actorartathleteauthorbizcrimecrosspostcustomerservicedirectoredufoodgaminghealthjournalistmedicalmilmodpostmunimusicnewsworthynonprofitotherphilpolretailscispecialisedspecializedtechtourismtravelunique

Specialized Profession-LiveWe produced the Visual Effects for Man in the High Castle Season 2. AuA!

Feb 3rd 2017 by Barnstorm_VFX • 19 Questions • 115 Points

We are Barnstorm VFX. We produced the visual effects for "The Man in the High Castle: Season 2". Our work also includes "Silicon Valley", "Key & Peele", "The Good Wife", and many other shows. We'd love to talk about our artistic process and philosophy for visual effects. We are here with our friends and collaborators from Theory Animation, which partnered with us on some of the key CGI sequences from "The Man in the High Castle". The show is nominated for two VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards in the 'Supporting Visual Effects' and 'Created Environment' categories. Ask Us Anything!

We are awaiting the ability to publicly release our VFX shot breakdown reel for "The Man in the High Castle: Season 2". If you are interested in having a sneak peek at the reel right now to see how the vfx were created, please email [email protected] for information on how to watch it and we will respond immediately.

My Proof: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1297928846947804&id=192869684120398

Q:

Where did you go to school to learn visual effects?

A:

We learned visual effects in a variety of ways. Some of us went to schools where we studied CGI and/or compositing or went to film school. A LOT of what we know was self-taught though and came from working. Lots of trial and error, and lots of looking up tutorials for stuff online.


Q:

I'm currently attending the Art Institute for photography however I'm teaching myself Photoshop via online tutorials. If you had one piece of advice when it comes to being creative what would it be.

A:

The number one thing is to make your work. Don't just follow someone else's tutorials. Picasso used the same brushes and canvases as everyone else. It's much more than knowing what button does what and which menu is where. Be your own harshest critic and really push through problems you come across along the way. Also see this response - https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/5rvwo2/we_produced_the_visual_effects_for_man_in_the/ddaphg0/


Q:

As a VFX artist this is refreshing to read.

A:

Thanks, the company was founded by two vfx artists (Lawson Deming & Cory Jamieson) and for the first couple years it was just a couple of us toiling at all hours. We realized that for quality of life sake, we had to make a change, and that became the principle by which we started to work as our company continued to grow. We have a really great team of people and the last thing we want to do is burn them out.


Q:

Was getting clients and work in a big challenge for you at the beginning? I ask this because I also worked on the show in Canada, where subsidies are said to be damaging the US studios, and can't help but think this puts you guys at a disadvantage.

A:

Subsidies do affect us. We've talked about putting together a Vancouver wing (because some people don't even want to talk with us if we can't get them those incentives and we've lost out on shows because of it) and we are making some steps towards it. The trick is that work in Vancouver is tough also because of how competitive it is with all the big features up there pulling artists (who may want to work on the next 10 Star Wars movies even if they are just a small cog in a big machine). All our work is currently based on good word of mouth from people we've worked with in the past, and people who we already have relationships with tend to provide us with our best opportunities, so that's been good.


Q:

I've been working with a lot of the same artists for the past 7 years and it's quite remarkable seeing how everyone's lives and priorities change. No joke 7 of us are having kids this year, including one of the bosses. It's quite insane, and it will be a real task for the company to adapt to multiple families needs instead of a few, let alone marriages. I think one of the biggest changes this industry will see are VFX artists entering their 40's, 50's, and most importantly 60's. I say this because so many studios have outlined their future releases and that really shows VFX needs will definitely not be reduced; leading me to believe a lot of artists can in fact remain in the industry for a long time. This is under the assumption that companies like the one you work for really take notice of their employee's lives, values, and well-being so that they feel comfortable staying and not jumping ship. Thanks for being a good company. Your like the good cops who don't get the recognition they deserve.

A:

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk a little about the difference between freelancing and independent contractor work, because abuses are rampant in VFX. This is specific to US labor law, but likely has analogues internationally as well. We try at all times to actually "employ" our artists. That means getting a w-2 instead of a 1099 at the end of the year. It also means having income taxes withheld (including medicare and social security), getting contributions made to unemployment insurance, and being available for worker's compensation.

Some freelancers have reason to prefer 1099 work and, if they request it, we don't fight them on short term contracts. But if you're working in VFX in the US today, and you are provided a place to work and the necessary tools to do so (ie - an office and a workstation), that you're not paying for, you should be a w-2 employee. If you are not, speak up, or come work for us.

The reason we think its important is primarily twofold:

  • Artist Turnover: Incorrectly classified contractor labor gives workers fewer safety nets (like unemployment payments between jobs and worker's comp if they get hurt and are unable to work), forces them to actually pay more taxes due to self-employment tax (normally an employer pays this tax, which is about 14%), and often means overtime is calculated incorrectly or not at all. This creates burnout and artists lose a sense of ownership. Good, talented people will not stand for this and find pursuits that are more fulfilling and allow them a better lifestyle. If good people aren't staying in VFX, everyone suffers.

  • Inaccurate economics: Employing contractors versus employees skews the cost of visual effects and makes it seem like costs are lower than they actually should be. It makes it even harder for places like us, who are obeying the rules, to compete with those who don't. Facilities often do this, at least in part, to compete with cost pressure from overseas, and it becomes harder for policy makers to make decisions based on the reality of employment metrics.

This subject has been discussed at length on many vfx blogs and so we don't need to debate it here, but I did think it important to clarify Barnstorm's stance on this topic. We applaud other facilities who have the courage to make the harder choice to do things right. Just because your show is about Nazis, doesn't mean you should act like one :)


Q:

What made you guys want to pursue visual effects?

A:

Most of us were fans of sci-fi and fantasy films and stories growing up. Stuff like Star Wars was definitely a big influence, and I have memories from childhood of building X-Wings and TIE Fighters out of Lego (before official sets for these existed) and then smashing them on camera to try and imitate what I saw in movies. The appeal of filmmaking in general, I think, is also the appeal of visual effects specifically: its a way to tell stories and do make-believe that is as close to 'real' as possible. If you've got a big imagination and you want to realize it, filmmaking is the way to do that.


Q:

Are you going to be getting more feature film work in the future?

A:

We started out in television and love working on tv shows. Its partly because television is so exciting right now in terms of pushing boundaries with story and content. Also, television shows move much faster than films, and because of this, the work we do is fresher and faster. Movies often spend months doing visual effects shots that we have to do in weeks or days (or hours) but with that longer timeline comes many more versions and much higher cost, and it is a difficult business model to pull off in the current climate for VFX work. We're not against working on movies (and have in the past) but we're not actively pursuing it right now because working in television is so fun and gives us so much freedom.


Q:

Is it awkward for you ever having all those Swastikas / fascist imagery and props around?

Do you see parallels between the substance of the show you work on and the executive orders that are coming out now?

A:

It affects some people differently than others. Some people found it creepy or disgusting. It never bothered me. In the world of show, part of the idea is that these symbols are normalized and they treat them just like we might treat the American flag. The show definitely explores themes about how people with a patriotic mindset can be swayed to support a corrupt government in the name of national unity.


Q:

Is it awkward for you ever having all those Swastikas / fascist imagery and props around?

Do you see parallels between the substance of the show you work on and the executive orders that are coming out now?

A:

It was really interesting to explore and understand Albert Speer considering his role in everything (he also testified truthfully during Nuremberg trials). I actually found it really fascinating, they put a lot of thought into their art. So I was a fan of all of that attention to detail and art. It did feel weird google searching NAZI flags and finding a lot of modern people proudly posing with them on questionable websites...


Q:

Nuke or After Effects? Also, I've heard that another streaming service uses 4k plates for work on a consistent basis. For film, 2k is still the norm (IMAX shots being the exception). Do you feel like a switch to 4k as a standard for the industry will happen soon?

A:

Many shows now shoot (and even finish) in 4k. We find that its overkill for most work, though, and that realistically there is much less of a visual difference between HD and 4k than between SD and HD... not to mention what happens once the work is finally compressed for streaming or airing. Personally as a viewer, I'd prefer that the extra bandwidth currently being used for 4k content be put into creating a higher quality HD stream. A lot of data that is being used to simply push more pixels at us could instead be used to reduce compression artifacting and increase color fidelity. As someone who's seen what the raw images look like and then what things look like when they are finally on the air, you wouldn't believe how much gets lost between final color correction and the picture you eventually see.

Also, 4k drives the cost of vfx work up. It takes up much more space on our servers and takes longer to track, and 3D elements (which usually need to be rendered at least one step higher in resolution than the finishing format) require much longer render times.

I'm sure 4k will eventually be everywhere, but its definitely at least partially a hype thing (more Ks) especially since 3D didn't really catch on in the big way it was intended to.


Q:

Nuke or After Effects? Also, I've heard that another streaming service uses 4k plates for work on a consistent basis. For film, 2k is still the norm (IMAX shots being the exception). Do you feel like a switch to 4k as a standard for the industry will happen soon?

A:

The rocket planes are an example of an element that existed in the first season as well, though we modified the models themselves and completely rebuilt the textures and shaders for our purpose because of how we used them.


Q:

Were there any VFX scenes cut by the Director that you would have liked to complete?

A:

We had some large sequences that involved more grand nazi architecture that would have been great to work on... many discussions, illustrations, and even location scouting. They eventually went away before filming because of script changes. Would have been super cool to work on... but who knows, they might eventually come back in another season.


Q:

Do you post is PS Battles?:)

A:

I haven't ever done it personally. We do sometimes create memes internally... usually in the form of gifs that joke on the shows we work on and have a bit of vfx love in them.


Q:

Join us:)

A:

Guess its time for us to kiss office productivity goodbye.


Q:

Do you find it hard to switch off when watching other entertainment content with VFX in, or are you always looking for the "seam" between in-camera things and the stuff that's been added in?

(Also, that showreel is great. We loved season 2 of TMitHC and the amazing work you put in on it really made it believable.)

A:

I think what I look for in content I watch is an engaging story and characters. The best VFX in the world can't make up for a bad story. Many big movies with huge action sequences and amazing VFX can be yawn-inducing because you don't care about the characters or the stakes - and the vfx feel like they are compensating for a lack of narrative. Conversely, watch an old episode of Star Trek and you'll be amazed at how a great story will keep you from thinking about cardboard sets and cheesy optical effects. I wouldn't say that its tough to 'switch off' when watching a vfx-heavy project so much as it is that one can get 'switched on' by watching something that's bad or boring. When the story's not working, your mind starts to wander to other things, and big bombastic vfx can become something that you end up fixating on.


Q:

How much influence/inspiration did Ridley Scott have on the show? The shots out the windows of the Nazi offices in Berlin really reminded me of blade runner.

A:

Ridley's company "Scott Free" produced the show and acquired the rights to the novel, which was written by Phillip K. Dick. Incidentally, Dick also wrote "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", which is of course the basis for Blade Runner. I imagine that Ridley Scott was involved in the process in its early stages, though in our day-to-day on the show, we didn't interact with him directly. Of course Blade Runner was an amazing influence for us as vfx artists... so maybe some of that unconsciously bled into our style when creating Germania... hence the similarities.


Q:

How much influence/inspiration did Ridley Scott have on the show? The shots out the windows of the Nazi offices in Berlin really reminded me of blade runner.

A:

Thanks everyone for participating in this AuA! Great questions all around. Stay tuned for season 3!!


Q:

Thanks for doing this AMA. I'm a freelance after effects guy (mostly motion design, some vfx) and am really impressed by the work you've done - in fact I used some of your work as a style reference in one of my pitches. I guess out of curiosity, I'd like to know how do you decide when to hire a full-time staffer vs hire freelancers on a short-term contract?

A:

There are a couple of considerations we give when hiring full time people. We are always looking for good people and so are definitely willing to see resumes and reels. If you are interested, you can send your work to [email protected].

Part of whether we hire someone or not is based on how much we are currently working on (which is highly variable) and part of it is based on how specific or general your skillset is. Many of our full-time artists have skills that range across several disciplines. That is very helpful because it allows us to reassign artists to different tasks depending on what we need. For example, a compositor who is also a good match-mover or 3D artist can switch over based on how busy we are on certain shots. Someone who is specifically a good texture artist, though, would only be able to fit into a very narrow category of work and would more likely be someone we would take on as a freelancer. We do value having strong generalists a lot, and as a small team, an artist who understands and can work in a lot of different areas of our pipeline is an incredibly valuable asset.


Q:

Did you ever get to make a digital pein pein?

A:

Yes we have, very recently in fact. We also just hand-painted a some dildos to look like the real deal for a plate shoot - no joke. As I mentioned above also, the scene in Silicon Valley with the horses having sex involved us actually filming the horses to composite into the scene. We've done a lot of weird stuff.