Previs evolved to be used as a decision making tool in film production, to identify the challenges of the shots and sequences before the production crew arrives on set. How much set will need to be built? Where will you need CG? Where do you need the camera to be? All these questions can be answered or at the very least illuminated - resolving issues both creative and financial.
However until recently this has been a slow process. The VFX Supervisor takes a brief from the Director, or the DoP, sometimes both, and gives that brief to a Previs artist. The work is done, they hit render, then you wait. When it’s done, you review it, perhaps you need changes. The work is done, they hit render, then you wait…repeat. That delay - from the creator’s vision to a working previs - can be the reason some filmmakers feel removed from the Previs process.
But that has now been changed radically in a paradigm shift brought about by the use of game engines, such as Unreal Engine, in the process. The game engine allows the filmmaker to visualise things literally in realtime and make changes such as moving a light, moving an animation or any other change right there and then.
NVIZ has been incorporating Unreal Engine into our pipeline for several years, to provide the most streamlined and efficient tools possible. We spoke to Filipe Magalhães Realtime Supervisor within our Visualisation Department about this complex and challenging field. “We can now answer questions about lighting, camera moves, vfx and more in real-time.” says Magalhães. “It really helps in numerous ways when it comes to decision making and allows us to bring solutions to clients, helping them to achieve their goals.”
Typically Magalhães will work closely on site with clients for several days, weeks or months depending on how much Previs is required. There are many tools that can be brought to bear using the game engine - NVIZ’s ARENA allows the creator to block out cameras, and do whole shots and sequences as they would in real life on set. By dropping the animation and cameras into the digital set and allowing the user to move them around until they find the optimum angles and moves.
Equally, we can unlock the potential of the game engine by using its strength in real time; allowing the filmmaker to visualise the lighting, the look, to play back animation quickly or to trial effects like particles, fire, water or snow. But it won’t end there, Filipe is always wrangling his team to solve the technical challenges of what they encounter on every project. A good Real-Time Supervisor must have the knowledge of the game engine and the movie making process and be able to combine those to find the right shortcut for the best solution.
The most important part of my role is understanding how things operate differently in a game engine, as well as how things work in a traditional VFX or Previs pipeline and bridging those two areas.”explains Magalhães. “User experience is very important to us at NVIZ, real-time is a very creative tool that also saves money. You’re basically able to be in there, shooting action before you have to commit money to the set.”
We wanted to know more about Filipe’s role at NVIZ and his own interests. Here’s what he told us.
What do you do?
I'm a Real-Time Supervisor for Visualisation at NVIZ.
My role is to supervise assets on all NVIZ’s ongoing shows in the Visualisation Department for their technical and artistic requirements and help facilitate the day to day workflow of our modellers/animators by creating new tools and supporting their systems and ideas. In addition, I manage our asset team and help maintain our Previs pipeline. I'm also involved in new projects that are coming into the company to help set up and make sure we are allocating the right resources to tackle those challenges.
I also work closely with clients on site in the run up to their shoot. Usually, I will work with the VFX Supervisor and Producer every day, and have weekly or daily meetings with the Director, DoP and other on-set Supervisors, helping to inform their creative and financial decision-making.
What skills does your role require?
You need a firm grasp of all the disciplines that go into filmmaking. It takes knowledge of the game engine and also the movie making process, coupled with the ability to combine those two to find the right shortcut for the best solution. In this role I bridge a gap between many departments; the technical in the development of the pipeline, artistic when speaking with the creators and animators and finally, I draw on my onset experience of cameras, shoots, staging and timing. It's sort of a Hybrid professional!
What did you study?
I'm a Character Artist and Digital Sculptor by trade. Originally, I studied Digital Design, 3D Modelling and human/animal anatomy has become the main focus of my career.
For my job I need to be always aware of new emerging technologies and workflows that can help us work quicker and happier, while still achieving great looking results.
I am also involved in a lot of programming and process automation. This requires a solid base in 3D art creation, people skills, generalist knowledge of the full VFX process and the correct mindset for tool creation and pipeline development.
If I were to do it all again I would focus more on the rigging/programming side earlier in my career as it has helped me grow immensely.
I worked as a freelancer for about 10 years in Brazil working on advertising and games, creating characters and 3D art in general.
I moved to the UK when I received a job offer at The Third Floor about 4 years ago as an asset artist. Because of my specializing in game modelling I worked across previs and the VR department creating characters and creatures as well as helping develop their prototype game.
This led to me to start working closely with technical artists and programmers on a day to day basis and I learned immense amounts while there. It also focussed me on wanting to create my own game in Unreal Engine, from then on I started programming and never really stopped.
The rest, as they say, is history!
What’s a typical day for you?
We have a department morning catch up everyday and talk about what is currently ongoing and what may be coming down the line. We make an action plan and go from there. Usually, I have a call right after with the asset team to direct/assist them if they need it.
From then on it's working on the Previs pipeline and keeping an eye on current shows to see if anything may need technical assistance. I'm always on call for anyone on the team who needs help or advice on how to do something.
If a new show is coming in, it's my job to deploy it and ensure it's working - all the way from assets to final renders. I also keep production in the loop as much as possible about our progress on builds.
Because of my role being so central and connected to many other departments, I may have client calls to be in or need to help with bidding for future shows as well.
In between all of those possibilities I try to do the work that falls within my purview, my days are never the same :) .
Who’s your favourite filmmaker/visual artist? Why?
Visual artist would likely be Joe Madureira. I absolutely love his style and artistic vision.
Favourite Filmmaker? - I'm not sure, I could add a few to the list! Spielberg would likely be my first choice as many of his movies rank for me among the best I've ever seen. He's got such an impressive range from Jurassic Park to Saving Private Ryan and The Terminal to name a few.
What advice would you give to someone starting out now?
Invest in yourself; it's the best money you will ever spend.
Invest heavily on technical training and specialist schools/workshops/mentoring, if you can. Find what interests you and dedicate the time to learn.
There is a lot of free content out there but not all of it is good. One of my teachers, Ryan Kingslien, said to me that practice does not make perfect - if you have learned something wrong in the first place, then practicing it won't help you get anywhere. Perfect practice makes perfect. Find the right school/teacher/training content and practice that, nobody will put in the time to help you grow apart from yourself.
There are alos a lot of mentoring programs out there and lots of artists looking to teach others.
Unfortunately, I don’t think universities are quite able to keep up with how fast the market and technology evolves and what tends to happen is that you come out underprepared for the industry.
More about Filipe
If you want to know more about Filipe and his work, check out his interview with the VFX Artists Podcast. In it Filipe goes in-depth on his day to day work, including thoughts on Unreal Engine, streamlining the process and the best way to get started in the industry.