FMX 2013 – final wrap-up

FMX is now over for another year but it was certainly one of the best we have attended. In part this was because of the high quality presentations, but it’s also always a great opportunity to talk to students and peers about what they’ve been up to over the past year and what’s next. And, like SIGGRAPH, it’s impossible to get to everything. Several attendees told fxguide about interesting talks on crowd funding, virtual production, gaming and also recruiting. And that’s not even to mention the in-depth software workshops and masterclasses by companies like SideFX and Adobe.

Finally, here’s a quick look at two presentations from the last two days on Iron Man 3 and on virtual production that were both stand-outs.

Iron Man 3 – Trixter and Weta Digital shine

Attendees had been looking forward to it all week – a breakdown of visual effects work by Trixter and Weta Digital for a film that has not even been released yet in Germany or the US. And they didn’t disappoint. Trixter’s Alessandro Cioffi (VFX supe) and Luis Guggenberger (head of art department) explored the realization of their digital suit effects, including the sequence in which pieces of the suit fly onto Tony Stark. Trixter had to complete a version of that scene for Comic-Con – in 8 weeks. We saw the original plates featuring RDJ with tracking markers, concept art for the pieces (they had to move away from kitchen tool-like looks), previs and final shots. Trixter also worked on a fully digital suit interacting with Pepper, and a later scene of Stark fighting with just a glove and boot. One cool shot here was a somersault that was previs’d in a certain way, shot in a green box with a wire rig, and then completed by Trixter with a digital environment, CG components and lots of clean-up work.


Then, Weta Digital’s Guy Williams (VFX supe) and Aaron Gilman (animation supervisor) raced through their studio’s sequences for the film’s climatic battle which takes place at a largely digital seaport and with multiple suits. We don’t want to give away any spoilers, but to show off the work Weta had to reveal pretty much what happens (fxguide will be covering this work in full after May 3rd). The stand-out part of Weta’s talk were the befores and afters clips and the extent to which the team seems to have rallied behind the shots in a limited time schedule. Despite the challenges the industry is currently facing, Weta said working on IM3 brought out almost a ‘brotherhood’ where artists completed work ‘in the trenches together’ through an incredibly cooperative process.

Another feature was an examination of the animation process. Here, Weta Digital had to adapt the usual modeling, rigging and Maya referencing system to create what they call a Guide Rig System for suit transformation shots that have differing individual pieces. More on that after May 3rd, too.

The quest for unified workflows, fix it in pre and Lucasfilm’s real-time render reel!

In 2012, many of the talks at FMX centered on how previs and virtual production had become an integral part of the filmmaking process. This year that theme continued, and delved further into the idea that unified pipelines between the art department, previs and visual effects could help make the process more efficient. One excellent panel discussion involved several heavy-hitters from the industry: Duncan Burbidge (The Third Floor), Graham Jack (Double Negative), Kim Libreri (Lucasfilm), Matthew Madden (Giant Studios), Markus Manninen (DreamWorks), Trevor Tuttle (The Third Floor).

Graham Jack, Kim Libreri and Photo by Reiner Pfisterer.
Graham Jack, Kim Libreri and Trevor Tuttle. Photo by Reiner Pfisterer.

Here, some examples were shown of The Third Floor’s recent work for Oblivion, and the discussion went to the idea of sharing assets (such as rigs), a shared workflow and ensuring layout remained physically based from previs through to final. The challenges of making this happen were also frankly described – in that usually VFX come on board after many creative decisions have already been made (and sometimes lost by the time shots are worked on). It was great to hear the phrase ‘fix it in pre’.

Also part of the discussion was the role of real-time rendering and game engines in the virtual production process. Kim Libreri, now Chief Strategic Officer for Lucasfilm, showed a reel featuring mocap and real-time renders of C-3P0 and R2-D2, and also stormtroopers, in a desert setting. It was seen a couple of times in talks by Libreri and each time the room was blown away.

Top photograph by Reiner Pfisterer.