VFX Touchstones: Part One — The Code Breakers


Writing Code For VFX Solves Problems, and Motivates Others


It is my supposition that everyone in the visual effects business should learn to program, even a little bit, as it opens avenues that were once barriers. Whether writing the code, or just “breaking the code,” it is necessary to expand your skill set while solving problems, and look for solutions outside your immediate surroundings.

Several of my inspiring career moments came from people writing software for visual effects — those whom … Continue reading

Jason Jue — 1977-2015 — The Sassoon Six Minus One

“I sit on the beach, drink instant coffee, and dive when I can.”
Jason Jue


On April 5, 2015,  The Digital Makeup Initiative,  Stereo VFX, and Stereo Conversion Communities lost one of its pioneers.  Jason Jue, VFX supervisor, compositor, and avid diver passed away. Those who knew him grieve with his family, and are all taken aback by the sudden happenings that pulled him from this world.  What I can say most about him is that he was my good friend.

Jason was the third employee of Sassoon Film Design (Santa Monica, CA). Jammed into a one room office … Continue reading

Digital Nimoy — Across the Final Frontier

The Digital Legacy of One of the world’s first 3D scanned actors.


I’d hoped to have written this before it happened.

You never know how much you appreciate something, or someone until they are gone.  I was one of the generation raised in a world where the name SPOCK meant something more than how to raise children.  The character that Leonard Nimoy created on Star Trek gave was an ideal of logic, and personified our struggle to overcome or embrace emotion.  Mr. Nimoy gave us an unforgettable performance, and … Continue reading

Dead Ends: Part One — Almost Human dMFX

Unused Designs Can Still Be A Good Idea.

©2015 Johnathan Banta — for MastersFX


There is always so much work that goes into an entertainment property that no one ever sees. Were it not for the books that chronicle the preproduction of Star Wars, the world would have never seen many of the concepts that led to the designs we love (designs which now grace the prequel universe of Star Wars Rebels).  Such is the case with some work I did for the Bad Robot television series Almost Human.

MastersFX was … Continue reading

Fringe to Falling Skies — The Unwanted Rise of Digital Makeup


It Came From the 1990’s

Okay, this will take a little bit of back-story…

Early Digital makeup. Early Digital makeup.

In 1997, I started to write an article in conjunction with Digital Domain’s Andre Bustanoby (fresh off of Titanic VFX) for the (now archival) website VFXHQ.  This article was to chronicle what we saw as the beginning of a new methodology in VFX — a blending of practical makeup and digital tools.  We envisioned that makeup artists would embrace this new realm and create wondrous … Continue reading

MastersFX VES Nomination for dMFX

Digital Makeup Shines at VES Awards

The Visual Effects Society has nominated Hemlock Grove as one of its finalists for best visual effects in a television program.  It is an achievement to have digital makeup effects (dMFX) nominated for such a prestigious award, and hopefully a trend for the community at large for acceptance of the craft. It is an honor to be part of that crew, and to be nominated by our peers.

Below is a press release about the work, and a link to a video showing some of the many shows in 2014 involving the dMFX, and MFX teams in the united … Continue reading

Vector-based Particle Emission: A 2D Method for Complex Particle Motion




Using Motion Vectors as Fluid Forces

I was stuck. The particular scene In front of me required that a character from existing footage be combined with tentacles of my own making, repositioned to come out of water at the edge of screen, combined with a sky matte painting, and fling water off of its body at every flick or tiny movement. Time was as usual, short, and running out.

Since I was not planning on flailing around in the pool, and rotoscoping tons of water I needed particle systems … Continue reading

AGSketchbook — Dec. 4, 2014

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series AGsketchbook


Almost Human Concept Art

Occasionally a sketch can become something else.  I have taken to the iPad for illustration, as many have over the past few years.  it is convenient, and allows me to do more finished work as well as sketch on-the-fly.  Tasked to do some concept illustrations for the series Almost Human, I quickly re-purposed one of my sketches for varying concepts of android design for the (unfortunately) cancelled show.  Here are some of them:


The unique elements in this were the hot-shoe attachment on the bridge of the … Continue reading

The Missing Millennium Falcon [updated]

Evolution of a Design



Story update: Joe Johnston on Twitter said that he did not do the original drawing that inspired the illustration in the middle of this article (done  for research purposes only, and not an official StarWars art piece), and that he only used the cockpit and radar dish as elements. This design I saw might therefore be the work of one of the other artists on Star Wars. It could represent an alternate direction rather than a step in the evolution of the current design. That said, this is not to mislead, but now is a … Continue reading

Gorilla VFX : Episode 2 — What I Learned From Spider-Man

This gallery contains 10 photos.

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Gorilla VFX


Two Simple Tricks For Professional Results.

After Jumanji it was all about gamma blasting to check the black levels, but with the 2002 Spider-Man talk at SIGGRAPH, two new composite analysis methods came to the forefront to improve quality — and almost nobody noticed.

There he was, John Dykstra, at the front of the theater at SIGGRAPH talking about the work Sony Imageworks did for the first Spider-Man movie. Discussions on character rigging, virtual cameras, web dynamics, digital New York — all fascinating. Giant teams of artists making onscreen magic, and properly defining … Continue reading

AGsketchbook — Oct. 19, 2014

This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series AGsketchbook

Scribble Ships

It is easy to fall into a pattern or style of illustration. To break the monotony, or creative block I occasionally like to apply an exercise I learned in Art School. The fact is, with a slight application of imagination, even a scribble can look like a face.  Therefore scribble on a page, and find the face. I figured this would work for spacecraft as well.


This illustration is named AXLE. It is the first scribble ship to be presented in the #AGsketchbook, but will not be the … Continue reading

The AG_Punkwerks Blog — Year One

One Year of Content and Cool Directions.


Well folks, it is officially the first anniversary of the AG_Punkwerks blog (Sept. 11 is the actual date, but it went live in October).  Thanks for your readership, and continued enthusiasm for the odd collection of things roughly hung from the limbs of a tree named VFX. Old stuff, new stuff, stuff nobody has seen, and stuff to talk about. You know, lots of stuff — eventually.

What are the results? Many ongoing series:

1. Articles covering the VFX War raging between VFX workers/facilities and government kickbacks throughout the world.  More to come … Continue reading

AGsketchbook — Sept. 28, 2014

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series AGsketchbook

I Love A Good Sketch.

Sketches have a raw energy to them that an inked line sometimes robs in final form.  Do not misunderstand, a fully inked final image when done right is a beauty (Frazetta and Kirby come to mind), but that initial idea and energy are in the sketch many times, and the final is a poor cousin.

With computer scanning and painting it is possible to keep the best aspects of a sketch in the final image. This has been part of my illustration style for decades now — … Continue reading

The VFX War: Part 4 —The California Drought

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series The VFX War

The Great Dust Bowl 2


There is little to no rain in California. For the last several years the once verdant fields of this great American state (both in size and productivity) have produced fewer crops as water restrictions expand every year. Los Angeles, is a desert, and has always imported more water than actually flows there to survive. Weather conditions fluctuate, as they have throughout history, and the ebb and flow of high pressure has kept the rain clouds away.

Occasionally, when there is rain, it comes in torrents, and quickly … Continue reading

Back to Harv’s World

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To VFX.



It all started in 1982 with a sketch in the corner of the Social Studies notebook (I probably was not paying attention anyway).  Originally an alien life form, not quite sure from where, but cute.  I’d already spent several years drawing Danger Duck and Quacker — obvious Donald Duck rip-offs — but making cartoons seemed to be a direct extent of my obsession with VFX and animation, as well as a great skill to cultivate for storyboarding.  Eventually it all landed me a … Continue reading

Lost Art of Laine Liska

An Accomplished VFX Artist Leaves A Clandestine Legacy

[restored post]

People working the visual effects field are often artists in many different disciplines. I am also a cartoonist, having published several strips, and I enjoy funny behind the scenes jokes scribbled by artists under pressure — I honed a lot of my skills perusing the sci-FI cartoons in the editorial pages of Starlog Magazine, and that was a great collection of cartoons by humorists, but not necessarily created in the halls of the film production. John Van Vliet is famous for his cartoons, which focus … Continue reading

Gorilla VFX: Episode 1 — Couch Clouds

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Gorilla VFX


The title is not spelled wrong. Guerrillas are crafty, live by the seat of their pants fighters on the front lines. Gorillas are rough,  hit-it-with-your-fists solvers of problems. Both of these are distinct VFX mind-sets we embrace. This series explores solutions to problems that are a little unorthodox, but effective.  What’s outside the frame is Masking Tape.  Smash away!

The Wild Blue Yonder From Closet Junk.

The fun part about being a VFX artist was once taught to me by a camera technician at the ILM camera stage.  “What’s outside the … Continue reading

BOSS Film Studios – The Last Watch

Information and title updated 03/20/2014

A patch from the old Boss Film Days. The 65MM in the title says it all.


I was there at the end.

Richard Edlund’s BOSS film studios  (named after his favorite shotgun, but originally BOSS FILM CORPORATION **) was a powerhouse of creativity. It followed in the tradition set by Doug Trumbull’s Entertainment Effects Group, which Edlund purchased to form BOSS when he left Industrial Light and Magic: 65mm image acquisition and compositing. On the heels of the visual effects revival, Edlund and … Continue reading

Full Starlog Magazine Archive Online

Kerry O’Quinn’s Penultimate Magazine Online Library.


In several boxes in my garage sit almost every copy of Starlog Magazine up to issue 100.  They are in various conditions, some tattered, some torn, all well read.  They are an archive library.  For those who did not live in Los Angeles, and did not discover the mail order Cinefex (which was actually advertised in Starlog pages), there was Fantastic Films, Famous Monsters, Cinefantastique, and Starlog on store shelves.  I’d beg my parents, deliver newspapers, and mow lawns to buy my copy monthly.

Continue reading

The VFX War: Part 3 — The Slight Heard Round The World

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series The VFX War

Hollywood’s Juvenile Response to Brilliance.

For 2014 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences promises in a Variety article to “get the visual effects presentation right this year.” They are in reference to last year’s global debacle of a presentation after The Life of Pi was played offstage as the vfx supervisors were attempting to honor the artists who lost their jobs making the film — and the director who publicly thanked everyone (I mean everyone) on the show except his VFX crew who made it even possible to tell the story.

A collective obscenity-laden scream bellowed … Continue reading