Author Archive: Sandeep Soman Pillai

Virtual Reality Trends

VR

In 2017-18 there will be more than 43 million VR users in the world making this a landmark period for VR software and hardware development. Release of newer and better headsets (probably more cost efficient) will be introduced in the market. A lot of big companies are yet to make their foray into this exciting new adventure and that is all set to change in the coming 3-4 years. Inputs of touch and smell which have so far been missing in the immersive experience will be a matter of research and breakthroughs – the actual growth is yet to be witnessed.

Synonymous with growth is investment and business opportunities. Google Daydream has already caught the eye of seasoned venture capitalists and as VR transforms from “good to use” to “essential to have” revenue focussed. New gaming engines will raise their heads to compete against the currently established Unity and Unreal engine probably created by some of the bigger players. Strategic alliances are on the cards with the software and hardware giants exploring options.

VR in social media, marketing, real estate, transport, urban planning, teaching, medicine……the list is endless and so are the possibilities that can be explored. Hollywood is looking at VR in a big way. Special effects and first hand story telling will present the case to be brought on virtually. Faster networks and much higher bandwidths and servers would be in the fore too to handle the terra bytes of data to be transferred and processed.

Post VR like stitching, stabilizing, Prep & Paint and Roto are vital to get a near perfect immersive experience and a lot of production companies prefer to outsource these functions so they can concentrate on their core function of VR Film production considering the number of cameras involved.

Benefits of Offshoring VR Stitching, Prep, Roto

Virtual Reality also known by Immersive multimedia,computer simulated life, virtual environment is taking the world by storm. Virtual Reality can essentially be described as a replicated environment that is brought to life through the use of highly specific software and hardware in order to provide a completely immersive sensory experience. By focusing on human senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch as well as taste, the created environments give the users an illusion of having entered a completely new world. It is now impacting different spheres of life like Health care, Retail real-estate, education, military training etc.

virtual reality

Turning all of your footage into a 360 spherical stitch. There are challenges that come up during the course of filming like removing distortion leads, strengthening edges, arranging control points, and even though there are software available to do these there is certain amount of manual artistry and work involved which might be time consuming and monotonous. This allows Control to make decisions about where seams are located, their shape and width. Choosing to favor one image over another as an actor nears the edge of frame. Furthermore it allows for additional warping to counteract the effects of parallax, and the ability to control exposure, color and stabilization in a more direct way. Shots that may be impossible to stitch using automatic solutions will need to be done by hand, for example when combining to scenes that were not shot at the same time or even different locations.

Probably one of the chief reasons to consider outsourcing a project for any project, is obviously cost reduction. Third party employment is a significantly cheaper option than hiring one’s own team looking into the fact that these artists demand large pay packages based on their experience and qualifications.. However, this is not the only decisive factor. There are various other considerations that make this practice a beneficial one for VR Production Companies and Freelancers alike. These factors include but are not limited to:

Value for money – Shifting this provides your core production team to focus only on tasks of utmost importance while all the rest is taken off their plate and shifted externally.

Adaptability & Flexibility – Employees & Software would not need to be hired, all that headache is taken care of by the third-party, and allows you to be free of all emotional or practical boundaries of having employees. What’s more, if you remain unsatisfied with the work you can easily opt for someone else.

Talent & Expertise – The biggest benefit of offshore outsourcing is the expertise it provides. They can choose a partner specific to their requirement or ask for changes suiting their needs which a lot of smaller companies would be glad to accommodate. These offshore companies can offer you very competitive rates based on process engineering techniques related to location, resources , software and technical know-how.

Misc & Overhead Cost reduction – Employers don’t have to worry about hiring and then letting go employees after every project, nor do they have to pay for all development application licenses and hardware for every employee. The vendor is responsible for providing the materials necessary for their own teams hence relieving you of any and all team management issues.

How SBL VR can be a best fit as partner

SBL VR is amongst the pioneers to crack the VR post production using ‘CARA for Nuke’ pipeline having had the good fortune of having played a part in the Post stitch and Prep for Jaunt VR in the making of the widely acclaimed “Invisible” series”

vr-invisible

With collaboration with some of the leading production houses in Virtual Reality they are looking forward to expand their aura across the globe and provide the quality services to the emerging VR domain. These include :

  • Seamlessly stitched stereo or mono VR content from commercial or custom multi-camera rigs to create a seamless immersive environment
  • Correcting exposure and white balance differences between cameras to remove distracting visual disparities
  • Stabilize shots during or after stitching to produce a more comfortable, dynamic VR experience without compromising quality
  • An experienced team that can apply Compositing techniques including paint, Roto and tracking, directly on 360° footage
  • Assembly, stitching, color/stereo correction using the latest software including CARA

If you are convinced that outsourcing Virtual Reality development is the right direction for your business to take, feel free to go ahead and get in touch with SBL today

(http://vr.sblcorp.com/). Let’s get started!!

SBL VR cracks the Nuke-CARA pipeline with Jaunt VR in the making of “INVISIBLE” Series

SBL is immensely proud and honored at having been part of “Invisible” – a scripted supernatural drama series in VR and the first major use of this technology – we are thrilled that the widely acclaimed series is now drawing acclaims from experts and audience alike.

We undertook the post processing part of synchronization, stitching together, & finishing and provided the output to the production house and the results are there for all to see. Undoubtedly a lot of credit would go to our immensely talented and imaginative team but we were supported to a great extent by the fabulous CARA pipeline which really set the output quality up quite a few notches. Our impressive production facility and the Technological & Software support that we enjoy, has helped in becoming experts in creating realistic and immersive simulation of a three-dimensional environment, created using interactive software and hardware.
vr-invisible

Having worked with different variations of camera rig, we understand what it needs to generate the kind of output you have in mind and which is cost effective. We come across many individual rigs varying in number and length and were required to sync them together for a smooth work flow. Initially we tried Autopane and experienced flexibility challenges. The point for tweaking and placement of the rig texture for additional cameras was the key problematic area with not much Prep control – so we tried it with Nuke-CARA which gave us control and user-friendly edit options to get the desired stitched quality and work stability for the paint/prep tasks to be implemented.

Groups of high end render farms made our process much stable to execute and save on production time. Burning of midnight oil was a regular feature through the project, but all the dedication, hard work and tenacity of the team paid off when the desired high standards of quality in output were delivered.

This is just the beginning and we look to much bigger achievements but as Virtual Reality goes, the sky is the limit and SBL VR is carving its niche in this rapidly developing space.

Watch “Invisible” episodes online on https://www.jauntvr.com/

How to become a good vfx artist?

vfx artist
The quint essential VFX professional is a talented artist who works magic on screen shots with his artistry, software/industry knowledge, discipline and a perfectionist to the core. Organization that you work for, the specific project(s) and the supervisor are also important factors that also have a profound influence.

Visual effects deals with visuals, so a keen and observant eye is a basic requirement. Study paintings, photographs and movies. Take photographs. Shoot video. See how composition works. Observe the effect of light and color and its effect on the the mood and provides the sense of dimension. It is unique how editing and timing present a story. Study the look of reality. Study silent movies to see how the visual language works. See how a single photograph can tell a story. If you’re a roto artists this may seem a bit much but there’s still an art to seeing even with rotoscoping. Which is the complex frame? Are the shapes moving smoothly? What areas should be grouped and segmented?

Where should the points be placed? And if you shift into other areas of visual effects all of this will be of value to you. Artistic principles like follow through for an animator – providing weight and character, colour adjustments, light wrap around objects – 2D &3D. For a lighter it could be light ratios, how to set mood and dramatic effect with lighting.

A compositor should be an expert on linear color space and what “premult” and “unmult” do. A lighter needs to be familiar with different types of CG lights and how different basic shaders work and look. These fundamentals will be of value whichever software is used and will allow you to get the most out of your software package. They will also help you problem solve. These days there are a lot of complex software tools. Most artists learn and use multiple software tools over time.

Visual effects time is precious. Saving time and avoiding wasting time can mean more profits and joy !! Obviously we can’t control things outside our control but the artist is an important cog in doing it as efficiently as possible. Avoiding common errors is a big time saver and allows you to focus on the true needs of the shot. In visual effects, time is frequently worth even more than money; it’s worth time. Given limited schedules and hard deadlines it’s the thing you can’t get back and it’s very difficult to make up for any loss. In visual effects, time is frequently worth even more than money; it’s worth time. Given limited schedules and hard deadlines it’s the thing you can’t get back and it’s very difficult to make up for any loss. In visual effects, time is frequently worth even more than money; it’s worth time. Given limited schedules and hard deadlines it’s the thing you can’t get back and it’s very difficult to make up for any loss. Speed would come automatically if you know your tools well enough, explore the various options available on the softwares and are open to experiment and get the quickest way. Finishing shots is a balancing act of time and quality.

Essential basics that might be true for other industries or professional life in general are always prime requisites, a few are listed below :

❖Be punctual and organized – Discipline is of utmost importance
❖Taking Notes in meetings and daily huddles so even bare essentials are not missed out.
❖Daily pointers for work done and scheduled ahead so the supervisor/client is updated on progress.
❖Shot changes – As requested, Changing a shot parameter so minutely that it’s impossible to see without a split screen is always a waste of time unless specifically requested.
❖Ask questions. Do not guess. Plan well.
❖Keep a checklist for ready reference.
❖Never compromise on quality – output should always reflect your best effort.
❖Always double check as we do in exams, there should be no scope left for errors.
❖Workflow management – knowing about hierarchy, procedure, organizational goals and mission, availability of internal tools/solutions.
❖Learning & Development – It is also very beneficial to keep honing your skills through practice, learning, training , discussions, attending meets and seminars, talking to other professionals and seniors
❖Be proud that you are part of the VFX family and derive satisfaction in your job.

Much of what a visual effects artist does involves problem solving of artistic or technical issues. Once we grasp the Technical and artistic fundamentals and know your tools you should be able to resolve many issues on your shots. You should be somewhat self-sufficient. However, if there is a problem that doesn’t seem to be easily solved in that case take the assistance of a specialist or supervisor. Don’t spend time trying to fix something which needed only additional input from someplace else or that might need a different shill set.

Before submitting the shot to your client, supervisor or passing an element on take a moment to play it back and review it. Are you using the correct versions and takes? Do we have the parameters and elements in sync? If you’re doing match moving and missed something many people might work on it for weeks before the critical element is detected due to which the animation may have lost a lot of time and have to redo their work simply because you didn’t take the time to do a check of your own work.Does it match the information that you are working on? Are the count sheets and the elements matching in length and size? If you were supposed to say work on a Roto element and its not present, then it has to be flagged across to production. By flagging it as missing production, you can work on the issue and decide what further steps need to be taken. You may find it was already done and just hadn’t been copied to the directory yet. Avoid losing time. Build the shot in a logical and structured way. Don’t forego that later by rushing in a lot of patches and work around.

Self Assessment & Review – It’s easy to get so focused on the details that you don’t take a moment to review and check if its fine. Does it look right? Are the basics of the shot working? Are all the shadows consistent in density, angles and color? Is your focus completely on getting the matte edges of the leaves working correctly that you might have missed on the alignment of crucial elements ? Have you focused on a small secondary action when the creature should already have moved across the room? Make sure you don’t overlook the obvious.

Do not simply keep tossing in smoky and dusty elements or putting in more key frames if that’s going to make it more of a muddled mess.. You would have to rebuild part of the shot or replace the nonconforming elements that may be working at cross-purposes. Don’t add a graded node that could darken the shot and then repeat that with a node that brightens the shot. The forest might not be visible through the trees. Usually a second ‘eye’ is what is needed. What’s working about the shot? What’s not working?

Shot in context – It’s essential to understand how the shot you’re working on fits in the sequence. It’s mandatory to have a look at how the full shot pans out, both creatively and technically. There may be an issue or it might be another chance that has to be rectified. One can leverage off of what’s already been learned for the sequence and put to use in future too.

Keeping it simple & taking changes in stride is a requirement in visual effects and has been before digital existed. No awards for having the most key frames or the most layers. Given the visual complexity of shots keeping it simple isn’t simple however making it more difficult and complex can be avoided. There may be technical issues that require a different pipeline structure or software to be used. The VFX company may require shuffling your desk to somewhere else. You have to be able to roll with these changes. If any and every change is going to make you angry then vfx is not for you. Flexibility is the operative word.

VFX is also all about teamwork. A lot of talented artists can be found working alone in their corner over long hours but they are also part of the larger team doing different aspects towards the end goal. You may be working on just one part of a shot whereas other specialists would be taking care of other core processes which might require a different skill set. You may be getting prep work from someone and then passing the buck to another person as the progression to the final shot happens. All of this interaction means you have to work and play in coordination with others. The work itself is tough, without someone in the process making it more difficult for everyone. Be a team player and not someone others avoid to be paired up with. Artists should be somewhat self-sufficient (and still team members). The amount of freedom and how far it takes you depends on the team, supervisor, project and sometimes the end client.

If you see the need to add a smoke element or put in a secondary animation move that will make the shot better. On the other hand you shouldn’t take the shot through completion without having a dailies review. More than likely a work in progress has to be reviewed by the supervisor and director. It’s usually very helpful for the director to cut in a work in progress. There’s little point in polishing and finishing the shot if the director discovers it’s not working in the sequence for some reason or requires a major change.

On the shot being first turned over we can voice our concern about the difficulty but not harping about it on every review instead useful solutions towards making it easier will be appreciated by all. The elements are what they are at that point. Usually the live action plates are the best that could be shot under adverse circumstances and blame game is never of any help. Now if you actually need help or feel the difficulty is beyond your current abilities then simply state that to your lead or supervisor. Flailing away at the shot without knowing how to do it doesn’t help you or the production. “Fake it till you make it’ is a not phrase you want to use in visual effects.

Communication is an imperative facet to avoid waste. We have to be able to be clear and straightforward with unprecedented issues or obstacles. Make sure to prep so you can show your supervisor the problem concisely and fast. Sometimes one we might have to run a example set or to capture a still picture. Since we’re dealing with visuals all of these help the communication method which enables you to do the sketches in a much better manner.

Loads of patience is required as many steps in VFX take time and focus. Time to set keyframes. Time to roto. Time to render. Time for feedback. You want to work efficiently and try to work on something else if you are waiting for a render. But in the end you need to have patience to do detailed work which is time consuming and at a lot of times you just have to sit and wait. If you’re an impatient person then visual effects may not be right for you.

Never blame your tools (or elements) – There’s an old adage which says – “It’s always a poor worker who blames his tools.” In this modern times it’s certainly possible there is a software bug or other issue that causes a problem. It might be forgotten that a blur filter had been added at one point and to blame the original element for being soft or to not render the right frames with the right settings. It can be difficult to admit that it was a mistake but identifying the actual problem will certainly help to resolve and to avoid in the future the better. This relates to the double check and problem solving points.

Sense of humor & Fun factors -Since VFX invariably involves pressure, tension and hard work, sense of humor is a must have. On occasions the absurdity of a situation could be overwhelming if you don’t have the ability to shake your head and enjoy a hearty laugh then the entire atmosphere will become a burden and uncomfortable. Take a break by just walking away from your desk, talking inconsequential things or exercise and yoga.