History of Visual Effects - J. Stuart Blackton

We studied a few more of the pioneers of early film visual effects this week. The one I was most impressed with was J. Stuart Blackton. He is often regarded as the father of stop-motion animation. His clever use of quick substitution in film is shown here in The Enchanted Drawing:

Another one of his films that is notable is called Princess Nicotine (never mind the content matter). One of the interesting things that is shown in this film is the use of trick photography rather than double exposure of the film. For the parts where both the gentleman and the small faeries appear in frame, the effect was actually achieved by using a mirror placed at a 45° angle behind the table. The actress was then a great distance off from the mirror, making her appear as though she was very small:

ANIM 629 - Texturing & Lighting

This class will be an interesting experience when I try to blog about it. Essentially, for this class, I am doing a bit more of an in-depth look into how to texture and light models in Maya. For the first half of the class, I am working on texturing and lighting an alleyway scene. You can see the bare model here:

Not very much to look at, huh? Well, the best way to get a 3D model to start looking real is to go out and photograph real world textures. That's how any texture gets started. So, for the past few days, I have been going out in the morning to go collect textures from around Provo. Here are a few of the two hundred or so images that I have taken:

All of these images are 12 megapixel resolution because the more detail that is in there, the better. There is some correction work to be done in Photoshop, but the foundation is there. This is fun to learn about and I am excited to get going.


History of Visual Effects

One of the classes I am taking this semester is the history of visual effects. It is very interesting to see that visual effect techniques employed by filmmakers of some sort have been around since the 18th century... and were first started by those interested in the occult! This article gives some interesting insight into some of the early development of visual effects:

The foremost necromancer of the age was Johann Schropfer, a coffee-shop proprietor, based in Liepzig. Faced by poor business, he converted his billiard room into a seance chamber and, in the late 1760s, bombarded his unwitting audience with a myriad of ghostly sights and multi-sensory experiences, using projections on smoke, eerie music and sound effects, electric shocks, evil-smelling incense, drugs combined with sophisticated techniques of disorientation, auto-suggestion and sensory depravation. In time Schropfer attracted a cult following and took his show on the road to other parts of Europe. His accomplishments continued until 1774, when he made a tragic error - he became haunted by his own imaginary demons, finally went mad and committed suicide.

Bummer for him.

Of course, one of the foremost pioneers in visual effects was Georges Melies. His film (considered a feature length at the time) A Trip to the Moon is recognized as one of the most important steps in film history:


Inspirational Movies

Aaaaaaaannd, we're back! I took a little bit of a hiatus from blogging just for a vacation. School starts back up for me tomorrow, so you'll see an influx of blog posts. In the mean time, I just wanted to share with you some of the films that have influenced me to get into the entertainment industry. Here they are:

Star Wars

Of course, as a child, I grew up watching all of the Star Wars films. We had them on VHS (although taped in the wrong order on the same tape) and I was of course mesmerized by the fantastic things that happened on the screen. All of the original Star Wars films had come out by the time I was old enough to remember, so I grew up always knowing (spoiler alert!) that Darth Vader was Luke's father. I am still amazed at how much Industrial Light and Magic was able to convincingly get away with even with such primitive digital technology. And, let's get this straight, Greedo did not shoot first!


Even though it wasn't a box office hit... in fact, more of a box office flop, I watched Tron almost every other week as a child. I didn't know it at the time, but I was watching one of the most important leaps forward in special effects history. This movie was one of the first to employ a large amount of computer graphics into a film. The process was painstaking and there were plenty of hiccups along the way, but it paved the way for the introduction of computer graphics as a mainstream tool in filmmaking. (In a related note, I am totally geeking out about the sequel that is coming out this fall.)

The Last Starfighter

This film doesn't have that impressive of a plot. In fact, it is very cheesy. However, I liked it as a kid, probably because of the space battles and such. However, like Tron, it was another step forward for CG in the entertainment industry. This film marked the first time that filmmakers attempted to pass off computer graphics as a substitute for physical models. Very impressive for the eighties.

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Believe it or not, I actually feel that this movie was the first to plant a seed inside of me to work in the film industry. When I was eight years old I took a vacation to Florida with my family to Walt Disney World. One of the parks they had, which turned out to be my favorite, was MGM Studios. One of the tours we took was a 'behind the scenes' tour of the filmmaking process. During that, they had a giant model of a bee placed in front of a blue screen and they had two participants from the group do a reenactment of the movie. It was at that time when I was first introduced to the idea that people actually do technical things for the movie industry. It was also the first time I was introduced to the process of compositing. Seeing the process got me excited, though it took me on the path of wanting to act in and direct movies rather than do post-production.

The Abyss

This film was one of the first to really incorporate sophisticated CG effects in a convincing manner. The aliens in the film have the ability to manipulate water and therefore create these 'living sculptures' out of the ocean water.

Terminator 2

Drawing on the same technology that he used for The Abyss, director James Cameron came up with the idea of a liquid-metal terminator for the villain in the sequel to the terminator. I remember being in awe at the realism of the special effects. It was the first time that I watched a movie and wasn't distracted by the use of cheaper visual effect techniques.

Jurassic Park

This film was responsible for fanning my interest in computer animation and graphics. After seeing the movie for the first time and seeing how lifelike the computer generated dinosaurs were, I really wanted to know more about the process. Subsequently, I watched a number of television shows that told about the background process of how the dinosaurs came to life and how they were able to blend them almost seamlessly with the live action. I think the visual effects still hold up today.

Toy Story

Toy Story is an obvious influential movie. It really showed what potential an all-CG movie could have. Since then Pixar hasn't disappointed in their story delivery.

Lost in Space

I will freely admit that I don't like the plot, acting, or story of this movie. I do, however, love the design of the props and how the special effects were integrated at an even higher level than I had previously seen. During this point, computer-generated visual effects were becoming more prominent in films.

The Mummy

In addition to it being a great homage to the old 1930s serial adventures, The Mummy is just a great blend of comedy and action. However, this movie is one of the first that introduced me to the idea of multi-pass rendering. Again, I watched a television special on the making of the film and saw just how many different passes went through one scene. It got me to realize that there were a heck of a lot of people working on films, not just a few guys in the back with some computers.

The Matrix

The Matrix, of course, marks one of the first movies that had been tweaked 100% digitally. There were plenty of fancy, never before used special effects in the film, but not a single frame escaped the influence of the digital revolution. The filmmakers even tweaked the non visually effected scenes by making them either slightly green or blue in tint, representing either the Matrix or the real world.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Yes, it is a trilogy that ended in tragedy... well, obviously not tragic enough, considering that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly were still in the last two. However, these films marked a brand new era in combing live performance capture with composited film. The character Davy Jones is one of the most realistic CG characters that I have seen. The intricate process that the visual effect directors went through to get the process out there was incredible.

The Lord of the Rings

As if this wasn't the elephant in the room... I have watched all of the twenty plus hours of extra features for each of these films. I really appreciate them because they have soul in them. You can really feel the dedication and heart that each of the cast members, directors, and crew put into the production. In addition, Gollum was really the first CG character that I remember showing real believable emotion in his performance.

Iron Man

Iron Man was a significant film for me because when I got the DVD for Christmas one year, I watched the extra features disc and realized that I was having almost the exact same amount of fun watching how the movie was made as I had watching the movie. That point marked one of the important decision-making times of my life when I realized that I wouldn't be happy with my career unless it was in this industry.

There are countless other films that I could have listed, but these are a few that stand out to me. Some influence my design style and some influence my desire for technical knowledge. Most all of them entertain me, though. And in the end, that is what matters for a film!

ALFRED - Random Stills

Nothing special about this post. I was just doing some still renderings for my portfolio and made a few of these. I've got a few things to learn about doing a proper lighting setup for shots like this, but I like how a few of these turned out. I've also been experimenting with depth of field in my renderings. You'll have to click on the pictures to see them at full resolution.