John Kilkenny on virtual production, Avatar and Prometheus at FMX 2012
Fox’s visual effects lead explains how Avatar is influencing a new way to make films, and shows a brief glimpse of Prometheus
Today and tomorrow, 3D World is at FMX 2012 in Stuttgart. Visit 3dworldmag.com to stay in touch with the conference as it unfolds, with coverage of presentations from the industry’s key figures and a flavour of what it’s like to visit Europe’s leading CG conference.
Good morning. I’m back in the Haus der Wirtschaft in Stuttgart for the second day of FMX 2012. Today’s when the programme steps up a gear, with the start of three days’ discussion on virtual production, plus a separate Animation Production Day strand and all sorts of other goodness.
Thanks to everyone who retweeted yesterday’s blog posts, by the way. Please keep doing what you do. Not that we’re attention-seekers or anything.
The virtual production strand consists of 16 speakers over three days. First is a keynote introducing the topic from John Kilkenny, executive VP for visual effects at 20th Century Fox. He played a key role on Avatar and is on his way to Budapest for shooting on a new Die Hard movie.
He’s on the left in my photo. Autodesk’s David Morin is on the right, tapping his inner Parkinson.
Kilkenny says directors and film-makers have more possibilities today. The VFX budget can be bigger than the rest of the production budget, but it has to be managed, he says. Digital film-making can lead to everyone wanting their own changes, which can be dangerous. “Just because you can change something doesn’t mean it should.”
Pre-viz is where virtual production starts. Fox has hired John Griffith from The Third Floor to develop a virtual pre-viz pipeline, with real-time motion capture.
He shows an example of a X-Men: First Class experiment where a fight scene was mocapped and pre-visualised in two days. The pipeline should be ready for the Rise of the Planet of the Apes sequel.
“It helps save money if you know pretty much what you’re going to do on the day.”
But inexperienced directors can take the pre-viz too literally, and expect to recreate every shot literally. It doesn’t always work like that on set, Kilkenny says.
The majority of the VFX budget is still spent on post, but prep work is taking a bigger share. “Sometimes our budgets are driven by how much time we have,” he says.
He cites the Apes movie as an example. Weta was given 10 months to create the shots, so gave them a quote for how many shots it could do. Fox had to change the script to accommodate that.
Fox works with VFX producers, or vendors, all over the world, and Fox keeps looking for new partners. “The talent around the world has caught up,” he says.
With hundreds of artists working on a project, there’s no time to go from workstation to workstation. So lead supervisors are now sitting in a screening room, receiving shots and giving virtual notes.
That means vendors don’t necessarily need big teams in one location. Artists could be contracted from around the world, with a small hub of leads at the vendor.
The next step forward is the next Avatar movie. The first one, he says, was made “guerilla style” – they were working out how to make the movie as they went along. lessons learned there have been taken to other movies as Avatar artists worked on other projects.
He describes seeing James Cameron walking round an empty stage with a camera, walking around the virtual Pandora he could see on the screen to scout locations.
There are some actors who are scared of virtual production, Kilkenny says, but he sees it the opposite way. James Cameron waited until the technology was ready that would let him use actors rather than keyframing. “We prefer to call it performance capture.”
Animators are still important to enhance and adjust the performance.
We’re about to see a scene of Prometheus. Sorry, no cameras. Please, spare me your jealousy.
We just saw a clip where the ship lands on the alien planet, with epic cloud formations and landscapes. Very pretty, but no revelations to share.
The virtual production track continues with a roundtable discussion, but I’m going to check out the Animation Production Day strand downstairs.
on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at 9:09 am under Events.
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Tags: FMX 2012