Convergence Q&A: Jeremy Vickers

Having worked on Pixar classics such as Wall-E, Jeremy Vickers has had his finger on the bleeding edge of computer graphics for years.
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In the second of two Q&As this week looking at medium convergence, Develop spoke to him about his collaboration with Geomerics and his thoughts on graphics and games…

You worked for Pixar but have gone solo. Why leave the most respected animation studio in the world?

My story starts way back as a child being scolded by teachers for doodling all over my school work. Luckily I wasn’t discouraged and kept drawing all the time. After finishing high school I knew I wanted a career in the arts. In 1997 I graduated from Full Sail University with a degree in Digital Media and landed my first job as a digital modeller/texture artist at Big Idea Productions in Chicago, working on an animated kid’s series called Veggie Tales. I worked there for three years and that’s really where I learned computer graphics.

I was offered a job at Pixar in 2003 and immediately moved with my family to San Francisco. As a lighting technical director – essentially a lighting artist – I worked on The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and Wall-E, all the time growing in my responsibilities.

In 2007 I decided that it was time to focus a bit more on my family and moved back to Florida. I now run my own little freelance studio with a friend, working on everything from feature films, to game art, concept design, illustration, theme park design, consulting and teaching. And as for my future… as long as I can be close to my family and enjoy what I do each day, it’s all good. I do have some film ideas brewing in my brain that will have to be released before too long.

What’s your view on how CG is evolving?

From an artistic standpoint, I’m excited that the CG industry is flourishing and producing some amazing work. On the other hand, I feel that at some point in the near future the frenzy for computer graphics will die down, as the general public sees that good storytelling is what really moves people emotionally, and the technology will become just another tool. So for those of us as artists, the goal will be to embrace the technology as a means to create – and not an end in itself.

Is there a technology or thought gap between CGI and video games, in terms of production techniques and tools?

I still think that there are many differences between film and video games, but the gap is rapidly closing. For one thing, film has the advantage of established cameras when it comes to using cinematography to tell a story. Models and lights can be adjusted for each shot to convey the composition in order to get the most from every image. Light and color can be cheated in every shot.

In most video games, however, it’s harder to tell where the viewer will be at any given time, and everything must render in real time, so having a product like Geomerics’ Enlighten to simplify the technical aspects of production and enhance the look of the end product will definitely be worthwhile.

Technology is often promoted as a simplifier of our lives, but often becomes something that actually makes life more complex. What was formerly impossible is now possible, but not necessarily to our benefit. When games switched from 2D to 3D it was a wonderful thing, but it also significantly increased the amount of time and energy needed to create a title. So when tools are released that can actually simplify workflow and not just give us more to do, it frees us to focus on what is truly worthwhile: the art and story.

What does Enlighten say to you as an artist, in terms of technology, and empowering artists? How does it compare to other solutions?

I actually have a love-hate relationship with technology. As an artist, all that matters to me is the core emotional impact I can create from my art. I really don’t care how to get there as long as my creativity is flowing and I get the result I’m striving for. When computers stand in my way of accomplishing my goal – or at least slow me down with the burden of technology – I tend to switch more into ‘hate’ side of my relationship with them.

So as an artist who has used Enlighten, it’s amazingly freeing to be able to spend my time experimenting with the light, a process of iteration and discovery, instead of waiting for baking passes to finish computing or for renders to process. The other current methods that exist seem to need artists to also be computer science gurus. If you have an eye for art as well as computer science, this is great.

But there are many fantastic artists that will be bogged down by technology and need solutions to let the mundane things fade into the background. Many of us cannot fathom what it would be like if the only way to communicate with friends was to use morse code on a telegraph machine. Luckily, someone made some technology to simplify our communication methods so that anyone could do it. The computer animation and video game world is still in its infancy in terms of being accessable to every artist – but tools like Enlighten are narrowing the gap.

Do you think this game technology can cross-over to the movie world?

That’s a very good question. As the gap narrows between film and games, the two similar industries will have more and more opportunities to learn from each other and to grow. As a filmmaker, I look with jealously on the video game world for the ability to render in real time. Some day soon feature films might be made using real-time rendering techniques. Again, the core principles of storytelling are all that really matter. So if we can create a film that is emotionally engaging using real-time software, then it will happen. If I can have a tool that, as an artist, will allow me to flow in creativity, I will most definitely use it.

To read the first Convergence Q&A click here.



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