In this week’s fxguidetv we speak to Ben Grossmann, VFX Supervisor and Director at The Syndicate in Santa Monica. Grossmann recently won a Gold Clio for visual effects on “The Key to Reserva”, working with famed director Martin Scorsese. Earlier this year, Grossmann enjoyed a similar collaboration with Scorsese and VFX Supervisor Rob Legato on the Rolling Stones feature film “Shine a Light”. Even more recently he was involved with the cutting edge House of
a seven-minute commercial short film for the Spanish winery Freixenet,
Visual effects Supervisor and Director Ben Grossmann’s range of talents is as diverse as his background. Born in Washington, D.C., he grew up in Alaska, where he attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He put himself through college as a photojournalist, stringing for the Associated Press, where he worked in a range of film formats, traditional hand-processing and printing. Grossmann left college in his senior year, three credits short of a bachelor’s degree in international politics, to start a television production company. In his role there as videographer, then editor and producer, he ushered in the transition from linear to non-linear editing workflows.
Moving to Los Angeles in 2001 to seek out what he considered to be the future of filmmaking, Grossmann began his career in feature film visual effects with paint and roto positions on films like SpiderMan and Hart’s War. He was Visual Effects Supervisor on Hollow Man II, Sequence Supervisor on Sin City and Compositing Supervisor on The Day After Tomorrow. He was also a Digital Compositor on Master and Commander and The Italian Job. In addition to serving as Supervising Compositor on more than 650 shots for Coronado , Grossmann designed the main titles for the film.
In 2006, Grossmann won an Emmy for Outstanding Visual Effects for his work as a digital compositor on the 2005 mini-series The Triangle.
Since joining The Syndicate, Grossmann has directed the You Are Here commercial campaign for Six Flags, on which he was responsible for all aspects of production, still photography, and visual effects design and supervision. He has also directed Anatomical, a television and print campaign for sports equipment manufacturer CCM.
The Syndicate is a creative design, branding services and digital production studio specializing in commercials, television and music videos. A division of Santa Maria-based feature film visual effects facility CafeFX,
In this week’s fxguidetv episode we speak to Ben about three of his recent projects. You can subscribe in itunes or click on the Podcasts menu in the menu bar on this page, for this and our other podcasts.
Shine a Light
Earlier this year, Grossmann enjoyed a collaboration with Scorsese and Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato on the Rolling Stones feature film Shine a Light. Interestingly, he has just wrapped visual effects supervising the principle photography on Scorsese’s next film Shutter Island with The Syndicate as lead visual effects house.
The project involved a massive end sequence with digital crowds, a fully CG New York and extensive compositing. Shine a Light’s computer graphics were supervised by Danny Braet, and compositing was done by Alex Henning. In the shot the camera makes its way out of the theatre and pulls back and up to reveal New York. In the middle of this sequence a large crowd is seen outside the theatre. The team decided to do this digitally. Tim LeDoux produced the crowd using Massive, and it was composited into the shot to match the much smaller live action crowd.
Richard Wardlow was the traffic controller for the city, setting up a traffic simulation for all the cars seen on the streets of NY as the camera rises from the theatre. It seems the team could have done that as part of a composite, but “Marty wanted it to be exactly like it would be if we did it right, so we did it fully in 3D” explains Grossmann.
To finish the shot, the 3D moon morphs into the Sticky Fingers/Stones logo thanks to the work of Minory Sasaki who designed and animated the morph.
To design the camera move for the end sequence, visual effects supervisor Rob Legato operated a set of hot head wheels but connected to the virtual camera in the 3D world that The Syndicate had set up. To make matters more interesting, Scorsese directed the sequence live from New York via ichat. From New York, Scorsese could direct not only Legato operating in Santa Monica, but also the very style of the buildings in the 3D world – all in real time.
Key to Reserva
Grossmann recently won a Gold Clio for visual effects on The Key to Reserva, a seven-minute commercial short film for the Spanish winery Freixenet, working with famed director Martin Scorsese.
The film is a mythical documentary of Scorsese filming a lost Hitchcock script. For the project to work within the budgets and timescales, the production ended up using entire virtual sets including Carnegie Hall. To make the virtual environment, Grossmann shot over 2000 stills in the real Carnegie Hall over 2 days and then built a complex HDR virtual Hall. The foreground actors were shot in a warehouse in front of a green screen. Given the movement and complexity of the camera moves, the results are amazingly seamless. The composites were done in floating point High Dynamic Range with 10 bit Log scanned material. The final shots were delivered as a 1920 x 1080 SR 4:4:4 master for compression so the project could be released on the web. (The master was such high resolution, to future ‘proof’ the piece for possible later use).
The project took a month, but the visual effects were primarily done in an intensive 8 day period. The project takes the form of a film within a film and Scorsese’s efforts to remake the lost script, so the visual effects fell into two categories, those which are seamless and those which need to still look great but also be more in the style of a Hitchcock film and how they may have done effects back in the 1960s. The film is a non stop feast of Hitchcockian references, homages and stylistic references. All done on a huge scale with a modest budget.
Ben Grossmann also recently designed the workflow and visual effects for the groundbreaking Radiohead music video : “House of Cards”. This is the first known project to be shot entirely with LIDAR scanners. The video has received widespread acclaim, and the raw data elements were provided on Google for anyone to create their own version of the video, spawning a flood of user-created variations building off The Syndicate’s work. See this week’s video podcast fxguidetv for a detailed discussion of just how the Syndicate animated and extended the data to produce a beautiful lyrical film clip.
While the data was produced by the LIDAR scanner, everything needed to be rendered to be seen, and then various sequences were animated in both 2D and 3D. Grossmann commented “Rodrigo Teixiera and Adam Watkins set up the 3D pipeline and did all the CG work on Radiohead, Alex Henning got all the compositing and some additional particle vaporization effects in After Effects with Trapcode Particular. Those guys really pulled some long hours on that show.”
The final shots were a mixture of straight Lidar renderings, with the resolution of the scans actually decreased, animated still scans and complex particle animations on rendered sequences of the initial data.
One of the really interesting aspects of the LIDAR scan is that the data comes in as just data – with no sense of a camera position. To even see the rushes the team had to render the data and this proved more complex than one might have thought. As the data has no orientation to the set, often times the team would render images – only to have to try and work out what they were looking at. These would be then added to rushes only to discover the shot was a rendering of the data facing away from the set and they were for example, actually looking at the crew standing around craft services. A simple rotation of the render would find the hero shot they were seeking and this could then be re-rendered and sent to Editorial to be cut into the clip. For other sequences there was no animation just a still scan of an environment and the team would need to animate the data before it could be used.
Identifying the rising talent that will shape the industry in the coming years, The Hollywood Reporter singled out Grossmann in its prestigious 2007 Next Generation issue. Grossmann continues to direct commercials and visual effects supervise a variety of features, commercials and music videos for The Syndicate while developing new film and digital workflows for filmmaking.
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