The Monk and The Fish

A classically animated short created by Michael Dudok De Wit. Simple yet beautiful. Powerful use of the music to tell the story. If you like this short and can handle seeing something a little more simple, Father & Daughter is also worth checking out.

Thanks to Des Duggan for getting me to check this out.

District 9

District 9 was a significant film for me for a few different reasons.

  1. Efficient use of effects. It’s not just what you can do, but how you use it.
  2. Story with meaning.  In a time where films rarely follow their core message…   it’s refreshing to see an exception (including Pixar).
  3. I was almost lucky enough to work on it.  Almost.  :\
  4. Oh yeah, and it’s got aliens!

The film was directed by Neill Blomkamp, a Vancouver Film School graduate who is a VFX veteran from The Embassy, who directed the popular Citroen commercial.

Long story short, Neill was supposed to direct the Halo film, but that was put on hold (indefinitely?) and so Peter Jackson assisted Neill in turning his short film, “Alive in Jorberg“. into a feature film. District 9 was green lit with a budget of $30 million.

On September 29th I attended a Siggraph talk with Image Engine, where spoke on the making of District 9. Image Engine was one of a handful of studios in Vancouver that worked on the film.  While Image Engine focused on the creation of the “prawn” characters, The Embassy was working on the large robot and little critters.  Goldtooth Creative worked on some of the 3D user interfaces shots and WETA, since they were busy with Avatar, was only able to contribute to a few shot elements, including the mothership.

The original intention was to use prosthetic suits for the alien prawns w/ CG face overlays. Peter Muyzers recommended that Image Engine be allowed to create the creatures entirely in 3D. In the end, about 300 alien shots were created by Image Engine. The aliens were acted out by a grey suited actor and then replaced by a CG double, which was created in Maya. It was noted that the grey suit provided a great reference for lighting. Nuke was heavily used in the production as allowed for much of the CG lighting to be adjusted in real-time.


People at Goldtooth and Image Engine both noted how the use of the “Red One” camera sometimes produced warping of the frame during fast camera moves.  This was often difficult for the tracking software and forced them to fully recreate the scenes in 3D in order to do touchups.  The warping effect was referred to as the “rolling shutter“.

The 300 alien shots felt like a lot more. This and many of the other tricks, including filtering footage through VHS recorders, were testiment to Neill’s efficient use of FX. He understood that 3D is expensive and when some shots were pushed through the pipe, he was quoted saying that the cost was “a snowmobile or 2“. Like Fight Club, Neill used used FX to help tell a story, not a story to show off pretty effects. The crew at Image Engine expressed how much of a benefit it was to have someone directing that spoke their language.

I hope to see more movies like this and nearly everyone who’s seen it agrees. Would Neill be able to produce double the quality with 60 million? Anybody ready for a District 10?  We’ll see.

FXGuide has a very detailed breakdown that includes before/after shots organized by studio.

Houdini is 50% off!

Life likes to poke you in the ribs sometimes. Just when you get comfortable, it reminds you that you’re not happy being content. It reminds you that there’s still so much to explore, to experience, to share.
A piece of software that I’ve been meaning to dive into, recently knocked its price down to 50%, for a limited time. That’s a BIG discount, especially when you consider that the product is over $10k.
Buzz has all those great video tutorials, but not sure where to start. Going to send them an email to see if I can get some help. I would like to just get all the vids.
On top of that, District 9 was released, reminding me how entertaining and educational a movie can be. BLOW SHIT UP, HAVE FUN & DO IT FOR CHEAP!! Film only cost $30 million to make.

Sure glad I have a separate blog for my more personal ramblings. Just need to put more pictures in here.

Online Movie Lending Service

New service has started up called LendAround.com.  A GREAT idea that allows you to see what movies your friends have in their libraries and setups up a system that allows you to track who has what.

I sent them some of my recommendations.

1) What if I have discs on loan to non-LendAround users?
2) I own the discs but do not have immediate access to it (half my library is 2000 miles away).
3) Custom categories for special DVDs or want lists.
4) Ability to export library and download my collection, reviews and ratings into a CSV file.

GoodReads.com is a good example.

Lego Animations

I really have to find out what the little Lego USB camera playsets are called. What better way to get children creating creative content? Working with physical objects, so you’re not trapped behind a computer. Learning about animation, story telling and communication. Lego sets allow you to make almost anything you can think of.

There’s also Spiderman w/ The Peril of Doc Ock (alt ending).

Or maybe some Indiana Solo?

This entry was inspired by this Swedish Playmobil animation.  Thanks Cecilia.

Shane Acker’s “9”

Back in 2005 Shane intruduced us all to his stitched and zippered ragdolls in his short film entitled “9”.  Tim Burton soon took interested and has assisted Shane in turning the short into a feature film. Starz, based in Toronto, was the 3D animation studio responsible for the work. Not too long ago the film trailer was released to to the public.

I worked with Shane on one of the initial film tests. The guy is still an animator at heart and he knows what he likes.  It’s rare to have a director critizise the technical aspects of your work (in my case, the character rigs). I haven’t heard more than bits and pieces of how the final production went, but I am pretty excited to see how everything turned out.

Biggest kicker…    the film is being released on my birthday. It also means I can finally put the work I did on my demo reel. That’ll be a nice birthday present to myself.

I recommend watching the original short:

And then, here’s the full film trailer (or the HD trailer on the official site):

Thomas Schelesny – VFX Supervisor of “Enchanted”


Thomas Schelesny

In the afternoon of Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Tony Chen’s 3D Animation Workshop in Gastown. The special guest for the evening was Thomas Schelesny. Tom is a Visual Effects Supervisor at Tippet Studios. He was the VFX Supervisor for Disney’s Enchanted and is currently supervising the FX for Sam Rami’s Drag Me To Hell.

Tom gave us a quick summary of his career, starting with Northwest Imaging in Vancouver, where he received his first experience at 3D animation on Softimage, working on X-Files & The Outer Limits.  While at work, Tom received an incoming call which he initially thought was a prank and promptly hung up on the caller.  The caller was a recruiter from Tippet.

Needless to say, he got the job at Tippet and was brought in as an Anima…er… a Lighting TD. After having the TD position for 1 week, Tippet quickly moved Tom to a more appropriate position, in animation. Tom spent 3 years as an animator and followed that up with 2 years as an animation lead, working on Starship Troopers and Virus.

Eventually, Tom was surprised by a visit from Tippet, who was showing a client around the studio. Tippet whispered to Tom, “So, you want to be VFX Sup on this show?” to which Tom replied, “Yes.“. Tippet immediately introduced Tom to the client as the VFX Supervisor that would be working on his film.

During our talk, Tom couldn’t stress enough how important it is to take risks. He said how rewarding it was to be confident in yourself, to not care what other people think. If you know what you need to do… DO IT. For example, when onset with an actress who needed to react to a monster that wasn’t there, Tom took his shirt off and started towards the actress, snorting and snarling. Throw on a dress? Sure. Pose for life drawing? Why not? He says that he’s willing to take take it all off, if it needed to be done… and he proved it. This is a point that resonated strongly with me. I’ve lost track of the number of missed opportunities due to shyness or stressing about making an ass out of myself. I mean, the entertainment industry begs for people like this, so  give em what they want!

I keep thinking of the song by The Kills, Cheap and Cheerful – “I want you to be crazy cause your stupid when your sane.

Speaking of being confident with your work, one thing that has surprised me since I came into this industry, was the lack of animator reference. I’m not talking about book or video clip reference, I’m talking about STANDING UP AND ACTING IT OUT. Tom told us how animators are treated at Tippet Studios. In the animation area, you’ll commonly find animators crawling and snarling. If other artists are making discouraging comments about an animator who’s acting, that person will usually get double the criticisms fired right back at them. At Tippet, they do whatever they can to encourage live reference. I know this doesn’t need to be said, but everything is sculpted before it goes digital. Reference is key and the closer to real life, the better. Tom pointed out, “This computer monitor, it’s 2D, not 3D.” This is something we all forget, too often.

Tony Chen @ Tom's talk

Tony Chen

He spoke of his preference to work with rubber suits. The experience is more organic, as your are directing the action, in the moment. If it’s purely digital creatures, a director will usually just shoot the set then save the footage to be dealt with later. However, if you’re working with rubber suits, “…you want a creature to look more wet, you walk up and spray on some water…” I should note that Tom does not dislike digital effects, it’s more a preference of the process.  He also stated that he feels that some 3D animated films are as perfect as you can get, simply because of the control you have over every single element. In a world of film that seems to be driven by digital effects, these comments were a breath of fresh air. Too often does the process oriented work seem too planned and not dynamic enough. It’s hard to pick out sometimes, but we can usually feel when it just doesn’t look right. A rubber suit looks more real, well… because it is real.

Thanks to everyone, especially Tony Chen @ CGMovement, for putting this together.  It was a very inspiring evening that will not be forgotten.

Daily Digest / 2008-11-22

Dark Knight + Toy Story 2

Nice work on the video editing. Fer sure.

Thanks to Vincent Chow for this one.

Gremlins – Fan Film

Because it’s been so long since I posted something new…  here’s some stuff to tide you over.  The new job has me playing a little catch up.

Amazing what one can do with a personal PC…  er… wait… those were real puppets!?  There’s also a Making of video to take a look at.

Thanks to Drawn! for this one.


Taking it a little further than the text. Make sure and crank up the volume before getting this one rolling.

REPO! The Genetic Opera

“New spine? No problem. Late payments? Problem.”

A bloody opera from the creator of SAW II? Starring Paris Hilton & Paul Sorvino? Uh Mah Gawd. Truely a morbid curiosity.

Ghost in the Shell 2

Nope, it’s not a sequal, but a digital update of the original release. Does that mean there’s no more green holographic images? Well, according to these screenshots, it seems so. And all this time I thought they wanted it it to look retro. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the upgrades. The only question is, “Do I need to own two copies of the same movie?” Maybe… maybe.

Checkout the 2.0 trailer below.

In other GITS news, I broke down and picked up this little beauty. She sits next to Walter on my desk at home. Also started watching the Stand Alone Complex episodes. Though obviously not the quality of the films, they do a good job of providing me with my Ghost in the Shell fix.

Thanks to Planet Damage, a pretty killer cyberpunkish blog.

King Kong Dynamics

Without a doubt, there’s going to be some serious destruction in Peter Jackson’s rendition of King Kong. Word is, Weta Digital is currently using BlastCode to handle some of the tricky dynamic simulations. I’d highly recommend checking out some of sample movies they have in the gallery. Yeah. YEAH! NUKE THAT HOUSE!!! I love the smell of… the hum of computers simulating… boom.

Houdini and Mr X Inc

I just finished watching Resident Evil Extinction. It’s the third movie of the Resident Evil series and I was pleasantly surprised. If not for any other reason, the FX don’t feel so fakey and the action is continuous. How about the story? Mad Max w/ zombies? It worked for me.

beatiful Houdini 9 UI

Working in the industry, it’s hard for me not to take note of the effects that make me loose my breath as I gasp “whaaaaaa?”. The effects are killer (pun intended) and they reminded me of another action/horror move I’d seen recently, Silent Hill. Mr. X Inc. was responsible for the FX in both Resident Evil & Silent Hill, and the Houdini software upped the awe factor. From what I’ve read, Houdini’s procedural workflow was essential in speeding up the process in receiving director feedback. How? Well, if something needs to be tweaked or a step backtracked, it’s instant with Houdini. No build history is lost, which makes it a snap to make modifications to prior steps. Fantastic! <insert geek snort here>. This also makes the program a dream to work with, as you can rely on networks of nodes instead of spending your days writing lines of code.

Been reading some other interviews about how Houdini is improving the lives of TDs around the world. I plan on improving my life as well, just as soon as I find a little more time to dive into the free 3D Buzz online class. Speaking of which, even if you have no prior experience in 3D applications, I’m sure you’d be able to follow along in Buzz’s free video tutorials.

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