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July/August 2019

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VISUALIZATION TECHNOLOGY 10 POST JULY/AUG 2019 y film production journey began in San Francisco via fringe theater where technology amounted to using sand from the beach to level projectors, or having a functional dimmer to finesse a fake fire. I broke into physical production on a brilliant (read: indie) feature called Milk and subsequently landed work in televi- sion, documentary and commercial pro- duction, yet my visualization exposure was generally limited to seeing some storyboards. In the theater we called visualization "rehearsal." It wouldn't be until I landed my first big budget CG feature that I would hear the word "Previs" for the first time. That picture was John Carter, then, of Mars. I was the producer's assistant so I had the privilege to spend a lot of time with the creatives during develop- ment, especially with the previs team: a tidy group of four, led by their supervi- sor Daniel Gregoire. I would take notes during the director and art department reviews, chase them for cuts, break it all down, the usual. I was immediately struck by the impression that such a small team of artists was contributing to the author- ship of the film. Our director, Andrew Stanton, was the ninth Pixar employee ever so the animation studio — along with its culture, pace and resources — had always been his home. This being his first live-action film, he was always quick to note the subtle (and not so subtle) differenc- es between the animated life and the live-action world. I remember him de- scribing live-action filmmakers as a band of gypsies — a collection of ridiculously talented people that show up, lay out their wares, put on a magic show, then pack up their tent and move on to the next city. To me, the previs team was the ultimate personification of that ethos. It was impressive the creative ways they found to feed an unquenchable creative process, not to mention the pace at which they turned things around. The keys were simple: Creativity and speed. It wasn't until later that I realized that the core from which that successful process orbits, is technology. Cut to our next show, World War Z, and I have the privilege of again work- ing with Dan, only this time he's flying solo while we're on various locations based in the UK. The rest of his team worked remotely from his studio in Santa Monica, CA. I helped Dan set-up their motion capture volume on several occasions, wherever we could squirrel away some space: An abandoned (and probably haunted) back dwelling at Longcross Studios, a ballroom at the Westin in Malta, running VCam sessions while quarantined behind plastic in the middle of the Fantasy Studios model shop. Wherever, whatever, the teams were always effective turning around a cut that would feed everyone, keeping the machine in motion, winning days. Because Dan was solo on location, he was always well equipped to make sure he was getting the coverage he needed, including wearing GoPro's mounted atop a faceless biker's helmet during location scouts. All the department heads made jokes about it all day long, but when the sun rose the next morning, you better believe it was Dan that everyone was going to for answers. In 2015, Dan reached out to me about an opportunity to produce in-game cinematics. I was excited to join the team and get back behind the curtain and see what the studio was up to. When I arrived, there was a VR project in production for the Smithsonian Institute. I put down my backpack and threw on the goggles to immerse in my first full 360 virtual environment experience. It opened my eyes to this completely new storytelling landscape and I had just been in the door for just five minutes. It seemed light years from where we were in Malta — the difference, it turned out, was game engines. Dan had started in games, so utilizing a game engine for visualization had been on his radar from the very beginning. He knew it was cost prohibitive at the time, but if anyone had the understanding and the means, it would be George Lucas. "I pitched the idea back when we were collaborating on Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones," Dan recalls. "He was receptive to the idea, but the tech- nology was so crazy expensive that they couldn't justify the development costs. Instead, we concentrated on pushing those early Lucas videomatics into what would become a new digital workflow." When Unreal Engine 4.0 was re- leased to the masses in September of 2014, Dan pounced on the opportunity. Though the real driving force at the time was in the virtual reality space, when I arrived the next summer Unreal was already being used across multiple proj- ect types at the studio — video game cinematics, amusement park ride expe- riences, while just entering the nascent stages of being utilized on our feature film projects. We've been using it ever since. The TECH, TRENDS AND ADVANCEMENTS IN VISUALIZATION M BY RICHARD ENRIQUEZ PRODUCER HALON ENTERTAINMENT SANTA MONICA, CA WWW.HALON.COM INCORPORATING GAME ENGINES INTO THE VISUALIZATION PIPELINE Halon's motion capture techniques help bring Barbie to life for her vlogs.

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