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Customer Success Story :: MFX, Sweden
21 July 2011
Interview with Max Persson,
"We use V-Ray for Maya at our studio for both stills and animations. It’s simply the best tool for our needs. V-Ray lets us render still images in huge resolution in a short time and at the same time allows us to use a traditional studio like approach. This makes it easier for both us and our clients to talk and act much like on a traditional photo shoot."
MFX is a top studio in Sweden that produces high quality, creative CGI stills and animations. The photoreal quality and attention to detail sets your work apart from other studios in your industry. How did MFX begin and what steps were taken to make the studio what it is today?
We started 1987 with focus on producing CGI animations and motion graphics for television. In 1989 Industrial visualization started and was followed with the opening of a Special effects film studio 1995. In 2006 MFX improved CGI quality and started our retouch department to meet our clients as Volvo Cars and SAAB Automobiles demand for photorealistic pictures and animations to be used for media, print, interactive and film. The result is that today we offer the following services:
Film with focus on CGI
How many people make up the team at MFX?
We have a core team of about 10 people split half in 3D and post. Additionally we have a business team consisting of project managers, sales, marketing etc.
Your blog (http://www.mfx.se/blog) features some behind-the-scenes footage of the MFX work environment. It looks like a fun place to be! What else can you tell us about MFX beyond what’s published on your site?
We try as much as we can to keep the workplace a fun and relaxed environment, keeping everyone focused on curiosity and exploration. A large part of this is getting the right people and we think we have managed that quite well with a mix of ages and personalities. We would like to have more women working in the production (we currently have none), but that probably holds for the rest of the industry too.
The client list at MFX includes well known names like SAAB, Sony Ericsson, and Volvo Trucks. What is it like to work with these companies, and can you tell us about any of your latest projects with them?
Generally it’s of course very inspiring to work with such big names and seeing your work appreciated world wide! What we all find very interesting is the mix of people involved in most projects as they are often done in collaboration with the client, their agency, and us as image producers. Our latest major projects for Saab has involved creating images of non-existing products, which is the way things seems to be heading. This leads to many unusual work processes for us, and perhaps even more so for the client!
We enjoy seeing the creative spin you add to typical product shots, with interesting camera angles and CGI environments. Where do you find your inspiration? How much of the ideas behind these images are the talent of MFX versus ideas from the client?
All of us have some sort of creative-artistic interest besides the work at MFX and this, of course, results in a lot of input for working at the office. Having so many individual creative passions is probably what makes a creative team perform best. Many of the ideas and concepts do come from the agency and sometimes the client, but we tend to be more and more involved in the early creative process as well. We all think this is an exciting development!
Which project by MFX would you note as the biggest and most successful so far? What project put you “on the map,” and why?
It all started with both Volvo Cars and Saab Automobile trying our CGI production, around the same time, about 5 years ago. We did some major trial projects for both Saab and Volvo and has since pushed it forward as the technology we use and our experience evolves. We have always been very progressive, trying to push new production techniques into final work.
What feeling do you get when you see images you’ve designed posted on billboards and in airports and subways?
Of course feel very proud seeing our work on large prints in public places. Knowing that it’s CGI and that no ‘actual’ product was near the production of the images is something most people doesn’t see, most people accept them as actual photos of actual, physical products!
THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
Let’s talk more about SAAB. What was MFX’s role in the SAAB project and what was the final outcome (i.e., how many stills, how many animations, where and how are the images being used, etc.)?
We were the sole image producer and the project was about creating still images for a pre-launch brochure for the new Saab 9-5. The content for the brochure was all CGI as there were no photographed cars available that early in the process of its development. We did about 20 images altogether in that project and many of them were later used for the final Saab 9-5 brochure and on saab.com.
What tools (sketches, models, etc.) were you given to start the project, and how would you describe the final outcome?
We always start with a briefing together with the agency, where we are often given a sketch of the brochure, and then closely after we set the camera angles together with the art director. Before the project we had already put together and verified the look of the full CGI model which we used throughout the project.
How many people from your team were involved in the project, and what time frame were you given to complete production?
From MFX we were two CGI artists and one retouch artist during the project. We worked closely with the agency Valentin & Byhr and their creative directors as well as Mervyn Frankly who was photographer for the exterior shots. He was responsible for the composition and the shooting of backplates and models using our motion blur rig seen in the pictures. We were on the set during the entire shooting to ensure maximum compatibility with CGI production and to produce the HDRI images using our Spheron camera.
In what ways did your use of V-Ray contributed to the success of the SAAB project?
We always rely heavily on the indirect lighting calculations and this was no exception. Using HDRI environments and textures we built the entire environment in which the cars were placed. This ensures that reflections hit the right places and that we have CGIcamera properly matched to the camera of the backplate.
What benefits did you take away from the SAAB project, aside from amazing imagery for your portfolio!
Learning new things through jobs is something we feel is very important, also as a competitive edge. Being a small company it sure helps to learn through actual production versus strict R&D. Apart from that, it is always interesting to producing images which otherwise would been impossible for Saab to have as the car didn’t existed yet.
We want to explore your history with our products. What and when was the first project that MFX completed using V-Ray? What made you choose to use V-Ray again? And what has changed about your use of the software overtime?
We started using V-Ray quite early with the first Maya beta. Some of us tried it out and soon we have found out that it was both stable enough and had the right features to be used in our production. We started with more isolated projects but towards the 1.0 release we were basically using it on full scale. I believe the first project we used V-Ray for was a single image produced for Saab Automobile, but it’s hard to remember the specifics. Since then the biggest change in how we use V-Ray is the amount of glossiness we use on our materials but this is mostly because of the explosion-like increase in render power.
What was the approach when creating photo-realistic materials?
When creating a new material we try to mimic the physical properties as much as possible. This is mainly done by comparing it to, and matching with, a previous material we have in our library. Because there are no fixed points in color and light intensity when creating CGI, it is sometimes unclear where is best to start. This situation makes it very important to have a common ground for the decisions made by all artists.
Did you take advantage of the V-Ray real time rendering solutions and what is your opinion on the RT?
That is something we are currently experimenting with and there have been many projects during the 2.0 beta to properly try it out with. We mostly use heavy geometry, usually 1-2 GB, which at first made us unsure whether it would work at all but it came out just fine! What we miss now is incremental geometry updates as we plan to use it mainly for interactive studio lighting; moving light diffusors around while seeing the evolving results live!
Did you take advantage of the IBL solutions of V-Ray like the Dome Light?
Previously we have mostly used the environment overrides for general lighting or built a virtual world with HDRI textures. But now when we do more animation we use the Dome Light more and more as it gives us smoother non flickering shadows and a grain structure that works better for animation, this is especially so with time dependent DMC sampling.
Have you used the V-Ray render elements, and if yes, did you think this was important for achieving the final image?
Yes! Using render elements is a real time saver for us. Previously, before the multimatte, we have used an in-house mask production system. Now, however, it’s just a matter of having a standard for the Material IDs spanning all scenes and projects.
Have you used the Motion Blur and Depth of Field effects of V-Ray and what is your opinion on the speed in which they were rendered?
We have actually used them mostly for stills! For animation we can see the usefulness in demanding situations but mostly we use the velocity and Z elements for that.
Did you take advantage of the V-Ray stereoscopic abilities?
We have made a some internal tests of the stereoscopic abilities, primarily for stills with complex geometry and content, but that was before there was proper support for it in V-Ray. We will probably try it again any time soon as it’s an exciting technology.
How do you estimate V-Ray in terms of rendering speed?
Being able to produce images with complex natural phenomena in reasonable time is essential for our work and thus is V-Ray’s speed, too, essential for us.
What V-Ray features make it your preferred render engine and why?
The primary feature setting V-Ray apart from it’s competition, for us the indirect lighting calculations. We depend on studio-like workflows with real-world units and setups, and V-Ray handles that with grace. We are doing more and more animation and the ability to bake indirect light for this is a big time saver
Do you plan to use V-Ray in the workflow of future products?
We have V-Ray very tightly integrated in our pipeline with a lot of custom code for it so our plans is to even further integrate it and make use of more features for specific needs. For example, we are currently using the V-Ray fur rendering to creating awesome grass for a campaign still! As such it will probably enhance this naturally evolving workflow.