Grads SMASH!

The Incredible HulkEven those of us who were kinda disappointed by Ang Lee’s Hulk are looking forward to this week’s reboot of the franchise, The Incredible Hulk.

Out of Rhythm & Hues, 3D Animation & Visual Effects alumni who worked on it included Tony Etienne (Look Development Lead), Pearl Hsu (Effects Technical Director), Thom Roberts (Character Animator), and Joshua Herrig (Lighting Artist).

From Image Engine, we’ve got Shawn Walsh (Visual Effects Executive Producer) and James McPhail (Visual Effects Technical Director).

Josh Herrig shared his thoughts when we were catching up with him about Metal Gear Solid 4 a little while ago: “It was by far the best project I’ve worked on! The lighting scenarios we had were absolutely paramount for any lighter. I was able to light several hero shots and had a chance to light the Hulk poster. They were intense characters to light and render and I think lots of people will be impressed with the CG in this film!”

A Reunion, Solid Snake Style

Metal Gear Solid 4When Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots comes out June 12 for the PS3, our favourite grizzled soldier, Solid Snake, will be reunited with some old comrades. (Someone has to be there to yell “SNAAAAAKE?!” over the Codec, after all.) And as it happens, the game also gave two friends from their VFS days a chance to work together.

3D Animation & Visual Effects grads Yuta Shimizu and Joshua Herrig both worked out of Logan on the game’s cinematics. Along with Nick Smalley, Cory Bradshaw, Carlos Villarreal Kwasek, Lloyd Colaco, and Simon Young, they’re members of dutchTilt: a cooperative they formed as a way to continue their collaboration and keep in touch.

And keep in touch they do, though they’re scattered all over the world, working on all kinds of projects. So for Josh and Yuta, their brief time at Logan was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. “Yuta and I became great friends at VFS and actually sat next to each other all the way through our time in the Ant Farm,” says Josh. “I keep trying to convince Nick and Carlos to come out to LA as well, as I’d love the chance to work with those former VFSers in any capacity!”

So with Metal Gear Solid 4 about to drop, we caught up with the pair to ask about their experience – collaborating “in real life”.

What’s it like to go from sitting side-by-side in the Ant Farm to working together on a professional production? Do you make your coworkers jealous with your in-jokes and ultra-secret VFS handshakes?

Josh: Ha ha ha ha! It was actually really cool, because there was a certain comfort level from day one. I didn’t feel like a random freelancer. I made some really great friends at VFS and I truly can’t wait to work with them in production.

I have worked a few places, and to be honest, there is a work ethic that the VFS students have that I just don’t see in many other artists I’ve worked with.

Yuta: I didn’t feel any different working together with Josh in the Ant Farm or Logan. But it is very different from working with just co-workers – it’s simply really fun to work with a friend and really easy to say, “That looks really bad!”

I think the greatest thing working with such a close friend is that you are always competitive but helpful at the same time. We both want each other to be a better artist all the time and learn from each other. Or… do you wanna be better only yourself, Josh? Then I will steal your skill!

Maybe you could describe what your roles on Metal Gear Solid 4 actually were.

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Still from MoleculariumIn animation, it’s the little things that count – something 3D grad Robert Cole is witnessing first-hand. He’s the Surfaces & Lighting TD for Nanotoon‘s next version of the popular Molecularium. Molecularium originated as a “full dome musical cartoon” – meaning it was shown in planetarium-type environments – and now Nanotoon is expanding and improving upon it for a 2008 IMAX release.

The production is spearheaded by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Animators draw on the Institute’s resources and nanotech know-how to present a microscopic world in an accurate yet engaging way. (With songs like “Carbon is Incredible”, how can you lose?)

“What I find interesting about the project is the molecular simulations that have been created on the Institute’s cluster of supercomputers,” Robert says.

Robert’s experience in animated features – he was senior texture artist on the 2006 film Barnyard – is proving invaluable. “Many of the crew on production are students and graduates of RPI, so scripting and coding comes naturally to them,” he tells us. “As one of the only three people on the project with feature film experience, I have been enjoying bringing the ‘art’ into the film and sharing my knowledge.”

Lighting the Surfer

Silver SurferOh, the title possibilities for this post… we almost went with “Rise of a VFS Grad on Silver Surfer” (but you’d never forgive us for that, would you?). “Surfing to a Theatre Near You”? No?

All right — moving on, then!

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer hits theatres next week, and 3D grad Arun Ram-Mohan served as Lighting Technical Director for Weta Digital on the film. Arun told us a bit about his experience:

“I learned a lot working on Silver Surfer because of the nature of the show — lighting a shiny metal guy has its own unique set of challenges — and also because this is my first VFX film.”

Last time we caught up with Arun, he mentioned he comes from a Physics background. We wondered… was that useful at all in lighting the Surfer?

“Thinking like a physicist probably hurt me a bit in the beginning, because so often what is physically correct isn’t the same as what is appealing to our eyes as human beings. Truth really is stranger than fiction, I guess.”

Congrats, Arun — we look forward to seeing what new challenges the Animation & VFX world throws at you.

Arun Ram-Mohan Partly Responsible for Second Ice Age

Arun has a degree in physics and attended Berkeley for his PhD. Even so, something was missing from his life. In the middle of that PhD, Arun had an epiphany that competes with the best of Newton’s musings: he wanted to be a 3D animator.

He dropped everything, enrolled in the 3D Animation program, and hasn’t looked back since.

Working on such titles as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Robots, and Ice Age 2, Arun is quickly making a name for himself in the upper echelons of the animation industry. VFS met and talked with Arun at his favourite haunt, the Metropolitan Art Museum.

VFS: Sounds like you’ve been busy. What keeps you going?
ARM: I get to make stuff look awesome and potentially millions of people will see it. If anyone thinks that isn’t worth putting in endless hours of work for, then the computer animation industry is not for them.
VFS: You’ve worked on some pretty high profile projects. Can you tell us about them?
ARM: On Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire I was an environment artist, so I modeled, lit, texture mapped, and added effects and animations to the levels that the characters walk around and fight in. Because level art focuses so heavily on things like the use of color and composition, it led naturally to my lighting job at Blue Sky. After getting my foot in the door as a Technical Assistant on Robots, I became a full member of the lighting team on Ice Age 2. We’ve just finished lighting that movie this week, and I think it’s fair to say it looks pretty sweet. I’m proud to have worked on it.
VFS: What’s the difference between working on games and working on film?
ARM: I don’t think people properly appreciate this, but game work is actually a lot harder. You have hardware and software limitations that really restrict what you can do, so you have to really use some ingenuity to get things to look as good as they can. Also, you have to make those things look good from every possible point of view, because, unless your game takes place in tight corridors all the time, you don’t know what path the player will take. It’s a real challenge. I would say that movie TD work is by far easier.
VFS: So where next?
ARM: I’m not sure what’s next. When I first set foot in VFS I expected that, when I graduated, I’d probably be doing things like web design work or maybe some simple interactive CD-ROMs. That kind of stuff. Not that that’s bad, but who knew that I’d get to work on Xbox games and do lighting for feature films! So what can I do to top this? Give me a few more years and we’ll see.