Effects artists can have many different responsibilities, but in the end, they often need to make the unbelievable believable. We caught up with Timucin Ozger, a highly accomplished and creative FX Lead, to learn about his workflow and how he tackles the massive tasks associated with working on films like Ghost in the Shell and X-Men Apocalypse.
Hi Tim! Tell us how you came to be a VFX artist.
I was around 14-16 years old. I saw a folder named 3D in MS-DOS, got curious thinking it was a game like Wolfenstein 3D, and then got stuck to it ever since. I am a self-learner, starting from thick 3Ds Max books and then adding in Maya. I was doing 3D work for multimedia students while studying Business Management. So to me, it was clear where my passion was. After running the family business for a while, I started moving to VFX, beginning with freelance projects.
For our readers that may not know, can you explain the differences between a general FX Artist and an FX TD (Technical Director)?
There are no textbook definitions of FX Artist and FX TD, but the difference becomes quite clear when you are going through sequence planning and shot assignments. Sequences can have repetitive effects, like muzzle flashes, blowing dust in a stormy environment etc. Rig creation tasks are assigned to people with more technical knowledge of the toolset and pipeline. In the end, TDs create scene files and tools that are able to run and generate content with a small amount of input. These scene files are usually utilized by the FX Artists, who generally have less technical knowledge. This gives the artist creative freedom to address supervisor notes without the hassle of coding or python etc. I would not necessarily classify the TDs as mid or junior artists, but usually, we have a mix. Sometimes we also have artists who don’t code but deliver amazing effects only with shelf-tools.
As a lead on top of the creation of rigs, I also have the responsibility of BID day projections, scheduling, artist requirements, software requirements, workflow and similar discussions. I also oversee coordination between our department and the other departments in the pipeline.
Your work for Ghost in the Shell is extremely impressive and has a stylized feel. What were some unique challenges you faced on this project and how did you overcome them?
I was responsible for the Thermoptic Suit Rig, which was used in tens of shots, from super slow motion to fast-moving shots. It is always challenging to create an effect that is meant to make something invisible that still needs to be somehow visible. We made tons of iterations to find that balance. Another common problem we solved was the Mantra look-dev to Renderman translation.
Looking at your destruction work in X-Men Apocalypse, it's evident you created some very complex rigs and simulations. What is your process for breaking down shots with this many elements?
My first principle on fast turn around projects is if you don’t see it you don’t make it. I started breaking down the sequence into smaller problems. Separating the tasks results in more delegation to the team. For situations like entire city destruction scenes, it is important to be able to utilize the automation tools of the facility as well as the procedural workflow of Houdini. By using the wedging tools in Houdini and our farm power at MPC, we were able to simulate thousands of assets overnight with millions of RBD pieces.
This method worked very well for me in Apocalypse. My main principle for large-scale shots results in “Divide and Conquer” techniques to be efficient.
When did you start using Houdini? Did you use other FX programs before that? How has Houdini changed your workflow?
Though I have been using Maya since about 2002-2003, I started playing with Houdini around 2008, using Houdini 9.0. I have been using it in production since 2010. Houdini gave us the flexibility to iterate simulations and chain link tasks visually much easier than Maya allowed us to do. Lots of repetitive tasks became much faster to update since I started using it. I do still use Maya for FX as well when needed.
What is your favorite type of effect to work on and why?
Lately, I have been trying to expand my knowledge of the solid solver for RBD simulations. I really like the result out of the box. The setup process feels less of a hassle than complex glue networks. It is slower in comparison to RBD, but bullet simulations need tens of thousands of pieces to give that flexible feeling, wherein FEM it is handled naturally. In general, I like to destroy cities!
You've worked both full time and as a freelancer, can you go into some of the differences you saw in the process, timeline, etc.?
Last big project I worked freelance for was Tomek Baginski’s “Ambition” from Platige Image. This project was handled by very talented people, and in the end, it worked out flawlessly. Resources are much less available on freelance jobs. All you have is either a small farm or your local machine, and as a simulation artist, that’s a big limitation.
So efficiency is the key here. Optimization is a must. This and similar projects I worked on as a freelancer taught me a lot about optimization. I use these experiences to make my simulations even bigger now, while still hitting deadlines.
If you were hiring additional FX artists, what would you be looking for in a portfolio?
I read a lot of what to do and what not to do for reels. I mostly disagree on the parts that focus on all the other aspects of FX but itself. If you have RnDs, put them in. Definitely describe what your part was in a shot. A full shot sometimes goes through 50 artists from all departments. Just putting a shot from a blockbuster movie with no information can be very misleading. Also, do explain if you used a rig or if you made the rig. Because during an interview these questions will be asked. Don’t make it too long, don’t make it too short. Variety is good, software variety is even better. Maya is still an important software at many post houses.
Is there anything that surprised you when you first started doing VFX professionally that you wish someone had told you before?
I learned mostly everything from experience and reading hardcover Maya books, then started from the very first floor. My first gigs were very low budget movies in small studios, so my knowledge grew with the budgets of the movies. One thing that still surprises me is the speed of change in client expectations. Nothing was a huge surprise, but be prepared for anything, as the industry is evolving every day.
Any other thoughts you would like to share with budding FX artists?
Embrace every given shot, even if it may be 50 repetitive tasks of muzzle flashes. Don’t go too big and then lose the trust of your lead by not delivering. Gain trust by completing the given tasks, and eventually, you will get that one epic shot. That one guy in the theatre will definitely notice that effect you thought was too easy for you if you didn’t give enough love to it. Without that one muzzle flash, the movie is not complete.
Client expectations change very rapidly. That is because today we have the ability to make their changes in shorter time frames thanks to proceduralism, improved hardware, and software like Houdini. Try to exploit these factors to become a better artist instead of being that one person who complains and does not deliver. If you think the requests are unreasonable, discuss road-maps for possible solutions. These are the qualities that will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
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