In case you missed it, I posted 30 tips for the 30 days of April on provideocoalition.com. Here’s what I posted:

8 January 2011 | Uncategorized | Comments Off

I’m just completing work on two feature films (and boy is every part of me tired). The two offer a contrast.

On the one hand, there’s the work as VFX Supervisor on All About Evil, the little film with the huge heart (and a bloody one at that). Shooting occurred back in February and March (with me on set for much of it), but our festival deadline and picture lock have only just now shown up.

All About Evil is, I predict, destined to be something of a phenomenon. San Francisco has deserved a writer/director who represents its twisted and slightly goofy soul but instead it tends to get soft pictoral types who fall in love with all of the beautiful angles. Enter Joshua Grannell, aka Peaches Christ, with a script that was good enough to attract a top L.A. shooter who in turn opened the door to putting the fabulously talented Natasha Lyonne in the starring role, with support from the likes of Thomas Dekker (from Sarah Conner Chronicles and Heroes) and even Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson (better known to those of a certain age as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark).

Working on VFX on All About Evil meant everything I’d been craving – getting out from behind my desk and onto sets and locations (from my local branch of the SF Public Library, where one murder is committed, to Kink.com, home to two more killings – or was it three – four?). Not only that, but this is old-school black comedic horror that doesn’t rely on CG for everything – we had splendid prosthetic makeup from Aurore Bergere, blood splattering everywhere thanks to Terry Sandin, and a commitment to get what was wanted on camera.

Nonetheless, the work I did with my fabulous little crew (including ex Orphanage superstar Kyle McCulloch and up-and-comer Matt Law who was working on his first IMDB credit) is integral to the story, feel, look and tone of the movie. Two of our biggest sequences book-end the life of the lead, showing how she became so twisted (and why she has a white streak in her hair) and what becomes of her at the film’s climax.

We took a DV Rebel approach –filming a skillet of water on a hot plate for both the look of the boil and the steam, purchasing elements from Detonation Films – and it worked very well. I learned a bunch about what you can do combining good practical elements and a bit of compositing.

Contrast that with my work on The Most Expensive Piece of Entertainment Ever Committed to Screen or Any Other Medium Devised by Man. Watch the big fish that you saw swimming happily around his little pond above become a minnow in the Mediterranean. Word has it that every studio on the west coast of the US is working on Avatar, and that doesn’t even include the lead house, WETA. With the crew of One Thirty (the ex-Orphanage veterans responsible for the heads-up displays in Iron Man) we were creating – well, can I even say what? Suffice it to say that we were responsible for designs, not final shots, and with this particular director that can be a Sisyphean task to the max, dude.

And yet it was really great to work with the cream of The (late great) Orphanage, a teeny crew of half a dozen or so holed up in a local post facility. Why? Basically, it had been so long since I’d been at The Orphanage I forgot how much one can learn by osmosis. Even when the work seemed a little thankless, the level of knowledge, questions and general banter around the studio put everything up a notch. It was an opportunity to see After Effects and Nuke used mano-a-mano, and I can say that it left me intrigued to do more work in and around Nuke.

I have tended to move away from work on features simply because I was able to make more money on other types of projects, and supporting a family in San Francisco necessitates thinking about that. But now my appetite has once again been whetted that working on a feature can put one above the line (if it’s small enough) and among the best of the best (if it’s big enough). Those are good places to be.

13 June 2009 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

NAB

I’ll be at NAB; please find me and say hello if you’ll be there too. You can find me at the fxphd party Monday evening if you’re a member there, I’ll be doing a book signing in the NAB Bookstore (North Hall) Tuesday at noon (you don’t have to buy a book to come say hello – I encourage you to do so!). That night I’ll be having a beer on Adobe, and the following day I’m sure to find myself at the RED event at Rio.

I’ll be twittering and posting at least an update or two to provideocoalition.com, where my tip of the day series for April also is ongoing. I’ll also tweet where relevant.

19 April 2009 | news | 1 Comment

The April 2009 term is underway at fxphd.com and I’m excited to once again be contributing a full class to it: afx206 will take concepts from After Effects Studio Techniques and put them in motion. It’s an opportunity for me to go beyond the examples and figures in the book. With just a half-hour a week over a ten week term, it’s no replacement for the book, but for some it will augment what the book has to offer.

And if you join fxphd you get more than just the one class. Tim Clapham is offering a new After Effects motion graphics course that will undoubtedly be fantastic. There are a number of courses that will reveal the process of creating visual effects for the popular Red Dwarf premiere that aired in the UK last week – this is a glimpse into real production and an opportunity to get your hands on real elements.

There’s even a course on Python scripting for compositors, and there’s the always excellent Background Fundamentals course hosted by Mike Seymour included with the price of admission.

Check out the orientation video for more of what’s there.

14 April 2009 | after effects, news, training | 3 Comments

It’s no secret – in fact it’s been on my IMDB page for the last few weeks while we’ve been shooting – that I’m serving as VFX Supervisor on a feature film produced in San Francisco. It is a cult horror film in the classic style: definitely a bit camp (the director – who is plenty notorious enough also to have a Wikipedia entry – appears in the film as the drag character Peaches Christ), even – depending on how twisted your sense of humor is – funny. More John Waters than Saw.

It’s not a big budget VFX film by any stretch of the imagination; we did just wrap our final, and most major VFX plate, the one greenscreen shot in the film, a complicated swap of vertical for horizontal motion via two dollys moving away from one another while the camera shot at high speed (for this one shot, we used the RED camera to get 120 fps). I would describe this and other shots in greater detail but that would, you know, violate the NDA.

I’m thrilled to be associated with this movie; now that we’re nearly wrapped on shooting I can say that there has been crazy good fortune in the production phase of this project and we have some stunning footage to bring into post. You may not have a chance to see it – other than at festivals – for quite a while, but if you like over the top with a bit of gore underneath, watch for it.

6 April 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments

You’ve probably never heard this show, or heard of this show, unless you live in the real Surf City, USA, but I will be appearing on Geek Speak, a weekly Saturday morning podcast on KUSP 88.9, Central Coast Public Radio, which does stream.

I’m really looking forward to this, for a couple of reasons. First, I hardly ever get to talk about VFX and filmmaking for a lay audience. Also, it’s opening day at the west coast’s only remaining seaside amusement park, where I first fell in love after lying about my age. Maybe I’ll figure a way to take the kids down there too.

You had to be 6, I was 5, the dude asked me my birth year and I got it right. Lesson to the geeks (and the nerds, and even a few of you dorks): math is your friend.

1 April 2009 | Uncategorized | No Comments

RED
This week at SFMograph, I (along with Matt Silverman and one or two others) will be spending time going over the RED post-production workflow. RED is truly a post-production camera, more like a film camera in many ways than the standard video camera; once you get the workflow together, working with the footage is a joy. This isn’t simply a 101 intro; the intention is to hit on the nitty-gritty, and we plan to have at least one RED camera technician along for Q & A as well. If you’re interested and local to San Francisco, join us.

21 February 2009 | news, training | 2 Comments

First of all, hello to everyone who arrived here after hearing about this site on the VFX Show podcast (already released at this writing), That Post Show (upcoming), or via the newest edition of my book. Briefly, this update comes to you from my home base of San Francisco, where I’ll be making a live appearance later this month at SF Mograph to talk about, of all things, working with RED footage (something I like to do).

Last year I shifted my blogging focus somewhat (and, like HD for Indies, coinciding with a dip in written output in 2008) to Pro Video Coalition, and I will continue to contribute articles there, but I’ve realized that this blog may have a mission separate from what I would contribute to that site. We’ll see where this goes, but I’d like a forum that is a little more personal. It may simply be a glimpse of what I’m up to, or I may choose to go off on one thing or another.

After a 2008 that was professionally my most successful ever, 2009 looks as though it could be the most challenging. Last week my pals at Kontent Films and I hosted a big party at our old-school swanky Union Square space – fire in the fireplace, margaritas flowing, Freejack projected on the wall, others and I holding court with Rock Band 2 in the back – where we learned from our friends at Radium that their San Francisco office had just shut down, the very day after they had hosted a party that we attended.

And then earlier this week I had the opportunity to enjoy a lunch with David Munro, a talented director from Kontent, and Dav Rauch, creator of those amazing Iron Man UI’s for The Orphanage. It was like a spring day in LA out at the Ferry Building – sunny and a little hazy. No one knew that the following day would bring an announcement that The O would be shutting its doors.

It’s been a couple of days since Stu made that announcement, and I have to say I’m still taken aback. It’s been some time since I’ve been in at The O – and I must say now I regret a little not getting back there while I had the chance. Nowhere that I’ve worked made me feel as much like I was rewiring the neurons in my frontal cortex. Even as a mere compositor I had the experience of pushing hard on everything – the software, the hardware, the network, all of it was taken to the breaking point and beyond. In fact it often broke during the toughest jobs, and since that’s when I always seemed to be in there, some people started to associate me with the problems! “Hey, it’s only when you’re around here that the power goes out/network goes down/people are sent home to return at 10 at night!” Cue me, backing toward the doors of the Presidio Film Centre…

It’s no coincidence that I was able to write a book about creating VFX in After Effects after a few tours of duty on Orphanage features. Before I worked there, I knew After Effects inside out, but only after being there, and only with Stu’s full support, did I have the confidence to say what best practices are for VFX compositing fundamentals. But The Orphanage (and Stu) gave me a huge advantage, because after having done this type of work there, I knew inside and out why certain approaches worked better than others, giving me the confidence to be outspoken and opinionated about it in print.

Anyhow, I will report on developments relating to the closure as they come up; I’m particularly interested in what some of my talented friends do next, and I hope you’ll feel free to be in touch, either via the comments or flowseeker (at) gmail.com (or if it’s book related, aestudiotechniques (at) gmail.com works too).

May the talented and hard-working thrive in all seasons!

7 February 2009 | news | No Comments

I’ll be in the Peachpit booth at MacWorld Thursday morning at 11 a.m., giving a little presentation about creating vfx in After Effects which they have promised will be more intimate and informal than the standard podium/audience type of setup. If you come by, say hello! I’ll be followed at noon by Norman Hollyn, author of the brand new book, numberswiki.com

href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0321585453?ie=UTF8&tag=christiansenc-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0321585453″>The Lean Forward Moment: Create Compelling Stories for Film, TV, and the Web.

I’m looking forward to seeing new things at this show despite dampened expecations; this morning came the news that Autodesk plans to bring Mudbox and Toxik to the Mac, and we can expect more surprises as the week progresses.

5 January 2009 | after effects, news | 2 Comments

After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques

Cool it now, people, but soon After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques will be on its way from the printer to warehouses and then out to the world. The title is certainly a mouthful: it went double-wide to make it easy for the casual searcher to find it when looking for an intermediate/advanced, practical book about compositing a realistic or fantastic shot. Admittedly designers have also benefited from this book; why, even Ron Brinkmann now includes “motion graphics” in his subtitle.

The main question among readers of this blog is likely, “What’s new?” Or more specifically, “I own version X of the book; do I really need to upgrade?” Version CS4, the fourth edition, brings:

• a brand new Expressions chapter written by the master of expressions himself, Dan Ebberts. This includes many new examples presented in an order which will make sense even to the expressions-phobic, but will also cater to veterans. Dan worked hard to pack a lot into a single chapter.
• a JavaScript for After Effects PDF guide (also from Dan) which fills in many gaps where Adobe’s own documentation advises you to use a third-party text (all of which are more focused on JavaScript for the web). Finally, a third-party JavaScript more info

guide tailored to After Effects.
• a Scripting PDF appendix (chapter really) by Jeff Almasol, master of all things scripting and member of the After Effects development team. Scripting is the gnarliest, most technical area of After Effects and yet Jeff is able to describe it in a clear and friendly manner, with examples which gradually increase from basic to more complex.
• exclusive scripts designed to do previously tricky setups described in the book, including light wrap and camera mapping, also courtesy Jeff Almasol.
• a radically revamped Section I, more clear and concise than in previous editions. This is an intermediate/advanced book, but I felt I was unnecessarily losing more novice readers with language and an approach that was not as approachable as it could be.
• new examples and refinements throughout, including clearer and more concise methodology for the fundamentals: keying, roto/paint, color, and most of all, tracking (now that MochaAE is included with After Effects)
• new outside contributions including a light saber scene and related info from Ryan vs. Dorkman, courtesy Michael Scott, a.k.a. Dorkman
• more HD examples on the disc

So while I agree with the assessment of many folks that version CS4 does not include many huge, game-changing features that render the information in a CS3 book obsolete, I took the opportunity to improve the book itself.

I certainly hope you like it.

11 December 2008 | after effects | 8 Comments

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