What for? If a compelling story can be told without real scientific underpinnings, why shouldn’t it be embraced? I personally am more drawn to storylines with their basis in a believable scientific back story, but there are many examples of more free-flowing projects that have been successful.
What have been some of your biggest challenges?
Survival as an independent visual effects company working out of Western Massachusetts. From a technical standpoint, the Spider-man Ride for Universal required us to pre-distort stereoscopic dome footage to compensate for the moving audience (traveling on a moving motionbase simulator on a track). That was some hairy math that was solved by our longtime tech buddy, Frank Vitz, whom I met at Robert Abel and Associates in 1985.
Do you have a particular favorite visual effects scene?
The opening of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments knocked me out and inspired me to make effects in films.
Tell us about virtual humans, digital human models, and synthespians.
At my first company, Digital Effects, we had experimented with a crude form of motion capture in which we shot an actor with ping-pong balls attached to a leotard in 35mm film, then projected each frame down onto a platen on an animation stand and traced the position of the balls onto paper cels. These cels were then digitized on a tablet to acquire 2D points of the moving 3D image. We connected those points with a simulation of electric bolts to create a moving “electric man” animation as a test for a feature film that never made it into production. We dabbled in character animation after that, until I met Diana Walzcak at SIGGRAPH ’85 in San Francisco, who was a sculptor interested in CG.
Working at Omnibus in LA, Diana and I created Nestor Sextone, our first Synthespian, and our first film, “Sextone for President” was shown at SIGGRAPH ’86 in Boston. This film featured a character created as a series of clay sculptures by Diana that we digitized and reordered for interpolation using a program written by our old friend and Poser creator, Larry Weinberg. We followed that up with “Don’t Touch Me” featuring motion capture by Motion Analysis of a female synthespian singing and dancing to an original song. Later, we created a CG Mystique character to match Rebecca Romjin’s makeup as Mystique in the X-men Trilogy, and created all the transformations from Mystique into other characters. Also, we used a cyberscan of Bruce Willis and motion tracking of his performance to make him appear 30 years younger in “Surrogates”.
How do you see these technologies being applied in the near future?
Since we can now render photorealistic humans, more and more stunt work will be accomplished with the aid of synthetic characters, and creating characters that look many years younger than the actor will become commonplace. Actors from the past will be exhumed and cast in new roles, accompanied by the inevitable moral, legal, and ethical chaos that will follow.
What inspires you in your work?
I am thrilled to see a project into which I have dedicated a lot of time released to the general public with good reviews and appreciation.
What is your vision for movies and movie technology in the future?
Gaming will likely continue to grow as an entertainment medium, particularly with the coming ubiquity of immersive display equipment like the Oculus Rift, and retinal projection. An unfortunate downside of this will be the tendency toward isolated experience inside a heads-up display and away from the common experience we share as an audience in a theater.
What advice can you give aspiring visual effects designers and science fiction movie directors?
Hold onto your hats, because it will continue to be more and more elaborate and expensive to “wow” the public with great effects. The large companies enjoy a major advantage in that they can afford to maintain large R&D teams that will continue to push the envelope and raise the bar each
year. Definitely do NOT recommend starting a small company in the field of visual effects.
Good luck to All!
Check out Jeff Kleiser’s visual effects work here
Remember there are only four weeks left to enter your video into the Kavli “Science in Fiction” Video Contest! The deadline is March 21, 2014
! Enter the contest here
Does science fiction inspire you? So far, our student entrants have explored the science in robots, light sabers, exoskeletons, genetic engineering, time travel, holography and more.
Check out video contest entries here.