Shooting VistaVision for IMAX 3-D with the Gemini 3D Camera

Posted on July 12th, 2009 in Hardware, Technical by Marc Bourbonnais

Last month I had the opportunity of supervising the VFX of a one-day shoot. It is a teaser trailer we are working on at Modus. The trailer is for a large format 3-D feature, and the 1.5 minute teaser is produced to help build momentum as the larger project is in development.


For this work the camera used was the custom-built Gemini 3D Camera, a remarkable piece of machinery. The camera uses standard 35mm film in VistaVision format, enabling easy film scanning at 4K and 8K resolution. I never thought I would see, let alone work with VistaVision scans in my career… The use of this format is a very inexpensive and productive solution. You get very detailed scans from 24mm x 36mm images without the hassle and costs of 70mm prints.


The camera itself is very small and light weight. It is rather loud when the dual reels are rolling; that being said, I’m more used to quiet HD shoots. A series of pre-packaged twin lenses are ready to be fitted, it takes a couple of minutes. It was brought in by its creator, Sean MacLeod Phillips who was on set as Director of Photography.

Most of the shooting was handled with parallel lenses, with some specific shots in convergence. My experience with stereoscopic work was always with convergent cameras, it will be interesting to compare the results. The scans are already prepped at Modus, a good test of pipeline workflow for large 4K and 8K images; doubling the data for stereoscopy is like two cherries on top.

ADAPT 2007 : Day One

Posted on September 25th, 2007 in CG Community, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais

The 2007 edition of ADAPT kicked off on Monday with a fine keynote address by Phil Tippett. I remember seeing him for the first time at Siggraph a few years ago; he was doing a very informative and pretty funny presentation about his studio’s work on The Haunting.

This time it was about his career and views about his work, from early stop-motion shorts to CG work on Jurassic Park and many others. His talk was very inspiring and he’s a very entertaining speaker. It’s always exciting to see the early work of pioneers in the field, and we were lucky to see some pretty funky shorts he worked on before his professional career. I liked the G.I Joe doll getting jabbed to death by a slithering clay creature…

We were also treated to some before-and-after VFX scenes of The Spiderwick Chronicles, that Tippett Studio is just wrapping up. The shooting for the movie was completed about a year ago right here in Montreal. The designs and model work of the goblins we saw were amazing, and we were privileged to see a rough cut of a completed short scene. Good stuff.

So the week started off on a terrific note. And hey, looking to my right there was Syd Mead sitting in the audience. Great times ahead…

Make Your Mark tour

Posted on September 15th, 2007 in Software, CG Community, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais


I’ll be taking part in the Make your Mark tour from Avid, at the Boston event on October 3rd. The whole tour is a series of free events with panels and presentations on CGI, video & film production and sound mixing. On the 3D side of things, there will be an XSI demo with Softimage’s Chinny. Todd Akita of Psyop will share some insights about working on high-profile commercials.

I will be on the discussion panel with other media professionals to talk about our industry what it takes to make it in the business. There are no magic formulas, but it will be interesting to talk about some of the aspects of our work with my colleagues and the students.

A new VFX blog to check out

Posted on June 30th, 2007 in CG Community, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais

Enough about start-ups and enterprising, We should talk about VFX once in a while, no?

Fresh out this month, a new VFX blog “VFXhack” is well worth a visit. It is authored by Andrew Orloff, VFX Supervisor at Zoic Studios in Los Angeles. The site just started a few weeks ago, and already it is a great read. Here’s an excerpt of the first post, “Welcome to VFXhack”:

What I want to do is an in the trenches, real-life, counter-culture VFX blog. Stuff that’s cool that you might not know about cuz it’s not from the majors. Along with “real” tips from the folks on the ground like you and me.

Time to bookmark.


Posted on June 27th, 2007 in CG Community, The Company, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais

In the past few weeks I’ve had a lot of positive comments on this blog, by e-mail and in person about this soon-to-be company. The nicest thing people have been saying to me is that they truly believe I am a solid VFX professional turned visionary entrepreneur. I’m flattered because it’s definitely what I want to offer to the CG community in Montreal: an innovative, grounded, professional and long-lasting workplace.

I’m not saying it doesn’t already exist in the neighborhood. There are some great post houses with a lot of history in the Montreal region. But there is definitely room for a new film FX house managed by professionals in the field. Production companies with medium to big projects constantly have to work hard to find enough post houses qualified for film. VFX supervisors would be more than happy to come in with projects of over 1, 000 shots. Currently the region just cannot handle such a massive workload for the short duration of a single production.

What will have to happen with this company:

  • The studio will have a huge amount of floor space. Clients like to know you’re not already crammed up in a broom closet;
  • Company managers with over 10 years experience in film VFX? Clients like that too;
  • Management by FX professionals for FX professionals
  • Keeping close tabs with this new wave of entrepreneurs in the Montreal VFX community;
  • As a new Visual Effects Society member, (thanks to Jacques Lévesque and Yanick Wilisky for the endorsement) I’ll work hard to bring a VES chapter to Montreal;
  • Long-term philosophy. More space for a shooting stage. In-house theatre for private screenings. Associations with CG schools with internship. R&D.
  • Decent technical and pipeline support for VFX artists, which has been a big part of my job for the past few years.
  • Added: Exposure, visibility, getting the word out. I’ve been involved in a few conferences in the past years, and I know the huge impact a little word of mouth can have. This blog is a good example.

It’s just a quick list, but it’s a good sample of what the company philosophy will be about.

VFX Database-ing

Posted on June 18th, 2007 in Software, Technical by Marc Bourbonnais

While I am running around having business lunches with interesting people, I’m also trying to set up a decent pipeline for this VFX start-up. It will take some time to have a functional system, but it’s crucial to at least start with a practical idea. A modular approach involving a number of databases that can talk to each other is the logical first step. This is how I have split the data in separate categories:

General Production Data / Management

This is the main database with everything needed for general management.

  • Contacts (Clients, vendors, staff)
  • Projects (Shots, budgets, bids, evaluations, approvals)
  • Owned hardware and software
  • Backups and other storage


I consider assets in VFX production as something that you can point your finger at on a monitor. They are the elements within FX shots. Usually you try to re-use them (or copy the procedure used to generate them) with the least amount of extra work for the most number of shots.

  • Plates (Input, versions, set reports, LUTs)
  • 3D Assets (meshes, rigs, textures, special fx)
  • 2D Assets (generated content, 2D effects)


These are the actions using the assets. In a typical FX production they are directly attributed to shots.

  • Plate prep (De-dusting, stabilizing, timing)
  • 3D tasks (tracking, layout, animation, lighting, rendering)
  • 2D tasks (rig erasing, roto, keying, integration, color correct)
  • Final grading / output

Tasks dependencies

All this fun stuff is actually a mess of inter-dependant workloads. Some can be completed at the same time. Some have to be approved before others can start. A visual chart (Gantt chart for example) is usually necessary to manage the huge number of dependencies between all the tasks and the assets needed.

Time sheets

To keep track of working hours, staff availability and prevent over-booking.

I’d like to develop everything from the ground up, but to start things smooth it will be easier to grab off-the-shelf software and do a bit of customization along the way. There are a huge number of software solutions for project management and databases. The good thing is that a lot of them can import/export typical data, so you can build a complete solution piece by piece.

Is it a good time to start a VFX company?

Posted on June 5th, 2007 in CG Community, The Company, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais

An article published in Variety last week (Blockbusters take toll on f/x shops by David Cohen) has been making the rounds on every CGI blog, forum and mailing list. This great article points out the ever-increasing time constraints and expected quality level of output versus tumbling prices for VFX shops. So it’s probably a bad time to set up a VFX company, right?


I say it’s the perfect time, at least in my part of the world. Of course, I believe there is great market potential right now in Montreal. But trying to figure out what a brand new VFX shop should be like, I realized a few things while looking around in Montreal:

  • It’s easy to set up the hardware and software to get a small shop running. (It’s not so easy to get your shots in and out the door, but that’s another story)
  • Like the article pointed out, now a few talented guys in a garage can work on a major motion picture. No need for huge infrastructures to start up.
  • A lot of companies have not noticed the recent surge of freelancers on the market. Management gets a false sense of security when they blindly hire people as regular staffers I guess. But salaries are high; countless times have I seen shops on a big hiring spree when they line up big projects, only to have cash flow issues with the inevitable dry spell.
  • Obviously, pipeline. People are nice and talented, but pipelines make people deliver the shots. Pipelines should not hinder the process. They should be a guide, a way to show each and everyone how they work in their team and how they contribute to the big picture. Too many times have I seen artists not understand the value of the material they are receiving and the number of colleagues who are dependent of their work. I know a lot of you do not like to think about pipelines. That’s okay. I’ve got a few months ahead of me to build something from the ground up so you don’t have to. It’s a pipeline TD’s wet dream.
  • Because of my 10 years experience as a 3D staffer, I’ll always know how it feels like to be on the front lines. I may not have an MBA or accounting degree, but I have been at 4am in front of a screen looking at frames being rendered. More than once. It’s a good thing to know how it’s like on a production floor.

And the best reason to get this thing going: I’m doing it because I want to build something. Remember, I quit a nice job with a good pay for this. I’m in it for the long run.

Why quit a comfortable job?

Posted on June 3rd, 2007 in The Company, Working in CG by Marc Bourbonnais

Yes, I had a nice job in a fine establishment (Hybride) with excellent working conditions. All this doing digital effects on high-profile movies. So why quit and risk starting something new?

Here is a basic structure of responsibilities for digital FX work in motion pictures, per department and area of expertise:

  1. Producer
  2. Supervisor
  3. Department Leader
  4. Team Leader
  5. Technical Director
  6. Senior Specialist
  7. Specialist
  8. Generalist
  9. Junior

This is a very simplified list with generic terms (feel free to comment) and could be applied to other fields. Of course you can be quite happy and successful in a career as a specialized matte painter, modeler or animator, like many of my friends. I always preferred broadening my knowledge and taking on new responsibilities instead of aiming for excellence in a particular field.

Starting off as a junior 3D generalist, I made my way up to Lead Technical Director of the 3D department at Hybride. That being said, right up to the end my duties involved getting down to more generalist-type work from time to time, if it could help getting the job done. Everything was great and I liked the varied challenges that came with my particular title. But the past few months, a thought regularly crept up:

“What’s next?”

The company already had a good team of supervisors and producers. With 10 years experience I did not want to start all over again learning a new specialty. So I came to the conclusion that I did all I could do at my old job, and it was time to give a shot at producing, in a completely new venue. This blog will be my story.

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