This is the second volley of awards. There are quite a few to give out this year because I've spent time researching and there is a lot of excellent out there.
I'm also interested in your suggestions for Pixies. I have no dearth of prospects, but I could be missing something obvious – something special. If you have a stand-out favorite application, bit of equipment or person that you'd like to nominate, please do in the comments or in a private email. I'll check it out. I don't mind being biased, but I do like to be reasonably thorough.
And now for something completely different—the first PPEBGP awarded to a human.
Most Effective Client-Side VFX Supervisor
Over quite a few years now I've been bitching about toxic client-side VFX supervisors. These are the ones who are insecure or ego-involved and wreak havoc with VFX houses by demanding way too many redos — and then going back to the original after wasting sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars of the VFX house's budget. These people cause untold emotional upset and financial loss and have contributed to the demise of some good houses. Enough about them!
What I've never taken the time to do is talk about the good guys. These are the client-side VFX supes who work well with VFX houses, have compassion for their situation, and have the personal self-confidence to call shots without many unnecessary redos. These are the men and women who are efficient and solution-oriented.
Supervising for a studio is a high-pressure, high-responsibility job. You have to translate the director's vision into specific instructions and work with VFX houses to make it happen. You're ultimately responsible to the studio and the director for the final product. The number of technical, artistic and people skills required is immense. These are the people who help VFX houses blossom—help them create imagery that we all love—and, each time, they have to make it beyond what has ever been seen before.
I have selected one person whom I have had the good fortune to observe for nearly 20 years. I have met him a few times and find him to be a good and fun guy in real life as well. In fact, I walked with him once through an eerie, very old German cemetery at midnight while we were both attending FMX in Stuttgart. Okay, so we'd had a few German beers and there was dancing involved. But that's not why I picked him.
Inspired by Doug Trumbull's amazing VFX in 2001: A Space Odyssey way back in 1968, this Wisconsin-born sci-fi buff got interested in film at the University of Michigan, where he discovered and entered their film program. He eventually went to work with VFX pioneer Richard Hollander at VIFX, where many a young artist got their start. If I give you too much more, I'll spoil the surprise.
His list of major VFX films is remarkable, including such seminal opuses as The Relic, Broken Arrow, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Matrix Reloaded, Fantastic Four, X-Men: The Last Stand, Watchmen, Man of Steel, 300: Rise of An Empire. As you read this, he's supervising work on Batman v Superman. When he's finished there he hops right into Justice League. Phew. That might have given it away. But, continuing on…
Over the years I've heard his name mentioned by key people at several houses in London, L.A., and Vancouver as being the kind of VFX supe you want to get — not because he's easy, but because he is solution oriented, creative, talented and helps achieve images and sequences they had not imagined, all without excess drama. (As an aside, I've heard that Zack Snyder would agree with my choice here.)
The person I choose for Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Award for Most Effective Client-Side VFX Supervisor is: (imagine a drum roll here) GADZOOKS! It's Warner Brothers' legendary VFX Supe John "DJ" DesJardin!
John "DJ" DesJardin; photo by Jean Ho
This is a quote I found from DJ recorded by journalist Trevor Hogg at Flickeringmyth.com. It sums up the reason he is getting this award. DJ was asked what is most essential about being a good VFX supervisor, and I think he answers for both sides.
“I almost want to say temperament more than anything. You have to ask yourself: 'Can you keep yourself regimented, and disciplined to be able to get through what you’re going to have to go through to get something done? Can you keep your ideas fresh? Can you be a nice person…' Just be pleasant about it because it’s a pretty lucky job to have. You’re not mining sulfur, your lungs are not filling up with sulfuric acid and you’re not dying when you're 30. Have a little humility, keep your head down and do the work. That, I think, is the most important thing about being a visual effects supervisor.”
Apparently he's right. I would add that, while perhaps he doesn't even realize it, his creative and practical approach to getting things done is another key.
Though I have never worked with DJ, the stories abound. Stories about how houses and their people love working with him. "He's fun." I would hear these nice stories about DJ and about how his vision, and humanity and talent work together with house-side VFX supervisors to help create great cinema. It is refreshing. He's not the only one. But he is the one I've heard the most good things about and followed the closest. Thank you, DJ, for being a breath of fresh air in our beleaguered Industry. Congratulations, kiddo. You deserve it.
And now for the second ever Golden Pixie being awarded to a human. Golden Pixie for …
Legendary Teacher in the VFX and Motion Graphics Industries
One of his greatest personal assets that he employs almost daily in explaining the clever intricacies of VFX is his amazing voice and sense of humor. A former radio personality, he can do a half-hour tutorial and you never once fall asleep! He may be the only one on the planet that can accomplish this heroic feat. His presentations are always fun and useful and practical and most of all, kind of sexy. You learn to do things that can get you a job. In fact at his website, www.videocopilot.com, there is enough training to actually take a person from rank beginner to beginning professional or better—an entire VFX education to get you started!
I do not know how he has managed to put out hundreds or thousands of hours of training, all consistently high-quality, on his own time and getting not a cent for it. He is also a consummate professional in the VFX field. I have it on good authority from people who have worked with him that his talent in actually creating VFX and motion graphics in film and media are outstanding. Okay, now that 90% of you already know who it is, cue the trumpets. The Peter Plante's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie for Legendary Teacher in the VFX and Motion Graphics Industries is….Andrew…what's his name?…ah, ”hey what's up”… it's Andrew Kramer!
I have, for years, wanted to recognize Andrew's massive contributions to the industry and to me personally. He taught me After Effects. Today I do so. Congratulations, kiddo. You have taught us well, and please let Sam Loya, who has sacrificed his life many times for the cause, bask in the glory of this prestigious award. For those of you who have not been to VideoCopilot.com, Sam helped Andrew start VideoCopilot and works with him and has been shot, blown up, burned, abducted by aliens, run over by a bus, and otherwise met his demise countless times so we can learn how it's done.
A little about Andrew: he is a family man with three gorgeous kids and a lovely wife. He must work 20 hours a day to get it all in. (In fact he's become an expert on time management and has video about it at his website.) He's a modern Renaissance man who excels at almost everything he tries. He has worked at a number of visual effects houses and he actually has traditional artistic skills as well. His wildly creative mind came up with main title designs for iconic TV series like Person of Interest, Fringe, Almost Human, and Revolution. In film, he created the main-title sequences for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek and Super 8. IMDb credits him with composing music for 10 films! He regularly works with J.J Abrams on effects and creative designs. He is also a genius with sound effects and teaches how to use them to great effect along with VFX at his website. Andrew is also a director, having directed a number of promos and commercials. That's just a small bit about who he is.
I believe Andrew released his first serious tutorial in 2007. It was way cool. He taught people how to recreate the amazing light streaks featured in an early iPod commercial. That's the year he teamed up with Sam Loya. He and Sam went out to Andrew's garage and spent hours dropping ink into water and dribbling paint, etc., to create their first killer product called Riot Gear — a DVD filled with highly useful and creative stock footage. The clips could be integrated into all sorts of projects and, to make sure people knew how to use the stock, Andrew created a series of fun tutorials showing how.
The tutorials that I most appreciate had to be agony for Andrew to create — the “Basic Training” series where he takes us through, step by step, from the very beginning to make sure we master the basics of After Effects before going on to the complicated stuff. Somehow, he kept it all entertaining.
Sure, they sell products at Video Copilot. They also have free, extremely useful plug-ins and tons of free project templates to get you started. I'm thinking you can get a $20,000 education at VideoCopilot.com for free. I don't think there is anybody in this industry that doesn't appreciate Andrew's contributions. Congratulations, Andrew. Perhaps one day we will meet and I will give you a hug for all you've done for me. Or maybe not. Anyway, here's a fun video about Andrew and Sam.
Phew…that was fun. And now something small. I find it's a lot of the small apps that I go back to time and time again because they are simple, do the job and help me function at a higher level with less effort.
Most Sophisticated Free CG Texture Application
Strangely in this business, there are a number of fine tools that are available free on the web. There is one that I think provides a lot of function for the price. It is completely free for both personal and commercial use. There are much more sophisticated commercial applications in this arena, and I'm looking at them, but I've already made up my mind on this one. This is the Swiss Army Knife of free texture applications. You may have guessed it, It is xNormal!!!
xNormal is probably the best free tool for creating normal, ambient occlusion and displacement maps. To get full use requires a reasonably steep learning curve, but for most uses it's pretty intuitive. It was developed by a team headed by a fellow called known only as Santi. It has been used by virtually all the studios on lots of major VFX films. It's that good. I asked Santi about it.
“I started xN as a tool for my own never-released 3D engine," he told me. "I needed an app to compute normal maps and AO so I decided to create one by myself with all the functionality required. Then I realized all was too slow and had to early-adopt several new technologies such as multicore CPU programming (via OpenMP), GPGPU (via CUDA) and hardware-accelerated ray tracing (via my own CUDA renderer, Optix and OpenRL). I decided to give xNormal 3 away for free because in the moment it was created not many free normal mappers were available, and also to explore new technologies. Along the way I have met very interesting people—for example, Morten Mikkelsen, a tangent-space calculation guru who has helped, and people from very important game, vfx and IHV companies. Exciting!”
I asked him about version 4, which is in the wings. He told me, “Expect a complete redesign of the UI, multi-platform OS support (Linux, Mac, Windows), OpenCL GPGPU, custom shaders, ptex, etc. We were going to release an alpha at the end of this year, but we had an accident with a HDD and we are also waiting for some tech to mature a bit.”
If you're interested in progress, you can follow it on his blog.
I really appreciate the included interactive 3D viewer (with advanced shaders and real-time soft shadows/glow effect), and it comes with a few Photoshop filters and importers/exporters for 3ds Max and Maya. xNormal is very fast because it uses all your cores and supports advanced distributed/parallel rendering, ray-tracing and advanced GPU techniques. It works amazingly well with the Nvidia K5000 Quadro—I've tested it! Hard to believe all this from a free chunk of excellent software suitable for professional use. Congratulatins to Santi and his team.
In the next edition of the Pixies, I look at plug-ins, a software delivery system, and surprises. I am pleased that there are many worthy candidates out there and competition is stiff. Let me know what you think about including people in the Golden Pixie Awards. I think there are a lot of people out there who are doing an especially good job, and I like to recognize them.
Keep your eyes out for the next edition. I announce on my Facebook page and on the Facebook “Work” group, which is group of more than 3,000 animation and VFX people. It's a closed group, but if you have good reason to be there, we'll get you in.
Golden Pixie is a work in progress. Anyone who wins a Golden Pixie may use that Pixie in advertising or on product packaging. Contact me for a Pixie logo package.
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up to receive the StudioDaily Fix eletter containing the latest stories, including news, videos, interviews, reviews and more.