VES Production Summit, October 24, 2009
Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Ray, California, USA
I had the pleasure of attending the VES Production Summit last Saturday. I have to admit that I felt a little out of my league - no wonder as the room was filled with the top VFX artists, VFX companies, studio executives, and VFX producers from around the world. As each panelist was introduced, it was like, this Emmy winner, that Oscar winner…heavy duty.
The first panel was a discussion about pre-production. The main point hammered home was planning, planning, and more planning - and once you had a plan, try stick to it. An example of this was cited for the production of Good Night and Good Luck. The set was built virtually first, refined with input of the director, and then constructed to the nail from the virtual set.
Victoria Alonso, EVP VFX and post at Marvel Studios wanted to see more sharing of pre-vis materials across all the departments - build it once and share.
The next panel focused on production. Because of the high costs involved during production days, the tendency seems to push problems off to post to keep production on schedule. "Fix it in Post" - was a common mantra. However, that approach is often more expensive because of the time and money required to "fix" things in post, which directly relates back to proper planning in pre-production. The question was raised, who makes that decision, and do they fully understand the ramifications.
One of the main topics in post panel was the look of a movie. Steve Poster, ASC, encouraged doing timing tests during pre-production to set the look of the show before production starts. He also likes to have VFX plates color timed before they go to effects houses to help the final shots drop more seamlessly into the rest of the film.
Alan Silvers, VP of Business Development Lowry Digital, emphasized the importance of a professional viewing environment on set and in post. He also raised an important point about the necessity to view the post compression look of images to insure fidelity throughout the pipeline.
Jeffrey A. Okun, Chair of the Visual Effects Society, wrapped up the morning's session urging the attendees to foster a sense of community since we're all in this together.
The featured speaker was Dr. Eric Haseltine, President and Managing Partner, Haseltine Partners LLC, and former EVP of Walt Disney Imagineering and former Director of Research at the NSA. He was the best speaker I've seen - funny, engaging, smart, and he challenged the audience to step out of their comfort zones. He did that by showing the audience some blind spots in our perception of the world.For example, he demonstrated the McGurk effect by having the audience first listening to someone speak "baaa" with our eyes closed, then he played the accompanying video which made it seem like the speaker said "maa" based on the facial movements of the speaker.
The first afternoon session was devoted to the Post-Production pipeline. Ben Grossman, VFX supervisor Café FX, pointed out some of the challenges in color management in post. He stated that different versions of a camera's software build can change the look of the imagery. Steve Scott, VP, CD/Colorist E-Film, still prefers film for its ability to render natural skin tones, but conceded that digital cameras are fast approaching this standard.
The most contentious panel was the final one, Global VFX. This is a big concern for many in the crowd as global completion in the VFX industry is viewed as perhaps the industries greatest challenge. Lee Berger, Rhythm and Hues, said that they founded a subsidiary in India in 2000. He said that 90 percent of their cost is labor and wanting to stay competitive, they had to find a way to cut costs. Chris de Faria, EVP Digital Production, Animation and Visual Effects Warner Bros. Pictures, became the defacto studio representative and was challenged by his fellow panelists, the moderator, and the crowd. He responded by asking for flexibility in dealing with VFX vendors. He said the studio is responsible for the sizeable investment to fund movies and he suggested that VFX houses could work with him to find innovative business deals to share the financial risk inherent in movie making.
I just wanted to add a big thanks to Rita Cahill of the VES Committee for hospitality and assistance.