More info to come – but please enjoy a video that was filmed at Mindtrek conference in Europe last year. I discuss how I created all of the ash visual effects for God of War.
So below, is an actual purchase order for my main PC workstation that I work on. There definitely ARE faster machines out there. However, I wanted to get a machine within a certain budget range that essentially would be the fastest of every item, within the most optimal price range. Ie. I didn’t just fork over my credit card and say “go buy the most expensive of every peripheral”. I spent the time working with one of my IT friends over at Blur Studio, who handles speccing, purchasing AND assembling PC’s for use day to day at Blur. So, he seemed like an ideal candidate to team up with on this expedition – to pick the best hardware, but still fall into a realistic budget that myself, or anybody could afford.
Also, these system specs, are the EXACT machines that I worked on for God of War, Star Trek 2, Witches of East End, Metallica, Flight etc.
Most of the time, New = More expensive. And when it comes to hardware, you’re usually paying an additional 40% on let’s say “The Latest CPU” over one slightly less recent, with maybe 10% less decrease of power of the newer item. But somehow nearly half the price. Obviously, as soon as the next CPU/Whatever come’s out – the price of this will do that drastic shift in price too. You’re always paying for a premium when it comes to the latest and greatest.
So, with all of this hardware, I wanted to pay for the absolute best of everything (at the time, obviously hardware specs change very fast!) but I wanted to pinpoint the best of each of my parts available that was at their peak before they went into the ‘ridiculously priced zone’.
Obviously hardware changes rapidly, so I can guarantee there is better specs out there now. But this is probably a good baseline to look at and begin to look for similar but better priced.
Honestly, 20 years ago – you would pay ‘crazy’ amounts of money for your systems. But the desktop era came in and wiped SGI out. They tried to compete with their Octane SGI’s running Windows NT but with Maya available for the PC, Digital Fusion, Max, Lightwave and other tools all readily available – you could successfully compete as a studio on this hardware for a 10th the price.
Nowadays (wow.. I’m surprised spell check let me use that word!) you’re probably better of looking at what the latest video game hardware is that’s available. Taking into consideration thing’s like SLI (dual video cards) isn’t going to help you at all, but everything else will definitely be the latest and greatest for pushing around everything we want to use. There has been tech that has come in like Phys-x cards and some other cool tech I’ve been seeing at SIGGRAPH, but none that I can singularly point out as being something that for FX is going to change your life “right now”.
The more RAM the better, but I rarely go over 48gb during my simulations, but I’ve broken systems that have 64gb on a few recent projects that were very different to the standard “insert ‘splosion here” type shots I usually get. So.. If you think you’re going to be taking on some much more ambitious jobs, get more RAM! BUT if you don’t think you’ll need it, maybe put that money aside and slowly start a piggy bank for buying an additional computer.
I have listed the specs for two machines I bought recently for my render farm. These came in around $2,500 each. So if you later decide to skimp out on a few Friday night’s at ‘tha club’ then you can probably put that money towards getting an additional PC. Which, believe me – when you can suddenly fire off sims in the background and keep working RATHER than have to wait til night time to do something, and the next morning with crust still in your eye getting to see what you actually rendered – it’s worth it!
- Solid State Drive definitely helps
- Video card isn’t going to speed your simulations up “yet”
- Run diagnostics on your network – make sure you’re getting good speeds. Hit it hard and make sure of this! It doesn’t matter how fast your machines are; if they are taking 5 minutes to write a 3gb .FXD file to your network.
- Fume takes full advantage of Hyper-Threading, so use it!
Allan’s Primary Workstation Specs
Render Node Specs
So both came in reasonably the same price wise. I ended up initially buying my workstation, and two render nodes, and then not too long after I bought an additional two, and then another additional two. It seemed right to tack a few extra nodes on as more projects came in that I thought I might need them. But at the same time, I didn’t want to go overboard and decide to buy an unrealistically big render farm. I would gauge how long my renders were taking, and if I was really going to be waiting nervously for frames to come off the farm – then it’s a sign I might need more.
BUT in terms of simulations, really, it’s a matter of “How many simulations am I going to be doing at any given time”. Buying more PC’s and then realizing that really I’m just doing one big massive individual simulation, over and over and over – isn’t going to justify buying more hardware. Sure, rendering wise it will speed it up. But simulating won’t. I _CAN_ simulate multiple variations and take full advantage of these nodes, but then you’re just creating more work to justify having the hardware. DON’T BE GREEDY! Buy what you need, and save your money. Having a killer farm, doesn’t make you a bad ass!
I say this, because I’ve recently observed a colleague of mine spend a lot of money buying a farm with his savings – for really no reason that I can realistically think of. And we all have those friends, who go and buy a new RED camera and loads of film equipment for their new “film company” without having clients or anything yet actually booked. Take your time, and tack on those extra PC’s when you actually need them. And then, for the exact same price, you will be able to afford much much faster hardware rather than it being old and outdated when you finally are ready to put them to use. Hardware changes fast fellas, so buy it when you need it!
That’s all for now, bon appetite!
So here’s a new video I put up to answer a few common questions – the big one dealing with FumeFX and ideal hardware set ups. As well as typical workflow issues and better workplace general practice. I hope you find it informative!
So this is some OLD work from 2010 I believe? ANCIENT! Lots of playblasts of fx elements and other things, surprisingly this is less than half of the elements I built for these shots, pretty crazy amount of work went into this!
I worked with Atomic Fiction in San Francisco on this, lots of fun! FumeFX, Krakatoa, Pflow were the main tools used. And a little afterburn just for fun!
Spots filling up quickly for this workshop running next month! This workshop will cover a lot of advanced stuff I’ve never covered and kept pretty close to myself, lots of advanced tips and tricks and a going through many thorough production processes. 8 weeks long being mentored personally by myself and interacting with other students online!
Sign up right now for the workshop two weeks from now, only a few spots left!
Award-winning VFX professional Allan McKay returns to CGWorkshops with a new, advanced 8 week, fully mentored online training course in FumeFX.
If you’ve already had some experience blowing stuff up, this workshop is for you. But if you haven’t used FumeFX before, don’t worry – in Week 1, Allan explains the basics of the program for you before starting out with the creation of some seriously killer fire! Moving on through the weeks you’ll cover smoke, massive clouds and weather, fluids, ink droplets (yes, you read right, ink is huge right now) compositing in Nuke and rendering.
But it doesn’t end there. In Weeks 7 & 8 Allan puts you though his “Nuclear Blast” program, where you’ll take everything you’ve learned and put it towards an actual production shot. Allan describes this as a “realistic large scale nuclear explosion going off in the desert causing maximum destruction!”
As well as great weekly video tutroials, and a friendly closed-forum classroom environment, Allan will run regular weekly live web feedback sessions (recorded for those who can’t make it.)
Time-limited, fully-funtional student Fume FX licenses will be available for students who take this workshop.
Here’s a Webinar I did recently with the guys at CG Society, lots of fun and hopefully everyone found it informative!
Warning: First 2-3 minutes unfortunately start off slow as we got set up, feel free to jump ahead to 3:00 into it. And then the fun begins!
Also you can view some of the questions and posts below on the CG Society Forum – I will continue to answer these as much as I can! View the posts here:
This will be a load of fun! Sign up for the webinar now in time for next week!
Recently I was interviewed by Sitni Sati (Developers of FumeFX) which I think is probably the biggest rant filled interview I’ve done to date! But a lot of fun never the less. I’ve been using FumeFX since pre-alpha, I was one of the first .. two people in the world I think to get to have a sneak peek at it when it first started to see the light of day. And it’s been so fun over the years to watch it change and evolve! And for again for Maya! This is a bit of a read, but I’m sure it’ll be insightful and hopefully educational! Click here to check out the interview!
Hey guys! so I trust you’re having a great holiday so far! I wanted to release this video which I think is a fun introductory to more more pipeline orientated scripting.
The goal of this training video is to demonstrate how to build a list of all your render nodes inside of Max, and have the ability to just double click the node you want to access and it will log into it via remote desktop. Pretty handy as no typing or any manual work is involved. Yet it’s pretty straight forward to build this and definitely should get you thinking of other things you could do with this approach!
I won’t spend a lot of time talking about this, let’s just jump in and do it! And lastly you can download the files below (if you are viewing this from my website, otherwise go to www.ALLANMCKAY.COM and search for remote desktop or maxscript on the search panel to find this post, and links to where to access the maxcript. I hope you enjoyed that! Like I said the concept itself is pretty straight forward and it’s something that once you build you will probably opt to using this quite often. Plus it’s something that is very easy to build upon, as the way we construct the script is to read actual files we set up.
So suddenly, you could really use this in so many other ways. Whether it be to read other maxfiles(!) or pipeline documents or a dozen other things. This is just the tip of the iceberg, plenty more stuff coming – so stay tuned! And lastly, you can add me to Facebook or Twitter to get the most up to date material, and here’s a link to my website again where you can download the MaxScript.
One last thing, I’m not sure if you heard, but just in time for X-Mas I’ve put out a brand new training course on Maya FumeFX. This is a 7 hour course, and pretty jam packed with goodies, I think that no matter what your skill level, when you’re first switching either from Maya Fluids, or from FumeFX Max, this is an essential stepping stone to getting up to speed fast! Check it out – for the next two week’s it’s going for $57, after which it will go back to it’s original price of $97.
So get it while it’s practically half price! Happy holidays guys!
Download the maxscript here: MXS_RDP_v001_t001.ms
OK IT’S HERE FumeFX Maya Genesis is a 7 hour training DVD on FumeFX for Maya. Loads of cool content, and able to get you up to speed quickly with using FumeFX in Maya!
Throughout the xmas period it will be at a discount price afterwards it will almost go up to double – so get it while it’s hot!
Go to FUMEFXTRAINING.COM to check it out, and spread the word it’d mean the world to me!
In this video, like I said, it’s more just a quick demonstration of something pretty simple at first glance. But, it’s more to gauge your interest and see if you are interested in this sort of thing. And, if you are, I will make a lot of how to videos demonstrating how to write your own tools and custom scripts to apply to your FX heavy film productions.
The idea here is simple. I’m in Boston, working on a movie, all of my render farm and file servers are back in LA. I wanted to use my render nodes, to simulate my FumeFX simulations, as well as render them out. However, I DON’T want to have to
* Manually email a file to myself, remote desktop into my LA workstation
* Download the file
* Make a shot directory, save file there, make a Render directory, FumeFX directories, path everything there.
* Submit each simulation manually to back burner, and my render image sequence too
* Go into Nuke and build a quicktime video of my FX renders, and send it back to myself for review
* Make a folder back on the PC I am sitting at remotely, and transfer the files over manually once I have viewed the quicktime and like the frames
If I have to do this every time I want to render something out, it’s going to eat up all of my time and bring production to a halt. However, I do need to do this, because I do not have access to any render nodes in this city. So, didn’t take that long to do but I built a couple of small tools that would automate the process. Now, keep in mind that I could have automated this process further and tried to be all fancy about it but just like Kung Fu in movies, and “procedural automated FX driven pipelines” and trade shows and such, fancy is cool to show off, but you really want to do the most affective approach that will give you the most control and the best results, the fastest way possible.
So, things like transferring the files back to me, I had it write me a .bat file, or batch file. So that when I am ready, I can double click it and it manually starts copying each file over for me through that batch script. The reason, so that it’s ready to go if I decide to transfer the files, but I won’t transfer them until I watch the quicktime video and make sure I like what I see. A QT is 5mb, an image sequence is 1.2gb.
This is just a fun demonstration, but I thought it would be cool and best off the whole thing is short. However, all of the things it’s doing under the hood, are actually very useful tools So, off the top of my head I can think of a dozen cool scripts I can show you how to write yourself.
* How to automatically make a directory and repath your scene file’s render output to that directory and naming for you automatically. So each time you change the version of your file to v05, v06, it’ll repath your render images output directory to a new directory named ‘My FX Pass_v06′.
* Same for all your FumeFX containers, as well as each folder is named individually for your container and then furthermore for each version. This is useful because most of us will have a specific FumeFX simulation folder on the network where we save our stuff out, usually outside of everything else so its easy to blast FXD data when necessary. But it’s also good to have it all organized, so it’s easy to delete that data when IT starts nagging that the server is running out of space.
* Backburner job submissions, both simulation jobs as well as render jobs, plus additional render passes built at render time, such as RGB lighting passes and other things. You can have so much control when you control how your jobs are submitted! I have had productions this year that had 20+ FumeFX containers in them, and submitting them to sim has been painful Worse, what if I have back burner mode accidentally on on a container I didn’t want it on and I overwrite the old data. you can write tools that protect you from yourself!
I could go on and on, but the point is, there’s lots of cool shit to do and the more technical you get the more you want to do this. And the thing is, there’s not really any tutorials out there on this sort of stuff. I’m far from a programmer, in the sense that I don’t live and breathe math. I’m no Bobo, and hell I didn’t even finish Jr. High. BUT I’ve yet to run into a problem I task I haven’t been able to do, and it’s just a matter of looking at it all from the right angle, and I’d have KILLED to have had a helping hand in my early days of learning all of this stuff, but I had to do it all on my own. You don’t need to do that. I’m here to help, and I’d love to help you!
Watch the video and then tell me if you want to see this kind of stuff. If you do. I already have a few things ready to go and I will put out more video content on this subject over the xmas holiday period. If you are like “Nah, Allan, I just want to blow things up, more FumeFX and Krakatoa tutorials please” Then that’s cool too. I’ll stick to what you know me for!
Quick post! So I’m not sure if you’ve seen this already, but I’ve been working closely with the developers of FumeFX on new training for FumeFX Maya.
So this is a 1 hour long feature video, going over a lot of the core features of FumeFX. It’s more an overview, rather than being too hands on, but I will warn you it’s definitely jam packed. I recorded this video three times and each time it came in shy of a couple of hours, so I kept redoing it and redoing it until I managed to squeeze it into around an hour.
Check it out while you shake your hangover off from the weekend, it’s very informative and should give you a pretty good understanding on how to do a lot of cool FX with Maya fluids!
Thanks guys, let me know what you think!
I’ll make this short and sweet! In anticipation of the Maya FumeFX Genesis launch next week in time for the holidays. I’m releasing a quick crash course video on Maya FumeFX! The video is short but to the point, it focuses on getting you into FumeFX as fast as possible inside of Maya’s interface. Showcasing the basics of how to use Fume, and get your very first sim going!
So pretty straight forward, but even I was a bit like “!@#%$! wtf is the pick emitter icon?” when I first loaded up FumeFX inside of Maya a couple of months back – so as your Thursday afternoon starts to wind down and you have nothing better to do, check out the video and let me know what you think!
And just as a heads up, as the name suggests this is a CRASH COURSE! BUT… we’re going to have loads of more advanced content coming, but first learn the ins and outs and the core functionality, before we jump in the deep end!
Also as a heads up, I’ve been working around the lock – I wanted December to a pretty killer month! I am releasing videos, Maya and Max 3D files, PDF’s, pretty much everything I can think of leading up to the x-mas holidays. I figure, everyone gets a bit of time off over the xmas break, so use it to your advantage and gear up for 2014! Have a few extra tricks up your sleeve!
So, making a vow that TODAY and every couple of days moving forward until x-mas day. I will be releasing lots of cool killer content!
So this is it, video one, a trillion more videos and other good stuff to go!
If you don’t have my on Facebook, ADD ME! If you’re not following me o Twitter, then FOLLOW ME because I’m going to be releasing most of it there. And some of it is once in a lifetime stuff, also I’m willing to do wish lists too, so if you have some FX or some little gotcha you can’t seem to wrap your head around, ask there and I’ll do my best to record something on that too over the next couple of days. But in the meantime, I have LOADS of cool stuff recorded, edited, even with some funky music to keep us all awake while we click buttons and make stuff go boom!
Santa Monica, CA
Readtime: 20 minutes
I’ve been hesitant to publish this, on many levels, and even writing it in a lot of ways has been difficult to look back at everything. My intent for this article is not to make a “my life” story, but more to point out certain pivotal moments that changed my life, and trickle in key bits of advice that can be applied to anyone’s career. Also. to demonstrate times of failure, self doubt, and pushing through it to success.
My intention’s not to make this article “braggy” or “look at me now”. More (I hope) it inspires some of you who are at that tipping point of wondering if they should keep doing what you love, or if you should just give up. Even recently I have met people who are ‘in’ the industry but haven’t quite “made it” and are questioning themselves. I’ve been asked so many of these type of questions recently, and also seen people close to me giving up on their dreams because of self doubt, or doubt of their friends or family. This just seemed like the right time to write this. I have nervously shown this to a select few people within this industry that I look up to who have all responded so unexpectedly with how it affected them and inspired it made them or how they could relate.. They finally gave me the bravery to actually post this!
Mastering anything, doesn’t come overnight – we all reach our tipping point where we can begin to doubt ourselves. The ones that push forward are the ones that make it. “nothing worth having is easily obtained”
Going after the unattainable
February 1996. Grade 9 high school, 2nd week in. Fed up, I quit – cold turkey. I had barely gone to school up until that point, so this was nothing new. But when I finally made the realization that I wasn’t ‘actually’ going back, I realized I better make something of myself. I grew up in a small town in Australia with a population of, roughly 8,000 people. I had seen my fare share of people dropping out of highschool while I grew up, and the type of jobs and career they had, or the careers they didn’t have.
This scared the CRAP out of me.Even that young, I knew I needed to take action, and I needed to do something with my life.
Age 7, I wanted to be a Writer. Age 5, I wanted to be a Ninja. Age 3, a T-Rex. Age 11, it finally stuck. I wanted to work in Hollywood, in the USA – Creating ‘Effects’ for big blockbuster films. This was the ultimate creative outlet! Blowing things up, making Dinosaurs come to life, creating the impossible! To most, I had probably more of a chance of being a T-Rex, or a Ninja.
Back then I was inspired by Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and dozens of other films starting to come out at that time. Mostly all from this one studio – Industrial Light + Magic (ILM). But this was where I felt destined to be!
But with no education, no money (my mom and I lived in a 300 square ft apartment) in Nowhereville, Australia – literally the other side of the planet. On a continent more recognized for wrestling crocodiles and vicious baby eating Dingos than anything else. Before the internet had arrived to make the world such a small place that it is today. A 13 year old dropout, to dream of working with the best of the best in Hollywood, California? I might as well have decided to be an Astronaut.
Allan at 5 years old
Growing up I always loved art. I loved drawing, sculpting, pastels, hell I used to draw up designs for He-Man and G.I. Joe toys for my mom to send off to Mattel so I could make my millions when I was 4 years old. So although my mom and I never ‘had’ money, at all (I was the poor kid that never wanted to leave my friends houses because they had so many toys to play with). I did have a lot of confidence, and a lot of ambition. I would sell my artwork to strangers and pester my mothers friends to buy my sketches. Which were mainly all comic book style drawings of Dead-pool, Spiderman, Batman, and various other hooded, ripped bad-asses.
I had a knack for doing a lot with the little I had. I had set up multiple garage sales on the side of the road to sell pretty much anything I owned when I was desperate or if I had my mind set on buying something. At age 8 for instance, I would buy dirty magazines and rent them to the older kids at school at a per night rate, for almost the same price I was buying them for (not my proudest moment). But I learned very early on the valuable lesson that if I want something, I need to go out there and get it for myself, no hand outs, no unrealistic expectations. Just determination and taking the initiative.
I was resourceful and focused. So selling my art offered me a chance to put enough money together to buy an old second hand 286 PC for $300. With 1mb of RAM, 8-bit graphics card (a grand 256 colors), a mouse and assortment of paint and animation programs. All I could fit on 40mb of disk space. Now I could play video games, finally.
But I found something that instantly I knew was my future. I don’t know how, or even what I would actually put this use to. But my obsession with multimedia had stuck with me ever since playing my first video game, or seeing FMV (Full Motion Video) or other now laughable graphics that I was in awe of back then. I wanted to make art, on the computer!
Soon I had Deluxe Paint Animation, Animator Pro and a lot of TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident, a technical term for utilities that would linger in your memory after you close them, allowing you the luxury of ghetto multi-tasking in MS-DOS) I could load up video games and screen capture them to then have a source for scenery, or environments pretty much using the game as my camera. I’d then bring it into these 2D programs and begin the hideous task of frame by frame, pixel by pixel painting out various things, such as characters, interfaces etc. So I then had a place to then start to paint in my own animations, make my own movies. This was the beginning for me.
Deluxe Paint + Animator Pro in all their 8-bit glory!
We all have those key moments in our lives, those big ‘sliding doors’ moments that we can pinpoint where something big had happened that changed everything. A family member passing, your first kiss or your first trip to Tijuana with a group of people you had only just met. Or in this case, when I was 11, and my mom came home from buying the groceries, and on a whim, had bought me a gift of an issue of Design Graphics Magazine, for me to read. It was so random that she had done that. But as I flicked through the magazine, each page turn brought me closer to discovering something that singlehandedly changed my life forever.
There were two things that stood out, one was some of the advertisements for Wavefront, a 3D program on the SGI pretty famous for the TV show ‘ReBoot’ which was one of the first computer animated TV series to ever come out. SGI’s… Something I knew nothing about. Other than to me back then being super computers, that usually are responsible for making all of this CGI ‘stuff’. The other, was a review of 3D Studio R3 for DOS.
But I couldn’t make sense what exactly I was looking at. All I knew, was that I couldn’t paint these ever so clean, lit, smooth surface images like in this magazine. It was far beyond what I could paint or draw on a computer. I didn’t know how they did it, but it felt so.. CLEAN! and.. REAL! But again, out of my reach. The review of 3DSR3 however, did stick in my mind.. They talked so in depth about it. In a way I knew this software, if I could get my hands on it, was the key. I felt so pulled to this thing. Whatever the hell it was, I wanted to be able to make imagery like this!
Two years went by and I was still obsessing with computer art. I had started to take my interests and find a way to apply them. Going on BBS’s (Bulletin Board Systems – kind of like the internet before the internet) or buying various PC video game magazines that had attached 3.5″ floppy disks that came filled with various utilities that would allow me to modify video games, such as Wolfenstein-3D. This was HUGE for me. I could suddenly paint – again, frame by glorious frame characters in motion, and insert the .PCX images into the game and have it read them and see these monsters I created come to life within the game. Customize maps, develop my own world inside of this game engine. MY 286 couldn’t handle Doom, yet I was obsessing over that game now, and started to recreate my own art of Doom inside of Wolfenstein. My own characters, my own imagery. I would stay up to all hours of the night building my own worlds and thinking of new creative things to do. This was definitely my future, I could taste it!
Shortly after I quit school, I had now managed to replace all of the parts inside of my 286′s case with a 486DX-4 100mhz. 4mb of ram. Finally, I could play Doom. Through an odd twist of events, I also managed to get 3D Studio R4 for DOS. 14 floppy disks later and about 2 hours of installing. I was ready to rock and roll. With a not too legitimate copy of the program that my mothers, friends, friend who was in architecture, briefly came over and installed for me. He showed me how to build a cube, make it glass, add a light and render it in a couple of minutes. And then, disappeared out of my life.
This is where my obsession began. I hid away and disappeared from my family and peers. I made friends with caffeine and I set out to master this software. The only time I had for sleep, was whatever amount of hours remaining was listed in my render dialog. At 6 in the morning if it said my render would take 5 hours, I would set my alarm and I’d be back at it at 11am. This was my moment, I knew what I wanted to do. I had a goal, I knew where I wanted to be. Sure, I might have been 14, but I was determined to succeed at all costs, to follow my passion and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.
3D Studio Release 4 (1995) for MS-DOS
Over my career I’ve mentored and helped many talented artists with their careers. I’ve helped artists just starting out in 3D, all the way through to giving workshops and classes at Ubisoft and ILM. I’ve spoken in front of crowds as large as 3,000 people in a single room, many countries all around the world. At this stage, I’ve done a lot. And this is a common subject that comes up, how did I start my career. Or where did I go to school. How did I get into this. More recently it’s become a pretty common question how did you get that big break, that job that changed everything, and were there pitfalls along the way, people who doubted you or tried to persuade you to quit.
My Keynote at Mindtrek Conference – Finland (2013) Autodesk University, Las Vegas (2012)
First, how I started out. I still remember the day I sat down with a piece of paper, and did something that I think is solely responsible for where I am today. It made me be able to get such an unattainable dream, and break it down into digestible steps, that I could do, one step at a time.
I sat down with a sheet of paper, at the top I wrote my absolute dream goal. Doing CGI in Hollywood. My goal, from the little I could find on this subject that wasn’t really very mainstream back then. I wanted most likely to end up as a Technical Director – which described to me was half way between a creative role, and a programming role. Requiring a lot of problem solving. This I felt summarized a few of my drives into one. Ultimately, thinking – long long pipe dream goal – was to maybe become a visual effects supervisor. That seemed to be the job the top guys who you see at Industrial Light + Magic, Digital Domain, PDI and the others on on the documentaries about CGI seemed to have. So that sounded like the be all and end all for visual effects.
At the bottom of the paper I marked with an X – which pretty much stood for ‘You are here’. I logically wrote down the roadblocks I thought I would have. I don’t have an education on paper. I don’t have experience. I don’t have a portfolio. I don’t know others in the industry. I wrote them in the middle of the paper. And then I began to break down each step – ok so how do I get this education/paper, how do I get experience, how do I find people in this industry?
How do I achieve each of these steps? Some of them would need me to fulfill a different step prior to that step. Each of these seemed like completely different tasks, and I soon had over a dozen steps or mini goals I had to do to tackle each of these things. It was going to be a lot of work. But I had a goal. I had a direction. I had something now to focus on.
The next step was a timeline. I thought Hollywood was still a pipe dream and I would need to prove myself 10x over before I could go there. So there were more steps to break down between my end goal and the point where I had achieved all of the core requirements I had set out. So I needed to break down a career path next. Once I had achieved all of those mid-way markers, I had stepping stones from there to getting to that goal, at least those would be more linear. I aimed to work in video games, and eventually work my way into TV and film over time. I still look back on this sheet of paper, as a magic bullet, an instructional guide on how to reach ultimate goal of working in Hollywood. And I’m still convinced, that most people who set out to do what they want to do, never get there, because they simply had a goal they thought was too overwhelming, and no clear guidelines to follow. They either didn’t push themselves hard enough or weren’t willing to take the leap of faith to go after what really was important in their life. Do you .. want to drag yourself out of bed every morning to go to a job you hate and try and find hobbies in your spare time to get just a little bit of satisfaction from your life? Or do you want to find the thing you love most and push yourself to become better and better at it, while making a living off of your enjoyment? Most, just think that’s not possible and take the easy route. Rather than spending that little bit of time in the beginning to sit down and figure out, ‘OK, how the heck am I going to do this?’ and then commit themselves to working their asses off no matter what the cost to getting there. Who here likes a challenge?
Some of the pivotal moments in CGI that inspired me and still inspire me
For me, nothing was going to stop me. I had a goal now and I honestly felt like I was ready to die for this goal. I had a purpose and I was only willing to move forward. I was hungry, I was excited, I had a drive to succeed like i hadn’t ever experienced before. This subject was very unheard of where I was, nobody seemed to know what 3D animation, or CGI was back then. Even the term visual effects was still kind of forming as a differentiator for special effects, which was the practical side. One of my goals was to still try to find others interested in this subject, again without any internet (yet) around that time I moved to fairly small city, Brisbane with my mom. I enrolled at a college briefly purely to gain access to some of the unattainable resources I needed. It was a bit of work to get in because I was so young, a lot of phone calls and mailing in all of my work trying to prove I was serious about all of this. The main reason I enrolled was to use their labs, they had fast computers, and they also had 3D Studio Max 1. The other reason was to network, to meet others in my industry. I found this to be great, it was motivating to have others around who are doing great things.
I made a lot of friends through the labs, mainly young adults in their 20′s and 30′s who all were eager to get into this new 3D fad or other areas of multimedia. So this seemed like a logical step for me. I would practically live at the lab, morning through until late at night. I had made lots of friends, but there were just as many ‘other’ personalities I would come across who seemed to look at the world and at everyone else with a lot of negativity and almost breathed negativity and discouragement the same way they would breathe air.
If your work showed promise and others accepted you, you were a target for ridicule by these people. Almost as if to overcome their insecurities they needed to pull their peers morale down. In addition, I had instructors, lab assistants and other more authority and influential people who are there to encourage you, filling me with self doubt. You’ll never make it. You’re too young. Nobody will hire you. You should just give up. There’s no real work out there for this sort of thing
At the same time I had friends doing the same thing back home, they were all in school, and for them life was about chasing girls and underaged drinking, hanging out at the mall. I was in a whole other world than all of these people. I wasn’t willing to let people bring me down and tell me I can’t do something. It made me furious. I felt like nobody saw the world how I saw it. I wanted to be the best I could ever be, and I wanted to be great. I didn’t want to be told I’m destined to fail, you’ll never make it in video games – that’s all done in America. You’re dreaming. You should pick a different career.
I think this is something everyone can relate to. Whether it’s your parents, your friends, your colleagues, it’s people that usually just don’t understand, and they don’t understand it, then of course they can’t relate, therefore it’s stupid, pointless or a waste of time. There’s people who project their own doubts in themselves onto others. If they feel like they can’t achieve their goals, if they can’t be excited about something. They push that onto you, whether they’re even aware they’re doing it or not.
There’s also my favorite, something I never understood. Jealousy. To this day, I can never understand how someone can witness someone doing great things, and want to tear them down. I purposely welcome people greater than me into my life. I hungrily surround myself with people better than I am. More talented, more successful. It inspires me. It makes me want to do better. I feed off of that. I will never, ever, understand why someone must tell someone else they aren’t any good to make themselves feel better.
Australia, especially – has a term “tall poppy syndrome” which to quote wikipedia:
Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term primarily used in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.
At the time however, there really was only two studios doing minor 3D work in my area, no video games or other mediums. Maybe everybody was was right, there wasn’t really a career out there for doing this sort of stuff. And then it happened. in 1996 A company called Auran, partnered with Activision and announced a AAA video game being developed right here in Brisbane. This was my big break!
I found out there was a big event for the games launch coming up. They were showcasing the game Dark Reign, and also played the amazing pre-rendered cinematic for it on the big screen (one of the earliest works of the newly formed Blur Studio in LA). I attended the launch, because I knew the developers were going to be there. I needed to talk to them, I had been working on a reel and my whole motivation at that point was to get a job there, but everyone around me, filling me with doubt and telling me “nobody is going to hire a kid”
The CEO, Greg Lane was there and after his big unveiling, I approached him from the side and just asked him one single question outright, directly eye to eye. I needed to know, for my own sanity “Do you have an age limit on hiring your artists? If they’re good, and under 18, Will you hire them?” Lane’s response: “If you’re good, you’re good – we’ll hire you”
I darted out of that convention center so fast, I literally ran, walked and ran with so much new determination straight home to my computer to begin working harder than ever on my first demo reel. A video compilation of all of my work. I thought it was time to try and venture out into the world. I was hungry for this. Nothing else mattered. I was going to get a job there! I have to! I cut my reel and output it at the college lab onto a VHS tape. I mailed it in, and waited. And.. waited. I called, they had received it. I waited more. Finally after making a few connections there through friends of friends on IRC (Yes! Internet had finally arrived!) I managed to get a response from the head of 3D. They liked my work but it wasn’t quite there yet.
This is where I could have given up. But I saw it as obviously I need to get BETTER. I need to work harder. I need to work longer hours. People now had proof I wasn’t good enough. I could hear the I told you so’s echoing through my head. I spent 6 months, and I cut a new reel and sent it in. This was my absolute BEST work I had ever made. I was proud, and I knew this was it. I felt I practically had the job the minute the CD was mailed out to them. Again, rejection. I felt like a failure. At this stage, I was broken, I felt like giving up. I felt like everyone was right, and I had just wasted my life. I was still barely about to turn 15, but emotionally I was exhausted, I had given it everything I had and despite everybody telling me I couldn’t do it – I wanted to prove each and every one of them wrong, and now I just felt silly like ‘of course they were right, who am I to think I’d actually make it and do something, and have actually achieved something I set out for?’.
I decided to give it one last shot. But if I was going to do this, I needed to start from scratch. I needed to take everything I knew, plan everything out – I needed to look at my work as if I was the one hiring me. Everything they could pick apart about my work. What were my weaknesses? There wasn’t room for any doubt, I needed to showcase characters, hard surface modeling, texturing abilities, shading abilities, lighting, animation, EFFECTS, I had learned so much from being so curious over the years I had gotten really good at this area, and I had also gotten a very strong grasp on integrating live action footage, or photos with CG. Not something too relative to games, but for movies – my end goal, this is something I needed to be good at.
I felt like applying again at Auran would be a handicap, this is going to be my last try I want a fresh chance to fail. I sent my work to two game companies. Both came back to me with job offers. Suddenly I was having multiple offers! WTF?! Within no time I was signed up working on Half-Life. It was 6 months of remote work modeling and texturing and animating in 3ds max. I felt like my career was finally happening – it felt like I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t a failure, I wasn’t a kid that nobody would hire. I had Half-Life on my fucking resume!
The thing I didn’t expect was afterwards I was still faced with being in Australia, where there wasn’t much work, a year went by with not the most glamorous jobs, I felt uninspired and again starting to feel depression sink in. However an artist that I had met while working on Half-Life who coincidentally also was from Australia, showed my then even newer (version 4) reel I had just cut, to his boss in Sydney. This reel didn’t contain any game work, it didn’t focus as much on texturing or animation – by this point I was focused on modeling, effects and compositing. I would model entire digital environments and blow them all to hell. I had ships smashing through piers, UFO’s crashing through buildings. Whatever new movie was coming out I was rebuilding the big money shots in 3D. I was told my understanding of integrating live action with CG is something that was rare, as most people when they’re starting out have zero understanding of this and it proved I’d be able to jump right into production which was a huge advantage.
I relocated to Sydney to Ambience Design, which at the time was one of the top 3 post production studios in Australia (oddly all of them were right next door to each other, Animal Logic, GMD). I still remember my first day, walking up the stairs into the main hall and the odd soapy/fruity smell in the staircase of that building the long hallway filled with rooms, each room with 3D artists or Flame, Hal, Henry suites or the machine room, all these people all busy working on commercials, music videos, the feeling was overwhelming!
I started as a 3d artist, but with an emphasis on FX whenever that sort of work came in. I did talking dog commercials, modeled props and animated characters and logos, in my spare time I lived at work – using the render farm to develop new FX, new techniques. I was trying to push the limits on what could be done at that time with FX, especially out of 3ds max, which was very much the underdog of 3D Software back then.
I documented it all into articles I published on-line, nobody else was doing this and I had to learn everything I knew from scratch, why not save everyone else the trouble, show the world how at least I created tornadoes, explosions, clouds, fire, whatever. My first two weeks at Ambience, I learned more than I had in my entire career leading up to that point. That was the point I felt I had arrived, I had achieved something. I was working with some of the most talented, amazing artists, many of which I got to meet again earlier this year when I visited Australia. Almost each and every person at that studio at that time, has individually influenced me in some way. Ambience at the time, was the most life changing experience for me, I was a sponge – being around so much creative talent I wasn’t going to let that opportunity go to waste.
Eventually, a friend of mine in editorial cut a new reel of my work – after having worked in TV commercials for two years, I suddenly had over 30 commercials I had worked on. I had so much stuff that was so polished and professional, there’s such a huge difference when working on productions with a team than by yourself. With a team you have everyone teaming together to make something great, your work instantly looks more polished – prior to that everyone’s student reel is always going to showcase more what areas you lack in rather than excel. I decided, as a gag to send my work to LA. I sent it only to two studios – Blizzard Cinematics, and Blur Studio. Both of these companies I was a huge fan of their work.
Blizzard sent back the standard HR thank you letter, your work is on file. Tim Miller, one of the founders of Blur and very much the face of Blur – emailed me directly. Words can’t describe how I felt at that moment, I wish I still had kept the email from nearly 15 years ago. Someone that I idolized and respected, as well as Blur Studio itself and the work they were doing, even back then. Contacting me at 18 saying he loved my work and wanted to offer me a job, move out to LA and work at Blur Studio. O-motherfucking-M-G! Shortly after it became obvious that although I seemed qualified for the job, I wouldn’t qualify yet with the government for a visa to work in the United States. But Tim kept in touch with me, and I continued to mail updated reels over the next couple of years and stay in touch.
Since working at Ambience, I have never looked back. I left Ambience to work on my first ever Hollywood film – shortly after I was offered to work on the Matrix, and Lord of the Rings (sadly I had agreed literally days before that to take a staff job and work on two Disney films instead, which I knew would be flops but I wanted to honor my contract). I moved to Los Angeles days after I turned 21 (Come on guys, like I was going to move before I reached the legal drinking age in the US). I became a technical director at 19, I was a VFX Supervisor by 23, I have worked all over the world, I got to work at Blur which was a dream come true, I got to work at Industrial Light + Magic under amazing talent such as John Knoll and Dennis Muren, I got to speak at SIGGRAPH in front of hundreds of people close to 10 times now, One of the greatest moments for me was receiving the award as an Autodesk Master at SIGGRAPH in San Diego in front of hundreds of people (and recently, I was the only person in history to ever be nominated for the award again.. until Autodesk realized they already had awarded me the status and pulled the nomination), I’ve worked with amazing directors like Michael Bay and Robert Zemeckis, Bryan Singer, M. Night Shymalan (Hey! he’s alright!) even through a strange turn of events I was approached to interview for the position of Art Director on Doom 4 for id Software, which I felt too unworthy to consider (Last year I actually had dinner with the Art Director for Doom 4, and low and behold they definitely hired the right guy for this!).
I got to work with so many influential amazing artists (some of my closest friends that I’ll never say to their face but I completely idolize!) I have been blessed to work on many amazing movies, work under such great artists and supervisors, directors, be a part of so many amazing things and travel the world doing what I love. I don’t say any of this to impress you, I say all of this to leave an impression on you. It’s hard to put into words how grateful and lucky and appreciative I am to have gotten to experience everything that I have. From people telling me the whole time growing up what I can’t do and that I won’t go anywhere, the one person I had that told me time and time again that I can do it, and told me yes when others said no is my mom. Even if she didn’t quite understand she would still say yes, do it! That’s great!
Allan at Industrial Light + Magic
Any of this is achievable and reachable, I’m no different than anybody else. It’s just a matter of surrounding yourself with the right people who align their goals with yours and to force yourself to push forward when it’s easier to step back.
The people that encourage us are far and few between but their encouragement is the ones that we should listen to. They’re the ones that I owe everything to and want to thank for making my dreams come true. I have met so many people who have had parents or people who do have a lot of influence on their lives, doubt them and encourage them to fail and push them to the brink of wanting to give up their dreams and their passions. Most of the time they don’t realize they’re even doing it. But take a minute to think about the effects your words are going to have on the people around you. What you have to gain from limiting others and how much of a positive affect you could have on that person by showing a little encouragement. And for everyone out there with dreams, no matter how unrealistic as you might think they may be. Never give up and never let people tell you you can’t do something. All great things take time, struggle, and hard work, but it just makes the reward when you finally get there so so much sweeter.
November 4th, 2013 – Hollywood, California.
To contact Allan – Please email email@example.com
Thought you might dig this! An energetic and smile-inducing little short film called ‘FLIGHT’, featuring the Jeremy Scott ‘Glow in the Dark’ sneakers from Adidas. But, pretty sure you’ve never seen them like this. A very simple idea, but something we’re sure you’ll have fun watching.
“What flights of fancy await for the man not afraid to run free”.
Although the key word for the visual effects was subtlety – the way these effects were built was pretty different to anything I’ve ever done before. I will have more information coming soon but for the time being, enjoy! And spread it around if you like it! It’s an individual piece from a lot of passionate guys, we all just wanted to make something cool! – Allan
Actor: The Tapp Brothers
Producer: Gillian Marr
Cinematographer: Gareth Jackson
Production Designer: Pete Zumba
Editor: Ben Suenaga
CG Artist: Allan McKay
Post Producer: Nancy Nina Hwang
Visual Effects: Eight VFX
Sound Designer: Joseph Fraioli
So, plenty of news coming soon. Lots of resources, so keep an eye out!
In the meantime, I will be holding a Keynote at Mindtrek along side co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, amongst other big names at the event. In addition I am also holding another keynote at The Northern Games Summit and a few other places. Come along if you can!
So this is a bit old now but I cut a new reel recently’ish
Enjoy! And if you need VFX Supervision on a project, or simply need some stuff blown up – shoot me an email! I’m always looking forward to working with new talented teams!