I is for Innovation

In his new article in The VFX ABC blog series, Cinefex magazine’s Graham Edwards asks VFX experts for their thoughts on new technology in visual effects. He received responses from VFX supervisors worldwide, including Pixomondo Beijing’s supervisor John Dietz.

If you’re a VFX artist, you probably dream about showing movie audiences something new. A truly original visual effect. A cinematic illusion that nobody has ever seen before.

It’s a dream that crosses disciplines. You might be an artist or a technician, it doesn’t matter. Whether you’re brushing sunlight across a digital matte painting, or wrangling code to perfect the physics of the latest cloth simulation, the driving force that keeps you seeking that Holy Grail is the same.

I’m talking about the desire to innovate.

A love of innovation appears to be hard-wired into the brains of most VFX artists. If you’ve any interest in the history of the craft, you’ll know it’s littered with quotes from people saying: “We just wanted to do something new.”

But let’s not dwell on the past. Let’s look instead into the place where innovation takes us. The future. To find out what innovation means to VFX professionals today, I asked a panel of experts the following question:

What cutting-edge technique or technology is getting you excited about the future of visual effects?

John Dietz, VFX Supervisor & Head of Production, Pixomondo

“Currently editing technology feels archaic in that you are only able to ‘cut’ between multiple streams of ‘footage’. After the shoot is done, why can’t we change the camera moves? Why can’t we change the lighting? Why can’t we change the actor’s performance? With all of our VFX innovation we are still at the mercy of the live action plate.

Over the recent years we have gotten much better at pre-production and planning for principal photography to supply us better plates. BUT we have not been very good at changing the fact that once footage has been captured through a lens, we can’t change much without huge effort.

The VFX industry is in a race to create the biggest most realistic robot destruction on or off earth. But I’d prefer, in post, to simply change the actress’s little frown into a smile and swing the camera from her front around to her profile to better catch that playful twinkle in her eye.

Innovation is not about the next algorithm or simulation that makes our CG output more impressive or realistic. Big innovation is about harnessing the many advances in data capture, from across many diverse industries, to acquire more and more highly accurate information from the real world shoot and give filmmakers a way to improve their story by editing everything up until the very last minute.”


So what conclusions can we draw from all this? In short, what does the future of visual effects really hold? Here are a few predictions based on the panel’s answers. Nor are these fanciful projections – they’re all beginning to happen right now.

Collaborative working will become more and more commonplace, not just between departments and neighbouring facilities but right across the globe. 24-hour work schedules will become the norm as digital assets leapfrog their way through the timezones, bouncing from one workstation to the next in an effort to conquer time. OpenSource protocols will facilitate this. It will no longer matter where in the world you work; it will only matter how well connected you are. VFX Nation anyone?

Real-world data capture will continue to improve. Cameras will no longer record just a two-dimensional moving image, but will capture complete spatial, textural and lighting information. These data will be used – probably in real-time – to generate environments and synthetic characters and integrate them with live action. Compositing will be instant, seamless and, in the current vernacular, deep.

Simulations will become ever more complex. Despite recent speculation that the effects of Moore’s Law appear to be slowing down, computer capacity will continue to find ways to grow. Cloud-based systems will dominate, supporting the trend towards remote working and international cooperation. Artists will no longer use render farms. They will use a render world.

Visual effects technologies will influence filmmaking as never before, as image manipulation becomes increasingly embedded in the filmmaking process. As everything in the motion picture frame becomes infinitely editable, directorial choices will open up that were previously unavailable (what directors do with those choices, of course, is entirely up to them).

Now it’s time for you to bend over your own crystal ball. Which innovations do you think have changed the world of visual effects? And what do you think the future holds?

Thanks to all our experts at the following companies:

Digital Domain
Double Negative
Intelligent Creatures
Method Studios
Rising Sun Pictures
Rodeo FX

Special thanks to Sarah Harries, Ian Cope, Che Spencer, Helen Moody, Melissa Knight, Stephanie Bruning, Rob Goodway, Joni Jacobson, Tiffany Tetrault and Anouk Devault.

To read the original article in its entirety and see thoughts by other VFX experts, check out Cinefex’s blog here.