CLOSE EN­COUN­TERS OF THE 8K KIND

Gra­di­ent Ef­fects re­veal how they pushed the lim­its of their in­fra­struc­ture, in­creas­ing pro­cess­ing power to han­dle 8K, for their ac­tion-packed short film Me­gan

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“While build­ing out the in­fra­struc­ture We de­cided to in­crease our band­width and pro­cess­ing power to han­dle 8K, since that’ll be the in­dus­try stan­dard one day” Ol­cun Tan, vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor/gra­di­ent Ef­fects owner

I n the con­stantly evolv­ing world of VFX, the stu­dios that last are the ones that move with the times. Af­ter mov­ing to their new fa­cil­ity in Playa Vista, Gra­di­ent Ef­fects have done just that. “While build­ing out the in­fra­struc­ture we de­cided to in­crease our band­width and pro­cess­ing power to han­dle 8K, since that’ll be the in­dus­try stan­dard one day,” ex­plains owner and vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Ol­cun Tan. “As a com­pany that does a lot of dig­i­tal ef­fects and sim­u­la­tion work, the band­width re­quire­ments are pretty in­tense, so think­ing ahead helps.”

To test this pow­er­ful new in­fra­struc­ture Gra­di­ent be­gan work on Me­gan, a fiveminute short that takes the au­di­ence deep into the heart of an alien hot zone, where mon­sters lie in wait. From a tech­ni­cal per­spec­tive, the short was tai­lor-made to put the new 8K in­fra­struc­ture through its paces. Cre­atively the team took in­flu­ence from the likes of Black Hawk Down and Clover­field, go­ing so far as to in­clude nu­mer­ous Easter eggs for hard­core fans to spot.

Dis­cussing the stu­dios’ ap­proach Ol­cun says: “Our artists utilised fast, net­worked work­sta­tions to con­nect our stor­age, which is dis­trib­uted over ten dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als servers, mak­ing up close to a petabyte of high-per­for­mance stor­age. Com­posit­ing is done in Nuke and ren­der­ing is done with Arnold and Mantra. Once a VFX shot is ready, it will be im­ported into our HDR Pablo Rio grad­ing sys­tem for re­view and colour cor­rec­tion.”

Get­ting to grips with their new toolset wasn’t all plain sail­ing for Ol­cun and the team how­ever. “With 8K you can run quickly into IO band­width is­sues,” he ex­plains. “Gen­er­ally, ren­der­ing with a

sin­gle ma­chine doesn’t rep­re­sent any big is­sues. These days most work­sta­tions can han­dle 8K. The chal­lenges start when you are read­ing and writ­ing with a hun­dred ma­chines at the same time.”

He con­tin­ues: “We learned that we need to have sys­tems in place that can han­dle the band­width re­quire­ments. It’s not just stor­age, it’s also how you set up your net­work to main­tain high speeds. To re­ally get the speeds con­sis­tent, you need shielded ca­bles that don’t magnetically in­ter­fere with each other. Go­ing faster means you also have to re­con­sider a lot things which were a non­is­sue with a stan­dard 1GB net­work.”

Gra­di­ent also col­lab­o­rated with their sis­ter com­pany se­cret labs in or­der to bring

Me­gan to life; where the for­mer spe­cialises in VFX tele­vi­sion the lat­ter lends its tal­ents to fea­ture film. “The ben­e­fit of hav­ing these two com­pa­nies in-house is that when se­cret lab de­sign a cus­tom tool or piece of tech­nol­ogy for a project, they can pass it down to us to help ac­cel­er­ate the TV work­flow,” Ol­cun ex­plains. “This al­lows Gra­di­ent to de­liver the same qual­ity of work you’d see on a fea­ture film, at the pace of a TV sched­ule, which is al­ways very fast.”

Me­gan be­gins in the after­math of an ex­trater­res­trial oc­cur­rence, with a group of sol­diers rush­ing to the scene in Black Hawk he­li­copters, for which Gra­di­ent were able to re­pur­pose as­sets from their work on tele­vi­sion drama se­ries The Last Ship. The hot zone is pop­u­lated by mys­te­ri­ous spores, cre­ated us­ing a Hou­dini-driven tool that se­cret labs de­vel­oped for The Revenant and later used by Gra­di­ent on Stranger Things.

Ol­cun adds: “The tool helps fill in large ar­eas of fall­ing dust, snow, rain, etc. If you want con­trol over ev­ery as­pect, it can quickly be­come an in­volved process. We learned very quickly that snow also de­forms and changes its shape. When you study the mo­tion blur of filmed snow, you can see it has some in­con­sis­ten­cies. We were only able to match it once we added a de­for­ma­tion to each in­di­vid­ual dig­i­tal flake. Ev­ery pro­fes­sional FX artist will know that this adds up to an in­sane amount of data. With a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in data, any 3D ap­pli­ca­tion will start chok­ing, there­fore we needed a clever culling sys­tem to re­move snow and any un­needed ge­om­e­try.”

Although they are con­stantly look­ing ahead, Gra­di­ent are re­main­ing tight lipped about where they plan to take their pow­er­ful new in­fra­struc­ture next. But Ol­cun sounds very ex­cited about the fu­ture: “un­for­tu­nately we can’t go into de­tails, but we have some re­ally great stuff in de­vel­op­ment.” Find out more about Gra­di­ent Ef­fects’ work at www.gra­di­entfx.com

“by hav­ing two Com­pa­nies in-house… this al­lows Gra­di­ent to de­liver the same qual­ity of Work you’d see on a fea­ture film, at the pace of a tv sched­ule, Which is al­ways very fast” Ol­cun Tan, vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor/gra­di­ent Ef­fects owner

Below: The spore ef­fect was pre­vi­ously used to cre­ate The Up­side Down for net­flix se­ries stranger Things

Left: A hanger pro­vided by he­linet acted as a set for the in­te­rior cock­pit shots and the hot zone

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