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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Santa Monica CA

    Chess4thestupid's "Things you need to know, and maybe don't."


    I am the lead visual effects/3D artist at a Post-House here in sunny Los Angeles California. (Although I won't say which one.)

    I have browsed these forums for a while.... and even found a few answers to questions from time to time. So thanks to all who participate.

    Anyway I've been mooching off of this and other forums for years... so time to give a little back..... I read a lot of posts asking about "how to break in to the industry?"... "What do I need in my reel?".... "What software do I need to know?" etc. So I thought..... I can answer a lot of these type of questions.

    I've attached a link to my reels on my personal site so you can get a feel for the type of work that I do.

    I can obviously give better advice to those looking to get into Post-Production as opposed to those trying to get more into the video game side of things... but I will do the best I can to answer any questions you might have. Since this thread will be closed I have created a response thread. All questions and comments should go here.


    So without further hesitation....

    __________________________________________________ ___________

    1. UNDERSTANDING VIDEO FORMATS: Too many people come into post production, (be it animators, or visual fx artists) and know a lot about the software they are using, but nothing about all of the different formats of video/film. There are sooooo many problems that need to be solved when going between all of these different formats.... If you understand these on a fundemental level, and can solve these problems... you are even more valuable as an employee.

    Some things you want to understand are: Frame Rates / 3:2 Pulldown / Different formats of HD and SD / PAL vs. NTSC / 29.97 Drop Frame vs. Non Drop / Pixel aspect ratio. / Field Dominance.

    2. DON'T RENDER EVERYTHING IN ONE PASS: When working in post production or animation, changes come down the pipe constantly. Many times this can be less of a headache if you render things in separate passes. In some cases this just isn't a good solution but in many cases you can render elements of the scene seperately... then if they decide they don't like the tree outside the window... you just turn off the layer. Which brings me to #3

    3. KNOW SOME COMPOSITING SOFTWARE (AFTER FX / COMBUSTION): Working completely in 3D anymore is not really done. Very few people do. So many FX that would take forever to render in 3D are very quick if done through compositing software. (e.g. Particle systems, Lighting FX, Lasers, Flashes, lens flares) By doing these FX after you render, you can try a lot of different looks with relative ease, and without having to re-render in 3D.

    4. SOFTWARE "IN-BETWEENS": Programs that allow you to take positional information from one program to another are priceless as far as I am concerned. And are at the core of a lot of the high end graphics you see these days. MAX-2AE (from allows you to take positional data from Max into After FX... for Lights, Cameras, and Helper layers. Then you can add 3D particles, text, motion graphix and Post FX easily and they line up with your 3D render perfectly.

    Plugins for After FX such as "WALKER FX 3D Channel Lighting" allow you to re light your scene after it's been rendered. The main point here is.. the more you can change and adjust without having to return to your 3D software the better. This especially applies when you are working in HD where each frame you render is 1920X1080.

    Have you ever been 12 hours into a 13 hour render and had your system crash??? power loss??? ... and then you lose the whole movie. If you render to image sequences this never happens.

    You simply pick up where the render left off.. and keep on rendering. Because it is writing the data for each frame in a separate file a crash won't corrupt your whole render. This may seem obvious to some.. but believe me a lot of people still render to movies, and then cry when they crash.

    Alpha channels are so important in the world of compositing and 3D. Some files can contain alpha channels (tiff / targa / psd) while some cannot (jpg / bmp).

    The same is true for movie files as well. In post production almost every movie rendered out is a quicktime movie. Post production just loves this file format... but some codecs don't hold alpha while others do. In most cases when you export to a QT movie and you need an alpha channel you will use "ANIMATION" compression with "millions of colors +" selected.

    NOTE: the "+" sign after millions of colors stands for "ALPHA" -------- "Animation" is a lossless codec... so your render will look as good as it possibly can.

    Many people think that in the professional world we all know exactly how we are going to do everything from the start, and that is not the case 99% of the time. For every single shot we work on there is a process of trial and error.

    Put it this way... If you know how to make a ball roll down a hill in 3D because someone taught it to you... that's great. But if you figured it out yourself because you needed it done and there was no other way... that's even better. If you want to be a valued employee anywhere in this industry... you need to be the type that can do your own problem solving. This is a KEY trait that companies look for in employees.

    8. 3D LIGHTING TIPS: Sometimes when you get a lot of lights in your scene it's easy to lose track of what each light is doing... specifically. I have a few tricks I thought I would share.

    Sometimes when placing lights in a scene I make them primary colors... like pure Green/Blue/Red this will give me a better idea about which lights are effecting which parts of my geometry.

    Every light doesn't need to cast a shadow. Of course in the real world every light does cast a shadow, but you have to remember what you are trying to accomplish with each light you put in your scene. If you don't know that... you shouldn't be placing the light in your scene at all. Sometimes you are putting light in a scene just to bring more illumination to a darker area. These are one of the types of lights that should (in most cases.. of course there are exceptions) not be casting shadows. For instance: If I was trying to light a coffee mug on a table, lit by a single lamp... and one part of my mug was a little darker than I wanted it to be (let's say the inside of the cup is too dark).... I might add a soft light just to bring out that one part of the mug. But this light would not need to cast shadows.... remember, although I am adding a light in 3D I am trying to simulate light from a single source... any new shadows would just take away from what I am trying to accomplish, and add to my render time. This can be especially costly when you have 5 lights that are casting raytraced shadows.. when only one needs to be.

    Don't be afraid to turn lights off. Many times, especially when setting up edge lights that cast light toward the camera, it is difficult to see what effect, if any, they are having. A great way to make it easier is to simply turn off all of the other lights in your scene. Then you can tell exactly what your light is doing. Also edge lights often need to be very bright to read well in your render. In most cases I use multiple lights to to get a good cast on the edge of an object and have them effect no other objects in the scene. That way I can do whatever I need to with them to get the lighting I want.. without having to ruin everything else in my scene. This is a method I learned ages ago... and I haven't stopped using it since.
    Last edited by chess4thestupid; 03-15-2009 at 07:58 PM.

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