Episode 342 — THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS – DNEG’s VFX Sup Dan Glass

 

Episode 342 — THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS – DNEG’s VFX Sup Dan Glass 

DNEG (www.dneg.com) is one of the world’s leading visual effects (VFX) and animation studios for the creation of feature film, television and multiplatform content. DNEG employs nearly 7,000 people with worldwide offices and studios across North America (Los Angeles, Montréal, Toronto, Vancouver), Europe (London) and Asia (Bangalore, Chandigarh, Chennai, Mumbai).

DNEG’s critically acclaimed work has earned the company six Academy Awards® for Best Visual Effects and numerous BAFTA and Primetime EMMY® Awards for its high-quality VFX work. Upcoming DNEG projects on behalf of its Hollywood and global studio and production company partners include Dune (October 2021), No Time To Die (October 2021), Ron’s Gone Wrong (October 2021), Last Night In Soho (October 2021), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (November 2021), The Matrix 4 (December 2021), Uncharted (2022), Borderlands (2022), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2022), The Flash (2022), and Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023).

Dan Glass is an acclaimed VFX Supervisor with numerous accolades over the course of his 25-year career, including a BAFTA nomination and two Visual Effects Society awards. He is a long-time collaborator of the Wachowskis and Terrence Malick, and production VFX Supervisor on films such as Jupiter Ascending, Cloud Atlas, Tree of Life, Batman Begins, The Matrix sequels, Deadpool 2, and many more.

In addition to his impressive list of film credits, Dan also served as VFX Supervisor on two seasons of Netflix’s sci-fi cult hit Sense8, while directing two episodes himself; and previously served as Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer for Method Studios.

In this Podcast, the acclaimed VFX Supervisor for The Matrix: Resurrections Dan Glass talks about the underlying message of the film, shares some behind-the-scenes, and discusses technological innovations throughout the franchise’s history.

DNEG Website: https://www.dneg.com

DNEG at LinkedIn: ​​https://www.linkedin.com/company/dnegvfx

DNEG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dnegvfx/

DNEG on IG: https://www.instagram.com/dneg/

Dan Glass at DNEG: https://www.dneg.com/dneg-appoints-dan-glass/

Dan Glass on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0321922/

Dan Glass on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dan-glass-a0864019

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

[02:23] Dan Glass Talks About the Beginning of His Career

[05:43] The Growth of the VFX Industry

[12:48] Dan Shares Some Behind-the-Scenes from The Matrix

[17:30] Getting Involved on The Matrix Franchise

[22:55] Making Artistic Choices for Technically Challenging Sequences

[31:19] Technological Advancement and Innovation

[37:57] Lana Wachowski and Her Directing Style

[46:59] The Underlying Message of The Matrix: Resurrections

 

EPISODE 342 — THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS – DNEG’s VFX Sup Dan Glass

Hi, everyone! 

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 342! 

I’m sitting down with Dan Glass, the VFX Supervisor for The Matrix: Resurrections. I’m super excited for this Episode! This is a really fun interview.

Let’s dive in! 

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST: 

[01:04]  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!

[49:42] 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 DAN GLASS 

[02:25] Allan: Thanks, Dan, for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Dan: Yes, my name is Dan Glass. I’m a Visual Effects Supervisor, mostly on the production side, on movies. I’m at DNEG, one of the most recognized VFX companies. I’ve been a Supervisor for over 30 years, on the production side for over 20.

[02:47] Allan: Did you always imagine you’d work in some kind of a creative role, when you were growing up?

Dan: I think so, yes! My mother was an artist by trade (but not professionally). That was a strong influence. My father was very scientific, mathematic. So those two forces were always present in my mind. I’d pursued engineering but didn’t feel like it was creative enough. So I studied architecture because I felt it was a bridge between the technical and creative. After leaving the university, my girlfriend at the time suggested that I work in film. “Is that a real job? How do people ever do that?” I’d put out CV’s and rang doorbells in Soho. I felt that plunging into it and keeping my eyes open [was the thing to do]. As a 20-year-old, I didn’t want to get to my 30s and regret my choices. I got some simple runner or PA jobs. Then I got a job for the Computer Film Company (CFC) which was a fantastically imaginative name. It was bought by Framestore. There were no real rules on how to do VFX at that time. Whoever stuck their hand up most of the time had no idea how to do the job. You’d figured it out as you went along.

[05:43] Allan: My background was in 2D, 3D in ‘94. I’ve never worked in London but I always appreciated how old school it was described. I loved the idea of everyone being collaborative. It evolved overtime. Do you find that it’s more mass market now and less intimate?

Dan: I think it’s changed for a number of reasons. There was an intensity and an intimacy in Soho those days. The companies were small. You were meeting everyone in the pub, two doors down. In the U.K., it didn’t take off until these companies decided to work together. None of them were big enough to take on a project on their own. They had to band together, to unify. Harry Potter had a huge transformative effect. The transition from the small companies to where people didn’t have roles assigned. At CFC, we were given a shot to produce and you tackled it. I thought about these companies with hundreds of artists, how could they be efficient? After I visited Manics in the U.S. – after the first Matrix – I found out they weren’t efficient. But they could do things at scale. They weren’t as closely connected. There was an efficiency in a small company because you were sitting next to the other artists, and you could see what they needed for the shot.

[09:14] Allan: I still think there is a nostalgia with more boutique shops because you can be in the same room and be in communication with people. Now, COVID has disconnected the process even more. It’s one of those things where everyone knew everyones and everyone [was a generalist]. You did everything! The bigger the machine becomes, the more everyone becomes a single discipline.

Dan: With specialization, you can get people who are better trained. But it also means that if you have 20 of those specialists and the next job comes, what do you do when you don’t need 20 of those tasks? That becomes a juggle. But in terms of a bigger picture, it’s amazing how much the industry has grown and transformed. The thing I like to say about it is that most notably, technology is less of a chase for me. It’s more about opening up the tools to creativity. To make that process simpler! Twenty years ago, for a non-technical filmmaker, it was a much more complicated bridge. I remember back on some jobs, we had to invent some weird device to bring to set.

[12:11] Allan: I had a producer come to me one day and I told her I couldn’t finish the shot because, “we were out of key frames”. I was totally joking until it got to the VFX Supervisor. He was laughing because it traveled up to his floor as, “Where do we buy these key frames from?!” 

Dan: You’re also working under such pressure, you need some levity!

[12:48] Allan: By that way, did I see Kim Libreri make a small cameo in The Matrix?

Dan: Yes, you did! He’s in there with John Gaeta, and Donald Mustard. Kim has been involved with the first three films. He and I have known each other for a long time. He’s the one who hired me to the U.S. He was at CFC when I joined, but not for very long. He went on to Cinesite. We crossed paths for 4 months. We kept in touch and he wanted to hire me. I had this strange feeling that he remembered the wrong Dan Glass. He was thinking he was hiring the top compositor. When we met, I was answering the phones.

[15:17] Allan: That’s the beauty: A lot of the relationships you build in the beginning evolve as people go to other places. It’s great that overtime everyone works with everyone.

Dan: There is another anecdote. In London, the companies are working together, there is still this pride (as if supporting a football team). There is this healthy rivalry. It was rare for people to move between companies. Dominic Parker, who was the head of 3D, took a sabbatical to Australia. He got back and went on about how much he loved it. I thought maybe there was value in that. The movie that he had worked on was getting screened – and it was the first Matrix. It blew our minds! That was a key moment for me because it was tied with this experience Dominic had abroad. That’s what energized me.

[17:30] Allan: When did you first get involved in The Matrix franchise?

Dan: When I was hired out to San Francisco, I was brought on as a compositing supervisor for the fight in the rain, in the third movie. I came out and the schedule got pushed a year. I got involved in other projects. I was pitching for 13 Ghosts. We won the contract and it was exciting because it was as an overall supervisor. However, once we went into post-, dealing with The Matrix were so off, 45 people resigned one day. They walked across the street to work at a company called Escape. There were lawsuits going on. It was a weird time. As a result, ultimately the work on 13 Ghosts, WB pulled out and they hired us to take the movie elsewhere. We finished it at Cinesite. I was young! It ended up being a lot of fun for something I didn’t expect. Janek Sirrs said he wanted to go do another project. Which left a big hole, and I was just lucky. It was the right time, right place. 

[21:52] Allan: It’s crazy how these serendipitous moments bring the band back together. 

Dan: I remember stressing about it. I was still trying to finish 13 Ghosts, and The Matrix was the biggest production of that time. I felt hopelessly underqualified. I kept telling people, “Don’t hire me!” But they did. I was telling Joel Silver, “How am I going to do this at the same time?” “Oh, you’ll figure it out. And if you don’t – I’ll kill you!” 

[22:55] Allan: That’s beautiful! Talking about The Matrix: Resurrections, were there any specific sequences that stood out when you signed on? 

Dan: Yes and no. The scripts are solidly written and not much can be changed. But reading a script doesn’t tell you all the things that are going on. But the moments that continue to be pleasant are the split time moments. You had interactions between characters. Integration is super important for realism. Green screens are amazing but the reality is hard to fake. On top of that, Lana Wachowski wanted to do it with an underwater shoot because of the nature of the struggle in movement. We went for shooting it dry but mostly because of the way water distorts faces. She didn’t want to alter this pivotal scene. And the sequence in the cafe was shot with multiple split screens as well. We had a stereo rate with two cameras shooting at once. A lot of people were posing slowly or frozen. It was fun because it’s what you want: You want to create a process. It’s almost like you have tunnel vision. The idea of finding out things and learning things from the underwater set up, it pushed us technologically. It had 25 cameras. Volumetric capture relies on images having consistency or neutrality. We were shooting underwater and it was challenging. But it wasn’t the path we ultimately chose for the movie.

[28:17] Allan: Do you have any problem solving systems for breaking down visually challenging sequences? The more you go down one rabbit hole, the more problems you find.

Dan: I don’t know if I have a tried and true system. You go through and chunk things into approaches. Then you do rounds of meetings with other departments and the director. That pre-production period is all about that give-and-take until you arrive on an agreed methodology. You figure out where that dividing line is. Where there are new things or unproven, you need to be doing a test case. Then you need to make projections with the new technology. It helps someone who’s dedicated to that project. 

[31:19] Allan: Mapping out the original Matrix sequence, how have things gotten easier? 

Dan: What I have enjoyed witnessing over all these years is the increasing adaptability, both for filmmakers and the actors. When we were doing the Digi Humans for Reloaded and Revolutions, Kim dubbed universal capture. It consisted of 5 HD cameras, shot in portrait mode. The actor could not move their head. But they had to react! It was such a weird restriction. It’s incredible how well they were able to adapt. Nowadays, you can have a camera that follows the head. Those are the things that free up the process and allow the actors to perform the way they want to. It brings the digital CG worlds into a more familiar way of working. 

[34:01] Allan: Were there any sequences that were more challenging?

Dan: The greatest achievement – the biggest technical hill we climbed – was when Trinity bumps Gojo in the cafe. They are occupying the same space. We weren’t sure what Lana wanted for the aesthetic. We shot them with a customized volumetric capture rig with the two actors doing two different performances. Under the hood, there is complex technology going on and AI can synchronize and desynchronize them. If you look at the effect without that, it looks jarring. It was exciting to see where that could go!

[36:05] Allan: I was talking to DD about some of the things they were doing. Do you see a lot of leverage with the things AI and machine learning can do?

Dan: Absolutely! One of the things it opens up: If you volumetrically capture someone in their full wardrobe and they’re moving around, there is no CG involved. It builds a 3D representation. With hair, it doesn’t resolve as well. But the details of skin and fabric, without CG, is part of what transforms how some of these scenes can be used.

[37:57] Allan: Emmanuel Shiu praised his experience working with Lana. How has her directing style changed?

Dan: When we did Revolutions, it was much more plotted out. She’d get questions like, “How many bullet holes and where do you want to put them on the walls?” It was done in collaboration with Lana. It was fantastic at that time because you couldn’t improvise the visual effects. Narratively, it was relative for Lana. It was a machine regimented, formulized approach. It was all studio based. When we shot Cloud Atlas, it was shot outdoors. We had to plan our day around the sun. Out of that, and with the evolution of Lana as a filmmaker, she likes to set a stage, find a great location, and study the light. She puts the pieces in place and when you arrive, it feels right. It’s a more fluid process now. She shoots mostly with a steadicam and she’s controlling a zoom. It’s a small jazz band feeling. The whole process is very different. It makes it challenging for technical departments because you don’t want to interrupt that process. You have to fit around that.

[42:50] Allan: You’ve mentioned before that one of the contributions from DNEG were the real world sequences. What were some of the challenges with that?

Dan: The strange irony is that this movie was photographed in real locations. The real world in our story are places that don’t exist. I was very conscious to have the level of detail and have the lighting and cinematography be married. DNEG can do insanely large sequences and we worked and worked on those. We had to study how light falls, and understand what makes real look real. We used Megascans, which was a valuable resource. We used some virtual production tools as well.

[45:23] Allan: Is there any technology you’re specifically excited about?

Dan: Unreal Engine is really exciting and it will change the way that we approach visual effects, or finish them. We did a complete environment for Gojo. We pushed for it to be in virtual production but we kept the environment in that. I liked the idea it would have its own look to it and to have actors react to it. The advent of volumetric capture is also exciting! 

[46:59] Allan: I love that! I have to ask this: What’s your take on the underlying messages of the film? The more I thought about it, the more I realized how clever they were.

Dan: That’s a big question and hard to answer! When we were doing editorial work, there were layers of meaning. Each day, you’d come across another name or details. When Trinity’s heart gets saved, they rarely let on the deeper meanings. A lot of that is left for us to wonder about it. It’s a love story for Lana. It was a beautiful movie, it’s more emotional than an action movie. They have another chance. You can be reborn. 

[49:29] Allan: Dan, I appreciate your taking the time to chat. This has been really great! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Dan: Thank you!

 

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Dan for coming on the Podcast.

I will be back next week. Until then –

Rock on!

 

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