Thursday, September 24, 2015

VFX Supe

As part of the tub-thumping for Hotel Transylvania 2 (in a theater near YOU this weekend), Effects Supervisor Karl Herbst tells us what a supervisor of a modern-day animated feature actually does:

... A Video Effects supervisor for an animated movie is responsible for the total look of the Picture. I work with a Production team to see what kind of artwork we are generating, how many characters we’re trying to create, what kind of environment we are trying to create, and then behind me I build a team of technical people and artistic people that can execute that work.

I teamed up with a Animation Supervisor Alan Hawkins. Alan becomes responsible for the performances of these characters working with the animators. We then do cloth simulation, hair simulation, and any sort of effects we need like dust smoke, things breaking apart, and lighting. This all falls under my supervision all the way until the final Picture that goes out into theaters. ...

For us on our side it’s starting to figure out how many assets we need to create, how many characters, environments, props, and then figuring how to build those in a way that is efficient and useful for the shots we have in the movie. This film actually went very quickly because we started with a lot of things we knew from the first film. ...

Karl Herbst's responsibilities aren't really that different from Disney effects supervisor Josh Meador, who was catapulted to the top rung of Walt Disney Productions' effects department in 1939, while still in his twenties. As veteran animator Eric Larsen noted:

You know this guy Josh Meador was a nut. He was absolutely dedicated. And the kinds of people with his talent, you don't very often find. He was so dedicated and observing and analytical, and his sense of timing for [effects animation] was terrific. He shot stuff in slow motion so people could study just exactly how water or milk or any substance of varied density would break up if something was tossed into it. So that the rest of the crew would know exactly how it would break up. All you have to do is look at that underwater stuff (on Pinocchio), and you realize that he really passed that information on to a lot of people. By the time we got to Fantasia, we had sixty four people in the effects department alone. We had about twelve hundred people in animation.

There's a direct line from Meador to Herbst. Josh M. might have created animated effects with pencil and air brush (while today they're done with pixels), but the process is the same: analyze the needs of the picture, then create the elements needed to support story, characters, and settings therein.

Simple? Not really. But very similar, whether the effects happen in 1940 or 2015.


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