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Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

VES Fest

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“We’re growing out of our infancy,” says Jeff Okun, current vice-chair of the Visual Effects Society and main honcho of its February awards show. That infancy began with the Society’s founding in 1997. Now, eight years later, on the eve of another VES event—the VES Festival of Visual Effects—the group, according to Okun, is in its adolescence.That event, the officially dubbed VFX-VES Festival of Visual Effects, is to be held at the newly restored Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, June 24–26.If that calibration for teen-hood is closer to “gorilla years,” that may be appropriate for an art that first seeped into the public consciousness with Willis H. O’Brien’s tabletop animations of dinosaurs for Lost World and a certain simian named King Kong.Now, all that latex and armature-building, spaceship modeling and blue/green-screening later, here we are with digits, where, Okun agrees, asking if a film uses digital effects, is akin to asking if a film is using editing.The technology is pervasive, and no longer reserved for movies clearly labeled effects extravaganzas, and thus, in VES’s burly youth, there is already a sense of arrival. “We like to think of ourselves more as the ASC,” Okun notes—a professional organization for the folks charged with using one of the main tools in the filmmakers’ kit. This, despite the FX wranglers and mavens always feeling “like the busboys at the restaurant,” as he terms it: “Come on in here and save our asses, but don’t ask any questions.”Just like screenwriters! But those above-the-liners have at least been organized, on a Guild level, since the ’30s (Okun notes that some members within VES are working on the union representation issue for FXers, as well).But feeling thoroughly misunderstood is an essential component of adolescence; with hoped-for maturity comes the ability to make oneself better known. And that task has fallen to VES’s new executive director Eric Roth, who comes to his post having had that same job title at L.A. Works, one of the city’s top volunteer action centers. He’s also directed the Government Affairs Department for SCAG, the Southern California Association of Governments. It may not be a showbiz background, but it taught Roth how to oversee planning, fundraising and member outreach for nonprofit groups.And that outreach has been global. Roth, like Okun, talks not only of the pervasiveness of visual effects in terms of entertainment—“TV shows, animation, and video games” all use them, he notes—but in terms of geography, as well.In Europe for a trade show, Roth found himself “on a tour bus in Germany,” riding next to “the CEO of a visual effects house in Australia.” Together, they talked about an LA colleague the Aussie CEO had just worked with—in New Zealand. “There’s even one member in India who wants me to come there,” not by way of being outsourced, but rather, to put on a presentation/seminar for the burgeoning tech industry—and its Bollywood VFX component—for the planet’s most populous democracy.“In Vancouver,” Roth notes, folks want to launch “their own section.” He prefers the term section to chapter, but states the global reach of the technologies involved—and the dispersed locales of the people and effects houses who use them—prompts him to say “eventually, we will be creating sections” when local membership bases of vetted professionals reach critical mass.For now, though, in LA, “the talent is here, and the money is here,” so mountains will still come to Mohammed, to use more VFX-like imagery. In this case, the mountain in question is the roster for the aforementioned VFX show, which is open to the public.One of those making the pilgrimage is Paul Franklin, effects supervisor for London-based house Double Negative, who worked recently on Batman Begins. “Our presentation,” he says, “will give the audience an insight into how visual effects were used to give Gotham City its truly epic scale. We will show how we developed a flexible, responsive workflow that allowed the shots to develop in response to [director] Chris Nolan’s unique method of filmmaking. I will be breaking down shots that cover the whole gamut of VFX techniques, from miniatures to matte painting to fully digital environments and characters.”One of the founding lights of the VES, Tom Atkin—his honorary membership card bears the number 0000—sends his own good wishes for the show from Europe, where he’s headed for work of his own: “All of the VES events are based upon the wonderful talent that comes together to share their work. They always present first-class shows, and I am sure that this event will be no different. I wish VES all the best, and hope that the theater is packed!”It looks to be packed, indeed, just like the VES to-do list for its rapidly growing future.

Written by Mark London Williams

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