Hollywood Magic: Engineering in the Movies

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Bringing a touch of Hollywood glamour to Create the Future this week, we interview two visual effects (VFX) engineers whose companies have, between them, received Oscar nominations for visual effects on the Lion King, Gladiator, Life of Pi, the most recent Jungle Book, and won an Oscar for the hugely successful World War 1 movie, 1917.

Unlike special effects – explosions, animatronics, and atmospheric conditions created on set – visual effects are added to a scene digitally during post-production. Visual effects have created some of the most iconic scenes in modern cinema – the liquid metal terminator in Terminator 2, the dragons in Game of Thrones, and the magic in Harry Potter. But good visual effects are more than just visual entertainment; they add to the story that the creatives are trying to tell. Often, when they’re done well enough, we don’t notice them at all.

In this episode, we explore the crucial role of visual effects in storytelling across cinema, television, and advertising with Roy Trosh, Vice President of Global Systems Architecture at Technicolour, and David Spilsbury, Chief Technology Officer for advertising at the Moving Picture Company (MPC) in Soho London. We learn about their journeys into engineering, explore how to make a swimming pool in space, and discover how and why VFX engineers ‘chase the sun’.

About the guests

David Spilsbury

David Spilsbury is a creative technologist with over 30 years of industry experience. He joined MPC in 2003 as a senior engineer and is responsible for strategic technology initiatives and growth planning across 12 Technicolor studios.

Episode quotes

  • “I think the technology that we support as engineers and that we install and maintain has changed, but the role of an engineer is really as a problem solver. It's actually taking that technology and finding an application for it – whether that's a creative application, or purely a business application – it's solving a workflow or a problem that a creative team has and then producing a solution. And the technology will change over the years, but the problem and the workflow is still the same.”
  • “The VFX that really amaze me are the ones where you can't see it, where you get the lighting right to match the camera move. One of the key things about 1917 is it's one long camera move, and we’re able to put computer-generated elements and environments into that camera move without noticing where it happens.”
  • “The infrastructure of the internet has allowed people to not actually all have to come to the same place to collaborate on creative projects. A lot of the engineering that we do is enabling people to collaborate on creative projects without having to be in the same physical location.”

Roy Trosh

Roy Trosh is Vice President of Global Systems Architecture at Technicolour and is based in London.

He has worked at The Mill the past 30 years, overseeing its international growth from the initial London studio to the four global offices.

Episode quotes

  • “The fact that we have multiple offices now around the world working on these productions means that we actually spend a lot of time just moving data around the world. Part of what we're doing at the moment is we call ‘follow the sun’. As various parts of the world light up in the morning, they work on shots, and when they go to bed at night, they then synchronise them to the next time zone and then the people in the next timezone start to work on them. David and I are involved quite heavily in efficient and clever ways of moving data around the world, such that we don't duplicate data because obviously you don't be working on the wrong versions.”
  • “You might produce a single, say, Nike commercial, but then make 150 or so different versions that go around the world. Different regions have different acceptances of what's decent and what's not. A bikini in a commercial might be fine for Europe wouldn't work for the Middle East, for instance. A lot of commercials then get adapted – you change number plates on cars, you have to change the weather conditions to be more suitable for that region, and so on. You just have to be aware of the fact that something that might be accepted in one region wouldn't be accepted in a different region.”
  • “There are people at The Mill, for instance, who just program hair shaders. Their speciality is working out how pieces of hair fall over other pieces of hair and how light refracts through it. There's a hell of a lot of physics involved in that and science, but they work on it because they know that what they do, will ultimately end up being something that contributes towards a visual effect.”

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