Meet the Artist :: Dan Kaufman

Become a member of the CGSociety

Connect, Share, and Learn with our Large Growing CG Art Community. It's Free!

Thread Tools Display Modes
  09 September 2009
Hey Dan, thanks for answering my qeustion. I actually have one more for you.

My question is, what goals do you have (or at least what's left) as an artist in the industry?

I personally have 3 goals: Win an academy award in vfx, become a supe at ILM, and to be rembered as a great artist.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions of ours.

  09 September 2009
Hi Dan

First off, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

I loved District 9 - I'd like to ask about the mothership exterior design please it works really well and I'm wondering what sort of work went into developing a. the look of the ship and
b. deciding how to get the ship on screen (how much we'd see of it at any one time, how much exterior detail to create....).

I'm working on a low-budget/no budget feature at the moment and doing my first vfx stint (there's probably only a handful of shots and most will be matte paintings or sky replacement which I guess I'll do, there's only me in that 'department' which is a great way to learn a lot!! Some stuff to figure out, problems to resolve which I'm finding my way with, all in all pretty exciting).

I'm keen to learn how to achieve the best look on a very limited budget - what's your opinion of 2.5D as a solution if there's barely camera movement on the shot/ or just a subtle push in - one of the shots for example is an establishing wide long shot of a labour camp in world war 2 - the camp itself will sit in the far distance of the landscape. We'll use a stock shot of a suitable landscape (3K) as the background plate (well, that's what I'm thinking of at the moment!).
The script doesn't call for movement within the frame as such (I thought maybe adding some trees with a little breeze in them closer to frame, and some subtle cloud movement to suggest 'life').

I wonder if you can sell the environment to the audience with a believable opening shot, especially in a short scene, would that carry them through the rest of a scene where you never really see that background again (example would be shooting with the background out of focus, tighter angles, etc). While we never want the background (or lack of it!) to inform the shooting style, there are a couple of scenes where we may have to compromise (or make it a night shoot).

Well I kind of rambled on a bit there!

All the best and thanks again!

Felicity Moore

Last edited by felicitymoore : 09 September 2009 at 09:14 AM.
  09 September 2009
Talking District 9

Hi Dan, i want to know if its possible somewhere to find the designs, or the pictures in HD of the weapons of district9 who are for me the best thing after the cg aliens, its possible to find PHOTOS HD of the weapons who are in district9???

  09 September 2009
That is plenty of info, thanks a lot for it Dan!
I guess education is 90% motivation, 10% learning.

Fear is the only obstacle that prevents you from doing the impossible

- My Gallery -
  09 September 2009
Hi Naren (narenn),

I'll have to think on that one, but yours don't sound too bad at all! Good luck with all three.

Hi Felicity (felicitymoore),

From my experience it's always best to do things as simply as possible as long as you can still get a great shot. If you can do it in 2D or 2.5D, by all means do so. The shot you're describing sounds like a perfect candidate for a matte painting. To give the shot some life, you can add parallax by splitting the pieces into layers and moving them slightly in relation to each other during the shot, faking a camera pan or dolly in the comp, and/or adding small bits of movement (like the blowing trees or clouds you talk about or the somewhat timeworn flock of birds).

Creating something as big as the giant mothership is always a challenge, so I'm glad you liked it. There was some consideration of doing it as a matte painting, but it quickly became apparent that we would need too many shots at too many angles to get away with that. The design started with a piece of concept art from Weta and direction from Neill to make it look like a worn out and damaged giant floating refinery. We used lots of reference pictures of oil refineries as well as large building complexes, dams, etc. We modeled quite a bit of detail in 3D, and then enhanced that by adding smaller bits of detail painted onto many 2D cards scattered across the 3D model (this was how all the fine piping detail was added, for example). The inspiration for the look of the sides of the ship came from arial pictures of the roofs of large building complexes and parking structures. After that, it was just a matter of getting it to sit into the sky with the appropriate amount of haze. Weta handled the close up shots of the mothership, and for that I believe they built some higher rez sections of the ship.

Hi Leonardo (imothep85),

I think you're probably going to have to wait a little while to get designs and hirez pictures of the alien weapons, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are made available at some point. The only thing I've seen released to the public is this:

I believe it's from the marketing campaign for District 9. Hope that tides you over until more pictures are available.

- Dan
  09 September 2009

Hi Dan,

Thank you so much for giving your precious time to us and for all those valuable tips that u gave....District 9 is a masterpiece, overall treatment seems very new, fresh looking and extraordinary, kudos to you.

I am planning to move further to advance level in CG. Right now I am working on 3Ds max, adobe after effects and learning fusion and nuke with available material. I red all your tips regarding knowledge of programming languages. I don't have any programming background. I don't have any facility that teach language like C, C++, Java and Python at single place, So I have to learn them individually - one at a time. I got almost whole picture from your previous answers but still I want to ask a very small thing....

The thing I want to ask you is the starting point of my path, which language should I start with and which sequence should I follow? I've found individuals who teach these languages but now i am confused, where to start form...I am planning for C,C++, Java and Python Script. Also suggest anything that u feel is important before starting or while learning.

Please guide me....and thank you once again for your time....


Last edited by almightie : 09 September 2009 at 07:20 AM.
  09 September 2009
Hi Dan

To repeat what everyone else here has said but can't be said enough, thank you so much for taking time to chat to us! Your career story is truly impressive and inspiring. I also need to work my way into visual effects industry and film via different channels, being 30 yrs old and working as a print Graphic Designer I can't take time off to go to expensive schools. Truly inspiring, thank you.

I watched District 9 last night. Absolutely brilliant, most definitely one of my all time favourite films. I'm South African, so it made that extra special impression on me, and a solid hope that there is a future for South Africa in the film industry which currently is very small here, but growing. The way CG was integrated with the grittiness of the slum is purely superb.

Q1: Did a lot of work go into developing how the characters of Christopher and his son appear to the audience? Were they made to be a tad less ugly maybe? Or maybe with regards body language etc. From what I could tell personally their body language, head and body movements seemed to "speak" to the audience more, especially their eyes - when the little one looks at the blue panet globe his own eyes reflect the same blue ... nice touch, i thought that was the colour of his eyes at first, i'm still not sure though. It made him look very cute. And the clothing they wore seemed to make them more human-like too. The difference in the actual body colour between aliens also seemed to go with their personalities. If you could elaborate more on character appearance versus personalities that would be very cool

Q2: This is a total noob question I know (which is what I am). You mentioned that removing the grey-suited actor to be replaced by an alien from the footage was the most difficult challenge. I can imagine that. Would you mind to elaborate a bit on how that is done? Is background footage from a clean plate composited in (which I would imagine would be helluva difficult since it's a hand-held cam) or is it done via another method?

Q 3: If there is a sequel, would you be interested in being involved in that as well? And I'm also wondering what kind of a difference a much bigger budget would have on the visual effects. As things stand, I reckon it's perfect as it is. Except maybe for the "flying pig" towards the end where Wikus throws it at one of the mercenaries hehe. It looked a bit stiff like a dummy. Then again maybe it only looked like it because it happened so fast. But now I'm nit-picking

Kind regards, thanks so much for your time!

Last edited by Brokenlight : 09 September 2009 at 09:17 PM.
  09 September 2009
Hiyo Dan

Thanks so much for your reply and the advice - it's very much appreciated.
The producer and director are both agreeing on the need for caution with their plans for the vfx and want plans in place for 2 approaches - the 'no budget' approach and the 'we've got a budget' approach! Should be fun anyway.

Thanks again!

All the best
Felicity Moore

Last edited by felicitymoore : 09 September 2009 at 06:28 AM.
  09 September 2009
First off I want to say your work is amazing. Im just very impressed on how all your work came out and how you did it. Im going to being into a CMI program pretty soon at a collage, just to get my feet wet in some of media design. I look up to your work and hope to do something as amazing as what you have created. (sorry if i sound all dorky and what not, just reall happy to be commenting to the artist of the movie. : D )
  09 September 2009
Hi Dan
I've just started working with Maya and I'm interested in Rendering and dynamics area and I'm studying pure math at university.I do not have renderman so how can I learning writing shader without it.... I learned from your previous post that I have to learn C++ & python and can I put this thing together for being shader writer.I do not access to renderman.Did you access it when you were learner?

  09 September 2009
Hi Kalpesh (almightie),

Well, there's really no wrong path to take as long as you're learning new stuff. As far as which language is the most useful, that depends a lot on what you want to do. If you want to concentrate on technical director work, then you may be best starting off with a scripting language like Python which is very widely used and very helpful to know for doing more technically oriented effects work. If you want to concentrate more on the programming side of effects work, C++ is frequently used to create fast and efficient tools and to hook into SDKs (which allow low level access to software packages like Maya or Houdini). C and C++ area also very similar to the Renderman shading language and can be used to write shaders for Mental Ray (C++ is a more modern, object oriented version of C).

So I'd pick either Python, which might be better for a beginner, or C++, which will give you a good base for programming in general. Either one will be helpful if you want to head more towards the technical side of effects. As for learning and mastering the language, the only way to do that is by diving in and experimenting - a lot!

Hi Len (Brokenlight),

A1: We did do quite a lot of work on Christopher and Little CJ to make sure they stood out from the other aliens and to help the audience "connect' better with them. I don't know that they're any less ugly than the other aliens (beauty or the lack thereof being in the eye of the beholder!), but there are some subtle differences between Christopher and the other aliens. Christopher is also supposed to be smarter than your average alien, and to most people that means acting closer to the way humans act (hard to escape that bias). While the aliens come in a variety of colors and patterns, Christopher is unique (as is Little CJ, of course). Neill sometimes wanted a particular alien color or pattern to be used for a particular shot, usually because that particular combo looked meaner or more interesting. Paul, Christopher's friend, was very specifically made to stand out with his bright coloring - like a wasp - and be kind of a bad-ass with the spark plugs and plates he attaches to his body. Lastly, Little CJ does have somewhat blue eyes, although the reflection of the hologram definitely makes them a lot bluer.

A2: Well, there were lots of challenges in the movie but removing the gray suit actor was certainly one of them. A variety of methods were used to do this, and as you guessed, we very rarely had a true "clean" plate. We had footage shot of the background without the actor usually, although of course this was shot wild and didn't match the camera move. Our bg prep team, lead by Danny Jones, did a fantastic job and pulled many a rabbit out of their hats over the course of the project. One method that was used frequently was creating a reconstructed clean piece of the background on a card or projected onto a simple piece of geometry and then using the camera tracking information to track it into the plate over the gray suit actor in Nuke. Of course, lots of roto and paint fixup was also frequently needed.

A3: Well, I certainly enjoyed working on Disrict 9 and would look forward to working with Neill again. I imagine that work on a movie will always expand to use the entire budget just as it always seems to expand to use the entire schedule, which is why sometimes it's good to have limitations on both (the original Star Wars is a great example). It's hard to say how more money would have affected the visual effects. I guess we wouldn't have had to find as many creative solutions to problems, both technical and aesthetic, so it could possibly have come out looking quite different (and not necessarily better). The pig wasn't our work so I don't know what the thought on it was, but I imagine a dead pig could get kind of stiff after a while. Hmmm - not something one normally thinks about...

Hi Andreaz (AndreasFrank),

Don't worry about how you sound - everyone has to start somewhere. Good luck and hope you enjoy your time in college!

Hi Sajad (Rayan),

Well, you certainly don't have to learn all those programming languages, but if you're interested in writing shaders, then I'd suggest learning C++ . It's fairly close to the Renderman shading language, and you can use C++ to write Mental Ray shaders.

I believe you can download a free license of 3Delight and plug away using it for personal projects. 3Delight is a Renderman compliant renderer that gives excellent results (all the aliens in District 9 were rendered using it). Also, Maya comes with Mental Ray so you should be able to start experimenting with Mental Ray shader writing as long as you have Maya. You can buy the Student Edition of Maya at a fairly low cost to use with either 3Delight or Mental Ray.

I was lucky when I was learning to write shaders because I was already doing effects and just wanted to dive in deeper. I worked at facilities that used PRMAN, so I could just keep practicing and experimenting to figure it out. If you can get a job doing anything at a place that has the software (or you're at a school that has it), you can probably convince them to let you try and learn how to write shaders (at least on your own time if not theirs). However, you have some pretty inexpensive alternatives now that weren't available when I was learning. So I think if you have access to Maya or can scrape together a few bucks for your own copy of the student edition, you should be all set to dive in yourself.

- Dan
  09 September 2009
Gidday Dan, hope I haven't missed ya here,
First off, great film - It's not often all my friends here at design school really rave about a movie, but this one's been talked about for a while now.
Just a couple of Q's

1 - Weta Digital is just over the hill from us, I thought just they had worked on the effects for this film, did you work with them or was there another company also?

2 - I'll be graduating in a year or so with a bachelor of Design, majoring with interactivity or animation. Where do you see gaps in the industry that companies are hiring to fill with fresh graduates? We had a short talk from the Weta guys the other week saying they hire into Previs, texturing, rotoscoping and the like, are other companies doing the same? I'm looking for an idea of what to expect and where to tailor my work towards..

Hey cheers! thanks for your time,
  09 September 2009
Thanks gentlemen, ladies, last drinks*

Sorry Memode, I'll have Dan answer your note privately, but for the moment, I have to close the thread, being a full week of live chat with Dan Kaufman.

I know the CGSociety community will join with me to thank you Dan, for taking your time with us and talking about your work on 'District 9' and your amazng career so far. I'm sure we'll talk again.
Fmr Editor and features writer, CGSociety; Global Artist Liaison, Ballistic Publishing. Freelance writer, media consultant & digital producer.
Thread Closed share thread

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Society of Digital Artists

Powered by vBulletin
Copyright 2000 - 2006,
Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Minimize Ads
Forum Jump

All times are GMT. The time now is 12:20 PM.

Powered by vBulletin
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.