Moving on from the presentation by Kevin Jenkins we turned our attention to Ben Morris who gave us the low-down on his role as a VFX Supervisor. As we watched the end sequence of War Horse, which is the part where we discover the fate of our hero’s horse, we all became a little misty eyed, but were quickly reassured by Ben that no horses were harmed during the making of this film. Needless to say, we were all very impressed with the great VFX work done by the guys at Framestore and how realistic the horse looked. Surely Mr Spielberg wouldn't have it any other way.
Ben went on to explain that as a VFX Supervisor his job is to inform the Director of possible adjustments to the position of the camera, and by moving it only a few inches it could save millions in the post-production budget. He also informed us that they were prepared to do a lot of CG crowd duplications and horse duplications initially, only to find out later that Steven Spielberg expects the film to have as little CG as possible. If they needed a tank, they would make a tank on set and not create a CG one. The same applied to horses and crowds. But please don't think that meant the guys from Framestore could relax, on the contrary, please spare a thought for the hard-working Compositors who needed to do a lot of clean-up work like removing the horse riders/trainers in a grey suit from the horses. Framestore did 220 VFX shots from War Horse and created 4 digital horse shots.
Ben continued by explaining that they used post-it notes to track the horses with photogrammetry software. No motion capture was used and their team had to use three different horses to capture the data, morphing the data into the hero horse. It took 2-3 months to get the shots ready and test shots for the hero horse.
Maya Cloth was also used for cloth simulations and Pixar’s PRMan for lighting and rendering. Ben also told us how much fun he had shooting an entire sequence, thanks to the detailed pre-visualisation work done by The Third Floor, which was then approved by Mr Spielberg himself. It's just another day in the life of a VFX supervisor.
As luck would have it, Ben informed us that he has time to show us the breakdown for creating Dobby from the Harry Potter films. We all really appreciated the time Ben spent with us that day, as he is obviously very busy, and in the short time we spent with him he was a man in demand. His presentation was informative and professional as well as a lot of fun, and we all came away in fits of giggles. I imagine most of our students are now looking forward to working with someone as talented, fun and humble as Ben Morris.
To wrap this all up, there was a Q&A session and it was no surprise that most students asked Ben for his advice to budding VFX artists and their showreels.
Here are Ben's tips:
- Do NOT attempt to recreate Dobby in your showreel (Ben was very serious about this).
- Most importantly, keep it simple. Showreels should consist of simple things done really well.
- Do what you can with the given time but make sure it is seamless.
- For all junior Animators, getting into the Animation field, keep it simple and do not attempt to model, texture, light and render your Animation. There are junior artists hired with stick figure geometry with very well executed animations conveying the intent of a character.
- It's about conveying your creative intent of a composite, an animation, lighting a scene or whatever else you show by doing it clearly, simply and completely.
Kevin Jenkins also suggests for students to make sure their showreels consist of real life objects and environments because 80% of the time you will be creating photo-real imageries. Even though he is working on a Space environment film right now, Kevin says you will not be doing any large scale sci-fi imageries most of the time so make sure whether you're doing a showreel for matte painting or VFX, make sure it's photorealistic and related to the real world.
After the presentation, we all soldered onto the pub down the street for an icy cold beer. What a way to finish off the week!
Finally, I would like to take this moment to say a big thank you to Framestore, Kevin and Ben for an amazing presentation and an inspiring afternoon.