A personal preview of FMX.

I am writing this from the Qantas Lounge in Melbourne, having just landed from Canberra on route to London and finally Germany for FMX. It is quite a trip and one I have done happily now for years as the FMX conference is one of the best VFX conferences.

I never used to be able to make it as I would attend NAB in Vegas, and its close proximity ruled out an almost immediate following trip to Europe. John Montgomery, being both smarter than me and a better traveller, did make the trip, and he was the first to flag just how much one gets out of attending it.

So what makes a conference so rewarding? The answer is the people. That might sound trite, but the depth of brilliant industry minds at FMX is exceptional. One of the coolest places on the planet for deal making, technical discussions and connecting with peers is the speaker lounge of FMX. This sunny top floor vast room is home to a who’s who of Industry figures each year.

The Weta Digital Team at the LA premiere of End Game (Including Matt Aitken centre)

For example, here is just a partial list of speakers this year:

  • Matt Aitken, Weta Digital. Matt will be there, fresh from the world premiere of Avengers End Game (see above).
  • ILM’s Rob Bredow

    Rob Bredow Head of ILM along with a host of other ILM senior staff such as Hal Hickel, Grady Cofer, and many more.

  • Doug Chiang, Lucasfilm. Academy Award-winning artist, author, and production designer.
  • Lucy Cooper,  Head of Union VFX in London + Union’s Simon Hughes.
  • Paul Debevec, Google and USC ICT Lightstage pioneer.
  • John Gaeta, Magic Leap (ex ILM) and VFX supervisor.
  • Hugo Guerra, Senior Nuke Compositor and supervisor.
  • Florian Gellinger, RISE | Visual Effects Studios (RISE is also holding one of most anticipated parties this year).
  • Andrew  Glassner, Machine Learning pagan god (trust me he is a remarkable AI expert).
  • Christian Haas LUXX studios
  • Christophe Hery, Facebook Reality Labs, formerly of Pixar Animation Studios
  • Ian Hunter (left)

    Ian Hunter, Recent Oscar winner from New Deal Studios for First Man

  • James Jacobs founder of Ziva Dynamics
  • Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games. Epic have a host of presentations this year in real time and virtual production + David Morin (Epic Games and key driver in the Open Source community)
  • Marcus Nordenstam, Autodesk and key developer of Autodesk’s procedural Bifröst.
  • Guy and Harrison Norris, PROXi V.P. Senior Stunt co-ordinator and his son, a virtual production expert.
  • Christos Obretenov, Lollipop Shaders. One of the world’s most talented shader writers.
  • Jean-Francois Panisset, ex Psyop, ex Discreet and a leader in the creation of the ASWF.
  • Digital Doug Roble

    Doug Roble, Digital Domain. Senior Director of Software R&D and face of Digital Doug.

  • Sue Rowe, VFX supervisor from Sony Pictures Imageworks ( most recently, The MEG)
  • Dylan Sisson, Pixar ( RenderMan expert and one of the most entertaining and polished technical speakers in the industry)
  • Justus Thies, Technical University of Munich and leading expert in AI driven digital humans.
  • Jon Wadelton, The Foundry UK CTO, and for senior compositors around the world, he was the face of NUKE for many years.

And that is just people we have interviews at fxguide in the last couple of years ! The full list is contains many more international VFX experts, supervisors, animators and technical gods!

Some Highlights And Things To Not Miss

The full program can be found here, but below are a few sessions that we will be attending and hopefully writing about here at fxguide and at fxphd.com


Andrew Glassner
Andrew’s packed talk at SIGGRAPH 2018

While day one has many great talks, the Tuesday, is dominated by Machine Learning and AI lectures. The headlining AI workshop is by Andrew Glassner. His SIGGRAPH talk in 2018 was a highlight of the conference last year, and he has just been invited back for 2019 in August. Andrew Glassner has carried out research at labs such as the NYIT Computer Graphics Lab, Xerox PARC, and Microsoft Research. The New York Times wrote, “Andrew Glassner [is one] of the most respected talents in the world of computer graphics research.”

If you want to actually understand Deep Learning – dont miss his workshop on Tuesday 10:15 to 1pm.

If you are not into AI,… thenTuesday has great lectures and talks such as Alita: Battle Angel by Nick Epstein from Weta, Aquaman from Gaery Wu and Rachael Dunk at ILM and Game of Thrones from Jenn Taylor at Image Engine. Just to name a few.


Speaking personally, Wednesday is all about Digital Humans. (At the Kino Gloria 2 Cinema – all morning till 1pm )

I chair the digital humans track that dominates Wednesday. This year we have three key speakers representing the changing nature of the cutting edge of Digital Humans.

We start with Machine Learning: Real Time Photorealistic Humans at Digital Domain with Doug Roble.

In this presentation, Doug will discuss how cutting edge digital characters are created, how they work in real-time. Also what had to be done to achieve this level of detail and subtle motion using the latest technology in scanning and machine learning. Doug will also discuss the limitations and potentials of this technology. His work at DD was just featured at TED. It is remarkable.

Next on Wednesday is REALITY: Be yourself” VTuber brings a new ecosystem in VR4.0 era with Dr. Akihiko Shirai (from VRStudioLab)

“REALITY” is a live entertainment service with Virtual Youtubers aka VTubers. It is developed with today’s VR technology to build a new ecosystem which drives Real Time 3D CG character plays virtual presence.  This talk will not only highlight the interactivity with real time animated characters using a professional motion capture studio but also the making an ecosystem using virtual gifting and community engagements from culture that is going to the avatar society from today’s smartphone. This talk will also have a latest R&D results in GREE VR Studio Lab in Japan. If you want to see the most cutting edge Japanese cool tech – this is it.


Finally in the third morning session is Face Tracking and its Applications from Dr Justus Thies (TUM)

In recent years, there has been a lot of progress in the field of human digitization and, especially, in reconstructing and tracking faces. This talk is about facial performance capture using commodity hardware (such as a standard webcam or iphone). It not only allows the capture of new performances but also to analyze existing videos of any person on the internet. At the core of this approach, a 3D model is used to represent the face. Based on this 3D reconstruction, Thies and his team are able to perform facial reenactment, i.e., transferring the expressions from one video to another video.

There are many use-cases for this system, ranging from video-dubbing to teleconferencing in VR. But on the other hand, it also enables the manipulation of video content. The team at TUM are also working on techniques to identify such manipulations.

Justus Thies, original CVPR Face2Face technical video (below) has been seen over 4,500,000 times.

Digital Human Panel

The Digital Human track finishes, as it does each year, with a panel discussion, back in the main building, Raum Tübingen, from 3:15 – 4:45. Joining the morning speakers is Google’s Paul Debevec. This year’s panel will discuss the ethics of Virtual Humans, the role of identity and the nature of who can represent you, impersonate you and even pass themselves off as you.

Also of note… at 2pm Matthias Wittmann, Real-Time Supervisor at Method, is giving a really interesting talk on Emotional Intelligence – The Future of Virtual Humans in VR/AR. Wittmann is a recognized digital human pioneer and this should be a cracker of a talk.

                 BUT… if you dont want to seeing cutting edge digital humans… then I recommend  the virtual production track which looks outstanding. This includes Daniel Gregoire (Halon) discussing The Meg, Matt Workman (Cinematography Database) showing is incredible, virtual cinematography tool/game and stunt legends Guy and Harrison Norris discussing : From MAD MAX (FURY ROAD) to X-MEN (DARK PHOENIX): The New Future of Virtual Production in Hollywood. Listen to our podcast with them here.  All three of these look to be great, and it is often said that the mark of a great conference is having too many things to see and not being able to be in two places at once.


Day 3: Thursday

Open Source Day. 

There are many great talks on day three, especially in the area of Rendering. But Thursday is heavy with talks on Open Source and especially the work of the Academy Software Foundation.

Increasingly, OpenVDB, OpenColorIO and OpenEXR, etc are the cornerstones of most companies pipelines. This set of talks represents a brilliant chance to talk to the key people in this important area and learn first hand about the emerging standards.

Also on Thursday is a great set of talks from the Foundry. We will be visiting the Foundry in the London prior to FMX and we hope to bring you some deep dive into upcoming tech in a future story. And one of my personal faves Dylan Sisson’s annual RenderMan talk. Always entertaining and incredibly informative.

Dylan Sisson, PIXAR presenting RenderMan at FMX 2017. He presents this year (2019)  on Thursday at Midday

Day 4:  Friday

Feature film VFX Heaven.

Thursday has great talks on Lightfields and other brilliant new tech but for most people the day will be dominated by queuing to get into the Marvel Studio film talks. While there are film talks everyday, Thursday promises to close out the conference with some exceptional tent pole film talks:

How can anyone not want to attend Matt Aitken (Weta Digital) talk entitled: Digital Evolution: Can Thanos Defeat a Balrog? And Other Vital Questions from My 25 Years at Weta Digital ?

Janelle Croshaw Ralla, Florian Gellinger (RISE) and  Dominik Zimmerle (Trixter) are presenting :Captain Marvel VFX: From LA to Hala, Fury to Goose.

and Dan DeLeeuw, VFX Supervisor at Marvel Studios and Weta Digital’s Matt Aitken are presenting :

The Visual Effects of Avengers: Endgame

After 21 films, the course of events set in motion by Thanos concludes in Avengers: Endgame. This killer end session will see DeLeeuw and  Aitken discuss visual effects, pre-production, the complexities of live action photography, and the execution of shots in post production of the year’s biggest film. There is a media blackout on reporting on any effects in Endgame until well after FMX, so this is a real coup to have such a strong, world first, presentation at FMX. Be early, I expect this will be the most popular talk of FMX.

Say ‘Hi’

Once again John Montgomery and I will be at FMX. If you are with fxphd or a reader of fxguide we’d love to say Hi and connect. Please keep a look out for us during the show. John and I love connecting with readers and fxphd members at FMX, it is a real highlight for us. We hope to see you there.


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