visual effects

Know your Value, Manage Expectations


Your Hard Work has Value

There was an article on encouraging artists and filmmakers not to work for free. Sometimes I need to listen more closely to good advice. About a week ago, I was approached to do some work on a 'really exciting project'. My name had been passed around, and a filmmaker nearby needed some work done. I went to meet with him, and he was so excited about what we could do together. It got down to the end of the conversation and after telling me about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he had already spent on his film, he didn't have it in his budget to pay me for my services. However, he could put my name in the credits, and that it would be seen on more than a hundred screens. 

Sounds great, right? Well, not really.

In Rodolphe's article, one of the points that he makes is that getting paid for your work is not only recognizing the monetary value of what you can produce, but it also shows the commitment that both parties to complete the project. Otherwise, one person is definitely winning out on the situation, and it's not the artist. 

Additionally, without paying me, the filmmaker didn't have any reason to see the value of my time. It was an -insert footage here, press button, vfx comes out- situation. He came back with multiple changes that needed to be made, each requiring more of my time. That time was being taken away from paying jobs. Needless to say, in this particular situation, things didn't pan out. 

It's important to realize that when someone comes to you asking for you to produce something for them, there's value in that. They see you as an asset, and for some reason (budget, time, how they feel about artists), they didn't feel that paying you was worth their time. It's up to you to know your value, know that you provide a service that should be rewarded monetarily. As the Joker said, "If you're good at something, never do it for free."

It's also important to make sure that in any project, you manage expectations. Are you doing one shot, or five shots? Do you have enough time? Do you have the resources? Figure out all these things before you start working on anything, or else you may not be able to complete the project to the client's standards or to yours. There was a situation where instead of what I had already done, the client wanted something much grander. I had to tell him that to do what he asked, in the time remaining, I'd have to build a complex 3D model and texture it, integrate it into the work that I'd already completed, and still make deadline. While it's not necessary that the client understand every aspect of what goes into visual effects, take the time to let them know what can and can't be done in the time allocated, or else everyone will go home unhappy.

I've found that it's becoming more and more common that after the budget has been spent on production, no one wants to shell out for the post production and visual effects, which can help bring an extra level of polish to any film. This is something that you should keep in mind when talking to potential clients. You're work has value, and shouldn't be treated as any less important than your actors, the caterers, your props, sound and makeup. Have a clear vision of what the director's goal is, be true to them and yourself about what can be done with what you have, and demand respect for your craft.

Two unrelated Points:

Here's some stills of my latest project. (Click to enlarge)

If you're in the Fairfield County CT area, i've also created a Fairfield County film Makers meetup group. Even if you're just interested in film making but have no experience, feel free to join!


I dig After Effect's New Features.

Recently, Adobe released the newest iteration of their Creative Suite, CS6. As it did, millions of graphic designers, animators, filmmakers, illustrators and visual effects artist squee'd long into the night. I was mainly interested in the improvements made to After Effects in version CS6, and while many of them increase the functionality of the software behind the curtain, I thought that the new camera tracker was an awesome addition.

3D Camera Tracker

From what I've learned so far, one of the easiest ways to sell an effect is making sure that it fits in the scene. While this somewhat goes without saying, let me dig a bit deeper first. Tools like motion tracking or hand keying coordinates for effects and masks are critical for an effect to look real. After Effects already had a great camera tracker, and was packaged with Mocha for added motion tracking capability. However, all of this was limited to 2D motion tracking. For close up shots, this seemed to work well, and in most cases, if there were multiple effects, you'd just motion track the background seperately from things in the foreground. For adding 3D elements, I'd normally have to export the footage into a third party camera tracker like PFHOE, import that camera data into my 3D Software, animate, and export the stills of the 3D assets along with alpha channels back into after effects. It's a time consuming process, but it creates very good results. 

After Effects CS6 now comes with a 3D Camera Tracker option, which doesn't replace all the fuctionality of a third party motion tracker, but it's a good middle ground. Using the 3D camera tracker, it was incredibly easy to add stock footage effects like flat cracks picture files, 3D lights and Optical Flares and 2D/3D text to a composition. I'm pretty sure that 3D particle emitters like Particular will work with it as well, unfortunatly, my copy isn't working correctly with Cs6. 


This was taken with my iPhone 4S and literally took only minutes to set up. I'm sure with more time and attention, there will be a lot of cool things produced using the 3D camera tracker.


3D Text/Ray Tracing 

Coming from a background in 3D, I was very much surprised that After Effects didn't have a 3D Text tool to start out with. Many people who needed 3D Text found new ways to pull the effect off, as many times there are logos or title sequences that need 3D effects. One of the new features of AE CS6 is 3D Text.

In my opinion, this could use some work. It's a good tool to have, but it's quite memory intensive, slowling down my computer to a halt. Also, from what I understand, there isn't anything like global illumination, that takes the lighting from the actual image to light the 3D text, rather than the artist mimicking the light themselves. That being said, i'm sure that there will be many people trying to recreate the Fringe effect with text in a bunch of new videos coming out. 


There are a bunch of other features that I'm learning how to use, and I think that for the most part, they'll help in the long run. Once I've had a chance to use them, I'll write about them here.



Allons-y, Geronimo... Whatever floats your boat.

You may or may not be able to gather that I'm a huge Doctor Who Fan. My ex got me into it a few years ago, and I have been preaching the word of Gallifrey for a while now. I've always wanted to do a regeneration effect, as it was always somewhat iconic, yet I never tried until this past weekend. 

My younger brother was in town, leaving Emerson College for the summer to fly back to San Francisco with my parents. We definitely needed to do something, because it wasn't every day that we were so close. He had never seen any Doctor Who, so he had only my descriptions to go on. Nonetheless, I dragged him up at around 9am (which might as well have been 5am for a college freshman) to do some filming. 

We went to a nearby bowling alley that had a reasonably large parking lot, and started to plan out the shots. In retrospect, there were a few that I would have liked to do, but we didn't have time, and the bowling alley owner was becoming less and less patient. All in all, it was a fun shoot, and didn't take long to do the effects. 

It was fun to hang out with my brother a bit before he flew back to San Francisco. 

Now, back to my previous project! Still have lots to do before filming again!

Keyblade Safety

God it feels good to be a gangsta do this again. Last weekend, my buddy Joe and I went out to film something. I happened to have a Keyblade prop in the back of my car, so we thought that it would be a good idea to use it in a short!

As I said before, this site is all about taking a critical look at my work.

The Blast

I liked where this started out, but there are a few things that I could have done a little better. As the ball grows, the actual effect is parented to a null that was tracking the very end of the Keyblade. Due to the fact that it's actually a bit heavy, it wobbled a bit, making the fireball wobble a bit as it was forming. Also, I could have added some secondary lighting to both the edge of they Keyblade, my own body, and the ground to further sell the effect.

There's actually one single frame of the actual blast. By hiding the ball and the flare, adding a muzzle flash from a large caliber rifle, and a zoon filter, I think I did a decent job of showing the force of the blast. Adding the dust from the direction the blast was going in as well helped! B+

Joe's Charge

I wanted Joe's fireball to seem somewhat off from the beginning. I started out by making it purple, obviously a different style from my original orange/yellow, and adding the arcing lightning. This section could have been much better in my opinion. The tracking was a bit off, so I hand tracked the end of the Keyblade, which didn't produce results as good as the original tracking piece. Also, the fireball was closer to the ground, so it should have cast more light on it the pavement. Furthermore, I need a better method of creating lightning, as this looks kind of crappy. This section definitely could have benefited from some secondary lighting. C-

The Explosion

I do take a bit of pride in this section, and I wish I had filmed this better so that you could see more of it. Due to the way it was filmed, I forgot to get a clean plate. Therefore, I had to hide a lot of the effect with artificially shaking the camera. While it worked stylistically, you miss out on all the work I put into making the ground blow up. Maybe for my next video, I'll take less of a hand-held approach, so that I can work have the shots be more VFX ready. B+


I had a lot of fun putting this one together, and I think that I learned a lot from it. For example, 1) Secondary lighting is key for selling any magical-energy based effect, 2) secondary effects, dust, debris definitely sell the idea of the effect, and 3) always get a clean plate.

What are your thought on the video?

Cool VFX from the web

I'm constantly on the lookout for inspirational videos on youtube, Vimeo and more. Anything to keep my motivation up, and give me new ideas. There are so many great film makers out there that use wildly different styles that there's really no reason not to be inspired. Here are a few that caught my eye this week:


This is why Falcon Punch is Not A Toy

This piece was done by Wren Weichman, a visual effects artist who hails from Portland, but recently moved to Los Angeles. He has a very cool style, adds humor to his pieces, and is extremely knowleageable. He actually has a series of visual effects tutorials on focusing on superpower VFX. Make sure you watch the Making of/BTS of Falcon Punch. Even if you're not interested in the technical side of things, the laughs you get from Wren and his friends, Matt and Spencer are worth it. 



How did I miss this guy? Gak is a youtuber with a huge following. He combines visual effects with martial arts like I've never seen before. He doesn't skimp on the quality either, as his VFX skill is totally matched by his martial arts skill. I don't know much about him, but I'm going to be paying a closer look at his work. He has a style that I definitely want to learn from. Hopefully, I can find some BTS stuff that he's done. Pro Tip: Make sure to check out his Epic Anime Time video. Apparently it was barely planned, shot at a convention with random cosplayers, and vfx added afterwards. Not bad at all!


Leave Me

Leave Me (now on Hulu at from Ryan Dunlap // Daros Films on Vimeo.


This one is actually not so new, but still has a great place in my list of favorite short films. As you can tell from the video, there aren't many visual effects in this piece besides color correction. All the effects are in the editing. What inspired me in this short, which comes in at only 5:13, is the range of emotions that the viewer is taken through. From the extreme sadness of losing a loved one to a bit of humor, to desperation, hope, delight, and then finally acceptance. What got me is that this is all story, no gimmick, and it perfectly shows how great a piece can be if the concept is solid.

What are your thoughts on the videos?

We don't need no Stinkin' Moon.

A while back, my buddy Joe and I went out to film. We didn't have a clue what we were going to film, but we had to get out of the house and it was a decent enough day. We took a short drive to a park, threw some ideas back and forth and decided to go with this:

Full Disclosure: As you may know, the main reason behind me starting this site, (other than just having a place to showcase my work), was so that I could critically analyze my work in a public way, calling out what I liked and what I didn't like about each piece. By putting all these thoughts on a public blog, I'll feel more accountable in improving. Besides the obvious benefit of me blowing up the moon, there were a few things that I wanted to attempt while produce this video. 

Background Inclusion/Replacement

In this piece, I wanted to add something that was clearly grand, but out of place. I chose our closest celestial body, the moon. I'm kind of fascinated with the idea that that there could be something so big that it takes a huge chunk of sky real estate. However, i'm not particularly sold on how I did this effect. Technically, it's there, but I think that the clouds obscure too much of the moon to make it recognizable. Couple that with the light tone of the sky, and it's a bit harder to make out. I'll have to make sure that the sky is much darker to add contrast in the future.

Gathering Energy

I love the concept that people can somehow gather and expel massive amounts of energy. Call it ki, The Force or Hadouken, it's always been something that I've found awesome. I wanted to show that it was taking a bit of effort for this character to generate something so substantial. While i'm not 100% sold on the idea of the streams of electricity coming from the fingers, it adds a bit of depth and texture to the overall effect. I particularly like the displaced air around the flare in the middle, adding texture again.

Traveling to the Moon

I do not have a rocket ship, so I had to totally fake the journey that the energy took from earth to the moon, obviously. And because there isn't any real life reference to go from, I had artistic liberty to make it whatever I wanted. I like the idea that I went with here, but something is falling a bit short of the mark. Maybe it's too blue? And there doesn't seem to be enough atmosphere to sell the effect...

The Speed

I needed to have something to show the scale of how fast the ball of light was going. It's one thing to see it leave the characters hand, but to travel with it and see it leave the atmosphere felt like it'd be a good indicator of how fast it was going. 

The Crash

In retrospect, the piece could have done without this, but I liked the idea anyways. There needed to be something to show the impact the energy had with the moon, and bring closure to the journey that the energy took. To the best of my knowledge, there isn't anything explosive on the moon, but I needed something more substantial than the Wile. E puff of smoke. Again, there's something that the effect is lacking that makes it come short of being extra believable to me.

The Aftermath

Who doesn't like glowy eyes? As a closer, I guess this could have been better, but for my purposes, I think it worked ok. After the tension and release, I needed to bring it back to a managable expectation, and I think having the eyes fade back to normal worked out well. However, it brought out a continuity error, with two eyes glowing at the end, and only one glowing just before the beam was released.

Final Thoughts

First, I'm just glad to have finally released a new video after so long. While editing the visual effects and cutting it together, i was reminded of how much I enjoyed doing this. As for the video itself, I give myself a C+. Certain shots could have been more in focus, and exposure levels led to many issues with the final product. Planning the story out better might have led to better camera angles, thus more impactful visuals. 

But, it ain't bad.


I was talking to an old friend of mine, and he asked me how I've been going with visual effects. "I'm really not anywhere near the level I'd like to be," I responded. But the coolest thing that I've noticed is just how far I've come already. 

Let's have a quick comparison:

Here's one of my first shots with FXHome's Visionlab:

Here's somehting that I was working on last night:

While a lot of the content is still in a similar vein (wizards, superheroes, explosions), I feel like a lot of technicnal improvments have been made. I still want to be able to put more things together, and try things outside of my comfort zone.