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VES Production Summit to Address Paradigm Shift

VFXWorld gets a sneak peek at the first VES Production Summit, which takes place Saturday at the Ritz Carlton, Hotel, Marina del Rey.

All eyes will be on Avatar for its technological paradigm shift and audacious use of 3-D. © Twentieth Century Fox.

In an effort to become more vital and relevant -- especially during the recession and at a crucial juncture when the industry is undergoing a technological paradigm shift -- the VES is reaching out to the industry at large to start a conversation at this Saturday's Production Summit 09 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Marina del Rey. For more info, go to:

"With the Production Summit, VES is taking the lead in bringing together all aspects of the production process -- from directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, art directors as well as key players in visual effects -- in order to create a more collaborative process for how all the creative crafts will work with each other not only tomorrow, but also, far into the future, " says Eric Roth, VES executive director.

The Production Summit will consist of three sessions: "Through the Kaleidoscope," an interactive conversation about the changing rules for pre-production, production and post-production; "X-Ray: Decoding and Thriving in the 21st Century Post-Production Pipeline"; and "Hot, Flat and (Getting) Crowded: The Business of Production and the New Global Economy."

"The idea was to get all these incredible people in a room and have a very unscripted, unprepared conversation about those things that affect them," explains Jill Smolin, co-chair of the Summit with Bob Coleman. "Things like a DP needing to be on a production during the post process; or an editor coming on during pre-production. Technically, we wanted to dive into the fact that we have all these origination, distribution and projection formats, and how do we reconcile those? How do we deal with color? Can we come to an agreement? Or do we really have to define these issues on a show-by-show basis? Globally, we know the world is much bigger and much smaller, meaning we have studios that originated in Los Angeles, that now have branches in India. There are companies that started in India that now have facilities in London and Los Angeles. Vancouver is practically a suburb....we wanted to create a day where all we did was talk about all of these elements in an attempt to chart a path, start a dialogue that will allow us to create a future with intention and purpose, rather than just by solving problems as they arise.

ILM/Lucasfilm took a new approach by integrating NVIDIA GPUs in the process of creating a fire sim tool on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that has industry-wide implications. © Warner Bros.

"I think it's really awesome that the VES is helming this, as we're an industry that's been affected by so many of these conversations. We have come so far since the 'fix it in post' days, to the point that it's routine to include the vfx practitioners in pre-production meetings. But we are so very not alone. All of us -- every piece of the production puzzle -- is affected by every other piece.

"I think it might be a bit disorienting to some of our fabulous speakers because there has been no prep on their part; there's nothing to do but show up. All the heavy lifting has been handled in the background in putting together these very interesting groups of people who have distinct opinions and obvious contributions to a vital, vibrant, evolving industry… Oh, in an attempt to further tap areas of inspiration, we're putting crayons on the tables so people can express anything they like during the day. If this means we put up illustrations or flow-charts or random words, we'll just see. We just want to create a day that approaches our industry from a slightly different angle, which, in a way, is really what creatives do every day."

According to Jeffrey Okun, VES chairman, who is moderating the first session, "Step one is imagine what the future will be and step two is let's start the conversation about how we're all going to get there in one piece. It may result in the end of some verticals and the invention of others. People need to learn what it's going to be like so we're not all victims.

"The enlightened viewpoint is that there's room for various techniques and formats such as performance capture and 3-D. However, as someone who shall remain nameless said, 'Oh, boy, another way for all the executives to defer any decision until the very end of production."

A Christmas Carol is another instance of virtual production that signals a new workflow paradigm shift. © Walt Disney.

For Richard Hollander (Newt,WALL•E), who is moderating the second session, they "hopefully will get into detail of some of the problems of watching these different media, different sourcing of imagery and multiple houses delivering imagery back to the colorist. And those things provide a route that you have to navigate quite carefully. So I'm not calling them problems because there are always things that you have to navigate. And this panel is not there to solve the navigation problems or to declare a solution: it's there to expose those different portions of the path to get the film done and to provide some perspective."

But Hollander wants to bring the discussion even closer to the ground." There are some really mundane things that are going on in making films and trying to get the imagery from the moment you shoot it to having it previewed to having visual effects houses converging into editorial to the final DI place. There's a whole big stumbling block there. Digital cameras are still a big topic."

And what's it been like for Hollander transitioning from Rhythm & Hues to Pixar? "Pixar is a different world. It's not effects because it's all enclosed. But the difference is that it's all sourced here and from start to finish and that's what interested me in coming to Pixar."

Finally, Colin Brown, British Film Commissioner, UK Film Council, who will participate in the third session, believes the Summitneeds to happen now because the VFX industry is truly international and a major part of the film economy.

2012 also represents a new production model with a core team completing 225 out of 1,380 shots on the Sony lot and acting as a hub for the 12 outside companies. © Columbia Pictures.

"Vfx is no longer the domain of a few companies," Brown suggests. "Sequences can be sent all around the world. The business is now relatively mature but still improving its offer in terms of greater skill and cheaper price exponentially. Pipelines, animation tech and artist technique is improving as speeds go up and storage costs come down. The question here might be could artists be replaced by smart machines?

"Do [studios] love vfx or regard them as an expensive necessary evil? Most studios have had in-house vfx and then got rid of it. And if vfx are (as we'd all agree) crucial to big budget success, why don't credits reflect this?

"Vfx are riding a wave of formulaic superhero and/or disaster extravaganzas. What if this changes? Vfx drive major day and date releases. What if the distribution paradigm changes and studios can no longer justify $200m bets?

"Lastly, where are the big new facilities capable of producing a 'blockbusterful' of FX on an industrial scale being built?"

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.