Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Being an FX artist



Very recently my wife was going through some of the videos on her iPhone when she came across this particular movie. After 12 years of marriage she did not need to ask me, what is this for? She just asked if I still need it.

For most of my life I have been categorized by many people outside the game industry as "weird," especially those of the female persuasion. But tonight while going through some of my emails I came across this reference and realized this sort of observational curiosity is really what separates VFX artists, and in many cases most artists from "normal people."

Now, this is by no means a new thought for me, nor is it a criticism of "normal people." I only use the term "normal" because so often I have been called "weird" for pointing out that purple color in the sky while attending a baseball game... I have realized for quite some time that I tend to notice subtleties that others might not pick up on, and in some cases with folks who are not artistic they cannot seem to get why I spend the time looking. At one point in my life I just plain stopped sharing those thoughts with anyone besides my wife, until I entered the game industry.

Some of the most talented people I have met during my time in this industry also happen to be the most observational, pointing out the "weird" things like the amount of color and saturation in a shadow, the behavior of a drop of water, or even that one strange cloud in a vast blue sky that would never "make it" in our game world where it would just look wrong. I still recall the realization one late night that every moment in film and in gaming is crafted to simulate those "special moments" in real life where the world around you just feels unique, that magic hour lasts all day and all night in our game worlds.

Why am I writing this? Because I feel strongly that it is important to take the time when that opportunity presents itself to capture the moment, to sit in the chair and look at how the edges of wine become more diffuse depending on the viewing angle to the fluid, how the color becomes more saturated as the angle changes...these are the small differences which can set great VFX apart from the crowd. I catch myself far too often jumping into an effect and getting started without proper reference because of time limitations and I feel this is when VFX tend to suffer the most.

Typically there will be something just off, timing of a flash will be too long, or too short...not enough color, the wrong color, too few components or too many. This is not rocket science, and by no means a new idea, but for me it is more of a reminder to slow down and really explore and enjoy what it is you are doing.

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