An Interview with Jan Heinze, Executive Producer, Pixomondo on HUGO
Having won the Academy awards for best visual effects, how has been the journey so far?
The journey has not been easy. But it was an absolutely wonderful time and experience. In our industry, the Oscar is probably the highest honor you can achieve. PIXOMONDO teams from all around the world were following the awards live and you cannot believe what kind of surprise and happiness came up when the Oscar went to Hugo for VFX.
What kind of production workflow did you plan for Hugo? And how did you go about implementing the same..
Besides the challenges you face on every big vfx project, we had two mayor workflow challenges on Hugo. First of all it was our first big-scale stereoscopic production. We had to redevelop almost our entire production pipeline. Everyone had big expectations on the 3D and the director wanted to have full control of all aspects.
Pixomondo had the task of creating the visual effects for over 800 shots in Hugo, which was a very large-scale project. Nine of our 12 studios in five countries were involved in the production and shared the work. So the second challenge was to enable more than 450 artists all around the globe, to work together on one project. You can imagine that this is not just an enormous logistical challenge.
So how does the coordination happen? What kind of production pipeline does Pixomondo follow? Since the movie was mainly shot in London and the production team moved to Los Angeles during postproduction, the studios in London and LA were leading the project and working closely with the filmmakers.
Depending on the specific needs of a shot, the VFX supervisors would tap various Pixomondo facilities according to the particular artists' strength. All facilities were using exactly the same software and pipeline and new developments (like customs software, tools, etc.) were synchronized on a daily basis. This was critical to manage the workflow between the facilities.
With the kind of films that Pixomondo has worked upon, how different was Hugo pertaining that it has been executed at various facilities across the globe? Unlike movies like 2012, Iron Man 2 and other effects driven movies, visual effects in Hugo are not about giving you spectacular action scenes or making impossible things possible. In Hugo's case, the effects are essential to support storytelling. So, we plausibly recreated the imaginative environment of 1930s Paris, inspired by the Illustrations in the original Book ("The invention of Hugo Cabre" by Brian Selznick), and the experience of witnessing Melies' early experiments. At first glance it seems much more subtle, but it's just as essential to creating a convincing story and immersing the audience. Perhaps the most of obvious tool is 3D, which literally puts the audience right in the center of events
So with almost all VFX studios following the same pattern, what is the challenge making the online experience seamless?
The split of work between all facilities was mainly done based on sequences in the movie. This helped to work efficiently and keep a consistent look.
Communication is critical to maintain the experience seamless. We had frequent videoconferences and all shots in various stages were continuously shared across the facilities so everyone was on the same page on how the look is developing. It is also very important for everyone to understand the vision of the director. It really helps to not just provide "filtered" feedback through the supervisors to artists, but also give everyone involved access to all external communication via email or video recordings.
Also since the work gets distributed in various facilities, how does it help in catching up with production schedules?
We had a pretty short postproduction timeline so our global model was crucial to keeping the project on track. LA could give our artists in China notes at the end of their day, then we could work on shots during our day and have them ready and waiting for LA when they started again in the morning. As a company, we worked on Hugo pretty much around the clock.