Bruce, give us a run-down on what it is you do for Rainmaker Entertainment and Stargate SG-1.
I am the Senior Digital Compositing Artist at Rainmaker Entertainment in Vancouver, British Columbia. Digital compositing is the art of taking all of the different elements for a visual effects shot (e.g. -- background plate photography, miniatures, computer graphics, etc.) and putting them together into a seamless, finished shot. At Rainmaker, I accomplish this part of my job on a Silicon Graphics Onyx 2 computer using Discreet Logic's Inferno* software.
I am fortunate enough to spend about 10 months of each year being the senior digital compositor on Stargate SG-1, working closely with visual effects producer James Tichenor and visual effects supervisor Michelle Comens.
As Rainmaker's senior artist on the series, I do everything from visual effects design and compositing to the management of Rainmaker's digital effects team and overseeing of our production pipeline.
For beginners, just what pieces of an episode are considered "visual effects?" How can viewers spot Rainmaker's work on the screen?
Almost any part of the show that requires altering the composition of what is on the screen is considered a visual effect. This can be a simple as repairing a frame of film that was damaged, right up to creating an entirely new environment to place the characters in. Essentially, if it can't be shot in-camera, it's a visual effect.
Are there certain show-specific effects (like a ring transporter) that you are use to doing on a regular basis? How much of your to-do list is new, cutting-edge stuff, and how much is standard, established effects?
SG-1 tries to salvage an abandoned Goa’uld mothership in Season Six’s “Descent.”
This is a really good question, and it indeed varies from episode to episode. We have a fairly large list of what we call "signature effects." The most significant is, of course, the activation and use of the Stargate itself. The list would also include the transport rings, staff weapons and zat guns.
Other things that we would do on a less-regular basis would include the Goa'uld cargo ships and death gliders.
The great thing about working on Stargate SG-1 is that even the so-called standard effects are, more often than not, used in not so standard ways (like the underwater transport rings in "Descent"). Every shot provides us with a new challenge.
What is the process for creating a new digital effect, from script to the final shot? (How long does it take, and how big is your team?)
Each shot we do takes a slightly different path. An good example would be in the episode "Descent."
One of the story points for "Descent" was that a U.S. Navy Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle is dispatched to the submerged Goa'uld mothership to effect the rescue of SG-1. All of these shots were achieved entirely in the digital realm. The time frame from rough sketches and storyboards to the completed shots was about six weeks.
Our version of the D.S.R.V. is based on the Mystic, and is an accurate representation of one of the two D.S.R.V.'s that the U.S. Navy built in the late 60’s and early 70’s for the purpose of rescuing crew members from disabled submarines. The result of this background research shows in the small details, from the rivets and small fittings to the patchwork paint job, and adds to the realism of the vehicle when composited into the finished shots. The computer graphic model was painted as it would appear in daylight on the surface. The underwater coloring was customized for the varying depths on a shot-by-shot basis during compositing.
In order to get around all of the logistical problems and the extensive computer time required for volumetric rendering the underwater scenes, all of our digital-for-wet work on these shots was achieved during compositing. Using a very complex mix of practical smoke and water elements, as well as a great many custom-painted and 3-D mattes, completing our underwater look in compositing allowed for much more control and flexibility on such a short schedule.
A Russian miniature submarine, from Season Four’s “Watergate.”
For these shots, the team was supervisor Michelle Comens and only two artists (3-D animator Tom Brydon and myself). However, some really big shots can take as many as six artists.
What are some of the big effects you've done for past episodes?
At this point in the series, I've lost count of how many shots I've worked on. Animator Marc Roth and I used to keep a count ... but we quit after over 300 shots of the Stargate puddle. I've done everything from blow up Moscow's Red Square ("Absolute Power") to help Teal'c shoot at attacking Replicators ("Nemesis"), to fly escaping Goa'uld cargoships ("Enemies").
Although, I can't stress enough, how many other talented artists work on this amazing looking show. There is such a wonderfully talented group of people, lead by James Tichenor and Michelle Comens, that work very hard to bring all of these visual effects to the screen.
Got a favorite?
A favorite individual shot would be so hard to pick among the hundreds of shots that we have created for the series. Although some of the shots that I have really enjoyed doing this year (Season Six) would be:
"Redemption, Part 2" - The shot were the camera tilts up from Carter and the Stargate, to the missile silo above the gate room (with 3-D artists Ryan Cronin and Nicholas Boughen). Almost everything in the shot is digital ... including the Stargate.
- The matte painting of Ryac looking over the Goa'uld landing field (with 3-D animator Wes Sargent).
"Descent" - The shots of the Navy D.S.R.V. (with 3-D animator Tom Brydon) and the two Goa'uld gliders flying out of the ocean (with 3-D animator Marc Roth).
Any big effects-heavy episodes that fans can look forward to in the second half of Season Six? What's the coolest thing you've done that fans haven't seen yet?
Anubis’ Stargate weapon, from Season Six’s “Redemption, Part 2.”
Although I can't provide any spoilers, I'm pretty proud of the work in "Unnatural Selection." And there's a great shot Wes Sargent, Tom Brydon and I did at the end of "Revelations." The fans have lots to look forward to yet, for Season Six.
How long have you worked on Stargate SG-1? Now that the show is winding down, what are your thoughts on the show and your own work on it?
I was lucky enough to work on the 2-hour pilot back in 1997. However, I didn't start regularly working on the series again until the beginning of Season Two. I have held my current duties as a senior artist since Season Three, and have been fortunate enough to have been nominated for three Emmys for my work on the show.
Although, out of all of that, I have to say that I really take two things away from my experience on SG-1. One, I have had the pleasure of doing some of the best work of my career with a group of the most talented people I have ever worked with. And two, these people are simply the most wonderful group of human beings ... I have made several very good friends working on the show.
As for winding down, I think that everyone now knows we are coming back for Season Seven. I am thrilled to be able to continue working with James Tichenor, Michelle Comens, Shannon Gurney and the rest of the visual effects crew on such a wonderful show.