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Once upon a time - 30 years ago - VFX artists were unionized.

If they still were, perhaps the conversation would have been different. But many VFX artists today don't even know that history, and in their anguished discussions today - such as the recent VFX Town Hall - the focus is on reinventing the past, with unionization, as well as creating a trade association to sit down with the studios to hammer out a new way to do business. Can anything be done to change this picture? Is it all too little too late?

In VFX Crossroads, Part 1: Causes & Effects Of An Industry Crisis, Creative COW's Debra Kaufman took a close look at how the seeds of the VFX industry's dysfunctional business model were planted in its earliest days. Although outsourcing and tax incentives/subsidies are the culprits most often cited in today's news, she showed that the financial picture for VFX houses is far more complex than that.

VFX technologist Jonathan Erland sees a tripod composed of an honorary association encouraging excellence, a trade association among VFX houses, and a union. "While we do have the VES component and the field is demonstrably 'excellent,' absent the stabilizing influence of the union and trade association legs of the tripod, the VFX industry is unstable and collapsing," he observes. "To the extent that globalization and inter-state economic warfare compromise or destroy the balance provided by existing tripods, the whole industry may well follow suit. To throw in another metaphor, VFX may turn out to be the 'canary in the coal mine'."

As Debra ties together the insights from dozens of industry veterans, she notes that there are no easy answers, including unionization as an end in itself. Instead, she presents deep insights into how, like the superheros they create, the VFX industry might come to its own rescue.

Read the full story in VFX Crossroads, Pt. 2: Can The VFX Business Be Saved?
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The exquisite irony of Rhythm & Hues declaring bankruptcy just before its work on Life of Pi won the venerable visual effects company an Oscar for Best Visual Effects defines a visual effects industry that finds itself at a crossroads. The blowback to Rhythm & Hues' bankruptcy -- the 500-strong march on the evening of the Academy Awards, R&H VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer's attempt to call attention to the fact on national broadcast, and the blank green screen icon on many Facebook pages -- is a reflection of frustration and anger among VFX artists.

Many of these frustrated artists are focused on outsourcing and subsidies as the culprits in wreaking havoc in the industry. While it's true that this has been a significant challenge to the VFX industry, its problems go much deeper and further back in time. The three original digital pioneers -- Digital Productions, Omnibus, and Robert Abel Associates -went out of business within short order, leaving only the acronym DOA. Of the four big VFX companies in the late 1970s -- Boss Films, ILM, Dream Quest Images and Apogee -- only one remains, and it's become a possession of a studio.

Financial dysfunction in the VFX industry is rooted in its very beginnings, and the only way to truly understand what's going on in the VFX industry today is to go back to those pioneering years -- when the industry was morphing from analog to digital -- and find the crucial junctures that led the industry down a path to financial instability and ruin.

Creative COW's Debra Kaufman has been covering the VFX for 25 years, and produced an all-day course on digital visual effects at UCLA Extension for five years, featuring presentations by top VFX supervisors. Nobody else can tell this story the way she has, speaking with the VFX pioneers responsible for some of the most indelible cinematic images in film's history. You're going to be talking about this provocative article for a long, long time.

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Working with Angenieux on new lens solutions for the RED Epic, wrestling freakish gym fluorescent lighting, wrangling national park filming permits: these were just a few of the challenges facing cinematographer, co-producer (and Digital Cinema Society founder) James Mathers in the making of “1000 to 1,” an inspirational, indie drama based on a true story to be released later this year. James tells a remarkable tale of the lengths one production went to make their film look much bigger than its budget, with practical advice for filmmakers on every scale.

As a journeyman cinematographer with over 60 film credits, James has also enjoyed being a RED owner. Disruption sometimes comes with a cost, though.

"I had invested heavily in lenses as a hedge against the rapid pace of obsolescence in the electronic end of cameras. Glass seemed a safe investment until my old lenses started to vignette on my new Epic. I approached Angenieux, the manufacturer of my much beloved Optimo 17-80mm and encouraged them to find a solution." James was also able to work with Fujinon, and in the end, "1000 to 1" ended up being the first feature to use either of these two great new lenses, the Angenieux 19.4-95mm Optimo and the Fujinon 19-90mm Cabrio.

Lighting turned out to be an even bigger challenge, especially when working with hundreds of fluorescent fixtures, unfortunately placed windows and low ceilings in an old but photgenic gym, and a variety of tight remote locations. James and his team wound up with a number of creative approaches to everything from gels to 18Ks.

James also goes into detail on his camera and support choices -- including his own jib rig with its 9-ft. arm that he confesses is something of a Frankenstein.

All of this gear and skill is to put to the service of telling the story of a remarkable young basketball player recovering from a stroke. You're going to enjoy reading the story of how James Mathers and a group of committed friends were able to bring it together.
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You know the work of Dan Lebental, ACE. Over a nearly 30-year career so far, he's cut the Iron Man movies, Elf, Cowboys & Aliens, Dead Presidents, the pilot for Revolution on NBC, even videos and shorts for artists like Snoop Dogg and MC Hammer. In fact, he's pretty sure he's the first music video editor to have bought his own Avid back in the day.

Although Lebental had edited electronically for decades, when he got his iPad, it brought back memories of film. "It was amazingly cool," he says. "The iPad scrolling made me feel like I did as a young filmmaker because it's so tactile like when we handled film." Thus inspired, Lebental began working on TouchEdit a year and a half ago. "Go Retro...Go Pro" is his tagline for TouchEdit which, he says, "captures the spirit of classical filmmaking while offering cutting-edge digital editing capabilities." He also tells us, "TouchEdit reconnects its users with the essence of real film to create professional quality film edits."

In fact, says Lebental, TouchEdit is aimed to be "the 21st Century version of the Moviola."

Even though it only costs $50, this isn't a toy. We invite you to read Debra Kaufman's account of what TouchEdit is -- and what it has the potential to become.
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"I got annoyed by the rules and went the opposite way." So declares Claudio Miranda, ASC, Oscar's newest winner for Best Cinematography, for his work on Life of Pi. He faced challenges galore, including extensive shooting on water, working with a main character who was yet to be created in CGI, and helping usher Oscar-winning director Ang Lee through his first 3D shoot. "Ang said that he wanted to shoot 3D for 10 years, and he wanted someone with experience in 3D for Life of Pi. He was looking for a more immersive storytelling, a new way to tell a story, and there are more tools in 3D to do that."

Both Ang and Claudio were especially clear with each other about what they didn't like about other 3D films they'd seen, but in the end, Claudio trusted what he saw from his own camera tests. "When I shot Tron, everyone gave me a list of things not to do in 3D and I intentionally did all those things to learn why. I discovered that many of these '3D rules' were false, and I broke a lot of them. I don't know where some of those ideas come from, so it's important not to take these rules for granted but test them." These include accepted truths about shutter angle, depth of field, lighting and more. Fortunately for Claudio, and the magic of the final film, Ang was very excited to take risks with their approach to 3D. The results speak for themselves.

Beyond the specifics of 3D shooting, Claudio speaks with the process that led to selecting the ARRI Alexa, the creative approach they took to filming scenes on the water, and their remarkable approach to lighting it all.

Read Claudio's story in "Claudio Miranda, ASC Makes New Rules for Shooting Life of Pi"


Our coverage of the year's best films doesn't end there! Read Tim Squyres on editing "Life of Pi," Bill Taylor, ASC on winning the Academy's John Bonner Medal of Commendation, and behind the scenes looks at Academy Award winners Argo and Anna Karenina, and nominees NO, Mondays At Racine and The Avengers, all in our series on "The Year's Best Films Round-up!"
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Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, ASC and director Frederic Goodich, ASC got together to push the new Sony F65 to its limits. The result is Kickstart Theft, a short film based on De Sica's classic The Bicycle Thieves, which was shot in downtown Los Angeles in a range of challenging lighting and shooting conditions.

However, this was anything other than just another test shoot. Director Goodich has helmed over 1000 commercials among many projects. DP Zsigmond has lensed such classics as Close Encounters of The Third Kind, for which he won an Oscar, The Deer Hunter, Heaven's Gate and Deliverance. "After I did the DI on Black Dahlia, I fell in love with digital in post production," says Zsigmond. "I had wanted originally to stick with a chemical finish for the release, but it didn't work out that way. Since then I've been doing more digital. Before Kickstart Theft, I'd already shot with the RED and ARRI Alexa and wanted to try the Sony F65."

In thinking about a script, Goodich says he was interested in doing something with social relevance, and eventually thought of The Bicycle Thieves, which he adapted for an urban Los Angeles setting about a homeless family dependent on a motorcycle to eke out a living. "I purposely picked a familiar story so that the viewer can focus on the images and the light," he explains. "The notion was to shoot available light, with little or no little supplementary lighting, and scenes of high dynamic range wherever we could," says Goodich. "We were supposed to 'break the back' of the camera -- to demonstrate how it performed under daylight, tungsten, neon, fluorescent and mixed light conditions."

Kickstart Theft also became a study in how an Oscar-winning cinematographer adapted to guerrilla shooting conditions, how the production adapted to tight turnaround with a small crew -- and the Sony F65's ease of use with a variety of lenses, and taking advantage of advanced ACES workflows. You want a real world story about working with the F65? Here you go.

Kickstart Theft: Pushing the Sony F65 To The Limits.



And don't miss Debra Kaufman's coverage of the work done by LOOK Effects to bring "life" to the zombies in Warm Bodies.

Zombies Brought to Life For Warm Bodies
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Michael Slovis, ASC is behind the lens at the enormously popular and critically acclaimed AMC show Breaking Bad where he's shot four seasons and earned three Emmy nominations. Although his early work was in independent film in New York, Slovis has had a long, successful run in episodic TV including work on Fringe, 30-Rock, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation for which he won an Emmy, among many others.

In one of the most compelling entries yet in our Behind The Lens series, edited by Debra Kaufman, Michael talks about the pleasures of shooting film, his stock choices (which he feels have never been better), why he sticks with prime lenses, and some of the dramatic approaches to visual storytelling that Breaking Bad creator and Executive Director Vince Gilligan has developed for the show.

"There is a feeling of intentionality when you shoot film, at least for TV, that this is what the director wants you to see," says Michael. "In video or digital, you can turn your camera operators loose to shoot the scene and evaluate it later. For Breaking Bad, it's all about that methodical, intentional feel, and that texture is very important. This is something I feel strongly about, that the trust that you give us on the set and especially to Vince will not be betrayed."

Michael also speaks about shooting 11,000 feet of film a day, the post grading and finishing process, the amazing storytelling being done on TV these days -- and how his long journey on Breaking Bad began with him telling them he wasn't interested in taking the job.

Read the entire article here: Behind the Lens: Breaking Bad
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When it was first released 20 years ago, After Effects was tucked into a corner of the market, for specialists with a narrow range of tasks. Since then, it has become an indispensable part of the bag of tricks for millions of media professionals. Creative COW is the latest phase of the web's longest-running After Effects community, founded in April 1995 by two After Effects users, Ronald & Kathlyn Lindeboom, who were looking for answers to their own questions. Through online tutorials, DVD training, and forums with 2 million monthly visitors, we've had a front row seat to a true revolution.

And not just for the industry: for individual careers, and even lives. Starting today, you can see the first in a long series of 20th Anniversary good wishes and testimonials from members of the Creative COW community using After Effects for motion graphics, compositing, visual effects, as part of their editing and finishing, and much more. We'll be adding more every day, as well as highlighting some of the most popular feature stories we've published of real-world After Effects production.

We want to hear your story too! Swing by our Letters To The COW Team forum, and tell us your history with After Effects. The more stories, the merrier.


In the meantime, please join us in wishing a Happy 20th Anniversary to Adobe After Effects, with best wishes for scores more!

Read the articles from COW members here: http://library.creativecow.net/series/Celebrating-20-Years-of-After-Effects
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Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo's novel of crime and redemption in 19th Century France, has been a huge hit in theatres. Though it's gained acclaim for director Tom Hooper's technique of one-take shots of actors singing the songs, visual effects have provided many key elements. In a remarkable break from standard practice, there were no green screen shots!

"They shot nothing on green screen because of the way the director was filming in one shot with people singing the songs," says The Mill's 2D Supervisor Greg Spencer. "It was all handheld with several cameras moving around, so our job involved a lot of rotoscoping and tracking involved and a lot of removing of cameramen moving the shots. That was all done with lots of 3D camera tracking in Nuke, and patching up buildings or whatever we could."

The Mill erased cameramen captured in shots some 30 times...but didn't take out all of them. "Once we turned a cameraman into an extra," he says. "We removed the camera off the shoulder and put a hat on him to make him look like he was in the world of the movie."

Working on over 100 other shots, The Mill faced a number of other challenges that were not so easily met, starting with the movie's trailer, which required compositing a difficult mix of handheld and locked off footage in a single scene. Don't miss this inside look at a unique process for one of the season's most acclaimed pictures.

Read the entire story here
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"As technology gets better, communications skills seem to get worse." So says Creative COW leader and Contributing Editor Walter Biscardi, one of the industry's most respected business owners. "The same talented people who can create amazing things on screen have absolutely no idea how to represent themselves via a resume or online demo.

"This is the world of Twitter, Blogs, Facebook, Instagram, etc..... where everything is said in 140 characters or less, with a heavily treated photo and no attenshun givun 2 correct grammar yo! Seems people have forgotten how to represent themselves professionally for that all important "first impression." Or maybe they were just never shown at all. You never, ever get a second chance at a first impression. For most of you, an email with a resume attached is that first impression.

"There are two VERY important things to remember in the creative field. 1: You have to be talented at what you do or show a very strong drive to better the talent you currently have. 2: You MUST fit in with the creative culture of the company you're joining. In my opinion, #2 is more important. We get a sense of how you're going to fit from that initial contact. Most of what I'm about to say seems to be common sense, but apparently it isn't."

You definitely don't want to miss this potentially career-changing advice from an industry luminary!

Read Walter's article here: http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/getting-hired-be-professional-and-pay-attention-to-detail






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