Continuing the ongoing series of interviews on fantasy user interfaces, it’s my honor to welcome Steven Bussey. His work can be seen on the screens of “Pacific Rim: Uprising“, “Mission Impossible: Fallout“, “Justice League” and his most recent project – “Underwater“. In this interview Steven talks about his life-long passion for movies, the path that took him into the world of screen graphics, and his take on the role of technology in our daily lives.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and what brought you to where you are today.

Steven: All the way back to when I was a kid, I always had a deep interest in movies. I was brought up with it in a familiar sense where my family would gather around and watch all kinds of movies together after a long day. The unrealistic movies I would have to watch for myself however and that would be movies like the original Star Wars that I would watch again and again from when I was very young. I would even watch the credits for most movies to much irritation to the rest of the family, I would read it all and listen to the music and thinking that one day I could maybe end up there somehow or another working on movies.

As the years went by, I started to discover more films by myself too, reading the newspapers and preparing for what I wanted to see over the weekend and tape them on VHS so that I could watch them again and again. “Die Hard” was one of the first movies I really remember when it comes to screen graphics and UI. It had these cool ’80s CRT monitors with all kinds of realistic graphics on them which served as an important storytelling device. In the movie bad guys hacked the entire building, shut it down and used it as a tool to lock people in, all done with sophisticated technology. I watched it many times along with the Star Wars movies and I will never forget those specific movies.


Screen graphics of “Die Hard”.

Growing up with comics and books of all kinds, I didn’t know exactly what, but I always had it in my mind that it would be something creative. Time was flying and all of a sudden I had to choose which college or university to go to and it was really hard, because I had no idea how to get into an industry working with design or art.

It was during the high school years that I discovered design through my sister. She did a design course in the same college that I had in mind so I was really looking forward to the final year at this particular college where I could explore drawing and design classes. This college was very narrow minded however and my study counselor told me that working in the creative industry was probably a bad idea, because it would be hard to get an internship and all kinds of other nonsense. So he recommended me to study history instead and become a teacher. I failed my last exam in history, as if it was some sort of lucky revenge, because he was also the history teacher there and I had been doing great so far. So that idea was quickly discarded.

After mandatory military service, I went back to kind of a prep school for university. Officially it was a marketing school, but you could take loads of optional courses in computer, web and graphic design. It was there that I met the most important person on this entire journey. He showed me where to really study graphic design and how to work with creativity.

He said that there was a school further down south of Denmark where they taught graphic design and that I should apply there. So that is what I did. I spent loads of time getting ready for it and making a portfolio doing all kinds of tutorials in Illustrator and Photoshop. I got in and there I did my bachelor degree in graphic design which was three years of hard work.

We had courses in Flash, web, advertising etc and it was when one of the teachers showed the class the title sequence for “Catch Me If You Can” and that planted the idea that not only can you illustrate, design and work with typography, but you can also animate these things. That inspired me to always keep motion graphics in the back of my mind during all of the remaining courses.

But during those 3 years at university which coincided with the global financial crisis of 2008, I figured it was going to be a bit hard to find a job in Denmark. So I did an internship in London at Bunch Design to open up my chances for a job opportunity plus I felt there was more stuff there that could help me work with what I wanted to do. Jo Kotas was running the studio at the time and gave me the chance to work on some amazing projects and meet all kinds of people. But the crisis was still around so I did my master’s degree back in Denmark. It was still focused on graphic design and typography, but I always had that little spark of motion graphics and animation that I really wanted to dive into. I was still pushing it into my projects as I was working on my degree and I was still inclined to work in London. After more interviews and hard work I got my foot in the door with a big studio called EmpireDesign.

I asked them if they were doing internships or tutoring programs and they replied that I was welcome to come in for a couple of weeks. I packed my bags and went, even though I was still busy with the final project on the masters degree. EmpireDesign does posters and trailer graphics for films which was perfect for me, thinking back to my childhood and now somehow getting to work with movies for real. I started out animating posters and promotional content for feature films and later making trailer graphics too.

During my masters and full-timing it at EmpireDesign, me and my buddy (shout out to Martin Aggerholm) started exploring the UI scene that started to become more and more visible in movies and video games like Call of Duty and many other games. They would all have these techy and cinematic preloader screens and cut-scenes which where super immersive. That’s when we discovered studios like BlindLtd, SPOV and Territory and other studios all over the world that were defining this new style of work.


Personal work. Courtesy Steven Bussey.

So I started to dig deeper into film and TV production in this particular area. I was given the opportunity to work on my first feature film and after a one-week trial period and a few high end feature film projects I finally started on my new journey as a freelance motion graphics designer working mainly with UI design for film and TV.

As a freelancer all of a sudden I was networking, working with different veterans from the industry, different companies and making new colleagues and acquaintances. It was like two different worlds going from full-time to freelance but both of them were amazing for me and I owe a lot to all the people who steered me, helped me and those who gave me a chance and believed in me.

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Radiance 3.5.0

October 5th, 2020

It gives me great pleasure to announce the fifth major release of Radiance. Let’s get to what’s been fixed, and what’s been added. First, I’m going to use emojis to mark different parts of it like this:

💔 marks an incompatible API / binary change
😻 marks new features
🤷‍♀️ marks bug fixes and general improvements

Dependencies for core libraries

  • Gradle from 6.4.1 to 6.6.1
  • Kotlin from 1.3.72 to 1.4.10
  • Kotlin coroutines from 1.3.7 to 1.3.9

Substance

  • 💔 Remove support for watermarks
  • 💔 Convert SubstanceSkin.ColorSchemes into an interface
  • 😻 Support for overlay colors with SubstanceSkin.setOverlayColor
  • 💔 Support for specifying derived colors in color scheme files
  • 😻 New API to mark a label as title pane text
  • 😻 Text highlights that respect decoration areas
  • 💔 Moved the Green Magic skin from substance-extras to the core substance module (see the screenshot of this skin above)
  • 💔 Aligned signatures of ComponentState.getActiveStates and ComponentState.getAllStates
  • 🤷‍♀️ Improved menu search widget UX
  • 🤷‍♀️ Correct layout for edit context menu under RTL
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix concurrent modification exception thrown when ghost icon animations are enabled

Flamingo

  • 💔 Pass command projection instead of command in ribbon contextual menu listener
  • 💔 Remove AbstractCommandButton class. Everything is in the JCommandButton class now.
  • 😻 New CommandButtonPresentationModel.Builder.setPopupHorizontalGravity API to contol horizontal alignment of command button popups
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix crash in opening a command popup menu from taskbar
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix memory leaks caused by model listeners
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for root key tip chain not showing popup key tips of anchored commands
  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix for overlays on ribbon popup content in the title pane / taskbar

Trident

  • 🤷‍♀️ Fix inconsistent usage of conversion from duration fraction to timeline position

This release has mostly been focused on stabilizing and improving the overall API surface of the various Radiance modules. There’s still a long road ahead to continue exploring the never-ending depths of what it takes to write elegant and high-performing desktop applications in Swing. If you’re in the business of writing just such apps, I’d love for you to take this Radiance release for a spin. Click here to get the instructions on how to add Radiance to your builds. And don’t forget that all of the modules require Java 9 to build and run.

 

In this second of the three parts (part I here), it is my pleasure to talk with John Renzulli and Arissa Blasingame of Chicken Bone VFX about their work on the first three seasons of “Westworld”.

Kirill: A few years ago, “The Hobbit” trilogy tried to push HFR [high frame rate] with its hyper-realistic feel, and a lot of film critics where pushing back against that, arguing that film needs that “artistic” layer where the viewers don’t “need” to be right there in the middle of it. What’s your point of view on it? Is it fine that that pinky finger might be missing from one of those dead bodies way out in the background?

John: It needs to be layered, absolutely. It really depends on what we’re trying to do. For certain parts of entertainment world, that hyper-photo realism is essential. There you need that hyper frame rate with 8K level of detail and the focus on creating a feeling that it’s real.

I think that in most of the entertainment platforms, and types of episodics and cinematics that we work on, you see that artistic layer that needs to limit some of that. Some of that comes from an old school love for film, and my personal favorite format is definitely 35mm. Because the celluloid itself is so responsible for helping create feeling and mood in the way that it was historically in the industry, to some degree that filmic quality needs to stay. It doesn’t mean that the resolution doesn’t get higher, and it doesn’t necessarily even mean that the image doesn’t get sharper.

But if you work with color, through careful analysis at the beginning of a project, talking about what resolution is required, and even working at the very end of the pipe to slightly degrade things to some degree – all of that can introduce that “filmic” quality that allow the viewer to have a specific response to the medium. Everybody sits in a slightly different place. Each creative we work with certainly sits in a different place there. But in most of the material that we work on, we find that there’s that artistic layer that somewhat limits the overproduction of something.

Sometimes it can be as simple as a creative choice, or it could be budget. Budget can also inform some of those decisions. More frames per second means more frames to render and more frames to fuss over. So, processes take longer and they inevitably get more expensive, so budget could inform some of that as well.

Arissa: When you’re trying to create something new with a director that has a vision that’s never been done before, you want to get it as close to real as possible. But sometimes there’s no bar to gauge that against. It depends on the task that you have been given, what that collaboration looks like, and where you get to with the final product.

That’s always a little bit of a risk and a gamble. You don’t know how audiences are going to react to something that may be grounded in reality, but definitely has a fantastical side. It’s the risk and the reward of our industry. You can nail it or it might miss the mark, but it’s always a fun collaboration along the way to get to be that creative and work up something that the audience hasn’t seen before.

I’m sure that on “The Hobbit” they were trying something new and breaking the mold. And something like that is received differently across different audiences. And that then informs something in the future that can only get better with time. It’s an exciting spot to be in.


Chicken Bone VFX work on “Westworld”.

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Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome John Renzulli and Arissa Blasingame of Chicken Bone VFX. In this first of the three parts, they talk about where visual effects fit in the ever-evolving world of art and technology of feature films and episodic TV productions, the increasing expectations from and sophistication of modern visual effects, and finding the balance between the technical and artistic sides of what they do.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and the path that took you to where you are today.

John: I came into this field at a very young age. I’ve always wanted to be behind the camera, and to be an actor that did his own stunts, like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future”. After I did my first commercial, I realized that I loved green and blue screens and all the things that are meant to look realistic, but aren’t.

When I was in college, that led me into post-production and editorial, and towards the end of my degree, I was deeply into VFX. That’s how I trended into the VFX community. Visual arts have always been interesting to me. I was always curious about how to get everything to be cohesive on the screen with the unified creative vision. I’ve always been interested in that process, and I’m always learning more about it. It continues to be very interesting to me to this day.

Arissa: I am quite the opposite. I didn’t know much about the industry at all when I was growing up in Florida. It was not really on my radar. After college, I moved out to Los Angeles and took an entry level job at the post facility, Nomad Editing. A few years in they started developing a VFX branch and I became intrigued by the creative process. Around the same time Johnny was looking for a producer at Chicken Bone, we connected, and the rest is history.

Kirill: How do you talk about what you do for a living? Perhaps some people consider VFX to be futuristic spaceships and robots shooting lasers, but on “Westworld” it’s about augmenting what was done in camera – for practical or budgetary considerations, and not necessarily something that is “out of this world”. Do people ask you why things at this level need to be done digitally in VFX?

John: Some people do, and sometimes it’s a function of collaborating with the creators. Budget included; you want to get a sense of what’s the right solution for this. We solve not only how it ultimately looks like in the end, but also how do we do the effects creatively. We talk about the evolution of that creative process. Before we talk about the creative visuals, we start with the creative strategy. This deep collaboration with the people that are offering the show is the heart and the soul of this company. It might be a big show or a small show, an indie project or a studio project.

Our heart and soul is geared toward high-level collaboration. That is what we do when we’re trying to figure out how we put the pixels on the screen. Every situation calls for something a little bit different, whether it’s a 2D or a 3D thing. We try to find out the straightest or the most obvious path, and if there isn’t an obvious path, we talk about how we can bite it off in chunks to make it a little bit easier in our own workflow.


Chicken Bone VFX work, progression from building models to the final layered frame.

Kirill: Do you feel that as the time passes, the evolution of technology at your disposal allows you to do more? Is there a limit to what needs to be done? Is there going to be a point in the near future where you will have exhausted the realms of what productions need, and there’s nothing to explore beyond that?

John: The technology is always pushing us and driving us forward. It allows things to be simple; it allows us to explore avenues or thought processes that we never would have explored before because the traditional tools would not allow our brains to think that way. If you take artificial intelligence or machine learning and you apply them to VFX, it’s a different mental path than something more traditional like getting rid of the green and replacing it with something that looks photorealistic.

In a way, the technology is always making things easier. But in no way I’m going to say that we’re going to hit our ceiling anytime soon. If anything, it will allow us to be creative more dynamically. It will allow us to get closer to the ultimate creator’s vision of a project, because we can get there much quicker, iterate more often, and create in a way that is a bit more dynamic in almost real-time. That is a level of integration that we haven’t really seen in the industry until very recently.

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