Lava Studio creates visual effects primarily for commercials and is on the set at least half the time; Kirkpatrick says he always encourages production companies "to put us in."
Do animation and pipeline testing - and get the client to sign off. Nerd Corps (www.nerdcorps.ca/) is a full service 3D animation company, specializing in children's television series, which also uses a system to prevent surprises and put the most money on screen. Department heads from all CG departments (animation, modeling, visual effects, software development, design) work with the creators to hammer out the creative look. Then the production people tear down scripts and examine the necessary amount of resources (time, money, equipment and, obviously, people). A budget is formed. The client must sign off on the creative and pipeline assumptions - and agree to follow Nerd parameters - before the project moves forward.
Radium's Jonathan Keeton
"We're very focused on the front end," says Chuck Johnson, VP/head of production. "It's a difficult thing that a lot of people have tried to do effectively in this industry for a lot of years, to quantify a creative methodology. We've come up with a system that enables us to get pretty close and to limit that amount of contingency that we need to deal with those unforeseen circumstances that happen." Adds president Ace Fipke, "We found that is the most assured way to go forward in any job, particularly in the types of jobs we get."
Nerd Corps, in conjunction with the creators of Storyhat, is currently producing DragonBooster, a kids show of 39 and a half one-hour episodes that will premiere this fall on Disney Saturday morning. Executive producers are Alliance Atlantis. Creatively, it mimics the look and feel of cel animation but is done all CG, so its characters - 20-ton land dragons racing at 200mph - have speed and energy, and can be seen from different angles. Its animators use Softimage|XSI 3.5 running Windows 2000 on Dell PCs.
There have been no challenges to date. "We're very incredible nerds so nothing has gone away from our predictions," says Fipke. This project is the largest to date for Nerd Corps, which opened in fall 2003.
Show samples. "The most efficient thing is to explain to the director before you start shooting what is it you're going to do so there's no questioning halfway through when you have your camera set up," says Carlos Rondon, executive producer at Deep Blue Sea (www.deepbluesea.com/), a Miami-based post house that specializes in commercials. Rondon and creative director David Woodard supervise most visual effects shoots. "Sometimes we have to show samples of how things will look because a lot of times the clients cannot visualize."
He adds, "A Sharpie is a great tool to draw on the client's monitor being fed from the video tap to say, 'We're going to place this character we're shooting right now in greenscreen over' and you ask your VTR operator to roll back the tape and show the background plate. You've drawn it on the monitor and they understand now this guy's going to be pasted over the foreground element. Again, before the shoot you have walked everybody through it so nothing comes in as a surprise."
Deep Blue Sea just completed a PSA series of three :30 Special Olympics spots that aired in late summer. The Campeon Group was the client. Rondon supervised the shoot while directing, allowing him extra input into the creative look, which complemented the cinematography. The spots are largely B&W with one accent color each - swimming highlights the blue pool, the soccer field is green. Timelapse clouds open until the athlete appears and the pace resumes normally. Deep Blue Sea replaced all skies using Flame to rotoscope and create sky replacements, pulled from the facility's archives. Rondon designed the last shot of each spot to link the athlete with the Special Olympics logo of people holding hands in a circle. The facility's 2D designer animated the athlete in the group with a ghostly-colored appearance so they stood out.
Get involved early. "If you have a director who is partnering in the post process, it opens up so many doors to what you can do - there are so many ways you can enhance a project," says John-Mark Austin, CG director at Rhythm & Hues (www.rhythm.com/), an LA-based post house that provides onsite visual effects supervision for nearly every spot it does. "We prefer to get involved as early as site survey, to get out there and look at the location and make recommendations on shot framing that might or might not make a post effect much easier.
"Directors that have more self confidence in their roles and our roles are not intimidated by our being involved in the process. It makes everyone's job enormously easier. We're not spending our time rotoscoping something that shouldn't have been there in the first place, instead we're able to spend that time really nuancing a shot to perfection."
Rhythm & Hues created the visual effects for a CG/live action :30 X Men videogame spot that is airing this fall. The client was Secret Weapon Marketing, a Santa Monica ad agency. Storm Chasers features two guys chasing a tornado who find that it's actually a battle of X Men characters. Rhythm previsualized a rough form of the tornado and took that to set with them, where they blocked out the path of debris. On set, the bluescreen talent was keyed over the previz so they could work out eye lines and timings in this :12 continous shot with no breaks or cutaways.
"It was really critical that we pin down all of those timings in the previz and then have them onset and available for everybody on the crew to see to know how to coordinate the effects," says Austin.