Saturday, August 15, 2009

A.I. Rouge City ILM art dept. Crew

Anthropomorphic Pornotecture.
(I just coined that word)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence. COPYRIGHT ©2001 WARNER BROS. AND DREAMWORKS, LLC. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Skywalker Digital Summit 2002

April 20th, 2002.
It started innocently enough. I was asked to show the real time previz tool to some people up at Skywalker Ranch. There was no mention of the context nor were there mention of the attendees list - just "a few directors" is what i was told. In this case ignorance was a good thing because if i had found out WHO was going to be in attendence I probably would've felt a lot more pressure than I already did.

I assumed George Lucas was going to be there and since I knew of his cinematic tastes, I wanted to create a demo around a movie that he knew well. The point being that I wanted to show how the way we were doing previz at the time - by putting the controls in the hands of people who knew 3D but not necessarily film makers - that we were removing "the story teller" from the creative loop. I'm a firm believer in technology but not in the way that most people think. I'm a "creative elitist" and believe technology will lead to great art ONLY in the hands of those who know how to use it.

So to prepare, I spent a few days scrutinizing scenes from Kurosawa's masterpeice "Seven Samurai" and with the help of an ILM colleague (Izzy Acar) recreated the village scene in 3D complete with surrounding hills and forests, buildings, animated horses and people. Coming on the heels of my previz project (a mod for Epic's Unreal engine) for Spielberg's movie A.I., I enlisted 2 ILM software engineers Ryan Kautzman and Peter Ward to redevelop the PREVIZ TOOL. This time I chose to use the freely distributed XSI viewer as our platform. The UI also went thru more refinement - it became more professional, something that an editor or director would immediately feel comfortable in. In fact this became the design mantra as i was developing this app - it had to be something that a non-3d artist can pickup and learn immediately.

On the night before the event, Izzy and I went up to the Ranch to set up the demo and it was also the 1st time that Izzy got his hands on the previz tool. Being a live action director himself, he took to it immediately and after about half an hour, produced 5 different versions of the "seige" scene from Seven Samurai on the PREVIZ TOOL. Each was based on the same exact master animation but differed in the way he used the camera to tell the story. Cinematically, these 5 versions covered the gamut from what Izzy called "classic" to "dogma style", from "handheld" to an over-the-top contemporary hollywood style full of boom-ups and tracking shots favored by a certain big time director (who was also in attendance;)
On Apr. 20th, I triple and quadruple checked my laptop and drove up to the ranch. I parked my car on the lot to the left of the main house and walked up to the front door as I've done many times before.
I opened the door.

During my tenure at ILM, I have been lucky enough to have worked fairly closely with some of the biggest names in cinema. I've always remained professional in my dealings with them. However, when i walked though those doors, I felt like I had walked into some cinephile's dream world, where EVERY MAJOR HOLLYWOOD DIRECTOR was casually chatting and talking with each other. They ran the gamut from established legends to young up-and-comers. There were no entourage nor publicists in sight, which presumably was what George had intended.


I overheard someone say that if something happened during that event, that Hollywood would never recover - they weren't exagerating: Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, Lasseter, Catmull, Oliver Stone, Michael Mann - the list went on and on.
George's intention was to gather all of these directors together at his "office" to talk about the future of High Definition Digital Cinema. The afternoon consisted of presentations by various directors, showing off beautiful digitally produced works-in-progress, as well as a few people from ILM like myself who showed off technologies. In between presentations there was "lively" debate by directors on both sides of the digital fence. It all added up to the impression that for that day, the people gathered there were just like all the other film-makers in film schools all over the world - passionate artists with a point of view about how best to tell the stories that they wanted to tell.

To maintain my professionism, I've struggled with wether I should share this story or not - i've waited 10 years! In the end I came to the conclusion that I needed to share this peice of history with the world because there were not many witnesses. Whatever side of the fence you sit on in the digital cinema debate, you cannot deny the fact that George Lucas has been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of film making. The world has become numb to the incredible visual spectacles that Hollywood churns out, while the technologies themselves have become commodified to the point where once you need PHD's and mainframes to make compelling realistic visual effects - now all you need are a few cheap PCs, about $500 worth of software, a few talented friends and AN IDEA!

Of course, George Lucas's Digital Summit of 2002 was not the only catalyst for the digital film-making revolution. It has been fueled in no small part by the incredible pace of technological innovation and commodification. However, considering the "Hollywood Braintrust" that George Lucas had gathered there on that day, its safe to say that the event helped establish the ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES of digital film-making in the highest echelons of Hollywood.

I have no doubt that we're living downstream from that spring afternoon in the foothills of Marin county.

Wilson Tang

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Concepts for Lenovo "Virus" Commercial (Motion Theory/EmbassyVFX)

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Aeon Flux: Visual Explorations

Back in 2004 I had some very preliminary discussions with Karen Kasuma who was signed on to direct Aeon Flux. Afterwards at ILM, as i was putting together some bid materials, I was mulling over my discussions with her which flittered between science fiction, surrealism and modern art and i became obsessed about coming up with a whole new approach to the design of the technology of Aeon's world that lived up to the creative possibilities of our chat.

At the time, i was pretty bored with the trend of vehicle design prevalent in films and games. I saw that there were alot of talented concept designers I was working with had exceptional rendering and painting skills. However I felt that something was amiss as their 2 dimensional renderings were translated into 3 dimensional forms. I was of the opinion that they had became overly focused on the rendering techniques and not enough on the forms themselves.

I'm still not sure what set me off in this direction but i remembered a little store in the East Bay across from Marin that sold animal skeletons and other natural artifacts. I went there and picked up some small bird and mammalian skulls as well as some rubber gloves. When i got back to the art dept. at ILM, i quickly cut up the gloves into rubber sheets and proceeded to wrap it around the skulls. The following image is the result of one of these experiments, backlit by the luxo lamp at my desk and photographed with a cheapo digital camera.
I found that i loved working this way. It was a very different approach - instead of pulling the forms from myself which ran the risk of being derivative, I "found" the forms in natural shapes in front of me. I wasn't "rendering" as much as "finding". I tried various layers of skin on top of the skulls, letting the backlight scatter through the shape "carving" it and revealing a depth that suggested something else altogether. In some other images i added little details like windows which gave these images an immense sense of scale and other worldliness.

In hindsite I'm glad i did not participate in that project but I was really happy with these explorations and still hope to use them somehow one day.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Scion TC "What Moves You"

Back in 2006 my old friend Winston Helgason from the Embassy Visual Effects gave me a call to work on a little project in vancouver so i took a break from ILM and spent 9 weeks commuting between san francisco and vancouver. I ended up doing production design as well as co-directing 2 full CG commercials for Toyota Scion alongside Rob Dupear and Simon Needham (creative director/Attik).
In hindsite - and everything is clearer in hindsite - it was a very compressed schedule considering the ambition for the projects.
The 1st one was for the "TC" and during the initial meetings with Simon we immediately realized that 100% of the commercial will be CG - the original concept was thrown out before the start of production and in its place was a giant conveyor belt test facility that would pit the Scion TC against increasingly more difficult condiitons. As the concept design progressed over the 1st weeks (see below) the scale increased until it ended up the size of a football field. I had started producing some previz in XSI showing exactly how the track and the obstacles can rotate and move. Meantime, the CG supervisor at the Embassy (Simon Lagermat) and animators worked round the clock to figure out the modeling and rigging for the contraption, as well as the pipeline to get it into their render farms.
Something that at first seems simple ended up to be extremely challenging, especially the deformation of the track as it forms "hills" as well as the choreography and motion of the cameras as we tried to reconcile the motion of the car (which had a forward velocity of zero relative to the world, but a velocity of 100mph+ relative to the conveyor belt surface) with the need to emphasize the speed and power of the car itself.

The second commercial for the "XB" proceeded a little smoother. it was alot easier to choreograph as the subject sat in the same locale. During a visit to toronto I did a photoshoot under the bloor street bridge and that became the basis for the virtual set. Most of the work had to do with designing and storyboarding all the detailed transformations (see sketch of shift knob transformation below) and then working with modelers and animators to execute.

At the end of the day, despite the chaos (as always), the awesome talented and crazy artists at the Embassy had pulled it off (again). Looking back working on these 2 commercials was probably the most stressful and rewarding moments of my VFX/CG career - even compared to ILM.
It gave me a chance to direct commercials (and also made me realized that i probably wouldn't want to do it again unless it was extraordinary circumstance) as well as to be a part of a very tight group of crazy, dedicated, super-talented artists who are also friends...and if that's not every artist's dream i don't know what is.

link to "TC" movie on YouTube in HQ
link to "XB" movie on YouTube in HQ

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Production Art for Star Wars Episode2

Most of my work on Star Wars Episode 2 was focused on designing the enormous city called Coruscant during the first 6 minutes of the film.

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Copyright ©2002 Lucasfilm Ltd, a Twentieth Century Fox Release. All Rights Reserved.

Production Art for Poseidon

Poseidon was one of my last big film projects in visual effects at ILM. I detailed out the low resolution model that we received from Wolfgang Peterson's art department, before giving it to ILM modelers. As well, I produced a series of photoshop concepts to help guide the look and feel of the big impact scene, when the rogue wave side swipes the cruise ship. I was never very happy with the final CG shots as it lacked the drama that I think these concepts evoked. I did have a good time working on the project though. Kim Liberi is a very technical visual effects supervisor who was also responsible for the Matrix movies at ESC. I enjoyed learning what i can from him on the right way to do things BEFORE consciously ignoring much of it and "eyeing it" just to piss Kim off;)





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2 Illustrations

I drew these with the intention that i'd make a series of vinyl toys out of these characters. They were intended to be cute cyber/anime versions of biblical saints. "Pain" is my favorite.


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circa 2004
This peice was part of a proposal to a production company to leverage some of their creatures into a "Walking with Dinosaurs" type CG documentary. It got some interest all the way up the ranks but unfortunately was deemed too similar to another project already in development with an outside partner.
At the time I really wanted David Attenburough to do the narration.
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Concept Paintings from Ang Lee's "the Hulk"

circa 2002
I was extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Ang Lee on his movie "The Hulk" while at Industrial Light & Magic. His ambitions for the project was slightly different than what the audience expected in a summer superhero movie to say the least. No matter what people's opinions were, I had a chance to work closely with someone who i consider to be a master of the form. He never repeated himself from film to film and yet you knew that it was an Ang Lee film by the depth of emotion in every scene. Often times, what was spoken was only slightly more important tha n what was NOT spoken - this i think is the true hallmark of a great director.
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The Hulk. COPYRIGHT © Copyright 2003 Universal Studios All Rights Reserved

Another final shot from Tekkonkincreet CG pilot

circa 1999
The opening shot to the pilot. keyframed on one's by Morimoto Koji - seemed to be wrong at the time but the motion does have a weird kind of frantic energy to it. The background was inspired by ChungKing Mansion in Hong Kong, one of the locations in which we took extensive photos.
I was quite happy with the overall vibe, the contrasts between urban decay and a surreal innocence as examplified by the inflateable Fugu fish in the background.

Early sketches from Spielberg/Kubrick A.I. film

circa 2001
Some very early sketches of Rouge City and post-global warming new york. The large anthropomorphic buildings of Rouge City came from exploratory sketches that Kubrick had done with a UK comic artist. I refined and tried to give these large forms some sense of scale. This was one of my 1st big projects at ILM. I ended up designing much of Rouge City as well as creating some CG animated previz for some of the shots. It was also the project where i first pioneered the use of real time previzualization by hacking the UNREAL game engine. I convinced Denis Muren to let me try it because it was the best way to allow Spielberg to get a feel for the virtual environment even before we committed to alot of expensive build. I ended up creating a simplified but fully textured Rouge City in UNREAL with a realtime previz mod coded by another ILM colleague Peter Ward. We shipped the whole thing to Spielberg on a disc. Talking to the EPIC/UNREAL folks much later we think this was one of the 1st examples of MACHINIMA but instead of making movies inside a game engines, it was using a game engine to previsualize a big budget film.



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A.I. Artificial Intelligence. COPYRIGHT ©2001 WARNER BROS. AND DREAMWORKS, LLC. All rights reserved.
circa 1999
Here's a shot from the Tekkon CG pilot. It shows the 2 brothers "Shiro" and "Kuro" (Black & White in english) leaping down from a large tower and onto a light house in the middle of the city. It was animated and rendered as a single shot in Softimage/Mental Ray. Character animation was by Leslie Fulton, while camera and background modeling and texturing was mine.

Another Tekkon production drawing

circa 1998
This is one of my favorite production drawings. It summarizes many dimensions of the creative objective for a 3D environment in a very concise way: 1)along the top and bottom are a series of reference photos that we shot on our trip to taiwan and hong kong, linked back to various props as guide for the texture artists 2) In the middle is my pencil detail layout design for what the city will look like throughout this "roof chase" sequence. 3) and just below my pencil layout is a series of storyboards with timing from Morimoto. This image was put onto a web page with hyperlinks back to the hires source photos and other imagery. In a single drawing i was able to clearly convey pacing, geometric detail as well as textural inspiration to the artists working with me.

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Final stills from Tekkonkincreet CG pilot

circa 1998
Here are some of the final stills from the pilot. As production designer/CG sup i was responsible for building the city in 3D. The "stylized" look of the city had nothing to do with shaders and more to do with textures. I was looking at paintings by people like DeChirico and loved the way they used multiple layers of oil paints to create this textured look. I ended up coming up with a very simple series of steps to replicate that "depth".
Our texture painter Aki had a collection of mid-century japanese ads and we tweaked and incoporated a lot of that into the backdrop as well.

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Some early preproduction sketches from TekkonKincreet

circa 1998
In many ways Tekkon was and still is one of the most creatively satisfying projects i've worked on. My good friend Michael Arias is one of those rare individuals who are equal parts left and right brained, and has the tenacity to not give up no matter the odds. He went on to complete the film eventually and is recognized as the first and only american to direct a japanese anime film.
When i did these sketches way back in the summer of 1998, it was after an inspiring reference trip to taiwan and hong kong, which provided the inspiration for Takaramachi at the time. (the fictional urban setting for Tekkon)
With the images of urban decay still fresh in our minds - images that were both beautiful and ugly at the same time - I made these concept sketches.
I had explained the designs to our director at the time Morimoto Koji in this way: "Imagine Disney World went out of business and an entire city full of asian squatters moved in and made it their home."
He laughed and we made the pilot.

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