The Academy Salutes Mattes and Environmental VFX

The Academy continued its informative “VFX Convergence” series last Tuesday at the Dunn Theater with “From Matte Paintings to Full Environments and Set Extensions,” which took us full circle from Méliès to Hugo and beyond.

The evening was co-moderated by Theresa Ellis Rygiel, who regaled us with Pixomondo’s gorgeous cloud work on Oblivion along with Red Tails and Fast Five, and Craig Barron, who walked us through a brief history of matte painting from Méliès  to Chaplin to Peter Ellenshaw to Al Whitlock, among others. What’s old is new again in the digital age.

Rob Legato, who’s currently working on Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, walked us through the Oscar-winning Hugo and its bravura opening train station sequence, followed by the Good Fella’s-inspired glide down the slide and into the bowels of the station. It was an intricate display of practical and digital at its best.

Oscar-winner Rob Stromberg (Avatar), who’s worked his way from matte artist to VFX supervisor and designer to production designer to director (Maleficent), showed off his stunning work in Oz the Great and Powerful. The great lesson he learned from Alice in Wonderland, which was predominantly digital out of necessity, was to find a closer split between practical and digital. On Oz, it was 60-40, allowing the actors and other artists to get more grounded in a reality that better supported performance and craftsmanship.

Rocco Gioffre, co-founder of Dream Quest Images, who was hired as a teenager by Doug Trumbull on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and later worked on the cult favorite, Blade Runner, showed off his contributions to the Oscar-winning work on Life of Pi. The breathtaking combination of water, sky, and clouds became the third character in this surreal adventure between a boy and his tiger.

Gioffre also demonstrated the terrific collaboration with VFX supervisor Ted Rae on Mel Gibson’s underrated Apocalypto. Matte work and set extensions were indispensable in creating the eerie Mayan backdrop.

Finally, Guy Williams of Weta Digital, demonstrated the ongoing evolution of virtual production and how more front end work can lead to back end flexibility. The Hobbit and Iron Man 3 were the most recent instances of how the use of greater digital assets led to more artistic control and seamless results.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Clips, Events, Music, Oscar, performance capture, previs, Production Design, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production

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