Appearing on…CG Garage


If you don’t already listen to Christopher Nichols’ CG Garage podcast (part of Chaos Group Laboratories), now’s a great time to start. Because I’m on it with Chris for a podcast we recorded at THU! We talk about what things get noticed on the internet, especially vfx stories.

ILM is on fire with Deepwater Horizon


You might not have seen Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon when it hit cinemas. But I’d implore you to check it out, if only for the remarkable combination of practical set photography, fire simulation and compositing involved in depicting the catastrophic – and real life – oil rig explosion that occurs in the film. I had a long conversation with overall and ILM visual effects supervisor Craig Hammack about the vfx effort in which we discussed what it really means to capture real fire, how to simulate it digitally, how some of the key shots were achieved, and about snaffling the last remaining LED wall screens in Louisiana for the shoot. Continue reading ILM is on fire with Deepwater Horizon

Let’s celebrate the 20th anniversary of this amazing First Contact vfx shot


It was the end of 1996, I had just finished high school and was discovering visual effects – in particular, the coverage of vfx in Cinefex – and then, Star Trek: First Contact came out.

There are some incredible vfx shots in the film. The opening pull-back from Captain Picard. The ship to ship battles. The Borg cube. But there is one single stunner of a shot by ILM – the assembly of the Borg queen – that blew me away. It wasn’t until reading more about ILM’s work on the shot on Todd Vaziri’s VFX HQ and then in Cinefex that I could really appreciate just how much work went into it, but in the cinema I knew the sequence was something special from a vfx perspective.

Why, though? In some ways it was not groundbreaking character animation/rendering, or any other kind of brand new tech. The reason, I think, is that the shot is just such a classic trick shot and a brilliant combination of clever practical photography, some CG and plenty of paint/clean-up and compositing – but without being over the top. It was exactly what the new digital tools and techniques just gaining prominence should have been used for at the time (and not always were).

On one of the DVD releases, visual effects supervisor John Knoll describes in detail how the scene was film and how the vfx was achieved. Check it out below.

Happy 20th anniversary, Star Trek: First Contact.

The best Harry Potter vfx…so far


With Fantastic Beasts out, Inverse asked me to write a retrospective on the best Harry Potter vfx scenes from the franchise so far. It was HARD to choose, but here they are.

I also managed to grab some extra info from Jim Mitchell, the vfx supe for Goblet of Fire about the creation of the Hungarian Horntail dragon in particular:

What I remember most about the dragon sequence or rather the 1st task of the Tri-wizard tournament was how much it evolved from the book and script which were very brief descriptions of the fire-breathing dragon guarding the golden egg from Harry in this confined rocky arena.

There never was any of the chase around Hogwarts castle but one day when I was checking out the huge physical model of the castle for some establishing shots, I thought how cool would it be see Harry and the dragon flying through its deep ravines, under bridges and past these giant, stoned structures. 

I imagined the dragon landing on one of the steep towers and roaring like King Kong on the Empire state building.  Mike Newell and the producers liked the idea and so the sequence grew to include the chase.  I think it opened the sequence up and made it more perilous and exciting than it originally was.  ILM did a great job with the animation and look of the bat-like dragon making it as real as any dragon I’ve seen.