Episode 259 — Rise FX
Episode 259 — Rise FX
Rise FX was founded in 2007 by Sven Pannicke, Robert Pinnow, Markus Degen and Florian Gellinger in Berlin. Today, this award-winning company — with offices in Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, Cologne — has roughly 100 permanent staff members in addition to 100 freelance artists, which makes it one of the biggest VFX studios in Central Europe.
Rise FX acts as collaborator for episodic series, as well as television and feature film, from early concept to mastering, concept art and previs, every day on set, during effects production and animation, as an advisor for the Digital Intermediate process. Rise FX has partnered with directors like Tom Tykwer (Babylon Berlin, A Hologram for the King, Cloud Atlas), Guy Ritchie (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), Gore Verbinski (A Cure for Wellness), studios like Marvel (Captain America 1-3, Iron Man 3, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy), Netflix (Dark), Sony Pictures (The Dark Tower), Europacorp (Renegades). It also produces more and more animated features (Richard the Stork, Dragon Rider). Its sister production company Rise Pictures develops its own original content and co-produces films and series for an international audience.
In this Podcast, Allan McKay interviews Rise FX’s Supervisors Andreas Giesen and Korbinian Hopfner about the secret to a great reel, the importance of starting out as a generalist, the soft and hard skills crucial for a successful VFX Artist, and much more.
Rise FX Website: https://www.risefx.com/
Rise Pictures Website: https://www.risepx.com/
Rise FX on IMDb: https://pro.imdb.com/company/co0318973/?rf=cons_ats_co_pro&ref_=cons_ats_co_pro
Rise FX on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/rise-visual-effects-studios/
Rise FX on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RISEFX/
Rise FX on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/risefx
[03:58] Introduction of Andreas Giesen and Korbinian Hopfner
[09:51] Allan, Andreas and Korbinian Discuss How Important Schools Are
[12:51] How Much the VFX Industry Has Changed in Germany
[14:48] The Importance of Being a Generalist
[22:27] Andreas and Korbinian Discuss Workflow at Rise FX
[23:41] What a Job of a VFX Supervisor Entails
[27:02] Andreas and Korbinian Talk About What’s Expected of an Artist Joining Rise FX
[28:05] Rise FX’s Contribution to Hellboy
[28:48] Rise FX’s Contribution to Infinity War
[30:51] Rise FX’s Contribution to Captain Marvel
[32:27] Demo Reel Red Flags
[36:25] Where to Keep Your Reel (Vimeo, YouTube, etc.)
[38:03] The Importance of Scripting Skills for Artists
[38:36] Andreas and Korbinian Discuss Their Most Challenging Projects
[40:27] Andreas and Korbinian Talk About Rise FX’s Lidar Service
[42:09] Advice for Rise FX Candidates
[43:43] Future Resources for Rise FX Research
EPISODE 259 — RISE FX
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 259! I’m speaking with Korbinian Hopfner, an FX Technical Director at Rise FX, and Andreas Giesen, a VFX Supervisor at Rise as well. We’re going to talk about their studio, the films they’ve worked on and their insights into what they do.
I’m excited about this Podcast! Rise FX has worked on Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; on Marvel films like Captain America 1-3, Iron Man 3, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy and so many cool projects. We get into some really cool subjects: should you go to school as a VFX artist, the importance of being a generalist, what the VFX Supervisor job entails, the mistakes people make with their reels, requirements to get a job at Rise — and so much more!
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[00:58] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!
[44:18] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!
INTERVIEW WITH RISE FX
[03:58] Allan: Thank you, guys, for taking the time to chat! Do you want to introduce yourselves?
Andreas: Yes, I’m Andreas Giesen and I’ve been working as an FX and CG Supervisor at Rise FX for several years now. I started as an FX artist, then a TD.
Korbinian: I’m Korbinian Hopfner. I’m an FX Supervisor at Rise FX South (which is our Munich office). I started working at Rise as an intern and I’ve been part of the Rise family since 2011.
[04:31] Allan: How did you both start out? Did you always think you’d be artists?
Andreas: I was always interested in movies. At the age of 10, I grabbed my father’s VHS camera and I started a shop with my friends. We started editing simple effects. It was super funny! We had a scene with explosions and they were happening in front of (instead of behind) the actors. And we had the final battle in hell sequence, but our blue screen was so bad, we couldn’t key it properly. In the end, it was [changed] to the ice world. There were films like Lord of the Rings which boosted our interest and motivation. I still remember us all sitting and watching it over and over again. And then during my secondary school, I started editing game trailers in Premier and After Effects. I was a big fan of Andrew Kramer, actually.
I did an apprenticeship in graphic design, in which you work for 70% of the time and you’re in school for 30%. After 3 years, you have a degree in Graphic Design. At this time, I’d already done a lot of 3D stuff in 3DS Max and Maya. I used FumeFX, watching your stuff, Allan; as well as Krakatoa. I heard of Rise FX at a 3D conference in Berlin. After my apprenticeship, I started there as an intern, as a generalist. I focused on FX stuff because it was more fun for me. The original plan was to go to a university and get a Bachelors degree in 3D animation. In the end, I decided not to do it because I had an opportunity to start as a freelancer at Rise. Looking back, it was the right decision because I was always the self-taught type of a guy. In the first month of working, I learned so much! It was a real production environment with some extremely intelligent people around me. I think overall it can help to have a degree, but it’s not necessary in order to start in the VFX industry.
[07:48] Allan: Absolutely, and I want to talk about that more. Korbinian, what was it like for you?
Korbinian: My magic VFX moment was also during the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, especially the battle sequence. It was like, “Oh, my God! I need to learn how to do this!” I studied design at the University of Applied Science in Germany. It’s not a traditional film school. It’s more of a design school and you can just pick 3 out of 10 modules that you want to put your focus point in. Every module is traditional design like. For example, photography and graphic design; but also media design like film and animation. I picked my focus in film and animation which I guess is pretty obvious. Another one was CGI which combined concepts of basic photography with 3D elements. And the third was graphic design. You got a lot of freedom to try out different techniques and styles. It didn’t get that much into details, so you’re forced to do a lot of self teaching. I was a little bit frustrated because no one taught you how to do retexturing, let’s say, or rigging. It was a lot of trial and error. But it was also really rewarding if you understood how things worked in 3D world. And in the fifth semester, you were supposed to do an internship so I applied at Rise FX in Berlin. I was really impressed by the cool atmosphere and the people working here. That’s how I became part of the Rise family.
[09:51] Allan: That’s so great! Andreas, you were talking about going to a university; but when you started working, you already got your foot in the door. Universities can be useful if you aren’t disciplined. But it’s about being able to fast track. Do you think universities were valuable?
Andreas: Yeah, it really depends on how you learn. I supposed to study 3D and Houdini courses in my last year at the university, but what I noticed was that the students were expecting to have everything handed to them on a silver platter. If you aren’t motivated, it won’t work out. Also, some people are way too specialized by the time they leave school. I think it’s important to start as a generalist. Only that way you will know what’s important for the whole pipeline, and what other departments expect you to deliver. So it really depends on how you learn. But I also think some universities aren’t completely aligned with the needs of the industry.
[12:01] Allan: For both of you as supervisors, when you look at reels, do you care if [candidates] have a degree or not?
Korbinian: No, I guess that’s not the first thing we look at. We look at the reel and also [at the candidate’s] personality. Speaking on soft skills versus hard skills, I guess it’s 50/50. It’s definitely a plus point — if you want to work for Rise — if you know Houdini. But being a team player is definitely key here! And at any company as well.
[12:43] Allan: So you can’t be a talented asshole! How much do you think the industry has changed in the last few years, especially in Germany? Have you found that the projects have become more international in the last 10 years?
Andreas: I think definitely yes! Even when we started at Rise, Rise was doing stuff for German features and [tv] series. Now we’re working on international stuff, like Marvel. I think the whole industry is more international and studios distribute their stuff all over the world, not just Germany.
[13:59] Allan: ILM just opened a location in Australia which makes me happy! It’s a good thing because the playing field has been leveled.
Andreas: And people feel that in Germany, for example. There are more schools educating on this here because people know it’s possible to work on these productions.
[14:48] Allan: I guess the downside of it is that a lot of smaller countries are expected to know everything. As you mentioned, there are people coming out being specialists right away. But what used to be the strength of international artists — is that they could do anything. They could finish a shot. They were generalists. Do you find that everyone is coming in more as a specialist now, knowing their special piece?
Andreas: Yeah, I think it’s going more in this direction. Even if you take a look at reels, people will have explosions on black backgrounds. They aren’t in a scene. People have learned explosions but they don’t know how to do the other elements: lighting, shading, integrating pieces into the scene. Your Mentorship program, Allan, takes a look at all the aspects. When people start at smaller companies or are more self-taught, the possibilities that they’re skilled in all areas are much higher.
[16:40] Allan: That’s it! I have the Mentorship and the Live Action Series for that reason. With LAS, you have to take a shot from start to finish. Do you find that a lot: When people come onboard, they can’t complete a shot?
Andreas: That happens more often than before. That 10% is the most crucial. It can take double the time to complete. It’s just about bringing realism into the shot. You have to have an eye for it. Even if the artist is the [most tech savvy guy], it doesn’t help.
Korbinian: Just in addition to that, it’s also a plus point to have artists who are aware of the whole pipeline. If it’s an FX artist, he has to be aware that he has to give compositing AOV’s specialized for that effect. Animation needs some extra steps that FX can provide.
[18:21] Allan: I always say that you need to know the trifecta: If you’re in animation, you need to know a little bit of modeling and rigging. That way, you can communicate with people around you! You mentioned artists becoming very technical very quickly.
Andreas: At Rise, we have that philosophy. We once had an artist make a non-complicated smoke effect. It has to have a really good base. But he was starting to use scripting, and it took him 4 days. People tend to over-engineer stuff. It doesn’t produce good results.
Korbinian: I mean, keep it simple. It will get complicated all by itself!
[20:35] Allan: I honestly think a lot of TD’s love to brag about how complex the effects are. I worked with a guy in Berlin and we needed him to create some sparks. He made the spark tool, over-complicating things; but he didn’t finish the shot.
Andreas: I’m impressed by senior people who make the effect with as few nodes as possible.
Korbinian: Always keep in mind that you may need to pass on your effect to another artist who may not be at your level. So it should always be clear and simple to understand.
[22:27] Allan: With Rise, do you have any standard practices in terms of workflow, so everyone is on the same page?
Andreas: Yeah, with Houdini, we’ve worked on it for many years. We aren’t using it just for effects but for lighting, shading, etc. We definitely have a context in Houdini where everything is put together.
[23:41] Allan: As Supervisors, what does your typical day look like? Are you making shots or managing other artists? Do you do multiple projects at the same time?
Korbinian: [In] my role as an FX Supervisor and a TD, I tend to do a lot of designing magic effects. Which I really like! You can try different styles. I’m also a FX Sup. In Munich, we’re a smaller team, so it’s 50/50 for me.
Andreas: In Berlin, we’re a bigger studio. So I do a lot more meetings and coordinating here. I really enjoy working with other artists. We always have periods when we can do a lot of effects. I also enjoy those periods. It’s important to keep working with software, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to help guide other artists.
Korbinian: Especially, with Houdini, there is always a new version and you need to get to know the tools.
[25:38] Allan: For you, do you find it difficult to keep your finger on the pulse? Would you encourage others to make sure they know all the new features and products?
Korbinian: For sure! Because we work with Houdini, it’s a good practice to redo your tools with the latest version. Things get better or easier for you. In Houdini, we’re redoing the tools.
Andreas: As a Supervisor, it’s good to keep track of the developments because otherwise, you may not know a way to solve a problem.
[27:02] Allan: What are your thoughts on artists doing different software? Have you tried to bring artists who use different software but the training has been too much to put on yourself?
Andreas: It depends. We all started in Maya. If someone has an eye for detail, it’s the most important. And if that person is really experienced in Maya, we know he can create visually appealing effects. If he has some experience in Houdini and is motivated — it can definitely work out!
[28:05] Allan: Having a little bit of knowledge and a lot of motivation is a lot easier to work with. You can put in the extra hours. Just to dive into some of your projects, what did you do for Hellboy?
Andreas: For Hellboy, we did the scenes in the cathedral. We did some pyro and destruction. We also did these two creatures coming out of the mouth, in those shots.
[28:48] Allan: Cool! On Avengers: Endgame, what did you do?
Korbinian: We worked more on Infinity War. We did post crediting, the dissolving effect. We did some prototype shots of Dr. Strange.
[29:41] Allan: What was it like to work on that sequence while knowing it still has to fit into the same language that Weta was doing throughout the film?
Korbinian: For me, it’s been one of the most challenging projects, especially because of its tight schedule. We had 6-8 weeks to do all the effects. We had to match the effect to Weta’s. It was my first project as a Supervisor at Rise.
[30:51] Allan: What about Captain Marvel? You’ve worked on a few Marvel films. What are the types of effects you find most fun? What’s the more popular stuff for you?
Andreas: The most fun stuff is when we can develop some kind of a new effect. It’s definitely more challenging. We have have to go through a lot of changes just to push it to the limit.
Korbinian: As I tend to do magic effects a lot, I like those. But I also like traditional effects like dust or explosions. For example, for the Netflix series Dark, we did a lot of complex matter on the black matter, as well as lot of traditional effects. I like the mixture between the two.
[32:27] Allan: When you’re looking at reels, what’s the stuff that you see a bit too much of? Twenty years ago, it would be flying spaceships and logos.
Andreas: Definitely explosions in front of black! Another thing is there are so many resources out there today. When it comes to your reel, it shouldn’t have copies of tutorials. You should take the knowledge and build something new out of it. It can look the same, but it shouldn’t be a copy. If we see something that looks like a remake of a tutorial and the artist doesn’t credit it, it’s not the best idea.
[33:35] Allan: That’s good advice! I agree that if people are copying setting for setting, there is no growth there. The more you put yourself out of your comfort zone, the more you’ll learn because you’ll run into problems you’ll have to troubleshoot. That’s so critical!
Andreas: That has definitely happened here, but it also depends on how the artist is handling it. Because it’s not just that you learn. The important thing is to keep on and learn your own stuff with the knowledge you’ve just gained.
[34:52] Allan: When looking at reels, what are the biggest red flags that you see?
Andreas: What’s important is that people reflect the work they did. It’s important to point out on which aspect you worked, especially for people who are coming from huge companies. You never know if they put the sliders or build them. It’s important to flag that in your reel.
Korbinian: It’s also important that you have some personal projects because that means that you love what you do and you’re really motivated.
[36:25] Allan: I think being obsessed with what you’re doing is important. Do you look at candidates‘ social media or Vimeo?
Korbinian: Most of the time, people send us their Vimeo account because their reel is on it. You can just hop onto the next video they have there. If they don’t, it’s okay because you can ask about that in the interview. You can figure out if they’re good at creating tools or at creating shots. But even if they say that in the interview, that’s very honest and it’s helpful.
Andreas: We definitely check out their portfolio website as well. If they do other stuff, not related to FX, it shows that they have an eye for details.
[38:03] Allan: Do you think scripting is really valuable for FX TD’s?
Andreas: I definitely ask them about scripting at some point of the job interview. But it depends on the direction you want to go. At mid-level, there is no way around scripting.
[38:36] Allan: What have been some of the more challenging projects you’ve worked on? What were the ways you approached them?
Andreas: Apart from Captain America, it was my first project as a Supervisor. Then it was Shazam! at the beginning of this year. It wasn’t given too much time. But what I really liked about that project is how everyone was working together to get the show done, as a team: from production, to coordination, to CG. All the departments worked closely together.
Korbinian: For me, there wasn’t one specific challenging project. It’s was more those emergency projects when we’re asked to help up with tasks. Like what I mentioned with Infinity War, when we had 6-8 weeks. Those are the more challenging projects!
[40:27] Allan: I noticed that Rise also has Lidar service. Do you utilize that a lot?
Andreas: Most definitely! From few years ago, nearly every production has Lidar scanning. It helps in so many situations: from matching to building assets. You don’t have to wait until modeling is finished. You know the measurements of the set and where every person was standing.
Korbinian: If you’re starting on a task, it’s helpful to see the Lidar scan to see how the room is or where the effects should be happening.
Andreas: Even in compositing, you can use it to re-project some plate data and not model everything.
[42:09] Allan: For any artist who wants to work at Rise — or anyone who wants to get into VFX — do you have any advice for them?
Andreas: We already talked about it. Put a lot of effort into your reel. I would say it’s more important to have one shot on the reel from start to finish. You can shoot it yourself, track it, model it. Even if it’s on a smaller scale!
Korbinian: Being a team player is very important. I would consider Rise a family-like company. Therefore, being a team player — which you quickly realize in the interview — is key here!
[43:43] Allan: That’s great! Thanks again, guys. Where would people go to find out more about you?
Andreas: You can definitely check out our website: https://www.risefx.com/. You can also find us in LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/rise-visual-effects-studios/), IMDb (https://pro.imdb.com/company/co0318973/?rf=cons_ats_co_pro&ref_=cons_ats_co_pro).
[44:12] Allan: Thank you again for taking the time to chat!
Andreas and Korbinian: Thank you, Allan!
I hope you found this Episode valuable. I want to thank Andreas and Korbinian for taking the time to chat.
I will be back next week. Until then —
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