VFX Supervisor Peter Webb recently passed away after a decade long illness. Peter was a dedicated and loving father and husband, brilliant VFX artist and a great friend to all of us here at fxguide.
Peter died after a long battle with multiple myeloma cancer. I could write at length about what a good person and friend he was, how he worked to help others with their cancer, (even writing a book with his beloved wife Ruthie, to guide other cancer suffers). I could write about how he tirelessly answered their calls and emails and worked positively to explore treatments and raise spirits. I could write about how much he loved his family, and the pure joy in his eyes as he talked about his sons, or how great a godfather he was to one of my daughters, but I'd like to talk about his work, his craft and his generosity for those who worked with him.
I confess I have put off writing this article. I saw Peter just before he left the hospice to return to his home in Melbourne. He died not long after, surrounded by his wonderful family who loved him deeply. That last visit to Peter, I had flown down to see him for the day. We knew that all treatment opinions had been exhausted and that the end was near. My intent was to cheer him up, but at one point I broke down and as I cried I told my friend that I could not conceive of a world that he was not in. And yet, as I sit here on Easter Sunday morning, - that is my world. A world without Peter is greyer, the spec highlights don't ping as much, and the composition of our lives are just a little bit less cinematic.
Peter was the world's first flame artist.
Discreet Logic's Flame now a part of Autodesk, was originally developed by an Australian Gary Tregaskis. Flame, which was originally named Flash, was first shown at NAB in 1992, but well before that, Gary worked in Melbourne writing the software. Gary would note on a piece of paper on his desk the tasks at hand and order them down the page, from most important to least. Peter was an artist in the group who would sneak in to Gray's desk and rub out parts of the list and reorder the product's features to better serve the needs of the artist using the software. Flame had other major contributors, Animal Logic, Bruno Nicoletti, but this isn't about Flame it is about our friend.
As Peter was initially one of the only experienced Flame artist in the world, he soon found himself in the USA helping promote and train other artists. Discreet Logic was formed in 1991 by former Softimage Company sales director Richard Szalwinski. Richard remembers "Peter built a network of friends as a result of his wonderful personality and professionalism. He - like a core group of others - played an extremely important role at Discreet when we were trying to get it off the ground. He inspired and pushed us forward. Personally, I do not remember one complaint from or about Peter, and believe me, elsewhere, there were lots. It was smiles and hard work all the way, no matter how difficult were. I for one will always remember him as a giver rather than a taker."
One of the first ever film's to use Flame was Super Mario bros. in 1993. Peter was Lead Digital Animator/compositor on the picture at Wunderfilm Design. The film cost twice what it ended up grossing, but it did make the Oscar Shortlist for the Bake off, and more importantly, Peter helped a group of young effects users become Flame Artists, people such as, now VFX supervisor Sheena Duggal, (Doctor Strange, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Hunger Games). "He was open and shared his skills with many of us on Super Mario bros. I think it's fair to say he was the seed that created the genesis of a generation of new thinkers, ..that shifted the direction of of our industry.. in that moment in time. I've learned so much from Peter in the last 25 years since I met him, he didn't just share his skills and ideas he shared his spirit".
Peter worked on a bunch of Hollywood effects shows in the early '90s such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Coneheads, Terminal Velocity, and many others. I first met him when we bought the first Flame in Sydney and he came to show us how to use it. Back then a Flame cost a million dollars and only one person could use it at a time. Peter helped us with a few early jobs, in the days that the room charge out rate was $1000 an hour. I remember a Korean client who's translator told Peter during one such long week of 'client in attendance' session "Mr Lee has asked me to say that he is starting to respect you, and he thanks you for how little you have to use the toilet!"...Peter loved that story, not only for being thanked for not taking expensive breaks, but that he was starting to respect him. Peter had a killer sense of humour but it was never at your expense, sure he liked practical jokes, but he just was incapable of being mean or hurtful. He had a special love for his fellow vfx collaborators. Peter taught me to use Flame, but next to him, I was only ever a flame user, he was the true flame artist.
Peter loved light and lenses. He immersed himself in film language and visual storytelling. He had that rare ability to be on your side creatively, in your corner, no matter which part of the process you were involved with. Director's loved him as he was always on their side, wanting to tell their story. Fellow compositors loved him because he would share all his knowledge, producers loved him as he wanted the company to go well, be successful and make great work. This may not sound like much, but too often battle lines are drawn departments vs. departments, artist vs. studio, creatives vs. suits. Peter never did, be had a softness about him that came from his spirit and a love of the material. I first saw this on Romeo + Juliet working with a young Director, Baz Luhrmann. I did not work on the film, but I was lucky enough to watch Peter at Complete Post in Melbourne. If you have not seen this film, rent it. It is brilliant. A young Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio made William Shakespeare's work leap off the screen with teen angst and dripping in coolness. Peter took the screen credit as Visual Effects Designer which was so appropriate, he loved working with Baz, in the vivid world of Production designer Catherine Martin and in the edit of Jill Bilcock. There were times when Peter felt like the cornerstone of the entire Melbourne vfx industry, but he was the first to sing the praises of the other stunning Melbourne vfx artists at Complete Post and then at Illoura.
Peter found at home at Iloura under the stellar leadership and respect of Simon Rosenthal. Peter worked there until he could work no more. Peter worked on many films at Iloura, first on Flame, then Nuke, then teaching and helping to promote the studio, when he could no longer work full time. I would be remiss if I did not state that we should all be so lucky as to work for a man as supportive and decent as Simon Rosenthal, who stood by Peter during his long illness. This industry would be well served by more loyal employers who treat their clients and staff with such respect.
There was one producer who Peter particularly worked with, loved and excelled with: Ineke Majoor. "Pete was instrumental in setting up our Film Division in the early days when we were “Phenomena” and then transitioning to Iloura. He was considered by many to be one of the best compositors of his era. He ventured into the US market as an artist and came back to Melbourne as an incredibly respected VFX supervisor. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer 12 years ago when he was working on Seven Swords. The most emotional project I shared with Pete was Look Both Ways in which he had to research the process by which you process the news that you have cancer. The director of that movie, Sarah Watt, was diagnosed with breast cancer during the course of that production. She has since passed away. You can’t write stuff like that. I’m so sad right now. I can’t recount how many procedures, surgeries, cell transplants Pete has had to endure and yet always remained so positive of a good outcome. His is a true hero’s tale."
Not that Peter was perfect, he had a love for bright orange t-shirts and there were times standing in line for cool exclusive LA night spots, with me dressed in head to toe black and him in bright day-glow orange t-shirt and baggy gym pants - that I could have killed him.
I spent many years on Flame, and I don't think I was bad at it, but Peter was an artist. He crafted shots, he even seemed to lovingly hold a digitizing pen softly, almost like a paint brush. I was not the only one to think so. "Peter set the tone for a generation and was one of the reasons that Flame users are so often referred to as artists" commented fellow VFX specialist Sam Edwards.
It is not surprising then that many of us today proudly hang actual artworks created by Peter in our homes. Even the smallest Xmas card from Peter was always hand crafted or painted. Other talented vfx artists around the world responded similarly, Peter Koczera, Paul Buckley, Deb Ristic, Wally Rodriguez, Dave Taritero, Jake Parker, John Sullivan, Shannon Noble all friends, artists, vfx specialists and many also traditional artists. Peter had strong friendships with vfx artists the world over.
Finally, I would like to cast Peter in the light of a teacher. In talking to his friends this last week, they are mentioned how he shared and encouraged others. He always generously shared his knowledge and helped those around him. I like to think this industry is a generous one, fxguide itself started as a way to share tips and tricks back with fellow artist back in 1999. Peter was very much apart of that spirit. While many know of fxguide's early online history, few know that there was a small parallel group of artists who would meet each year, normally at the NAB Flame User's group, called SPEC. This was a collection of artists who supported each other, shared approaches and became great friends. My NAB experiences for many years were dominated by the fun of those meet ups and Peter was always so genuinely happy to see everyone and the first to volunteer to show new work or new techniques.
"Peter was always completely generous with his knowledge. He was secure and did not feel threatened by sharing what he knew about operating flame with me" commented his good friend and artist Deb Ristic. "The field of visual effects is pretty competitive, and a lot of people were pretty cagey about what they knew, or a bit insecure (maybe for good reason, given circumstances.) Peter was so free with helping me out, giving me tips, teaching me. He was patient in explaining things to me, and never was I made to feel stupid or inadequate. He was generous. He had a clear understanding of humanity and had immense compassion for people".
Peter Webb was my hero, my mentor, and close friend to each of us here at fxguide - and we absolutely adored his sense of humor.
Peter was a free spirit, talented and kind. Goodbye my friend,
- Mike (and his friends Jeff and John).
There is a special event to celebrate Peter's life at 1.00pm, this Wednesday in Melbourne.
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