Wednesday, February 15, 2017

FLASHBACK: Invincible

Today I saw that Invincible, or as I refer to it "the-Mark-Wahlberg-football-movie" is on Netfllix.  This was my first paying job in the VFX industry.  It was with a small boutique in San Rafael that I had done a summer internship with called ElementFX.  I got a call from the founder Marjo that they would like to bring me in to help with a big 3D establishing shot they had been awarded.  It's also a special movie for me because my wife was working on the same film over at Matte World Digital - marking the only time we both worked on the same film.  We would both commute up to the North Bay together, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and the amazing Marin Headlands.  We were both still students but getting our first real industry experience at some great companies.  It was an exciting time.

ElementFX originally brought me on to do backups and watch the renderfarm.  Not a glamorous job, but of course I took it.  Starting out in this industry you take the entry level jobs and prove yourself.  I saw too many fellow students who waited for more impressive jobs (that never came).  My wife was doing rotoscoping and I was going to be a render wrangler.  And we were successful because we took those and it lead to bigger and better roles at each company.

In fact, ElementFX ended up needing more help.  It was a small team - 3 people other than me, plus one person who came in after hours - more on him in a second.  They needed someone to take on creating the digital crowd inside the stadium.  We had a bunch of footage of spectators on cards, but needed to populate the stadium with all this footage.  They asked me if I wanted to take that on in my role as Assistant Technical Director, to which I of course said yes.  I would work up a method and the head TD Alex would write up some code for me to run.  We were using XSI, which was interesting to learn on the fly.  It was a great time and I learned tons from the team.  ElementFX was a great, albiet short lived company.  There's a great write up about them from CGSociety HERE

ElementFX:  Alex, Marjo, and Yannick

So, a funny story from my time on Invincible.  When I left at the end of the work day, this guy would come in and use my workstation.  We never crossed paths more than a few minutes and I just knew he was Yannick, this buddy of theirs from ILM.  We needed a matte painting for our shot, so I offered to Alex that I could take that on - after all, I had just taken an intro matte painting class at college that semester.  Alex assured me that Yannick was doing it and could handle it.  I tried to make the case, but they stayed with Yannick.  Turns out, he is a huge art director at ILM and was spending his workdays doing matte paintings for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.  So, at least once, I tried to steal a matte painting from a big shot.

On the right:  Heather, me, and Craig Barron
Another nice moment was that Craig Barron, the owner of Matte World Digital invited the entire crew to a screening at the Rafael Theater.  It was a great afternoon, and afterwards he took everyone out to lunch.  I sat between him and Heather and we had a great time.  He shared a bunch of crazy stories from his time at ILM in the 80s.  I did embarrassingly get my car stuck in the parking garage afterwards in front of everyone, but still a great afternoon.

This little football film has so many firsts for me.  Watching it again years later takes me back to a very special time, when the career/life Heather and I were starting was getting momentum and this giant world was opening up to us.