First off, thank you all very much for your kind words, and I’m glad you all enjoyed the work on District 9 so much. It’s always great when you get a chance to work on a movie that’s out of the ordinary, and this one’s been a lot of fun to be a part of.
So, let’s get to the questions!
Hi Lorenzo (firstsingle),
Having any sort of programming experience is helpful in many areas of creating visual effects, and I imagine the same holds true for game development. I’d say having a good knowledge of programming strategy and techniques is more important than any particular language unless you know a very specific area you’re interested in. There are a multitude of languages used in the creation of visual effects, from multipurpose languages like C++, to scripting languages like Python, to program specific languages like PRMAN shading language and MEL. Artists/Technnical Directors that can program are always in high demand. C++ is definitely a good place to start (and similar to the latest incarnation of PRMAN shading language), and a lot of work is being done using Python these days, so those would be my top recommendations.
Hi Ray (rayman22201),
Well, as you can see from my background, the path to get from one place to another is unfortunately not always obvious. The only thing you can do is try one path, and if it’s not working, try another. The obvious advantages of going to an animation school is that you have access to software and equipment, you are pushed to create, you will likely learn new techniques and methodologies, and when you graduate, potential employers will know you’ve at least completed a certain amount of work.
That being said, there’s probably nothing you’d do and learn in school that you couldn’t do and learn on your own if you’re determined enough. Most employers looking at relatively new talent are going to judge them by their reel and the scope of their knowledge (with emphasis on the reel!) You can certainly read a lot of books on the subject and put together your own work using software you already have or learning editions of popular software like Maya and Houdini.
As an additional note, it’s helpful to target which area you’d like to work in. For example, Maya is the most widely used 3D software at larger and midsized vfx facilities, so learning it will widen your potential pool of employers. Other popular software packages are Shake, Nuke, Houdini, and XSI.
So to sum up, the choice of course has to be yours. Perhaps see how much progress you make in your current situation, and if it seems like you’re not making enough to get where you want to go, try something new like animation school. Hope that helps!
Hi Daniel (DanielWray),
The modeling was done pretty much exclusively in Maya. We did use ZBrush a little, but that was mostly on the texture side. All the aliens were rendered with 3Delight, a Renderman compliant renderer. Now that last question is a big one! The pipeline went together relatively smoothly, but the biggest challenge (as is usually the case) was to get all the parts working reliably in the short time that was available before we had to start cranking out shots. We had a great team working on it, though, and it’s a testament to their abilities that we were able to reliably get so many shots through it. While I’d say most of the artists would say that they liked having fairly comprehensive tools that were built for lighting and animation, the part I enjoyed most was seeing so many shots coming out that looked so good!
Hi Kieren (kogden),
I think we did five of what we charmingly called “meatbag” shots, although I don’t have all the info in front of me. Among other elements, there was an actual bag of viscera and blood that was blown up for the effect. We did all the exploding person (and alien) shots that were inside as well as the guard exploding that’s about to shoot Christopher Johnson outside (and parts of that shot were also done by The Embassy).
Once we had the pipeline set up, the difficulty of putting the aliens in didn’t vary too dramatically. The interior locations were usually more complicated than the exterior ones because of the multitude of lights and shadows we had to match - Christopher Johnson’s shack was particularly challenging to match because of the extremely varied lighting as well as the interaction with a lot of practical objects from the physical location. Actually, the hardest part of integrating the aliens in usually had more to do with what we had to take out. There was an actor on set for almost every shot that has Christopher Johnson or a hero alien. Some of the more complicated shots to take him out of were the one where Christopher Johnson is hit with a piece of wood, the one where he’s dragged out of the Casspir, and the shots where he’s searching with a flashlight in Paul’s shack. Another difficult shot all around was the approximately 1000 frame long shot where Paul is taken out of his shack (which in addition to the stand-in actor removal throughout the shot, has dark interior lighting, bright exterior lighting, and lots of lens flares.)
I think in general, the more shots and shows you work on, the greater feel you get for identifying what’s causing a problem in a shot. However, it’s a continuing learning experience no matter how much you’ve done in the past - there’s always more to learn. I’m not quite sure which the most worked on shots are, but two of the lead contenders would be the shot mentioned above where Paul is taken out of his shack and the first shot where you see all the aliens in the hold of the Mothership (there’s actually a lot more detail in that shot than you can see in the finished movie!) I’m afraid there are just too many shots to pick a favorite, and I really just liked the movie overall.
Hi Culligan (zymn),
As far as which software to use, you can check out the answer above to Ray on that subject. However, I think right now you have plenty of time to experiment with different things, and see what area you enjoy working in the most. I’d say the most important thing is just to create some cool, polished work with whatever packages you can get your hands on.
Hi Mary (OrganizingCat),
The term “invisible effects” is used to refer to effects in movies that most people won’t realize is an effect. For instance, the shots from Leatherheads in the profile are of an early 20th century football stadium in Chicago with a large, cheering crowd. However, they was shot in a much smaller, much more modern stadium in North Carolina with probably around 50 extras. Most people watching the movie wouldn’t really think that they were looking at a movie with a lot of visual effects (there were about 200 shots in that movie). However, someone watching Dark City or Matrix Revolutions would know that the bizarre and unusual things they’re seeing must be visual effects no matter how good they look.
So what I meant was that even though we had something extremely bizarre and unusual to put into shots, our job was to make them seem completely natural and part of the background, so that the audience almost forgets that they’re watching a visual effect.
Thanks for your questions, everyone!