Review: Visual Effects for Directors

by Stephen Allen

In a follow-up to Hollywood Camera Work’s Master Course in High-End Blocking and Staging, Per Holmes has released Visual Effects for Directors. A visual-effects intensive for directors and directors of photography, this seven-DVD set covers shooting visual effects, from green screen, virtual set, 3D, camera tracking and motion control, to character animation, motion capture, crowd replication, digital set extension, VFX cinematography, compositing and much more.

Visual Effects for Directors covers many principles for digital effects shooting and serves as a primer for those that are unfamiliar with the 3D workflow. Over 1000 examples of digital effects grace the over 11 hours of training. The first disc starts off with a background primer on the digital effects workflow to gain a understanding of how the digital artist works and how you as a director need to interact with the digital artists under your direction. You gain an understanding of the steps in digital creation and when certain directorial decisions need to be made to optimize productivity, time and money.

The next three discs cover mixing and matching. They contain information on matting, tracking, match moving, lighting and shadows, 3D interaction, motion capture, body and face tracking, and crowd replication. Filled with many fantastic examples, these chapters give you the tools to know what is and isn’t possible on the set, and have valuable information that can save your production from being a “nightmare” scenario in post-production.

Two discs are dedicated to green screen, covering all aspects to include the kinds of green screen, why you would choose green screen or blue, working with green screen cyc, solids and transparency, preventing and handling spill, placing tracking markers, matching lighting and direction, receiving shadows, casting and receiving reflections, physical contact, directing and blocking on a virtual set, and warping.

In the green screen chapters, I especially liked the fact that the Hollywood Camera Crew shows you how they constructed a two-wall green screen cyc with lighting for around $700. For a production on a budget, this is extremely valuable to know. Another interesting bit is where the crew experiments with what is considered an “established” rule for placing tracking markers, and creates their own way of placing tracking markers for greater tracking points. The final disc covers simulation including 3D physics, particles and fluids, instantiation, cloth, hair, demolition, digital stunt people, and fusion nodes. It also covers a walk through of a few of their major compositions, showing how the elements were composited in Fusion.

The narrator has changed from Hollywood Camera Work’s first training course and I’ve noticed that the pacing feels more comfortable in this latest release as well as the new narrator feels more like my friend that’s come over to my house to chat about digital effects. Very nice, subtle changes which make the viewer more comfortable in learning and not scrambling as much for the reverse button on the remote.

The only negative thing I would have to say about the entire Visual Effects for Directors set is about the chapter on Motion Control. This chapter refers you to the Camera Control company’s website to view a tutorial on Camera Control instead of hosting their own full chapter on Motion Control. This is only a very minor complaint since the tutorial video on the website is amazing and I can see why the staff at Hollywood Camera Work would chose not to re-invent the wheel here. This would only be a negative if you did not readily have Internet access.

Hollywood Camera Work also hosts a users forum in which to interact and ask questions of fellow visual effects professionals and students at Forum.hollywoodcamerawork.us.

If you are a student of film, a director or DP that’s a bit rusty on digital-effects concepts, or a veteran director or DP who hasn’t dipped into the digital effects pond, Visual Effects for Directors is a great training intensive for you. Check out their website at Hollywoodcamerawork.us/vfx for more information.

Stephen Allen has a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communication from Towson University in Maryland. He is also a graduate of Sheffield Institute’s Videoworks program. He has been working in the video production field for over 11 years as an editor, director and videographer.

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