Demystifying visual effects

23 Jan 2017 BY Vincent Design Animation Studio

7 mins
Demystifying visual effects

Visual Effects (VFX) are the processes by which imagery is created and/or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot. Often integral to both a film's storytelling and its wider appeal, VFX help to create everything from cities and superheroes, to aliens to entire planets. But what does this fascinating area of filmmaking actually involve, and how can we introduce it to young people? 

We spoke to John Hill and Rheea Aranha from the highly successful design and animation studio Vincent, whose projects have ranged from Bond films to TV branding, and who recently produced the CGI (computer-generated imagery) for our exciting new Respect for IP Trailer, Be The Hero, which you can watch in the video above.

What does your typical day at work involve?

Every job starts with a storyboard. Once the idea is locked in, we create an animatic - a rough version of the moving storyboard - and then comes the modelling, lighting, painting and texturing, until we're ready to tell the computer to create the image - a process known as rendering. 

Each day starts with a review of work from the night before. Much of the processing takes place overnight, and then in the morning we check it to see if we need to make changes. When you work on an animation project you get very involved with it. Looking at it of a morning with fresh eyes enables you to spot things and come up with solutions you hadn't thought of.

How did you get into Visual Effects?

John: By accident. I studied painting, followed by graphic design at university. My first job required me to learn 2D animation, then I landed a job at Pinewood Studios as an art director on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, for which I had to design the opening sequence, where Lara (Angelina Jolie) fights with a robot. From there, I carried on doing lots of VFX work - I seized every opportunity.

Rheea: I had a traditional upbringing in Mumbai, India. I studied economics and maths, then, wanting something more creative, I came to the UK and studied graphic design at art school. Growing up, watching films was always so exciting. It was the seminal title sequence of Seven that really piqued my interest in creating visual effects.

What do you like most about working in Visual Effects?

Rheea: What I enjoy most is coming up with good ideas. Problem solving and technical skills can be learnt - ideas are pure talent and can't be taught.

John: I love the breadth involved in visual effects, the crossover with live action, and the many different disciplines you can get involved with and specialise in, for example, photography, camera work or lighting. Often in this job it's what happens by accident that is most satisfying and enjoyable.

How long did it take to produce the CGI elements for our 'Be The Hero' trailer? 

Our aim was to capture the look of a Marvel film poster and bring it to life, so we spent a fair bit of time researching the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then came modelling, filming, and processes known as tracking and composting - which relate to the movement of the character in the landscape - and the addition of elements such as sky, smoke and fire. The whole process took around ten days. It was great fun.

How can teachers use STEAM subjects to introduce pupils to Visual Effects? 

There are many routes into the Visual Effects industry. Art and design skills will always be useful for the idea, storyboard, and look of a project. Maths and science develop problem solving, observation and practical skills, which are essential in realising a creative vision. Coding is also useful as so much animation nowadays is done on computers.

What is most valuable for young people interested in working in the FX industry?

Many paths have their advantages. Further education gives you the opportunity to experiment with new skills, have fun and sometimes fail, while working as an intern or a runner gives you hands on experience of what the production process involves. There's no substitute for learning on the job.

What additional advice would you give to young people interested in working in Visual Effects? 

Draw something, make something, or film something. If you have an idea, run with it. Technology these days is accessible, so find out what visual effects software is available on the internet and try it out. Research which studios are making interesting films and call them up. Get out there and do it - don't be afraid to have a go!

Check out some of Vincent's brilliant VFX work in our brand new Respect for IP trailer, 'Be The Hero', at the top of this page, and further explore why respect for intellectual property is important in the content below.

Vincent logo

Vincent Design Animation Studio

Vincent is a London design & animation studio. Headed by founding members John Hill & Rheea Aranha, the studio works with some of the world’s leading names in gaming, film and TV to create award winning campaigns, cinematics, branding and VFX.

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