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Gilles Nuytens

Bruce Woloshyn interview
Date of publishing: 3rd December 2005

Bruce Woloshyn interview - Stargate Digital Effects Supervisor Bruce Woloshyn is the Digital Effects Supervisor and Lead Digital Compositing Artist at Rainmaker Entertainment in Vancouver and has worked on both Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis since the begining of both shows. In this long interview he gave to The Scifi World, he explained how much time him and his team spent to model the city of Atlantis, what are the different steps to create special effects, the details on The Lost City and much more! He also explained how flattering it is to see their work "replicated" by the fan's.
There's a big chance to see an Ori and a real ancient war ship in the future ...

Discover 2 exclusive high resolution images of the Daedalus offered by MGM and Bruce Woloshyn for The Scifi World. See them at the bottom of the page!


Gilles Nuytens: You are the Digital Effects Supervisor at Rainmaker, you delegate work, provide direction to the artists, but do you do artwork/special effects yourself?
Bruce Woloshyn: A great question. And the simple answer is, "absolutely"! As a matter of fact, up until the middle of last season (Stargate SG-1 season 8 and Stargate: Atlantis season 1), I held down the position of Lead Digital Compositing Artist on both series in addition to my supervisory capacity. And it is the Stargate franchises, as an artist, that are one of my proudest professional achievements.
Even now as a full-time supervisor, without my taking pen-to-tablet as an artist everyday, I am still involved at the most detailed level on every shot we produce. I actually still spend a considerable amount of time with the individual artists on the show almost every day. When I make my artist rounds, I can be doing everything from planning initial shot composition and design with an animator, to refining the shadow density on a final shot with a compositor. The running joke right now for the digital compositors on the show, is that when I sit down to discuss specific adjustments to shots, I always start with, "Well, if it was me . . . .", as I usually have very specific techniques in mind about how to accomplish what I'd like to see.

Bruce Woloshyn
Click the picture to see the full size photo
Gilles Nuytens: How did you become Digital Effects Supervisor? What is your professional background?
Bruce Woloshyn: There are a couple of key factors with the change in my title from Lead Digital Compositing Artist to Digital Effects Supervisor. The first is time. As I am now responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the Rainmaker visual effects team for both of the Stargate series, there simply isn't the time for me to spend the necessary hours at a compositing workstation. My specific supervisory responsibilities include everything from providing direction and input to the artist team during shot development, to delegating work priorities during any given day based on fluctuations in schedules and individual shot progress. And, I not only work with Rainmaker's visual effects team, but also with the MGM Supervisors, visual effects and production teams. This in itself has me traveling to the studio to attend principal and second unit on-set photography both for supervision, and to provide technical and design support. Finally, when it comes right down to it, I am ultimately responsible for the complete execution of Rainmaker’s visual effects for both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis across all of our company's divisions. Add that to my contributions to other projects here at Rainmaker, and you can see why I had to make the choice between being an artist and being a supervisor. There simply are not enough hours in the day to do both jobs.

The second factor in my becoming a full time supervisor, is that as my experience in all facets of visual effects grew, it began to make more sense for us as a company to have me supervise teams of artists on greater volumes of shots rather than limit myself to only the shots that I could create as a single artist. I must admit, that I did find this a difficult adjustment at first (letting go of the pen was pretty hard), but am now really starting to enjoy my new role.

As far as my professional background, I'm starting to feel a little old whenever I'm asked this question (when, in fact, I just started really young). I completed my scholastic broadcast education in 1984 with an honors diploma in Radio and Television Arts from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. I then spent the next several years working as a technical director for various broadcasters in Canada before making the jump to full-time editing in 1989. As the world of television editing began to enter the digital age, I found myself becoming more immersed in what was then becoming digital compositing.

In the spring of 1995 I was attending the NAB convention in Las Vegas (www.nab.org/conventions) and was introduced to a revolutionary new compositing system called Flame, by Discreet Logic. I can remember being floored with what this new toolset could offer and even saying to my wife, "I'm going to work for whoever will buy me one of these.". As luck would have it, only a couple of months later I was approached by Rainmaker founder, Bob Scarabelli, to move to Vancouver and help start up what would become Rainmaker Animation & Visual Effects (www.rainmaker.com). The rest, as they say, is history.
For a complete list of my visual effects credits, check out http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004374.

Bruce Woloshyn

Click the picture to see the full size photo
Gilles Nuytens: You certainly encountered some problems and big challenges during the years you have been working on Stargate. Could you talk about the most difficult project you had to do for Stargate? And, at the same time, what are usually the most difficult things to do in a project?
Bruce Woloshyn: The first question is easy. No hesitation. The most difficult project I've ever had is the pilot to Stargate: Atlantis, "Rising". And the one thing that really differentiated the Atlantis pilot from working on any other television series I've ever done, was the shear amount of 3-D modeling that had to be created up front. Every single model we needed, from the digital props and set pieces, to the spacecraft and city itself, had to be modeled from scratch. There would be no library of past seasons to draw on for anything that we would need.

In addition to creating props and ships, we were also faced with creating several digital set extensions and virtual environments. The Puddle Jumper bay, masterfully created by Tom Brydon, located in the central tower of the city is a good example. The Puddle Jumper bay is basically a parking garage and maintenance facility for up to twelve Puddle Jumpers (spacecraft), located directly above the city’s main gate room. The starting point for this was the practical set piece at the studio. What was practically built represented the rear of one of the six bays on the main floor of the two-story structure. Texture photographs were taken of all of the on-set walls. These photographs were later digitally painted into more variations for the many more digital walls. While still at the studio, we then trekked over to the main Gaterium set and in between the live action takes we took additional photographs. These would provide additional textures and act as reference for the architectural style favored by the ancient builders of Atlantis. This proved to be very important, as we constantly strived to make the digital sets look like they belonged with all of the live action sets. Lighting the bay was done with 200 lights of all types: shadow mapped spots, point lights and area lights. To make rendering more efficient, some smaller light sources were baked onto the actual textures. A few radiosity test renders were done to get a feel for the look we were after. This look was then reproduced using regular lighting to, once again, keep our rendering times reasonable. To get shots out fast, meant building only the sections visible in the first shots then finishing off rest of the bay as time permitted (as eventually in the series, we knew that the entire bay would be required).

Where I'm going with this, is that even with all of this work, the Puddle Jumper bay was only one of the assets we would need to create for the project. Which is what leads me to answer the second question. One of the consistently difficult things for me to do in a project is to manage the time and resources to create all of the assets needed to complete all of the shots. With more and more shots, on an increasingly more challenging schedule, it takes a great deal of organization to be consistent with the quality of work that our standards demand and still deliver on time.

Gilles Nuytens: Now that season 10 of SG-1 and season 3 of Atlantis have officially been given the go-ahead, do you already have some information about the work you will have to do?
Bruce Woloshyn: I'm sorry to disappoint you, but no. As we approach the end of visual effects production for this season, I haven't had many opportunities to visit with Brad Wright (executive producer) about what next year will hold for either series.

Gilles Nuytens: What do you think of fan 3D artworks on Stargate, such as Mirko Stödter arts (see here for example: (www.thescifiworld.net/wallpapers_stargate_mirkostoedter.htm) or Ed Giddings arts (see here: www.stargate3d.fsnet.co.uk) ... or mine! (www.thescifiworld.net/wallpapers_stargate_gillesnuytens.htm)?
Bruce Woloshyn: There is a saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". It is only in the past couple of years that I have been really exposed to the internet fan base for our shows and how much fan art is really out there. I must admit, it has taken some time to get used to the fact that there are people trying to replicate the kind of things we do for both Stargate series. And, as these examples show, some of the work is quite stunning. As I said, it is very flattering.

Gilles Nuytens: Could you describe the details on how is it different to work on projects such as "I, Robot" or "Elektra" and TV shows such as Stargate?
Bruce Woloshyn: The biggest difference between doing effects on a feature film and doing effects on an episodic series, like the Stargate franchise, is the schedule (and with that, the budget). Both of these factors determine how much time there is to do . . . well, everything. The schedule and the budget both affect the time. And time, is either your best friend, or your worst enemy. In many cases, the actual details of getting the visual effects completed on a film or a television show (especially a television show completed in high definition) are very similar. And when we redesigned our production pipelines for both SG-1 and Atlantis for full HDTV, they really didn't differ that much from the pipelines we designed for our feature film work. As a matter of fact, most parts of the technical pipeline are exactly the same. The things that are different, are the way we manage the resources to deal with the faster turnaround of shots, and the fact that we need to be able to work on up to eight separate episodes (over both series) at the same time. And this, all comes back to the schedule.

Gilles Nuytens: The Stargate SG-1 double episode "Lost City" is, in my opinion, one of the best episodes of the series. We can see all kind of visual effects, big battle scenes, spaceships, virtual locations and other great visual effects (explosions, drones, etc ...). How was it to work on this, is it all done by your team?
Bruce Woloshyn: The season 7 finale of Stargate SG-1 was, at the time, touted as the biggest and most ambitious set of visual effects episodes for the series . . . ever (however, of course, we've now surpassed that several times over). Not only in the volume of work, but in the complexity of the visual effects shots. Nonetheless, season 7's effects are impressive . . . an alien planet covered in lava; an aerial battle over the Antarctic; a firefight beneath the ice; the "freezing" of Colonel Jack O'Neill. The episode's description sounds grand, but for our team, the visual effects execution was all the more remarkable. These shots not only sounded impressive to me, they sounded just plain cool. And creating images that are "cool" has always been something that drives our team.
These particular episodes had the work split up between our team here at Rainmaker, Image Engine Design (www.image-engine.com) and the now defunct, GVFX. In "Lost City Part 1", both Rainmaker and Image Engine shared the effects workload on the Death Glider Assault on SG-1 at the temple. While Rainmaker completed the matte paintings and weapons fire when Anubis has his Super Soldiers take out the Jaffa who disappointed him on the planet. In "Lost City Part 2", Rainmaker was responsible for creating the lava planet, the firefight between the SG-1 team and the Super Soldiers in the outpost, Anubis's face effects and the "freezing" of O'Neill at the end of the show. Image Engine was responsible for creating Antarctica and the amazing battle between the F-302 fighters and Anubis's strike force, as well as the Prometheus and Anubis's fleet in orbit. And GVFX created some additional transport rings shots.

I remember having great fun on this episode, but being under the gun to complete "Lost City Part 2", as it was the final episode of the season with so much work to be completed. The shots in "Lost City Part 2" where SG-1 drops out of hyperspace in the cargoship and flies toward the outpost dome on the lava planet was one of favorite sequences from season seven (created by lead 3D animator Wes Sargent and myself).

Gilles Nuytens: How much time did that take for your team to build the complete Atlantis city model? Can you talk about that project? I also think that the first project of the city was re-used in the pilot as the ancient city on Athosia (or at least they looked similar), is that true?
Bruce Woloshyn: Now here are some impressive statistics. The centerpiece for the pilot’s modeling was, of course, the exterior of the lost city itself. We spent approximately 108 hours of design modeling and . . . are you ready for this? . . . over 1,300 hours of modeling and texturing on the main model. And, as the city model went through many design iterations, by the time it was completed it came in at around four million polygons and over a gigabyte of textures. Because of it’s sheer size and the variety of shots present in the pilot, it needed to look good from all angles; hence it was an extremely complex model. In lighting the city, we created a lighting rig with a combination of directional and area lights that could be adapted to unique situations, but which allowed us to keep consistency through all of the shots. Not to mention, show off all the work that had been done by the team on this monster model.

Although the city of Atlantis was the most challenging of our hard-surface models, even more daunting was the modeling of the surface of the sea surrounding the city. We struggled at first whether to go with Maya, because of it’s inherit water controls, or LightWave, as that’s what we would be creating the city and all of the master scene files with. In the end, we ended up going with both. The main water surface was created in LightWave and utilized the NatureFX plug-in from Dynamic Realities to help finesse the look. We then used Maya for the hundred of layers of particles and splash dynamic simulations. And, of course, the entire city rising sequence really came together as all of the incredible 3D animation was assembled and enhanced by our compositing team lead by Debora Dunphy.

As far as the two shots of the Athosian city, you're right. The buildings were pulled from our "digital back lot" of structures that we were creating for the city of Atlantis.

Gilles Nuytens: Now a big question, can you describe the job of all the people (or at least the most important ones) working for visual effects, from the people working on the sets (green screens,...) to the animators, modelers, ... ?
Bruce Woloshyn: Okay, here comes the big answer . . . and I really mean it. Everyone is important to work on the visual effects. I will list off some of the jobs (using the pilot to Stargate: Atlantis as an example), but everyone is important. From the producers and director, whose visions we are in service of, to the entire production crew. Unless the shot is entirely digitally created (and there are a few of those in the pilot), everyone contributes to the completed shot. The question of "can I describe the job of all the people" would have you reading my response for days (and believe me, we have actually written the job descriptions for everyone).

I can, however, give you an example of one of the jobs that keeps the entire operation running smoothly (which is no small feat). The Visual Effects Co-ordinator (in the case of the Stargate: Atlantis pilot, the three of them), is the position closest to the supervisors for overseeing all of the work. Here is a list of some of the things that a Visual Effects Co-ordinator at Rainmaker is responsible for on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis:
  • To create budget breakdowns in preparation for estimates.
  • To attend production and VFX meetings.
  • To oversee the maintenance of all schedules, crew lists and call sheets, both internal and from production office.
  • To keep the Digital Effects Supervisor informed of set calls and schedule changes.
  • On-set and in-suite assistance.
  • To book sessions for CG, compositing and rotoscope through the VFX Operations Supervisor.
  • To act as a central contact for correspondence with assistant editors for project specific information.
  • To review the various cuts and EDL’s from MGM and watch for any anomalies that may exist. These are then to be communicated to the Digital Effects Supervisor and VFX Producer.
  • The ordering and administration of source plates and VFX elements as per the Visual Effects Supervisors and/or Digital Effects Supervisor.
  • The assisting with the supervision of sessions.
  • To organize VFX meetings and screenings.
  • The recording of client notes and approvals.
  • The maintaining and monitoring of each episode’s project status.
  • To work with the Lead Technical Operations Artist to administrate all delivery outputs and dubbing.

And that's only a partial list. But it gives you an idea of just how much there is to do, besides the actual shooting, animating and compositing of shots. I am extremely fortunate to have an amazing Visual Effects Co-ordinator, by the name of Tara Conley, who looks after all of this (and more) for me on a daily basis. But, as I said (and I really do mean it), everyone is important. To that end, here is the complete visual effects crew list for the pilot to Stargate: Atlantis, "Rising":

Brad Wright Executive Producer
Robert C. Cooper Executive Producer

Martin Wood Director

Bob Scarabelli Rainmaker Visual Effects Executive Producer
Michelle Comens Visual Effects Producer
John Gajdecki Visual Effects Supervisor
Bruce G. Woloshyn Digital Effects Supervisor / Lead Digital Compositing Artist

Jinnie Pak Visual Effects Co-ordinator
Tara Conley Visual Effects Co-ordinator
James Rorick Visual Effects Co-ordinator
Janice Groom Visual Effects Operations Supervisor

Dan Mayer Lead 3D Animator
Wes Sargent Lead 3D Animator
Rod Bland 3D Animator
Jose Burgos 3D Animator
Nicholas Boughen 3D Animator
Tom Brydon 3D Animator
Craig Calvert 3D Animator
Ho Sung Cheon 3D Animator
Bryan Davies 3D Animator
Tristam Gieni 3D Animator
Trevor Harder 3D Modeler
Sean King 3D Animator
Megan Majewski 3D Animator
Krista McLean 3D Animator
Daniel Osaki 3D Animator
Mark Pullyblank 3D Animator
Les Quinn 3D Animator
Vishal Anand 3D Animator

Debora Dunphy Lead Digital Compositing Artist
Gary Poole Lead Technical Operations Artist
Simon Ager Digital Compositing Artist
Jordan Benwick Digital Compositing Artist
Kristy Dearholt Digital Compositing Artist
Chris Doll Digital Compositing Artist
Keegan Douglas Digital Compositing Artist
Peter Hunt Digital Compositing Artist
Mathew Krentz Digital Compositing Artist
Colin Liggett Digital Compositing Artist
Tannis Mathers Digital Compositing Artist
Christine Petrov Digital Compositing Artist
Lee Pierce Digital Compositing Artist
Carmen Pollard Digital Compositing Artist
Trevor Strand Digital Compositing Artist

Chris Wren Concept Artist

Tracey Baxter Rotoscope Artist
Madhava Reddy Rotoscope Artist
Arnold Yuki Rotoscope Artist

Hamish Hamilton Visual Effects Assistant

Ken Hayward Director of Technical Development
Ronald Knol VFX & IT Engineering Supervisor
Zane Harker Resource Manager

Joe De Michelis Information Systems Administrator
Chi Pham VFX Systems Administrator
Grant Bowen Applications Support Specialist

Gilles Nuytens: What are your most useful tools on-set and why?
Bruce Woloshyn: I'm going to answer this question twofold. As the most useful tools on-set and the most useful tools in completing a visual effects shot for the series are not necessarily the same thing.

My most useful tool onset is, without a doubt, my measuring tape (both the old fashion kind and my laser-measure). Besides planning out what you have to do, and the order you have to do it, the most important thing you can do on-set is record useful and accurate data to bring back to the facility to show the digital team what was happening during the photography of the plates. A digital camera (for reference and textures) is also right up there on my most useful tools list.

Bruce Woloshyn
On a Dart ship!
Click the picture to see the full size photo

My most useful tool back at the facility is previs (although this is not necessarily always the case). When it comes to producing visual effects for a television series, the efficiency of shot-by-shot execution is always at the forefront of my planning. To this end, I am utilizing previsualization to a much greater extent than ever before. In many cases, especially for Stargate: Atlantis, many of our final shots match second-for-second to the previs that was created at the planning stage. This production model not only helps to lock a significant amount of visual effects shots in a particular scene, but sometimes even before we go to camera. Completing previs prior to going to camera, then allows us to further refine our elements list so we knew exactly what we are shooting on the day.

There is no better example of this process than the climactic space battle in the pilot of Stargate: Atlantis. The sequence consisted of over 30 shots, all of which had only brief descriptions of the action in the script. In order to better work with the producers and director in choreographing the battle, we set up an on-site animation station. This physical proximity to production allowed us to be able to receive quick feedback and implement changes much faster. Since the shots were prevised in LightWave, it allowed us to come back to Rainmaker and substitute the previs models with the high-resolution ships that were being built, while the animation was still being created. Animation and camera movement could be approved with the low-resolution models and then sent back to have the real ships substituted in their place. This provided a seamless integration from previs to final renders that allowed us to get the high volume of shots in a very short timeframe.

Gilles Nuytens: What advice could you give to visual effects students or beginners?
Bruce Woloshyn: This is actually a very hard question to answer, as there are just so many different jobs in the visual effects field and I would offer different advise for almost every one. The best advise I was ever given, was from my Father. He said, “Pick something you really like to do, and be really good at it.” I have been incredibly lucky, in always knowing what I wanted to do. This hasn’t come without sacrifice and a lot of hard work. The best advice I would offer to anyone interested in getting into visual effects is this . . . . be really sure this is what you want to do. This industry requires a lot from you, both in dedication and time. To excel, you have to be ready to give both.

Gilles Nuytens: I'd be interested to see a "real" ancient war ship fully operational and Ori ships, is there something that goes this way in the future?
Bruce Woloshyn: We are currently working on the season finales of both series right now (Stargate SG-1 season 9 and Stargate: Atlantis season 2). Look to the future, as you may get what you wish for. Although I'd love to give everyone a sneak-peek at what we have in store for the rest of the season, I'm afraid you'll have to wait for both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis to resume airing in January on SCI-FI.

Stargate: Atlantis  "The Siege Part 3" - VFX Scene 067x02
Daedalus high resolution images image
Click the picture to see the full size image.
Size: 1920x1080
This image has been kindly offered to
The Scifi World by Bruce Woloshyn and MGM.
© 2005 MGM Worldwide Television.
Redistribution forbidden.

Executive Producers:
Brad Wright
Robert C. Cooper
Director: Martin Wood
Visual Effects Supervisor:
James Tichenor
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Bruce G. Woloshyn
Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Tara Conley
3D Animators:
Wes Sargent
Rod Bland
Digital Compositing Artist:
Simon Ager

Stargate: Atlantis  "Trinity" - VFX Scene 083x01
Daedalus high resolution images image
Click the picture to see the full size image.
Size: 1920x1080
This image has been kindly offered to
The Scifi World by Bruce Woloshyn and MGM.
© 2005 MGM Worldwide Television
Redistribution forbidden

Executive Producers:
Brad Wright
Robert C. Cooper
Director: Martin Wood
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Mark Savela
Digital Effects Supervisor:
Bruce G. Woloshyn
Visual Effects Co-ordinator:
Tara Conley
3D Animators:
Wes Sargent
Rod Bland
Tom Brydon
Dan Mayer
Digital Compositing Artist:
Simon Ager


Bruce Woloshyn
Bruce Woloshyn
Bruce Woloshyn
Click the picture to see the full size photo
Click the picture to see the full size photo
Click the picture to see the full size photo

 

Interview by Gilles Nuytens for The Scifi World / Stargate Ultimate.


 



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