I have to admit that I was wary of reviewing Hollywood Camera Work’s Visual Effects for Directors. When the package arrived, I groaned. Seven DVDs. All about visual effects. “Great,” I thought. “When I get bored, I’ll watch paint dry instead.”
How wrong I was.
VFX for Directors, it turns out, is actually fun. Although densely educational, the material makes sense—and more importantly—it feels relevant to the art of digitally enhanced storytelling. Every chapter had me saying, “Oh, so that’s how that works.”
Smarter Directors = Happier Productions
The overarching goal of the seven-disc series is to empower visual effects artists and filmmakers in general to make sound decisions so that post-production time can be spent creating the best visual effects possible. The course is aimed at newcomers to the world of vfx, but it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to technical details.
Touching on the history of visual effects and CG imaging when necessary, the course delves into the “how” behind digital image-making. The result is a richer understanding of vfx—it’s no longer a “black box” or a magic wand. And that means that in addition to making smarter decisions, directors can also be more efficient (and less annoying) when working with others in the post-production chain.
Depth and Breadth
If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions on how to model a Tyrannosaurus rex in Maya, this isn’t the series for you.
If, however, you want to understand everything it takes to realistically pull off a shot of a Tyrannosaurus rex trudging through the forest before munching on a squealing paleontologist, then you’ll be more than pleased with what VFX for Directors has to offer.
The creators of VFX for Directors literally spent years working up the tutorials, and you get a sense of their commitment right from the start. Countless live action and CG shots are woven into the instruction with nearly 1,000 examples of digital effects in total.
The CG samples are mostly rendered at draft quality, since it’d be cost prohibitive to fully polish each and every shot. This doesn’t get in the way of the instruction, though. In fact, it helps isolate the topic at hand, highlighting only the necessary aspects of a given shot.
The series covers a staggering array of topics, including sexy stuff like the simulation of massive swarms, crowd replication, virtual set creation and digital stunt doubles—to touch on only a few. (See Hollywood Camera Work for a full list.)
Because the series focuses primarily on the underlying principles of vfx, the in-software instruction is relatively timeless. Most of the software packages used in the series are familiar—for example, Maya (for 3D and particle systems), Fusion (for compositing) and BodyPaint (for texturing)—but the coverage is broad enough that it can be generalized to any major package for any part of the vfx workflow. Again, you won’t be going step-by-step, chasing cursors through the UIs, but you will learn, for example, what a Merge node does and why it’s important.
You’ll also learn loads of practical on-set information, like how to properly light a cyc or how to shoot for planar tracking. There’s even a section on building your own cyc from scratch. (Note to self: stop by Home Depot tomorrow.)
It’s hard to find serious fault with VFX for Directors. Hollywood Camera Work knocked themselves out to create a practical, comprehensible course.
My only small criticism has to do with the direction of the narrator. While professional, the narration is very staccato, with slightly too-long pauses after each sentence. In defense of Hollywood Camera Work, this does allow for easier digestion of new concepts and terminology.
Whether you’re working alone or planning a larger project, Hollywood Camera Work’s Visual Effects for Directors provides an excellent base for understanding visual effects and directing appropriately. Currently the course is offered for $329. Considering the amount and quality of instruction you get, that’s an incredibly good deal.
You might want to go deeper on select topics, but I can’t imagine a more comprehensive introduction to the general subject. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in visual effects and filmmaking.
The entire course, by the way, is available as a box set of DVDs or via download. Nice to have that option. See Hollywood Camera Work for more information.
As with all reviews on Motionographer, I was not compensated for this review. I received a copy of the course, which was used for the sole purpose of writing this review.