Meet the Artist: Christopher Nichols

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  01 January 2006
Meet the Artist: Christopher Nichols


Christopher Nichols
Senior Technical Director
Sony Pictures Imageworks

Like many Artists in VFX, Christopher Nichols’ background came from an unrelated field. His undergraduate degree was in Mathematics and Fine Arts from Colgate University. It was his Math background that first got him into CG that he used to visualize complex multi-dimensional space.

He then carried that interest in his graduate studies, where he got a Masters of Architecture from Rice University. His big passion in CG is in lighting. He has studied CG lighting both artistically and technically for a number of years, starting with architectural spaces, and carried through into VFX. He had studies Global Illumination techniques at an early stage, and has recently released two training DVDs on the subject that are available at the Gnomon Workshop. They are “Global Illunination: Exteriors,” and “Global Illuminations: Interiors,” and focus on Vray lighting techniques.

Christopher’s film credits include “The Day After Tomorrow”, “I, Robot”, and “Stealth,” which he worked on during his time at Digital Domain. Currently, he is a Senior Technical Director at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Related links:
http://www.redeyetales.com/





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leighvanderbyl.com
 
  01 January 2006
Hello Christopher.

I am wondering what your most challenging assignment has been and why?

Also, what types of shots make you cringe when you think of how difficult they may be to achieve?

Thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A. It's one of the best features of CGTalk, in my opinion.
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Floyd Bishop

YouTube Channel
Char Maya Character Rig
 
  01 January 2006
Originally Posted by Floyd Bishop: Hello Christopher.

I am wondering what your most challenging assignment has been and why?

Also, what types of shots make you cringe when you think of how difficult they may be to achieve?

Thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A. It's one of the best features of CGTalk, in my opinion.


Well challenge is hard one to answer because, due to the nature of what we do, every new challenge, becomes the most difficult one you have done. But I would have to say trying to actually get into the VFX world was one of the hardest things. Most of that is about knowing the right people, being at the right place, finding the right project, and combine that with some luck.

What makes me cringe? It may not be the answer you are looking for, but usually what I hate is when I am asked to do things that are unnatural (in terms of lighting). I want lighting to work the way lights do in the real world. I realize that on set, lighting is not very “natural” either, but it is more natural then what we are asked to do sometimes. I guess that is why I enjoy Global Illumination so much.
 
  01 January 2006
I read that VRay was used on the NIN video at DD with very few passes rendered for the final result. The other approach I'm aware of at DD is to render many passes and then build the image in the composite (using Nuke). I know that requirements change on a per-job basis, but do you think that renderers like VRay mean we will see less passes in the future?
 
  01 January 2006
Originally Posted by Blur1: I read that VRay was used on the NIN video at DD with very few passes rendered for the final result. The other approach I'm aware of at DD is to render many passes and then build the image in the composite (using Nuke). I know that requirements change on a per-job basis, but do you think that renderers like VRay mean we will see less passes in the future?


Actually not really... Vray has a very rich G-Buffer output. I think it can do really well in a multipass comp world. I did not work on the NIN video at DD since I was on Stealth at the time. But from what I was told by some of the people that did work on it, there simply was no real need for many passes because there was less need to tweaking the lighting in the comp.

But if it were me, I would do a multipass render as often as possible so that if ever I wanted to do some tweaking, I would have it available to me.
 
  01 January 2006
Originally Posted by cpnichols: Actually not really... Vray has a very rich G-Buffer output. I think it can do really well in a multipass comp world. I did not work on the NIN video at DD since I was on Stealth at the time. But from what I was told by some of the people that did work on it, there simply was no real need for many passes because there was less need to tweaking the lighting in the comp.

But if it were me, I would do a multipass render as often as possible so that if ever I wanted to do some tweaking, I would have it available to me.


Sorry for taking up more bandwidth here, but my point was exactly that I gather there was no need for extra passes because it "just worked". I think it was a post on the VRay forum from throb (Rob Nederhorst) and he was saying how cool it was to not have to wrangle a bunch of passes, and I know he would be used to that workflow because he uses Nuke a lot. Personally I love the gbuffer approach and I also dig Vray's output, which I comped on the Cartoon Network job at Animal Logic.

Thanks for your time.
 
  01 January 2006
Hey Christopher!

How much does your education in math effect your VFX work? and what made you want to get into cg? Thanks!
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www.richieblitz.com
 
  01 January 2006
Hey Christopher,

As someone with a heavy math and technical background, what has your experience been as you've transitioned to being both technically and artistically minded?

What type of path do you recommend for students and semi-pros who would eventually like to specialize in lighting and cinematography? I’ve heard that both of those fields of the industry are beginning to converge, has this been you observation?

Thanks so much for taking your time to answer our questions, the whole community really appreciates your willingness to talk with us!
__________________
Chris White

Last edited by chrisWhite : 01 January 2006 at 12:36 AM. Reason: Spelling
 
  01 January 2006
Originally Posted by rblitz7: Hey Christopher!

How much does your education in math effect your VFX work? and what made you want to get into cg? Thanks!


I don't do much shader writing or programming mostly because I like sticking to the artistic side of things. But Math is a very powerful educational tool. It helps you breakdown problems, understand logic, debug issues, and most importantly, try to find the most efficient way of attacking a problem. I always found that the “art” in math was to find the most elegant way to solve the problem.

I got into CG because I was interested in visualization. This started with my math background and continued through my architecture career.
 
  01 January 2006
Smile can u say something abt how u strtd??

hey chris..
its really inspring for me whenever i see "day after t'rw"...n particulary those waves getting into the city..whhooo...grt 2 knw,u had been a part of tht team...also, i've been fascinated seeing the work done in "stealth" ...how did u achieve such a high speed animation shots???
hey can u say something abt how u got into this industry? 12 years is too gr8...so,u must have crossed a lot of barriers to make urself a name...how did u acheive it?
well...thts it...keep rocking chris!!!
thnx
 
  01 January 2006
Hi,
Besides your demoreel, is there any other place where we can see more of your work?, and last question. On the technical side of things, did you attend any formal training (when learning how to use programs etc....), or are you self taught?
Thank you.
 
  01 January 2006
Originally Posted by idhahbi: Hi,
Besides your demoreel, is there any other place where we can see more of your work?, and last question. On the technical side of things, did you attend any formal training (when learning how to use programs etc....), or are you self taught?
Thank you.


I don't have much personal work out there. I think it is because I do it at work, and I can't really show my work until the movie comes out.

I had a few "formal" 3d classes in architecture school, but to be honest most of what I have learned has been on my own.

On the other hand I have experience teaching, as I was an assitant professor at Rice University School or Architecture for 3 years. I sorta miss it. Maybe that is why I enjoyed making the DVDs
 
  01 January 2006
Seperated from the pack

Greetings and Salutations,

Through your experiences what are some tangible aspects of digital animation which make a piece of work stand out versus lesser works?

If you choose to answer my question I thank you for your time and response in advance.

Benjamin Dean
__________________
Benjamin Dean
www.benjamindean.com
 
  02 February 2006
Originally Posted by thewave: Greetings and Salutations,

Through your experiences what are some tangible aspects of digital animation which make a piece of work stand out versus lesser works?

If you choose to answer my question I thank you for your time and response in advance.

Benjamin Dean


Well mostly what I do is to incorporate CG into live action plates, so I would say that if you don't notice that it is CG, then that is what makes it stand out. If the animation looks wrong, the lighting does not match, the blacks don't match... and you notice the CG, then it pulls me out of the moment and the effect failed.
 
  02 February 2006
hello christopher,
I've seen many movies which u ve played a roll behind the scenes. . awe inspiring. the movies that u worked are some of the best in my list. We use it for reference sometimes. entire team does it frame by frame just trying to figure out how it is being done. I'm a lighting and rendering artist working for some local projects back in india. I understand how u feel when u ve to break the rule in lighting. . i'm almost the same kind of person who profers to project just the way it is. Many arguments will run between me and the client. well, i should listen to them i suppose.

well my question is . .

U r my inspiration . . and no doubt in that. I would like to know if there is someone who inspired u?

regards.

Last edited by Ministry : 02 February 2006 at 06:45 AM.
 
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