A further description of my job in visual effects:
I worked in visual effects from April of 2004 until May of 2006. I worked at three studios in total, Stan Winston Digital, Rhythm and Hues Studios and Sony Pictures Imageworks. Aaron Sims was the first one to hire me, at Stan Winston Digital. It was for the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I had trained in a variety of CG software, but they were using a package I hadn't yet learned, SoftImage XSI, so I had to learn it on the job. He initially brought me on as a texture painter, but I went on to do lighting and shader setup as well. I worked closely with Vince Cirelli and Aaron on this film and while we suffered quite a lot, we also managed to have a lot of fun.
I left Stan's after 5 months and went to Rhythm and Hues for the film Elektra, hired on as a texture painter. This experience was entirely different. While at Stan's, they had trusted me to do a little bit of everything using a variety of software. At R&H, they had me painting and only painting, and naturally I got bored pretty quickly. I painted feathers all day every day for months. Then snakes and scales. It was tedious as hell. I worked on the film Serenity while I was there as well, doing some background textures to help out for a few weeks. I also did about two months of work on The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, mostly texturing props and weapons with some background characters as well. I was really bored.
Then Vince Cirelli called and asked if I wanted to go back to Stan's for Fantastic Four, this time as an FX artist. I jumped at the chance and rejoined some old friends at the studio. I worked doing FX animation and lighting, which amounted to working very closely with Aaron Sims and Jabbar Raisani on various effects consisting of intricate animated displacement shaders, soft body and rigid body simulations and particles. It was mostly XSI again and we all did a little bit of everything to push the shots through.
I'd been negotiating with Sony for some time and they came through with an offer, so I left Stan's again after 3 months and headed to Sony Pictures Imageworks for Surf's Up. I hadn't been happy at Stan's, so this opportunity was not something I wanted to miss. And as it turned out, it was a very good decision to go to Sony.
Surf's Up proved to be the best of all the movies I had worked on. It was the best crew, a group of extremely talented folks all working on a very good story. The supervisors knew their shit more than anyone I had worked with thus far. And, on the Look Dev team, we had many crew members from my days at Rhythm and Hues and we all liked each other. There were four of us in texturing from R&H and two more in lighting. Nori Kaneko was our lead for texturing and Mike Yazijian and Nick Hiatt were my two closest pals on the texture team.
We worked very closely with the lighters to develop some pretty intricate texture map systems for everything in the film. Mike ended up doing a ton of the major background work, really digging in and painting the hell out of stuff. He did particularly great work on the palm trees and large rock formations in the background. He painted some characters too, but he spent more time on the backgrounds and you could really see the work that went into it when it appeared on screen. Nick did a little bit of everything, some character stuff, some backgrounds and then he moved into matte painting on the same film. He also loved painting and matte painting afforded him the chance to draw while painting. Me? I enjoyed character work. I also worked on background elements; a lot of the greenery in the backgrounds and various props. But I spent a lot of my time on characters.
I ended up painting around a dozen characters, including Big Z, The Geek, Lani, and a ton of others. We'd paint tip and root maps to indicate the color of the penguin hair at it's root and tip. We'd paint specular maps, color specular maps and mattes for holding out various elements. The usual bump, specular, color and other maps were painted for various other elements. Transucency maps would be painted to indicate veining on leaves, showing if light was coming through from the back side of the leaf. Transparency maps were painted to shape feathers and leaves.
There was a lot of back and forth with the lighters, then with the supervisors. It was very precise, very exact and very gratifying. I loved working on that film.
I also did a 3 week stint on Superman Returns while I was at Sony. They took me off of Surf's Up during that time to lend a hand. And they sent me up to Cafe FX for an emergency call to help out getting a game cinematic ready for E3, for a game that was at that point called Heist. I worked around 100 hours in that one week to help out, mostly doing texturing on clothes and a lot of zBrush modeling to create normal maps to use for the clothes to fake folds and such. It was an interesting experience and I met some really great folks up there who I liked a lot.
They have a very nice shop there and my other skills with XSI, zBrush and Maya were utilized there, which was fun.
In May of 2006, I wrapped up work on Surf's Up and left film, returning to comics, going back to Marvel Comics. I don't know if I'll stay in comics forever or go back to film one day for some more different challenges.