VFX Producers Emphasize Asset Management and Previs at Producers Guild Mixer

The demanding and multi-faceted role of the visual effects producer took center stage as the Producers Guild of America hosted its third mixer of the year, Aug. 21, 2003, at Sony Imageworks. Presented by the guild's New Media Council, panelists included Lydia Bottegoni, sr visual effects producer for Sony Imageworks, (SPIDER MAN II); Gail Currey, vp/exec in charge of production for Industrial Light & Magic (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL); Dan Curry, visual effects producer on ENTERPRISE, which recently earned him an Emmy nomination; John DesJardin, visual effects supervisor (THE MATRIX RELOADED); John Gaeta, senior visual effects supervisor (THE MATRIX franchise); and Alison Savitch, president and co-founder of Threshold Digital Research Labs (BEOWULF). The moderator was Michelle Murdoca, former visual effects producer and vp of animation for Sony Pictures.

The panelists discussed the managerial role of the vfx producer in guiding and protecting the visual effects supervisors, hiring and staying on top of the vendors and working closely in post-production with creatives and studios.

"It means having two jobs at once," Bottegoni asserted. "You're trying to make a deadline with all these incredible demands from the director on down, and then you have all these other interim deadlines where you have to get work finished well in advance of your final editing. So you tend to always have a very close relationship with marketing and publicity departments at the studio."

They stressed the importance of digital asset management and previsualization in keeping on top of a production. For instance, in THE MATRIX trilogy, there are 10,000 assets that moved over to the art department. Gaeta, said, "Just imagine: We're making a giant robot on-set where you're going to have these back-and-forth scenes. We'd have a process [consisting of] two-thirds conceptuals that would go to a 3D concept design phase [in consultation] with Larry, Andy [Wachowski] and the art director [This] would go through a certain level of detail, and then get bumped to the vendor to do fully functional [models], and then that's passed back to the art department [to make] CAD versions so they could build a 14-foot version of this thing that matched the computer graphics version. This merging on allowed us toput ourselves in the middle of this relay of design, the eye of the hurricane."

Savitch said the good news, in terms of outsourcing to vendors overseas, is that, unlike the animation industry in the '90s, you are no longer at the mercy of proprietary software that is incompatible with your own. "Whether you're a digital company or a producer that's going to produce additional media, it's good to be in control and know what all your assets are like." She also made a plea to keep visual effects located in California, where the talent pool is rich and can perform quickly and inexpensively. Not surprisingly, the room broke out into applause.

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