Inside View: Tippett Studio
Matt Jacobs VFX supervisor – Tippett Studio • Berkeley, California
By Christine Bunish
Markee: You started with Tippett Studio in 1997 doing VFX compositing. How did that prepare you for VFX supervising?
Mr. Jacobs: “In compositing you wind up interfacing with all departments, so it gives you a well-rounded overview of VFX. Even though you’re at the end of the pipeline, it’s useful for compositing to get involved early when there are issues to be addressed that will affect your work. I comp supervised a number of shows then went on to VFX supervise my first show, The Golden Compass, which had about 40 shots, in 2007. Then I did New Moon, the first in the Twilight series, which featured our signature wolves. More recently, I was VFX supervisor for the treasure vault sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II and the Titans sequence near the end of Immortals.”
Markee: What did Tippett’s contribution to Immortals consist of?
Mr. Jacobs: “All of the work we did on Immortals revolved around animating characters for the film.
“It’s the sequence where the Titans are released from their tomb and the gods come down. When we came onto the project, choreography had been built around the five gods fighting the Titans within their tomb. Initially, the Titans were supposed to be all CGI, but for budgetary reasons they decided to use a lot of the practical footage they shot with stuntmen as reference footage for editorial. We had to recreate those performances over four days by taking the same stuntmen Titans and gods to the motion capture stage.”
Markee: Why was motion capture a good solution?
Mr. Jacobs: “It was incredibly valuable to go directly from shooting the film to the mo cap stage with the stuntmen – they were all prepped and knew the performances like the backs of their hands. In fact, when we started lining up the mo cap performances with the production footage, the mo cap timings matched incredibly well.
“This was the first time that Tippett embraced motion capture. We’ve always been a key-frame animation facility. So we brought in people to help us bridge the gap and process the mo cap performances that came into the studio. Mo cap has a place when you’re trying to capture human performances – which is the most difficult thing for an animator to do – and when you have a big volume of human animation to do. Mo cap is the fastest way to get very specific – and very believable – performances into the pipeline. Yet you need highly skilled animators to take those performances and push them into something even more extraordinary.”
Markee: While the rest of Immortals was shot in stereo 3D the Titans scene was not?
Mr. Jacobs: “That’s right. The fact that this sequence was going to be converted to 3D later influenced our decision on how to create all the blood – director Tarsem Singh called this sequence ‘a ballet of blood.’ We opted to create the blood through fluid simulations instead of filming elements on our stage and compositing them. We felt we could better maintain continuity of the fight’s very stylized look – the Titans die in slow motion, and so the blood was to be in slow motion, too.
“But it was very challenging to try to art direct the blood! It can be really difficult to do with fluid simulations. We had numerous iterations of each blood simulation, then adjusted the nuances to get the look we were going for.
“Immortals also was the first film on which we used [The Foundry’s] Nuke for compositing, which helped us a lot. We were able to use Nuke to get extra levels of detail wounds on the Titans. Our compositors projected blood drips and splatter to enhance the wounds.”
Markee: What was the most fun aspect of working on Immortals?
Mr. Jacobs: “It’s always great when you’re learning new stuff and trying new things. Our entire team embraced a lot of new tools for Immortals, and the end result is really cool. This is not an industry where you want to become too set in your ways.”
Markee: What’s next for you?
Mr. Jacobs: “Tarsem [Singh’s] retelling of Snow White called Mirror Mirror. It’s a 180-degree turn in content from Immortals – there won’t be blood and guts. But we’re working on some really cool creature animation.”