a project, especially where the vfx plays a huge role interacting with live actors?



It varies. Sometimes film-makers will approach us very early in the process before the script is final just to consult on the sort of things that are possible. We usually get involved in the projects before photography commences because its important to have someone supervising the plates on set to make sure we get what we need. In terms of the initial leads, for some projects a director or studio will approach the VFX company wanting to work with them. Other projects will come in through personal contacts. Most VFX companies have someone out there looking for projects – talking to the studios and film-makers trying to get work. Usually we’ll start with a round of bidding the project – working out how we’ll do it and how much the VFX will cost. It’s a very competitive business so everyone does a whole lot of upfront bidding these days. Sometimes we may try to do some artwork or test to help show our interest.

I saw 'The Spiderwick Chronicles' last week, could you talk about that a bit please?




I was only involved in the project during pre-production. The supervisor who started the show, Pablo Helman, was on set in Canada doing plate photography while the development of the various creatures was starting back here at ILM, and I supervised some of that early development for a few months. When Pablo returned I moved on to something else and in the end Tim Alexander joined the show when Pablo started Indy 4. During the time I was aboard we started the modeling, painting and look development of Thimbletack, the Sprites, the Boggart and Mulgarath. We some experimentation on skin. It was an interesting project because ILM contributed some of the creature designs including some rapid prototyping of the models (3D prototyping) and it was the first show to use a new facial animation tool I’d led some of the development on as an “overhead” technical project.


How often were you able to review the vfx as they were developing?




During shot production constantly. We look at shots every morning in dailies, and artists send me IMs with new versions pretty much constantly during the day. We visit each others desks and usually have a later afternoon check-in for stuff we think we’re ready to finish. We usually do a remote video hookup with the director (or he visits us) at least a couple of times a week to review and animation and shots in progress.


As a vfx supervisor, how much direct contact would you expect to have with a matte painter or concept artist, for example? Or would you pass instruction through the lead?




I’d expect to have direct contact at all times, but its great to have a lead you can trust and rely on to help share the load when you’re busy, contribute different ideas, and help out with technical issues one matte paintings etc. We’ve set up the systems here at ILM to try and make sure we have direct one-on-one contact with the artists as much as possible – its very important to me.



Do you advise and define the pipeline to be used, or is that a decision reached according to the whole team?


It’s a team effort but I have input. At ILM nowadays we have a fairly standard pipeline that we tweak per-show but generally work is focused on making the pipeline as good as it can be across the company.



Cheers



Ben.

Last edited by bensnow : 05-15-2008 at 07:56 PM. Reason: fix color of font, clarification.
 
Old 05-15-2008, 04:57 PM   #13
bensnow
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Reply to Miyamoto's questions.

How old are you and how long in this industry?

I’m 44 and I got into the industry around 1989



How much do you work per day, and per week?

This varies, but to give a general answer, a 10 hour day during post is pretty standard. When you’re on-set filming with the crew and also attending dailies (which ideally you do as a VFX supe) and planning the next day that can pretty usually run to a 14 hour day. During crunch time you can end up working really long days, and sometimes 7 day weeks. ILM is pretty good at managing that stuff but really it depends on the artist and project. This is not a business with a 9-5 day, that’s for sure.


Which books have influenced you the most and you have learned the most from ? Recomend any art related or programming ,whatever CG book that influenced you?

Hmm. The renderman companion was my favourite CG text, but biggest influences were probably more film-fan VFX centered books: Ray Harrhausen’s Film Fantasy Scrapbook, John Brosnan’s “Movie Magic”, “The Making of 2001” paperback. And then I read American Cinematographer, Cinefex, Cinefantastique and other magazines for every nugget on FX films and FX lore. “Film Art” by Bordwell and Thompson was a big influence, and I first off was a horror fan and had my initial interest in film piqued by a book called “Monsters of the Movies” and a glossy book called “Horror Movies” by Alan Frank. Of course that was back in the late 70s, early 80s – I’m sure there are some very good more dedicated books now. Although there seems to be a fair bit of dross as well. I was a big fan of Will Eisner’s Spirit comics, Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge, and the art of Dore.

 
Old 05-15-2008, 04:58 PM   #14
bensnow
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Reply to XMinusOne

What do you enjoy most about your position at ILM and what do you dislike the most?



It’s a great job. I work with some of the most talented people in the business. The artists have terrific support from the various departments, particularly production and a strong R&D team, and you never hear the words “It can’t be done”. We have over 30 years of experience and a surprising number of artists that have been here for all that time and whom you can get input and great stories from. We have a very nice campus here at the Presidio in San Francisco. The only real pain is the hours and the aggressive bidding we need to do to get the work – but that’s standard for the VFX business (see my answer to Felicity, above)
 
Old 05-15-2008, 05:00 PM   #15
bensnow
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Reply to Mark Furiaceka



What makes a company like ILM great ?

The people who work here, artists, R&D and support people. Our history and experience are good to be able to draw on, we have some great tools and the ability to create more, but it is the ideas and artistic vision that are important, and I think we’ve got a lot of really good creative and technical minds here. Importantly, ‘though, we try to never lose the desire to make things better and make our shots more cool and spectacular.


Which are the first problems making IRON MAN ?


Making the suits look real and blend seamlessly with the real thing; working out how to make his flying and all his movements look very believable and still reflect the character of Robert Downey junior.


Which is the thing that you prefer, in IRON MAN character.


I like Iron Man himself – because Robert Downey is inside him and brings so much to the role. My favourite suit is the Mark III red and gold.

Last edited by bensnow : 05-16-2008 at 06:07 AM. Reason: mis-type correction try again
 
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