A giant tidal wave levelling the city of New York. Ice creeping up the Empire State Building. A house crumbling off the side of a cliff in a hurricane. It wasn’t long ago that visual effects were only peppered through a movie, added here and there to give extra punch to a scene, but now with movies likes Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, they are more than supplements to a movie, they have become the movie.
There is no denying the appetite audiences have for bigger, better, and more visual effects, nor Winston Fan‘s appreciation for the role of effects in cinema. Once an engineer in Taipei, Taiwan, Winston left his job to come to the 3D Animation Program.
“I really love movies with cool special effects,” says Fan. “You see a lot of effects out there but they’re so subtle you don’t even really see them. To me, these are best ones, so good you hardly notice.”
Effects for Animation
After graduating in the summer of 2004, Fan was hired by Mainframe Entertainment, a leading animation company, as a Junior Effects Artist. For Fan, who has worked on the feature Hot Wheels which recently aired on the Cartoon Network, this involves working on lightning, energy blasts, explosions, dust and smoke.
Effects for animation are constructed during post-production using software such as Maya, SoftImage: XSI, and AfterEffects. Fan helps construct the effects, and then composites them into shots to make them look more believable. Compositing is the process of integrating layers, such as a fire or smoke effect, with a pre-existing environment.
The final stage of Fan’s effects work is rendering – the process of translating three-dimensional scenes into two-dimensional images. For an animated feature like Shrek or The Incredibles, it can take hundreds of computers working continuously for months to render all the frames.
From School to Studio
Having jumped right into production on his first day at Mainframe, Fan describes the work environment as fast paced, and deadline-focused. Fan recalls with a certain nostalgia the 15-17 hour days he routinely put in as a VFS student. The experience was intense, but terrific preparation for the demands of the professional world.
“We have to make effects look good but also be able to do this in a very short time,” says Fan. “At Mainframe, it’s all about working smartly, overworking hardly. I love it! I’m always working on something different and how often do you get to say that you make cartoons for a living?”