VFX: Barrikaden har fått en exklusiv intervju med Andreas Feix, från Tyskland, som har arbetat med de visuella effekterna för Game of Thrones. Även om han är hemlighetsfull angående säsong 4 som just haft premiär.
– Jag kan inte dela med mig av några specifika detaljer som skulle kunna spoila säsongen eller bryta mot något kontrakt som jag kanske signerat.
Desto fler svar har han däremot om säsong 3 och om Star Wars-fanfilmen Threads of Destiny som han gjorde ett hästjobb på.

Den här intervjun är gjord via mejl och på engelska. Även om jag först kontaktade Andreas Feix med ett mejl på svenska, som han sen var snäll och svarade på efter en google-översättning. Den är ganska lång, men samtidigt väldigt intressant, och då internet är oändligt känns det dumt att korta ner några svar. Många termer är på engelska och det kändes helt enkelt bäst (och enklast) att bevara ursprungsspråket. För den som sitter på jobbet och kanske bara hinner läsa om sina specialintressen Star Wars och Game of Thrones så är svaren som handlar om Threads of Destiny blåmarkerade och svaren om Game of Thrones rödmarkerade. För att läsa ännu mer om Andreas Feix, besök hans hemsida.

Andreas Feix.

Andreas Feix.

How did it all start, your interest for special effects?

– It all began around the year 2000; back then the TV series Walking with Dinosaurs premiered on local television. Given that I already had a recurring “obsession“ with dinosaurs as a child, this got me really hyped, even more so when it was followed by Disney’s Dinosaur and Jurassic Park III very closely. However I noticed that for the first time, I started to get more interested in the process of how the dinosaurs were actually created. Around the same time my parents bought a DV camera to record travels, events etc., whereas I would then get more interested in editing the recordings together and toying with the limited amount of transitions and effects.

– The next step was the attempt using the same camera to create stop-motion tests with LEGOs after seeing Chicken Run at the cinema. At the same time the first ”brickfilms” started to go viral on the internet, which in return fueled the creativity even more so, and soon afterwards I joined the official brickfilms community, creating my own short movies to some degree of success.

– However, over the course of the next few years, I noticed that I enjoyed adding effects to the brickfilms more instead of doing the animation itself, or I would simply invent certain scenarios just in order to do certain effects, such as f.ex. creating LEGO set extensions digitally. That was the turning point when I fully decided to push more a road into visual effects instead of animation. Until I started on Threads of Destiny I had a few live-action shorts that I created by myself or attempted to convince, with limited success, my classmates to participate in, just to add in effects later.

What have you been studying in universitys etcetera, or is it all self-taught?

– It’s actually a combination of both: Right now I am entering my final year at the Film Academy in Germany, where I am already studying for over 3 years and which has been a tremendous experience so far.

– However, it is not part of the university to teach certain software skills to students, but the fundamentals of filmmaking. So learning the software and doing your own work is much more a self-taught and hands-on approach, so every student can get comfortable with his own visual style or workflow – which is also how I have up until commencing my studies. Instead of being over-reliant on tutorials (though they are a great way to improve the knowledge of your toolset), I rather found more comfort in experimenting with the tools avialable and thereby discovering features or tricks – in a few cases as happy accidents – which might be useful for the next project. I can say though that knowing the overall filmmaking process, even in theory, can really be beneficial as you tend to view your own work from a whole different perspective.

Från Star Wars-fanfilmen Threads of Destiny som Andreas Feix lagt ner väldigt mycket tid på. Bland annat har han gjort den den här bildrutan.

Från Star Wars-fanfilmen Threads of Destiny som Andreas Feix lagt ner väldigt mycket tid på. Bland annat har ”fixat” den här bildrutan.

Barrikaden have previously written about Threads of Destiny. How was it working on this Star Wars fan-project?

– It was thrilling, exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but overall a lot of fun. I’m proud to have played my, somewhat considerable, part in the making of the film, and in return the project has been my main source of expertise over the last couple of years.

– I have to say though, despite being a little relieved, it feels quite odd that this project has come to an end, as the project has pretty much followed me throughout my entire visual effects career so far, always present in the shadows… though the journey’s still not over yet, as I’m currently finishing off some of the DVD graphics.

– I might not be able to take on anotherproject to the same capacity again, for numerous reasons (sorry, other fanfilms), but as there are some rumors within the team about reconsidering a ”Threads of Destiny” sequel, I would definitely be on board – perhaps in a somewhat different position then…

Could you describe how you worked on Threads of Destiny. A bit more details of your work progress?

– Back in summer 2007, I had just finished high school ready to start civilian service, when Rasmus (Tirzitis), the director of ”Threads of Destiny”, contacted me via Youtube after he had seen some of my work on my channel – some brickfilms, vfx tests, and a few early attempts at cutting a showreel – and asked me if I was interested to help him out on his project as a compositor. I got really excited about it, because back then the only projects I had worked on were the ones that I directed, and this felt like a fresh opportunity to broaden my skills. So I got my first few shots to work on, and being so enthusiastic, I finished off my first scene of ToD within 2 weeks (spoilers: It was the lightsaber training session with Raven and the remote).

– It turned out very quickly that, being able to create my own elements and effects, I was able to turn around shots very quickly without becoming too dependent on others, which is in part why the shot count went up very rapidly. Apart from that, working on ToD balanced out the tedious 9 months of civilian service pretty well at that time, keeping up the enthusiasm (laughs).

– Later on (I guess after about the first 250 shots), shortly before my first vfx internship started, I also wanted to try out some more complex work and do some CG shots, and pretty soon I was fully animating, rendering and compositing complete shots on my own, which in return was also a bit more rewarding as I had more creative freedom in the process. Together with Rasmus the director we even developed some new shots completely from scratch.

– Up to that point I had even grown into somewhat of a consulting/co-supervising position, as Rasmus began to not only ask for technical advice, but also entrusted me to give constructive criticism and creative input, with regards to the work in progress.

– One example in particular would be the asteroid chase in the film; after I had seen some of the early animatics and rendered, I shared my criticism och offered to do a small test myself – and a week later we were collaboratively redesigning the entire chase from scratch. So now that the film has been completed, I am credited as the lead vfx artist, and with 720+ shots completed (plus 80-some that were cut from the movie) to back it up; it still feels a bit weird though how the number could go up so high in the first place.

Från Star Wars: Threads of Destiny.

Från Star Wars: Threads of Destiny.

Has working on Threads of Destiny opened doors for you to work with bigger projects?

– In several ways, it has indeed: The next two movie projects I got to work on were independent films directed by a colleague of Rasmus, so that was already a small opportunity to start with. Then, with the first few shots for ToD cut into a showreel, I applied for an internship at a German post facility, and again ToD was included in the resume when I successfully applied for studying at the Film Academy. Same thing was the case for when I applied to work at Pixomondo during my vacation year, which led to participating in projects such as Rush and Sleepy Hollow.

– In a different sense, as the work on Threads of Destiny grew more and more complex over time, I largely benefitted from the experience whenever I had other projects to work on, which f.ex. allowed me to put more focus on other bodies of will, such as creating CG characters and stereo which might open up a few more doors personally…

– And because ToD had such a long production time, I was able to use some of the experience gained outside the project to further improve the last few shots I was working on last year, like putting 3-4 times more effort into removing a simple greenscreen.

– Apart from that, there have been quite a few more requests to participate in other fanfilm projects since then. (laughs)

And you have also worked on Game of Thrones. Which episodes have you been involved in and what precisely is it that you have done?

– Game of Thrones was another project I worked on while being employed at Pixomondo, in particular it was the third season which aired last year. The division where I was working mainly dealt with environmental enhancements, such as matte paintings, set extensions or adding in digital ships. Most of the shots I’ve worked ended up in the season’s opening episode ”Valar Dohaeris” – which in return felt quite heartwarming when it was awarded the Emmy last year (and most recently the VES Award) – and the rest was scattered throughout the other episodes.

– For the main time I was collaborating with several lead artists on composites, as well as providing cleanup, keying & roto work, depending on the individual shot. To give a few examples (spoilers):

– One of the more difficult shots was Robb Stark in front of Harrenhall, where I prepared the comp and manually extracted the actor, including fur coat and horse; all of them were out of focus.

– In the sequence where Daenerys sails across the seas with her dragons, I took care of some nasty cleanups; one of them lead to digitally warping cloth elements for about three weeks.

– In the final episode of the third season, when Yara sets sail from Pyke, there was a long tracking shot on the ship in front of greenscreen… plastered with dozens of tracking markers, which ironically was similar to a large percentage of the shots I did for ”Threads of Destiny”, nevertheless it was very tedious to get rid of them all before I could do the keying and composite the shot together with the prepared background.

– Apart from that, I was in charge of double-checking the matchmoves and composites for more than half of the season, to make sure that there were no technical mistakes present in the shots before they got handed off to the other departments or to the client. This kind of task can be really beneficial as you tend to spot errors and mistakes more quickly, and be critical of your own work as a result.

Sansa Stark i samtal med "Little Finger". En scen som Andreas Feix arbetat med och förbättrat.

Sansa Stark i samtal med ”Little Finger”. En scen som Andreas Feix arbetat med och förbättrat.

Have you done anything in the coming season 4 of Game of Thrones, and if so, what?

– Well, as the fourth season of Game of Thrones has just premiered, I’m not allowed to share any specific details which would spoil the season and/or violate any contracts I might have signed, so my lips are sealed. All I can say is that I was fortunate to team up with several of my old colleagues and participate in the fourth season’s vfx as a freelance compositor for a couple of weeks. Overall my contribution is rather less compared to what I did on the third season, but you’ll be able to watch some of my work scattered throughout the season in the next few months. (laughs)

I saw a lot of dragon stuff on your website, are dragons a personal favourite?

– Actually, dinosaurs are my personal favourite, but you could say that pretty much includes dragons as well. It seems to be kind of my thing with large reptilian creatures, and both dinosaurs and dragons have their individual appeal, since the first of them was a very real species of animals which once roamed the same world as ours, and every day we may discover something new about them. On the other hand dragons, mythical beings as they are, have such a mighty appeal and allow so much creative freedom as to how we can interprete them individually.

– But surely they both had their influences on some of my past projects, and my next project actually is sure to feature a few dinosaurs as well…

What other projects have you been working on?

– Up to now I have also been frequently working on various commercials such as for Batelco, Vestel, BiFi and Alfa Romeo, mainly because I regularly worked at the same facility where I started as an intern. Since the beginning of my studies I in addition participated in a large number of other student projects and did a few shorts on my own, both live-action and CG-animation. Interspersed here and there are also a few more independent films, they however tend to center mainly around gore or horror, I wonder why… (laughs)

– I also started working on stereoscopic projects in the last few years, however focusing more on the creative aspect, as in creating a stereo 3D setup which supports the movie and is comfortable to watch. One of those projects for example was ”Globosome”, which even managed to receive a VES Award nomination for Best Student Project.
Right now though I’m about to prepare my final graduation project, which is surely going to keep me awake sometimes at night for the next year…

Do you see any trends in the visual effects scene?

– I think that, while the industry is still leaping forward in terms of innovations and achievements, the steps will gradually become smaller and less noticable – right now we are pretty much able to do anything, but we’re rather working on how to improve the polishing, so to speak. On the other hand, we will get to see other areas more and more getting up to speed such as television and video games. While the work that is produced in those areas is equally impressive, I can imagine this will continue to improve even faster.

– This will in turn offer hobby vfx artists and upcoming talents more tools to create even better work, but as whole this will probably only give us a larger pool of talent degrees than we have today, also with regards to the amount of tutorial copycat showreels out there.

– A major factor, which is less a technical one but will hopefully not cease, is that visual effects as a department get more and more accepted into the filmmaking process, and more respected by that as well. Because not only does that make our jobs less painful, we can even manage to turn over better work that way – we even had the same experience on Threads of Destiny over the course of those years.

– And Gravity was a prime example how all the departments can work together with the vfx department from the beginning, and as a result can produce such spectacular work. I hope this trend will continue, as a generation of directors approaches with a greater understanding of the responsabilities towards using effects, and knows how to use them for the best.

– Apart from that, as for some wishful thinking, the conditions under which visual effects are produced may improve as well, now that this is made more and aware (in short: referring to the news surrounding Life of Pi, and the problems caused by the business models and global policies). Even though we love our work, we don’t want to suffer too much because of it. 🙂

Från Game of Thrones.

Från Game of Thrones, VFX av Andreas Feix.

Which software programs do you use?

– My 3D work is centered around 3ds Max, with a few plugins I like such as FumeFX or V-Ray, but mainly I try to get it done within the core package, simply because it makes the work less depending on third party content.

– In 2D it’s a split between Nuke and After Effects, whereas the choice of which tool I use mainly depends on the project itself. The more it has to be done quickly, the choice will go to After Effects, whereas Nuke clearly is the better solution in the case that shots are expected to get a little more complicated.

– Apart from that there’s also a host of software packages I once worked with or frequently do so, depending on the project, such as Mudbox, Realflow or SynthEyes. Whatever gets the job done.

Do you have any role models (or movies with FX) in the business that you really like or look up to?

– Movie-wise, definitely: Among some of the usual suspects like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars etc. my top pick would be Jurassic Park, and not just for the dinosaurs. Not only because the effects were groundbreaking but they still can hold up today, which is incredible. Apart from that the effects weren’t designed as to be overly aggressive, but are rather subdued and more in a supporting role which contributes to the fact why they still work today. This can also be attributed to the resourcefulness (partially due to the time period) of the filmmakers by using the best that both physical effects and digital effects have to offer, something which most of the films today seem to have forgotten.

– On the human side you could probably sum up the major industry legends, but nobody specific. Though I admit that I nearly had a bit of a fanboy reaction upon meeting John Knoll and Roger Guyett at Siggraph last year.

Last question, do you have a dream project you really would like to work on in the future?

– It may not be that surprising, but I would really like to work on any of the upcoming Star Wars films from Disney, or the Jurassic Park sequel which is in production as well, just for the sake of dinosaurs.

– Apart from that, I’m waiting impatiently for a movie adaptation of Animorphs to happen, which was my favourite book series as a preteen, or the Mass Effect & Dragon Age video game series, just so that I can do my part. And maybe there is also a chance to sneak in the opportunity to participate on Doctor Who some day…