Effects Technical Director, Animator, Artist
I worked in the US Film Industry after graduate school from 1996 to 2013. For the first 8 years I was lighting and compositing. From 2004 to 2013 I specialized in effects animation, a generalist role that handles the visual elements that don't fit in the standard animation pipeline. The role was called Technical Director, Animator or Artist in different places and the people I worked with spanned a wide spectrum of artistic talent and technical know-how that defies easy categorization.
- Effects TD
Full Stack Animation
As an effects animator I primarily worked with SideFX Houdini. It's a node based visual programming package used to animate physically based simulations of fire, water, destruction and other natural and manmade phenomena. The simulations generate volume data, geometry, or particles that are lit then rendered into 2D frames. The frames are composited with plate photography and other CGI elements into a seamless whole with Nuke, a node based analogue to Photoshop.
Simulations vs Keyframes
Unlike keyframe based animation, simulations are scaled down version of a physical event where I would set parameters of forces, materials, boundaries and other conditions that could affect the simulation. Once the parameters are set the simulation has to run sequentially from the starting point through the most of the shot length before we could see the entire results.
We are simulating natural phenomena that would be too dangerous, difficult, or expensive to film in real life. Or it maybe it's at a scale that's never been seen before. The key to success was not straying too far from the natural results of the physics based simulation while meeting the needs of art direction that's focused on telling the story from the camera point of view.
On film projects I collaborated in person or remotely with 200+ member crews of other artists, production, and creative leadership.
On a daily basis, my work was looked at in isolation and in the context of other elements until each shot was complete. If the direction changed I was responsible for saving and logging my work so that any iteration could be recreated with the asset management tools to match a previous iteration.
Simulations are computationally intensive ie take up lots of computer resources. As artists we were conscious about being economical with our resources so we could get feedback on our work in a reasonable amount of time. We worked in a command line environment that allowed us to chain processes with scripting languages like c-shell, perl and python.
Leading Edge Technology
These effects were pushing the envelope when they were done. A Hollywood effects film is big investment that's intended to wow an audience with spectacle and story. It is a unique environment to work on something that only exists in the Director's mind's eye and needs to be spectacular in 18 months after you've first start working on it.
Movie release dates rarely change. All the work shown is done on a tight schedule with resources re-allocated as needed to meet the deadline. The work is done to a very high standard with a lot of effort.
An effects demo reel is usually sent along with a cv and a hard copy breakdown of the work.
In an interview the artist and potential supervisors will play through the video and discuss work that might be pertinent to the upcoming movie.
It's pretty straightforward and devoid of the overt salesmanship of a design pitch meeting. We review at a lot video on the job. The need for the work is already established and the scope is not the artist's purview. Execution at a high standard is a given and we want to focus on almost subliminal details that most people barely notice.
01 - Wave Simulation
MEN IN BLACK 3
02 - Door Destruction
- Fractured doors w Houdini voronoi fracture setup.
- Animated shards w DOP sims using Houdini’s RBD system.
- Animated bending w wire solver setup.
03 - Shattering Glass
- Fractured w voronoi, animated w in-house Bullet tools.
04 - Impact Dust and Debris
- Animated debris w in-house ODE tools. Used Maya fluids for dust.
05- Jetpack Smoke and Flames
- Simmed smoke w H12 smoke solver.
- Developed flame instancing setup w shot customization controls.
06 - Jetpack Flames
- Examples of jetpacks w animated lengths, stutter speed, and shapes shot customization.
07 - Aura
- Developed particle setup w plate texture lookup and multiple color modification passes.
08 - Energy Sphere
- Shot work and pipelining setup for hardware rendering w Sony's proprietary Splat Renderer.
- Reworked static setup for animation and smaller scales.
- Developed Katana setup to push data through renderer as 20+ slices of 30 million particles each.
09 - Shaker Effect
- Example of a Katana tool I developed for lighters where each shape node in any model is transformed at the node's centroid procedurally at render time.
- Shape attributes are accessed w a python script in katana w a GUI exposed controls for size and timing of the shaking and area of maximum effect.
10 - Debris Toss
- Example of a highly directed simulation where both the final and initial positions of the major debris were established in practical plates.
- Animated w a mixture of key-framed animation and the ODE solver in Houdini.
11 - Distant Asteroids
- Translated Layout Dept's Maya setups into Houdini instances w rotations added, and finessing in Katana.
12 - Flight Trails
- Shot work w Flight Trail on 20+ shots.
- Example of custom shot work for unusual flight patterns like flips.
13 - Parallax and Asteroids
- Example of Parallax shot work and more asteroid finessing.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
Responsible for rendered element delivery and final comp integration.
14 - Zippleback Fuel Emissions
- Developed POP based setup for dragon smoke.
15 - Roarwind
- One-off POP based setup for very fast moving sound wave.
- Fast dolly required immense data management for handing large amount of sprites to fill the space w splat-based mist.
16 - Fog
- Splat based fog using particle clustering w PDI's proprietary renderer.
MONSTERS VS ALIENS
Responsible for rendered element delivery and final comp integration.
17 - Hero Asteroid Animation, Space Dust and Asteroid Debris
- Hero Asteroid key framed animation in Maya.
- Developed space dust and debris noise fields for matte painting extension.
- Built dust clustering in Houdini for splat rendering in PDI software.
18 - Lick
- Developed procedural lick residue effect in Houdini.
19 - Alien Death Ray Customization and POV effect
- Animated Maya particle ring setup in first shot.
- Developed robot POV ring effect using particles setup in Houdini, PDI volume shaders and compositing tricks.
- Modified Maya particle ring setup for bounce back effect.
20 - Wet Trail
- Created one-off Houdini setup for trail on moving bridge
21 - Drips and Wet Trail
- Animated wet effect w Maya based sweat system.
- Created one-off Houdini setup for animating falling drops and wet pavement residue.
22 - Trolley Jet Development
- Developed Trolley Jet Effect w proprietary candle particle shader.
- Installed it in 10+ shots sequence wide.
23 - Fire Tornado
- Shot td on blue fire tornado for 15+ shots on 2 sequences.
- One-offs like modification of the setup for interaction w Grendel and roof beams
24 - Dragon Fire
- One-off fire for 2 dragon shots.
- Setups was done in Houdini, simulated in Maya-Fire pipeline and rendered w Svea.
25 - Sand Impact, footprints and plant animation.
- Shot work w existing Houdini setups for ambient tree motion and footprints.
- Animated foliage character interaction and one-off sand impact particle effect in Houdini.
26 - Fire
- Developed custom twirling fire using fire renders mapped on geometry trails in Houdini.
27 - Fire and pepper effects
- Developed pot and torch fire and installed show-wide.
- Animated one-off popcorn and pepper in Houdini.
28 - Water and Fog Shot Work
- Shot work w existing systems on wave surface foam, character splashes, and lip spray w Houdini-Prman setups,
- Shot work for fog w Houdini-Splat sprite based renderer.
29 - Fire Wipe One-Off
- Modified Old West Ghost Rider setup for fire-wipe.
30 - Eye Fire
- Developed and installed Ghost Rider eye setup fire show-wide
31 - Fast Fire
- Shot work on fast version of Ghost Rider, Old West Ghost Rider, motorcycle, and horse fire for entire sequence.
- Featured on Cover of Cinefex 109.
- Did not do long trailing fire or horse’s footstep residue behind characters.
32 - Surface Wisps
- Developed plane mist interaction effect on missile bay opening and around cockpits.
- Shot-work layout and lighting 3D-2.5D clouds and animating all plane related effects.
33 - Lake Fog and Clouds
- Mist Laid out 3D mist and clouds library elements
- Integrate 2.5D background & cloud volumes.
34 - Jet Exhausts and Clouds
- Animated jet exhausts on plane using Houdini-Mantra setup.
- Animated wingtip vortices, jet exhausts, & lift condensation using Houdini-Voxelb setup
35 - Energy Ball
- Examples of energy ball setup and debris interaction effects in Houdini and Prman.
in Live Action Film & Animation