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Los Angeles, California

PP-VES Fest

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The eighth VES Festival of Visual Effects put the spotlight on state-of-the-art visual effects and their role in filmmaking. The annual event, put on by the Visual Effects Society, took place on July 6–8 at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.As digital tools have become more prevalent in all aspects of film production, they impact departments well outside the direct VFX arena. For example, a panel sponsored by the Art Directors Guild made clear that the growing need for collaboration between production designers and visual-effects supervisors offers tremendous benefits for the finished film and for each department.“The arc of collaboration has been broadened,” said Jack Degovia, a veteran art director and production designer. “I think this is a great thing because it puts that kind of high-watt creative power in the hands of creative artists.”Today’s production designers can use digital tools to design and plan sets that meld seamlessly with later visual-effects work. “You have to conspire with visual effects because you have to figure out who can do this most efficiently and most cost effectively,” said Jeannine Oppewall, who spoke about designing the production for Seabiscuit.“I’m seeing a great convenience and a great tool that allows filmmakers to do things that would have been very inconvenient in the days of what they now call photochemical,” said William Creber, who was production designer on such films as the original Planet of the Apes and The Towering Inferno.Other inconveniences in that era included strict deadlines and budgets that had to be adhered to, even if it meant the occasional sacrifice. “We had shots that didn’t work, but we couldn’t go back and redo them,” Creber said of working on The Towering Inferno. “We had to figure out how to tell the story without that shot.”Eric Enderton, senior software engineer for Nvidia, addressed the potential for graphics processor units to improve rendering time and perform functions like calculating physics, greatly speeding up the time it takes to complete tasks. USC’s Paul Debevec presented a technology that brings control of viewpoint and lighting to live-action photography using a dome of lights and high-speed cameras at multiple positions to create a live-action 3D model.Computer companies Apple and Hewlett-Packard both focused on technology that increased collaboration, with HP promoting its remote graphics workstation, which would allow visual-effects artists to run 3D applications from any computer on a regular network.Habib Zargarpour, senior art director of video game maker Electronic Arts, demonstrated the kind of real-time rendering that games have developed by adjusting the lighting in real time on an exterior cityscape in the Forza Motorsport game, running in HD on the Xbox 360.Panels also delved into the specific work on recent films, looking at the rejuvenation effects Lola FX created for actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in X-Men: The Last Stand; managing the vast quantity of visual effects and use of Panavision’s new Genesis camera on Superman Returns; animation effects in Disney/Pixar’s Cars; and effects big and small used in Poseidon, Casanova and The Da Vinci Code.Creating effects for television poses its own challenges, as demonstrated by Entity FX’s panel on its work for Smallville. VFX executive producer Kymber Lim said there were more than 706 shots done for the most recent season of the show. Effects had to be turned around quickly, usually in two weeks.The festival also featured a running program of animation shorts and historical and experimental computer graphics; a 20th anniversary retrospective on the effects of Aliens; and a screening of Sony’s CG motion-capture film Monster House. Opening night was capped with a reception, sponsored by Frameflow, in the courtyard at the Egyptian Theater with food, wine and music by Chester Whitmore and his 18-piece jazz band.

Written by Tom McLean

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