Interviews that focus on the CG creative in visual effects, architecture and beyond. Christopher Nichols of Chaos Group sits down with directors, artists, photographers and developers for candid discussions on technology and art, all with a focus on computer graphics. Visit chaosgroup.com/cg-garage for more information and an archive of past shows.

This week’s CG Garage is a special episode because I got a chance to sit down with Alex McDowell, the founder of World Building Institute and Experimental Design. You might have seen his name pop up in Fast Company and Wired from time to time, and it’s no mystery why they want to talk to him. On top of his current roles, which we’ll get into in a minute, this is a man who helped set up the Sex Pistols first gig, made music videos with Depeche Mode, led production designs on Fight Club, and designed the entire world, including all of its rules and attributes, for Minority Report. And it’s in that last point, world building, where he can really offer all of us - architects, filmmakers and general 3D artists- some serious food for thought.

Instead of thinking about stories and digital experiences like linear elements, Alex approaches his designs spherically, like you would a VR space. He asks questions like “What are the conditions of the world and what is going to drive it forward?” and then figures out how elements like different types of humans will define or navigate this environment. An elderly person, for instance, could live in the same world as a Olympian, but endure radically different challenges. And from what Alex has learned, as the challenges and context around your focal points change, so do the stories you can tell. With world building, storytellers are encouraged to consider more possibilities, which in turn, open up a greater understanding of the environments and characters they create.

At first glance, you may think this only works for feature films. But consider the 3D world’s most common thread: storytelling. Architects also tell visual stories full of context and character, only they do it through spaces. So imagine what happens when architects apply world building concepts to their art. Designs can be influenced by wider factors than form and function, including how different types of people will navigate the space. Using these concepts, architects can also consider how the mechanisms of the city, or even society at large, will change the experience they are offering, even if that change resides at a granular or subconscious level. As elements are defined, they compound, helping an artist (or your team) gain an elevated knowledge of any design that incorporates narrative.

It really can be quite powerful, and like I said, is not limited to a single field. I hope you’ll give it a shot.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast162_AlexMcDowell.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:50pm PDT

They’re back! Star Wars aficionados, film buffs and visual effects artists Dan Thron and Justin Fields join Chris for the second part of this follow-up to the original, divisive Last Jedi podcast. This episode continues to pore over The Last Jedi to work out if the good bits outweigh the bad, and whether director Rian Johnson can shake off the franchise’s excessive baggage and build a fresh universe for a new audience.

It’s a podcast that packs as many twists, crises of confidence and character arcs as the movie itself, and Dan, Justin and Chris discover their opinions are more in line than they first thought. They also delve into the other Star Wars movies, and films including Pulp Fiction, Blade Runner 2049, The Goonies and Justice League. You’ll find out what effects industry acronym CBB stands for, a surefire way to tell when Yoda is being goofy, and how Hitchcock’s The Birds cleverly creates a sense of tension and unease.

Dan will return for another discussion of a classic film. As for young Justin, we’ll watch his career with great interest.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast161_DanThron_JustinFields_part2.mp3
Category:Movies -- posted at: 9:01pm PDT

On-set data integration people fill a crucial role in the modern movie making process. They capture reference materials such as HDR images, camera data, and reference photography so effects artists can ensure their CG creations fit perfectly into the shot.

As data integration lead Viki Chan explains, the job combines the glamor of traveling the world to work with a-list actors and directors, with 17-hour days and having to stay away from home for months at a time. She breaks down what her job involves, whether it’s placing tracking markers on the set, negotiating with ADs and gaffers, or minimizing the amount of CG involved on a production.

Viki comes across as friendly and professional – exactly the sort of person you’d want to work with on a chaotic movie set. And she’s got some great anecdotes about Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast160_VikiChan.mp3
Category:VFX -- posted at: 4:57pm PDT

Chris, Dan and David’s take on The Last Jedi in podcast #156 stirred up many emotions on social media – especially among listener Justin Goby Fields. In fact, Justin posed such a good take on why The Last Jedi is a good movie that Chris invited him to appear on the podcast for a two-episode discussion.

In part one, Justin points out the clever ways The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi break down characters and ideas from previous Star Wars movies and reconfigure them to feel diverse and fresh. And he raises some interesting questions: could Poe Dameron become Star Wars’ best hero? And is Kylo Ren its best, and bustiest, villain?

In this occasionally heated discussion, the trio also branch out into other franchises, like Logan and Deadpool’s brutal, potty-mouthed diversions from the X-Men universe, and talk about what DC, Marvel and Lucasfilm can learn from big budget TV series such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Mindhunter.

No matter what you think of The Last Jedi – and your opinion will almost certainly change a little by the end of the podcast – this is an in-depth discussion of the movie’s successes and failings, and the current state of movie making in general.

Justin, Chris and Dan will return in a couple of weeks for Episode Two: Martini Giant Strikes Back.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast159_DanThron_JustinFields.mp3
Category:Movies -- posted at: 3:42am PDT

While the THU festival is all about bringing brilliant artists together, a lot of it couldn’t happen without its media partners. In this podcast, Chris chats with some the people who help out behind the scenes.

In the first part, Chris is joined by Lenovo senior product manager Greyson Davis and Gnomon chief technology officer Eric Miller. Eric is fresh from a presentation featuring Lenovo’s latest tech, and they talk about how laptops are on the verge of usurping desktop PCs, the future of GPU and cloud rendering, and the varying hardware requirements of digital artists.

In part two, Chris meets Te Hu, a coder and artist who won ArtStation’s THU Golden Ticket contest. Te, better know as Ford, used an innovative modular system to generate characters for the winning piece, and he also talks about his day job at ILM’s ILMxLAB VR/AR department, and how he uses technical skills to create cinematic visions.

Te is joined by ArtStation’s product manager Daniel Wade, who tells Chris how ArtStation has gone from a small startup to an essential recruitment and analysis platform for the games, film, media, and entertainment industries.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast158_THU2017_06.mp3
Category:CGI -- posted at: 3:17pm PDT

Greg Teegarden’s first role in Hollywood was suitably iconic: he designed the famous gates for Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. From here, Greg worked as a modeler on Spielberg’s ambitious seaQuest DSV TV project, then helped create effects for Titanic and cars for The Fifth Element.

In this podcast, Greg talks about his career, and how his dad and uncle’s collaboration on TV series Supertrain helped set it up. He and Chris reminisce about the late nights they had at Digital Domain, and the huge cast of characters who made up the team there, including Eric Barba, Victoria Alonso, Ed Ulbrich, and Steve Worley, the software genius who’d write entire LightWave plugins on the plane.

Greg finishes with a discussion of his current work at Digital Domain on piractical TV series Black Sails — and reminds Chris of the time they hung out with dozens of bikini-clad models at his pool during the making of a short film.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast157_GregTeagarden.mp3
Category:VFX -- posted at: 7:06pm PDT

As the dust settles on 2017, one question lingers on everyone’s minds: was Star Wars: The Last Jedi a good movie? The critics have embraced indie auteur Rian Johnson’s continuation of the new Star Wars universe, but the response from audiences and internet nerds has ranged from ecstatic, to meh, to Kylo Ren-like levels of rage.

To dissect this divisive movie, Chris is joined by Star Wars revisionist and podcast regular Dan Thron, Chaos Group’s Communications Director David Tracy — and a bottle of Colorado’s finest whisky. They talk about what makes the film work: the incredible visuals, the performances and chemistry, and the ways it wipes the slate clean and takes apart what Star Wars means for younger audiences. But they also highlight the film’s negatives: the goofy humor, tonal inconsistencies, and Death Star-sized plot holes.

It’s an thought-provoking and increasingly drunk conversation which touches on Dan’s arguments about the original trilogy, David’s formative experiences with Darth Vader, and the future of both the Star Wars universe and colossal movie franchises.

Whether you loved or hated The Last Jedi, this is a great way to spend two hours of 2018.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast156_DanielThron_TheLastJedi.mp3
Category:Movies -- posted at: 7:49pm PDT

Mobile games are big business — bigger, in fact, than their console counterparts. They’re cheaper to make, require smaller teams, and they can generate huge amounts of money. In the first part of this podcast, Chris talks to John “Cip” Cipriani, senior artist at enormously successful mobile games company Supercell (Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, Boom Beach).

Of course, mobile games have their own complications — hundreds are released every day, and established titles continually add new features. John tells Chris how Supercell has succeeded with quick but gratifying gameplay, distinctive art styles, and games which cater to gamers of all ages, no matter what device they’re using.

The increasing power of phones and tablets, combined with easy access to cloud resources and intuitive interfaces, make them an ideal candidate for 3D modelling and rendering. This topic comes up in a Chris’ second conversation, with artists Carlos Ortega and Lip Comarella.

As well as discussing the future of 3D, animation director Lip and character artist Carlos talk about their experiences at THU. At last year’s event, Lip posed an interesting personal question about relationships and art, while Carlos has previously served as a “Knight” at the festival.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast155_JohnCipriani_CarlosOrtega_LipComarella.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:17pm PDT

Maxx Burman was destined for a career in the film industry — but how he got there is surprising. His grandfather and parents were practical effects artists, creating the groundbreaking makeup for The Wolfman and The Planet of the Apes, respectively.

Helping his parents out on all-nighters gave Maxx a strong worth ethic, and a hard-earned knowledge of what happens behind the scenes in Hollywood. But an early viewing of The Matrix inspired him to carve out his own career path in the less-messy world of VFX.

After establishing himself as a freelance matte painter and VFX supervisor, Maxx’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. His most recent venture is Kitbash3D, a handy online repository of professional, optimized 3D models of different styles of architecture, from “Victorian” to “Neo Tokyo,” ready to be “bashed” into backdrops, matte paintings and 3D environments. It takes the guesswork, and hard work, out of creating believable cityscapes.

As Maxx reveals in this podcast, that’s not all he’s working on. He’s creating a game for Nintendo, still working as a freelance matte artist, and even starting a company to manage all his endeavours. He and Chris talk about adventures in Digital Domain's keyboard graveyard, how Maxx has gone from artist to businessman, and how he ensures his projects succeed.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast154_MaxxBurman.mp3
Category:CGI -- posted at: 8:52pm PDT

Summer 1993. Jurassic Park is about to be unleashed in theatres. Meanwhile, at the Rice School of Architecture in Houston, Texas, a young student named Chris Nichols is learning how to use AutoCAD, 3dstudio v2, and Wavefront. Overseeing Chris is Shisha van Horn, a paleontologist turned architecture student, then lecturer.

Chris and Shisha are reunited for this trip down memory lane. Shisha talks about how she set up the school’s first computer network, and cajoled Chris into creating 3dstudio online manuals using nothing more than notepad and HTML tags.

It’s a reminder of how much has changed. Most of Chris’ portfolio from the time now fits on a single SD card, but in 1993 it would have filled a hard drive. The arch viz industry didn’t exist. The department used a dye-sublimation printer which cost $6,300, Gopher and Mosaic were the only ways to look at web content, and Chris even built his own render farms so he could get his thesis done in time.

It’s also testament to the talent and energy Chris brought to the university, then the architecture and VFX industries, and now to Chaos Group. And it’s nice to hear from Shisha, who was an instrumental and influential part of Chris’ life and career.

Direct download: CGGarage_Podcast153_ShishaVanHorn.mp3
Category:Architecture -- posted at: 2:11pm PDT