Although, the conference didn't officially begin until Monday, CGW was kind enough to present student volunteers with an exclusive panel of speakers discussing their work and giving advice about the industry on Sunday night. Aside from the bitterly air conditioned lecture hall, the talk was extremely rewarding and I felt lucky to have been present at this special early session. The speakers were Jason Smith, a digital production supervisor at ILM, Evan Hirsch, Creative Director at Microsoft Live Labs, Frank Vitz, a CG Supervisor at EA, and Steve Preeg, the Academy Award winning Character Supervisor at Digital Domain.
Jason Smith gave us some insight into the rapid prototyping system for creatures at ILM. Using proprietary software called BlockParty, they are able to create an automated rigging system based on the geometry of the model and allows for modular rigging in a very short amount of time. For those readers who are familiar with other automated rigging systems, like The Setup Machine, it has its similarities, but ILM’s system is much more extensive. In addition to a bone skeleton, it includes realistic muscle simulation based on a flesh simulation system. This is similar to a cloth model for simulation, but it has volume, and allows for collisions, stretchiness, and jiggle. When manual skinning and weighting is done really well, we cannot deny that the results can be very impressive. However, even the best manual work is no match for a dynamic muscle system.
Next up was Evan Hirsch, who spoke about his personal experience in the industry and offered some valuable advice to the students. Most notably, he told us that “Lying is immoral and stupid. Don't lie about your skills.” What can I add to that? It makes sense!
Frank Vitz talked about using the same tools in VFX as in game production. In his experience working for EA games he has done just that. Leveraging the tools and techniques from the world of visual effects, he has added depth to the games and created a more cinematic experience for the player. The end results are beautiful and and we can see them in Need for Speed, Madden, and Fight Night IV, which he demos at the new real-time film part of the film festival. When captured footage from game play stands up beside pre-rendered material (which it does!), that says something major about the future of games, as well as the eventual unification of the CG entertainment industry.
Finally, Steve Preeg spoke, at length, about his work on Benjamin Button, which was entailed replacing the body double's head with a CG model based on Brad Pitt at different ages, in 325 different shots. The CG head had to be locked to the motion, look like Brad Pitt, and be fast, cheap and good. Sounds easy, right? After considering a few options, they decided to use Mova's Contour, a volumetric capture system. It required painting Pitt's face with a phosphorescent paint to create a highly detailed, high resolution model, as well as capturing poses and animations for blend shapes.
The entire panel shared similar thoughts for students, in terms of breaking into the industry. There was, of course, agreement with Evan Hirsch's statement about lying, great demo reels are vital, and another idea that goes a little bit beyond being easy to get along with. The advice was to share new techniques and problem solve with one's team, instead of being overly competitive and hoarding knowledge. Good advice from a team of experts!
You can find Elana's personal portfolio and blog at www.eekay.net