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Juan Carlos Ramos
University of Applied Science
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Customer Success Story :: Atomic Fiction, USA
31 January 2013
Interview with Kevin Baillie, Cofounder and VFX Supervisor
The Chaos Group Team recently met with Atomic Fiction co-founder and VFX Supervisor, Kevin Baillie, to ask about the studio's most recent feature film projects and their experience rendering in the cloud.
CG: Can you give us a little background on Atomic Fiction and the type of VFX work you do?
KB: Atomic Fiction is a 45-person visual effects company based in Emeryville, California, and we create a broad range of visual effects. Initially, we put a lot of our R&D focus on creating characters and a digital humans pipeline, but we’ve also had the opportunity to work on matte paintings, digital environments, and effects for some amazing movies.
|THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
CG: Can you tell us a bit about the digital environments and vehicles you created on Looper?
KB: Recently, we worked on Rian Johnson’s sci-fi film Looper to create about 85 digital environment, vehicle, and effects shots. We were fortunate to be on the project from the early concept stages, helping set the mood for the shots, all the way through the finished matte paintings. So, pretty much any time you see a futuristic cityscape in Looper, our matte team worked on it.
Colie Wertz, one of our modelers, built these insanely complex, really tricked out buildings that we lit and textured and rendered with V-Ray. Then, our matte painters added details on top and reprojected for the final effect.
We also created some flying vehicles, and we got very good at creating anamorphic lens flares. Ryan Tudhope, Atomic Fiction’s other cofounder and VFX Supervisor, studied lots of old movies that used these cameras and lenses. Blade Runner was a huge inspiration, and that influenced the sort of grit and reality we added to the images. Even the things we found challenging on Looper contributed to what turned out to be a very unique and visually successful movie.
CG: Congratulations on the VES award nomination for Flight. What were some of the challenges working on the film?
KB: We just completed work on Robert Zemeckis’ film Flight. Flight started out as a 130-shot project, and we were the only studio booked on the film. I was out on set for about 3 months in Atlanta shooting Flight, and throughout the process it became apparent this might be a bit bigger than we initially thought. By the second set of turnovers, we realized the movie was going to be closer to 400 shots, and that’s where it ended up. Not only is that a big creative challenge, to ensure we have a large enough team to handle every aspect of the show, but infrastructure-wise it would have been panic-inducing if we were set up as a traditional visual effects studio. It would have been physically impossible and monetarily unfeasible to triple our render farm and triple the amount of workstations. But because we are rendering everything in the cloud, we were able to expand our cloud infrastructure at the snap of a finger and render 400 shots instead of 130.
The vast majority of the beginning of this film takes place at an airport, and it’s practically impossible to shoot video at airports. So, we ended up on a small private field outside of Atlanta that looked nothing like a big airport. The final shots were 90% digital because so much needed to be replaced by matte paintings. We used a combination of 3ds Max and V-Ray, and our matte painters created projections of busy airport backgrounds. The same goes for the scene inside the cockpit where Denzel’s character, Whip, is taking off in a rainstorm. We generated the entire view out the window digitally.
During the pivotal moment of the crash, right as the airplane hits the ground, there’s a slow motion shot inside the cockpit where Denzel hits his head on the yoke. We put Denzel in a real seat in front of the green screen, but we generated the entire environment around him in 3D. We photographed the cockpit extensively for reference, and one of our artists, Brian Freisinger, modeled the cockpit interior, textured it, and look-deved it, so it had all kinds of imperfections and that nice matte paint finish. It’s a perfect example of one of our really talented artists working on a shot from beginning to end. Then, our compositor Mike Terpstra took all of the lighting passes from the multi-channel EXR V-Ray renders to create very realistic, interactive effects in comp.
CG: How was the experience rendering on the cloud with V-Ray and ZYNC?
KB: We’ve tried a bunch of different rendering packages, from the standard ones to the more esoteric renderers, and throughout our R&D over the years, the package that V-Ray offers is the one that makes most sense to us. V-Ray offers the tools our artists need to do their job quickly without us having to spend time developing them in-house.
The people at Chaos Group were also one of the first to partner up with ZYNC and make the cloud rendering dream a reality. I think we’ve rendered over a quarter million render hours using ZYNC and V-Ray for Flight alone. It’s been an amazing experience watching these two forward thinking companies work together to enable us to create cool art. And without their collaboration, the cloud dream wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did.