Ben Snow :: Meet the Artist

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  05 May 2008
Answers to Hakan Persson

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?

Difficult to answer a question like this without feeling like a poseur. Probably my enthusiasm for the project and for making the work as good as it can be. Also constantly trying to improve my artistic eye and help the artists lift the artistry of their work. Trying to keep hands-on and know the tools. Organisational skills help.

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.

Its more of a visual effects artist role. These days CG background ranks highly but many of the leading VFX supes have a good deal of film experience, and it is something you definitely need to make sure you get. You have to be able to talk technically as well as artistically with directors, D.P.s and editors to name a few so you definitely want to try and have as much knowledge of those areas as you can as well as what makes a digital shot look good.

  05 May 2008
Answers to Al Haitham

In your opinion, what would you personaly prefer to see in a vfx-heavy movie: graphics that are more artistic or more realistic?

Great question, Al Haitham! My ultimate goal is to make artistically strong, but still photo-real images. In the past, on many of the projects Ive worked on its so hard to get the Twister or the Water or the creature looking real that it feels like theres sometimes not enough time to work on the lighting and look to make it artistically as good as it can be. But you do your best. However, as tools improve and if you put enough work into look development up front, its getting easier to make a real looking first or second take. Then you can spend the time on making the shot cooler and more beautiful, although always, always in service of the story and the vision of the film-maker. Were pushing our tools to get that first take quicker and better and then making sure we can have the ability to take them where we want to artistically. Either way, artistic or realistic, I like it to be in service of a story (although Ill give Abstract film and the works of Peter Greenaway a pass on that score).

  05 May 2008
Hi Ben,

thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.

This is a little self indulgent, so I'll try and be as brief as possible.

At the moment (and for the last 8 years) I am working in the field of architectural visualisation. I am completely self taught, and over the years I have become well versed in many 3d and compositing applications (mainly cinema 4d, after effects and shake).

Having been obsessed with films from a very young age I have always wanted to work in film, but always thought it was out of my reach. However, I now think that I would have something to offer the VFX industry in the creation of digital environments.

Having gone through the ILM employment FAQ, I have decided to go back to University for a year, to gain a Masters in Digital Effects form Bournemouth University (it is the only UK based education establishment that ILM reccommends) with the hope of eventually gaining employment in the VFX industry... hopefully, specializing in digital environments.

To attain entry to Bournemouth University, I have created a showreel of my most recent work which hopefully displays my skills in CG...

It can be viewed at:

(I'd be absolutely thrilled at the idea that a VFX supervisor at ILM had seen my work, but I realise you are very busy, so it's not really necessary to view the video to answer my question)

Anyway, my question to you would be...

Should I go back to University to attain a qualification in Visual Effects in the hope of gaining emplyment in the industry, or would I be better served trying to get an internship in one of the VFX studios at the moment, in the hope that I will be able to develop my skills while working?

I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on this... thanks for taking the time to read this.

Chris McLaughlin
  05 May 2008
Reply to Maxim

After transitioning from artist to supervisor did you miss actually doing shots?

Absolutely, but these days I try and do at least one shot on every show I do. On Ironman I lit a shot and created the BGs and TDd many of the shots for test we did early on. I also did a couple of shots on Pirates 2 as a guest TD its always good to keep your hand in as long as you maintain focus on the big picture that your first job is to supervise the other artists and help them.

What are the big differences between ILM and Weta in terms of digital pipeline?

Both can change year to year and even sometimes show to show but basically ILMs is centred around the proprietary zeno software which is used for a lot of our tasks including Matchmoving, Roto, lighting and creature work (muscles, skinning etc), and simulation. Wetas pipeline, at least when I was working on Kong, is built in and around more off-the-shelf tools so for example the lighting was in Maya but used special plugins to call the rendering.

Does ILM ramp up and down with every project or is the number of people working there quite constant?

We do a lot more ramping up and down and use more project-based people than we did during the 90s, but we try and keep a large core group constantly employed, so the ramping up and down is less marked than other facilities.
  05 May 2008
Reply to Ben Colbourn

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?

I was basically a film fan, as well as a big reader, and a lot of my interests in other media grew out of a love of film. For example I mentioned liking Will Eisners Spirit comics in an earlier reply. That interest was stimulated by a splash page reprinted in a book on violence in the cinema where they cited Eisner as a comic artist with a great noir sensibility. When Kitchen Sink started reprinting his stuff in the 70s and 80s I felt like Id hit the mother lode! As a medium film really embraces other artistic forms design, painting, sculpture, writing, and Visual effects gives you a chance to employ each of those.

Also, how does one talk their way into an ILM party? Haha

If its a big party co-sponsored by a software or systems vendor, tackle the sales rep you deal with and beg/bully/cajole/hit them up for tickets. Worked for me.
  05 May 2008
reply to Gavin Greenwalt.

What are your recommendations on how to stay generalized but also stand a chance of being employable. 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?

I think the best approach is to start your career in a smaller facility where you have to be a generalist, building your skills in areas that interest you. You may end up getting VFX supervision opportunities with that small company as work is farmed out all over these days. The big things are a good eye and getting a feel for film-making, as much as being a technical honcho. When and if you start to specialize, keep working on those creative skills and knowledge of the film-making process look for opportunities to do that. The good thing about specialization is that you can be in demand, then you can pick projects that exploit your specialization but perhaps give you opportunities to grow as an artist or in other ways beyond just your speciality. We don't have specific setups for generalists on a path towards supervison but our current supervisors include people with backgrounds in model-making, miniature photography, art direction, compositing, technical direction (lighting and FX) and of course animation. So there are multiple paths. One friend of mine outside ILM started as a plate co-ordinator (gathering data for the VFX shots during the shoot, working with the VFX supe during planning etc.), worked in previz, and parlayed that experience and his talent into VFX supervision.


  05 May 2008
Reply to Danile Moreno

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

My first time at Siggraph was my first time in America. It 1994 and in Annaheim which is quite a culture shock for someone from outside the USA. Plus it was the year Jurassic Park was released and there was a big retrospective panel on ILMs work and a lot of studios (DD, R&D, ILM) were recruiting aggressively. So all in all it blew my mind. I did as many of the courses and papers as I could.

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

I and my wife love travel and I guess we didnt go anywhere expecting to be there for ever but we definitely considered things like that your spouse may not be able to work, we wont be close to family etc. Certainly there are opportunities in other places, but increasingly there are great opportunities at home and you get a chance to be on the ground. So if you can make the opportunities its worth looking at home as a first step. That said, I like being able to work with experienced people and have a lot of people to learn from as I work with so I love working at somewhere like ILM. Those sort of facilities tend to be clustered in fewer parts of the world.

  05 May 2008
Wow thanks a lot, know that this is apreciated a loot,we don't have ILM guys around everyday

Just one last question from me , i can't get answer on forums

1. I have some reels i use as reference to work on my reel for character setup, but i haven't found a character rigging reel yet, from a guy in pixar or ILM.I need to see what kind of a reel it takes for a guy to get in pixar or ILM as Character rigging td?It will help me tremendesly if you can give me direct links for download or links to some of ILM's people web sites with rigging reels.And any advices from you to get in ILM as creature TD?

Take care and thanks again
  05 May 2008
I have a technical questions: At what Resolution/shadingrate/pixelsamples ILM renders when they use Renderman? Yes I know this differ greatly from shot to shot but if you can give me the numbers for one or two particular shots i can extrapolate it for most of the others. I'm interested in the demands of Picturequality you guys have (technically).

Last edited by Xharthok : 05 May 2008 at 11:01 PM.
  05 May 2008
Hi Ben,
What would u suggest someone who is interested to become a vfx artist to study in college? Computer science or a BFA related major?

  05 May 2008
Wow sir, no questions, just a quick comment;

Fantastic resume you've got, it must be a dream come true to be you! lol

About every movie you've worked on is in my top personal favorites list.
  05 May 2008
Reply to Chris-Mac

Hi Chris

Your question: Should I go back to University to attain a qualification in Visual Effects in the hope of gaining emplyment in the industry, or would I be better served trying to get an internship in one of the VFX studios at the moment, in the hope that I will be able to develop my skills while working?

That's a big question and is something you really have to sort out for yourself. Since I don't know your situation, take this as pretty general advice. If it was me, and I could afford it, I'd go back to University. Its true you'll probably have to still pay your dues somewhat in an entry job in the industry, maybe even an internship but the skills you'll pick up in Unversity will help you shine when you get the opportunity - and that's what it is all about. Also, you can use the time to help build a reel of work. And you'll make connections with other artists that can be helpful later on.

All the best either way.
  05 May 2008
reply to Miyamoto

Wow, I don't think I've seen a reel dedicated to rigging or creature TD stuff. Many of the specialists in that field have a fairly technical background combined with an eye for motion. So you'd want creature work and/or simulation on the reel, and also to display some experience/ability for scripting/programming.

  05 May 2008

Hi Ben,

I'm studying Digital Arts at Australian National University here in Canberra (which somehow made reading about your career very inspiring for me!).

I'm nowhere near certain as to which specific field I'd want to go into yet (just soaking up every bit of CG information I can!), but when I look at the wonderful works being created out there in the industry, I feel the skills I've gained so far in my studies are really insignificant!

My question is, what's the best way for a student such as myself to gain useful experience, or to learn more about how the industry works, and how to function within it?

  05 May 2008
cg or liveaction

Hi Ben,

We have a bet going here at work regarding if two certain shots of iron man are cg or not. One of them is the trailer shot of downey in the suit with the visor up (then coming down). The other bet is regarding a press photo. I've attached still frames of both of them. Are they cg or the winston practical suit?

Thanks a lot for your help!
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