The VFX War: Part 4 —The California Drought

This entry is part 4 of 5 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 over-saturates the ground which cannot recover from it’s… 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 comic strip in the school newspaper.  I called it… Continue reading

Lost Art of Laine Liska

An Accomplished VFX Artist Leaves A Clandestine Legacy   • Richard Edlund, a close friend of Laine, kindly contributed this card, drawn by Laine for the Holidays. Thank you, Richard. • 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… Continue reading

Gorilla VFX: Episode 1 — Couch Clouds

This entry is part 1 of 3 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 edge of the frame is murder!”  (Or something along… 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 his team produced two benchmarks of visual effects, namely 2010: The… 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. Starlog was one of the genre touchstones.  It introduced me… Continue reading

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

This entry is part 3 of 5 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 around the… Continue reading

Who Is Watching VFX?

Youtube Analysis Of  VFX Documentary Viewers. In 2008 I added a Youtube Channel, dedicated to collecting, and favoriting links to documentaries and inspiring visual effects.  I uploaded several of the documentaries that I enjoyed as I was growing up (and had to take a few of them down — thank you Lucasfilm). but it seems to have a reasonably popular following.  When I started doing this there were no channels of this type I could find, but there is now a plethora of content in this realm, and the channel subscriptions follow many of those.  The uploaded content has been… Continue reading

Saving VFX: Part One — A Possible Way Forward

Splitting Up to Carry On. Government kickbacks are not the only concern weighing on the VFX industry. We have innovated our way into solving everyone else’s problems, taking on the burden that used to belong to other departments. VFX have threatened the jobs of other parts of the industry for several years, and these industries have downsized or specialized as a result. Now VFX is at times overburdened with responsibility for the camera, sets, props, hair and makeup, and even actors in a movie — just fix it in post. We have always said we CAN do it, but due… Continue reading

Digital Makeup Joins The Stage February 2, 2014

Todd Masters and Johnathan Banta At The Digital Days Conference. The Digital Days Conference kicks off Saturday Feb 1, 2014. Todd Masters and Johnathan Banta (spelled wrong on their website) of MastersFX join a panel Sunday to talk about the convergence of practical and digital effects. Join us as we talk of the crossing between digits and digital.   UPDATE: The time of the panel has changed to SUNDAY FEB 2, 12.45pm – 2.15pm EA Theatre: The Bigger Picture This is the time the online program shows: Sunday     1:30pm-3pm Theatre: The Bigger Picture Integrating Practical & Digital FX –… Continue reading

Adventures in Stereo 3D: Part 3 — A Stereo Markup Language

This gallery contains 7 photos.

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Stereo3D Adventures

Scribbling is the Universal Language. If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is likely that two thousand words will be required to properly describe how to correct a problem in a stereo 3D converted image.  I have seen the notes go on for pages (dictated some of them myself, after all) describing how a character’s foot is too deep in 3D space, compared to its surrounding features, and sinking into the ground. If you have ever sat in a screening room with several supervisors, they all see the same problem a different way.  It is often quite entertaining… Continue reading

Saving Mr. Binks

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Focusing the Hatred of the Galaxy, a Digital Star is Born! There are long diatribes on the Internet tearing George Lucas to shreds for the creation of Jar Jar Binks.  Such vile hatred for a character in a movie —an individual that does not exist — is curious.  Normally this level of vitriol is reserved for politicians and rapscallions (though the character was a politician in Episode II and III).  Fans of Star Wars despise this creation, and make it their hobby to eviscerate him. As I said:  Curious. It seems easy to overlook all the good that Mr. Binks is.  Jar… Continue reading

Thanksgiving Photogrammetry — The GALACTICA

This gallery contains 13 photos.

  Fun With Photoscan. A year ago I started playing more with Agisoft Photoscan software, at the behest of a very respected VFX artist.  It is now a professional tool in my kit, but also a hobby. On the hobby side it is always fun to do things guerrilla style on purpose — to learn to what extent you can push the software. Take photos, throw them in and eventually read what scant documentation exists.  (Much more fun to kick the tires, and answer questions after the fact).    Typically it is late night when these experiments take place, so… Continue reading

Shaping the Message of VFX

Visual Effects Stories Losing Their Fire? I remember when something unusual happened while making Special Effects, it was bandied about in a good story, either in a magazine, or as an urban legend. When an artist had a particular view of his or her work, they would let it be known that they disagreed with the solution.  When a particular effect failed, you read about it in gory detail.  Now the message is more often shaped by press agents to make the VFX company, studio, or director look brilliant.  This is unfortunate, but a clear reflection of the changing gravity… Continue reading

The VFX War: Part 2 — Fish In A Barrel

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The VFX War

We Are Eating Ourselves. It’s almost as if someone planned it. A Macivelian overlord sat down one day, scheming how to drive down prices, institute near slave-driven hours (without compensation as often as possible) by arbitrarily putting a date on a calendar, increase their profits, pay for no benefits, accept government kickbacks and free labor. However no such overlord exists, and we have done much of this to ourselves. We have no industry standard bidding contracts, and we constantly undermine each other to stay afloat. It is not with malice, but on the base instinct of survival that we under-bid… Continue reading

Adventures in Stereo 3D: Part 2 — The Hyper-Glyph

This gallery contains 4 photos.

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Stereo3D Adventures

Updating the 1850’s French Innovation. In part one of this series about Stereo 3D, we discussed the use of stereo anaglyph images as a tool for stereo artists and supervisors, not just for novelty 3D prints, and late night 3D festivals on TV.  Lightweight, and easily viewable in many situations, it is by far the most portable 3D format.  (Besides we all look cool in the red/cyan glasses.) There are several flavors of anaglyph, but as mentioned the variations are generally in the colors of lenses used, and that for better color rendition.  But in our discussion we abandon the… Continue reading

Halloween Photogrammetry

This gallery contains 9 photos.

Photoscan Software in Action — Where Have You Been All My Life? Just for Halloween: 3D pumpkins! AgiSoft’s Photoscan is a stunning development for visual effects production. It is at its root designed for virtual map making, but is agile enough for full-body scans in action poses. Yes, there are other services out there from Autodesk that do similar things, but this is $180, with a free stereo version available, and no concern about uploading images to a “free” service (and all the image property rights that may entail). You can eventually go up to $3500 for the pro version,… Continue reading

The British VFX tradition — Poppa Day to Alien

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Great British VFX Documentaries Online. From Poppa Day to Matte Painting in the 60’s and 70’s, Dennis Lowes webpage is an amazing documentary resource of visual effects in Britain. Want some in-depth information on the making of Alien you did not know? He has multiple interviews on video with images to back it up. His videos introduce us to a great collection of talented people, and disciplined work, from which we all can learn. Great education, motivation, and fun, and there is more than what is shown in the images below (including some of Dennis’ own work if you are… Continue reading

Why Dimensionalization is Bad

This gallery contains 3 photos.

By any other Name it is Good Old Fashioned Sculpture. The term Dimensionalization should leave the lexicon of stereo conversion.  First off, it is a buzz-word that Madison Avenue could have invented that says very little about the process, and it also calls forth images of an automated process that is simple to do.  Secondly, it is a copyrighted phrase for a now defunct company, but mostly it is an inaccurate description. As an example, think of this sentence: “I have converted a 3D world into 2D with the use of a camera lens.  It is now dimensionalized”.  The word… Continue reading

The Best VFX Hot Sheet

Get Your Daily Feed…It’s Worth It Sure you can have a Google alert come your way for the VFX news of the day, but the best “Hot Sheet” out there is ILM model/monster maker Howie Weed’s Worth a Mention.  I am not sure how he gets the information, but it is more extensive than standard searches, and nicely and simply put together.  Many of us in the industry read it every day he makes it. There are a few collections of this mini email blast out in the ether, but if you know the right folks, and get referred to… Continue reading

Adventures in Stereo 3D: Part 1 — The Rebirth of Anaglyph

This gallery contains 2 photos.

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Stereo3D Adventures

Another French Innovation Probably one of the oldest methods of viewing stereo 3D content is Anaglyph.  Invented in the 1850’s by a Frenchman, it has seen little update over the years, other than varying the color of the lenses (mostly as an attempt to deliver better full-color images).  It is a very cost effective format, but most experts in 3D scoff at it, as a stereo presentation with polarized, or active shutter glasses produces a better result.  Anaglyph is steampunk industrial-age technology after all, and we are in the digital age.  It might surprise many readers that anaglyph is still used for anything,… Continue reading

News Flash! Foreground Miniatures Still Work

We have come so far these days in VFX.  We use computers to do everything, and forget that often the simplest methods are the best.  Here is an idea:  Put models in front of the camera, and take a picture with real places in the distant background.  I think they used that on Aliens and The Abyss, as a matter of fact.  (Do not forget the brilliant work in Dune and Conan: the Destroyer.) For us digital geeks out there, that is a dense point sampled,  high dynamic range, global illumination algorithm, with energy preserving reflections — in real time.  We call it reality.… Continue reading

The Art of Seeing Stereo 3D

Stereo vs. Reality  Stereo 3D is not “real,” it is an optical illusion. We are all constantly told that stereo 3D is more engaging visual content, but having actually directed stereo VFX and helped create the whole field of Stereo conversion, I will say the verdict among audiences is mixed. I have been involved in IMAX and feature film stereo projects, and seeing the variation of opinion in online reviews; I am dumbfounded that anyone is actually watching the same movie I helped make. Some people love it, and others want their money back (though I have asked for that… Continue reading

Cinemagic Magazine — Back from the past

If you made super-8mm movies in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, and loved visual effects, you read CINEMAGIC, originally created by Nightbeast director Don Dohler, and then helmed at Starlog press.  (I remember calling David Hutchison and John Clayton to give me information on folks in the SPFX biz quite often).  In these magazines you learned stop motion, rear projection, matte painting, foreground miniatures, and prosthetic makeup as low-budget as you could make it.  It also allowed you to advertise your productions in a section of each issue.  Mark Sullivan (famed matte painter who is also chronicled for his… Continue reading