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VFX For Directors
Read the review at Filmmaking Central
I just spent about a month with the Visual Effects for Directors DVD set. Yep, a month. This seven DVD set runs over 11 hours, yet is densely educational, which lead me to view several sections two to three times. I wouldn't recommend trying to swallow all of this training in one go.
I've been in the production business for a long time and, upon first blush, I thought this content would be mostly rehash for me. Even the design of the hollywood-camera-work-visual-effects-for-directors-intensive-green-screen-training-matchmoving-compositing-motion-capture-and-more-1packaging led me to believe it was targeted at a demographic far beneath my own skill level and experience. First impressions can often be a little off, but this time, I was completely wrong.
Let me start off by telling you what this is not: This is not software-specific instruction or tutorials. While software tools are used throughout the training, they aren't taught. The goal of the training is to provide the viewer with a firm grasp of the concepts of visual effects production. These concepts are applicable to a wide variety of tools. The software tools change constantly, while this training is more fundamental in nature, a fact that should provide this training with a long shelf life.
As the title implies, this training is targeted at directors, but in my opinion it has more broad application. If everyone on a production team from pre-production to post were to have this base of knowledge to inform their decisions, the final film or video project would certainly benefit.
Visual effects production is highly situational, meaning there's a lot of different approaches to the art of a successful vfx shot. This is the first training I have ever seen that acknowledges this right up front, and then proceeds, with numerous examples, to walk the viewer through a number of approaches and techniques to achieving a certain effect. Showing what doesn't work often has more educational value than just showing what does. This training excels at this throughout the course. The viewer is left with a very good understanding of what is possible, and a sense of the best approach to tackle a particular challenge.
Throughout this training, most of the nearly 1000 examples are demonstrated in draft quality, as the sheer volume of content would have been cost-prohibitive to finish the shots to "blockbuster" perfection. Having said that, draft quality is enough to illustrate the concepts perfectly. Any viewer who can't get past that are really watching this series for the wrong reason anyway.
The series starts off with a primer on 3D, and you'll see Maya in use, but again, the emphasis is on universal concepts, not specific software. Volume 2 presents a compositing primer and touches on the importance of obtaining good mattes, a point that will be driven home throughout the balance of the training. Point and planar 2D tracking are covered, and when each is preferable. In Volume 3, 3D tracking (matchmoving) is presented in an accessible and clear manner. If a firm grasp of 3D tracking has proven elusive to you, this section is gold. This disc also discusses some of the challenges associated with integrating 3D into live scenes. Volume 4 continues with tackling live action/3D interaction in depth, motion capture, object removal, crowd replication, and more.
At this point in the set the content turns toward deeper training on specific areas. Volumes 5 and 6 take the subject of green screen work to great depth, and are some of the most comprehensive (yet comprehensible!) training I've ever seen on the subject. A nice bonus was a section on how the producers of this training built 2-wall greenscreen cyc in a basement for about $700. There are also some great tips on greenscreen paint, tracking markers, and inexpensive lighting.
Volume 7 concludes the training by teaching physics, particle and fluid simulation and then spends a lot of time breaking down how various shots come together in the final composite. Eyeon Fusion is used, but the techniques are presented in a way that's pretty universal to any nodal compositor. The compositing training is especially valuable when illustrating how to extract just the right mattes for finishing a composite. If you are an After Effects user, you'll come away with a firm grasp on how node-based compositing differs from the layers model, and when it is the best choice for a given shot.
The writing style of this series is plain and practical. The content is presented by a narrator, who, while a little dry, plays it straight and tells it like it is. Come to think of it, when I considering the volume and educational detail in the content, I don't think I would want someone highly animated for over 11 hours of training. That might get annoying.
The training also threw me a bit of a curveball when it came to the subject of motion control cameras. Citing licensing issues, they direct the viewer to the Camera Control website for viewing what is ultimately an excellent educational piece on the subject. But it is produced and hosted by cameracontrol.com, not Hollywood Camera Work. I found this redirection a bit unusual, but nevertheless the quality of the training they are pointing you to is quite good.
I wish there had been training like this available when I entered the business. It could literally have shaved years off my skills development in this industry. While no training could completely replace practical experience, I think there's value here. For the newbie, this is a great jump start, and will certainly help prevent many errors. For the veteran, there is likely enough new and review material here to sharpen one's game.
I rate this training 4.5/5 stars!
For more information visit HollywoodCameraWork.us
Disclosure by Carey Dissmore: I received a review copy of this product. No promises of a favorable review were requested or given. My opinions are my own, and are expressed honestly.
Carey Dissmore is an award-winning editor, designer and principal of Carey Dissmore Productions, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN. He specializes in TV spots, broadcast television, meeting and event openers, corporate communications, documentaries and feature films. Additionally, Carey teaches intermediate & advanced Adobe After Effects and editing, most recently at top-10 liberal arts school Carleton College in the Cinema and Media Studies department. Carey is founder of the IMUG, the International Media Users Group, an all-volunteer industry association of peers helping each other through the daily challenges of production, as well as the producer of major user events such as the Media Motion Ball at NAB.
Review By Carey Dissmore