Interview with- Chrismac Hwang -Dneg Matchmove Supervisor

1- Starting out, tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from South Korea. I started 3d animation in the game company in 2002. Back then, MMORPG such as Dark Age of Camelot or EverQuest and its game engine such as Gamebryo, Unity and Unreal were a trend in Korea. There was a venture capital boom with these items from the late 1900s in Korea. Generally, most of the requirements from animation in the game industry were cartoonish character and creature motions with extremely limited amount of keyframes. That was necessary to meet specifications of the game engine and endure massive workload on servers that connected all of the online users. It was an era of that 600 polygons were maximum for each character and 512 * 512 DDS map with mipmap was maximum for textures. As my skillset grows I extended my roll to multiple positions such as modeling, texturing, lighting and FX and I eventually became obsessed with photorealistic rendering with V-Ray and simulations with thinkingParticles. Since I’ve become a VFX artist, I play with Renderman and Houdini more nowadays.

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2- way to VFX
After 10 years of career in the game industry in Korea, I happened to immigrate to Canada, and I chose VFX as my next career because I’ve always loved movies and had thought it would be great to be part of the Hollywood blockbuster films just like many others. So I attended VFX program in college and started to work as matchmove artist in Toronto thereafter

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3- challenges and experiences in the early years
I started matchmove career from a small VFX boutique in Toronto. There were pros and cons to being small. Because of its small scale of the pipeline, it was very simple and easy to learn as a junior artist. On the other hand, it also meant that there were lots of things that you had to do manually. Luckily, I could use that as a room for self-improvement. Also, prior experience of multiple roles in the game industry helped me a lot to learn new skills and tools quickly so that I could develop more detailed strategies and knowledge of entire VFX production process.
On the other hand, even though we consider the VFX industry as a very creative field, the information flow in the small studios is very slow. So sometimes they could be stuck easily what they’ve been doing and sometimes they don’t use industrial standards tools.

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 4- resources they had when they started
I joined the VFX industry in just a recent decade so to answer this question, we’d better take look into the brief history of matchmove. Initially, the concept of tracking had been invented for use of a missile guidance system in the U.S. like all the great technologies in human history have come from weaponry. There are many variations in traditional photogrammetry but most of the modern tracking packages use the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithm on a pixel-by-pixel basis. It recognizes patterns in an individually defined search area then translate those data into 3d coordinates.
In the early 1990s, the compositing software Flame from Discreet was the rookie that populated tracking concepts to the VFX industry. It’s been officially introduced at Siggraph 1992 with a built-in automatic 1 point 2D tracking module named Tracker which used for Super Mario Bros(1993). It was the first use of a recent tracking concept(automatic) for the commercial feature film. On the other hand, ILM had its in-house 2D manual tracking tool called MM2 which used for Death becomes her (1992). In 1993, ILM improved MM2 to develop a 3D tracking tool used for Jurassic Park (1993). It was the first 3D tracking tool which has z-depth concept. In 1994, Quantel Henry introduced tracking tool named Tracking. It wasn’t 3D tracking but had been considered advanced and comprehensive tool by having such as 4 points tracking, offset tracking and graphical manipulation. However, still most VFX shots were consisted of locked-off camera and the tracking points worked with only high contrast pixels. Back then, make tracking points stable was a big challenge for developers. They already had some ideas but had to compromise with hardware specs. In 1996, Science-D-Vision introduces 3DEqualizer which was the first reliable survey-free 3D tracking application. It aimed high-end feature film productions rather than the retail market for professionals. It allowed artists to try various approaches to attack hard and complex tasks. Since then, it became a major choice for the matchmove in the VFX industry and maintained a technical lead.
At the 1998 Oscars, Dr. Douglas R. Roble won the technical Achievement Award for his contribution to the first version of the Track system. It was the first time Academy started to acknowledge the matchmove technology.
At the 2000 Oscars, Science D. Visions won technical Achievement Award for its tracking software 3DEqualizer.

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5- matchmove in VFX
Matchmove is one of the most important and fundamental stages through the whole post-production pipeline. Even on the set, tracking and lighting are the two most important areas to focus on when shooting the materials as well. And there is no way to incorporate 3D elements into live-action footage without match move.
This position requires knowledge of lenses, cameras, field and angle of view, image distortion, animation, and numerous other factors through 2D and 3D. That makes this roll a very challenging and complicated discipline.
After its approval, mostly matchmove elements are released after being ingested by the layout department to the downstream in the pipeline. In some studios, match move and layout are not separated discipline so that matchmove artists are responsible for the layout as well.

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 6- explaining matchmove in the simple form
What is the fundamental goal of VFX? It’s all about helping storytelling by making people believe what they see. So I would say that matchmove provides those eyes to the audience to look through.

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 7- what’s are the typical task or job of a match movers
In a nutshell, matchmove artists reconstruct the real world set into a virtual 3D scene as accurate as possible for the rest of the pipeline to use it. To do that, matchmove artists remove the lens distortion from the plate and provide that distortion value for the compositing department to re-distort the plate at the end of the pipeline. And figure out the position of the camera and all the elements in the shot that pipeline needs to use including actors. Then track the movement of those elements and actors.
Tracking the movement of the camera is called Camera Tracking. Tracking the movement of the object is called Object Tracking. Tracking the movement of the character is called Body Tracking or Matchmation which is the compound word of Matchmove and Animation or Rotomation which is a compound of Rotoscope and Animation.
Occasionally, matchmove artists build proxy geometry, convert images to various formats, create slap comp script and deform models to match the plate. Also in case of low-budget project, matchmove artists go to the film set to take a measurement or put up tracking marks and collect on-set data.

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 8- how to get started with matchmove
You need a demo reel for job hunting. The first step is preparing your own camera. It doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy and even doesn’t need to be 35mm full-frame sensor. There are many affordable entry-level DSLR cameras and lenses out there. Then go out and shoot your own simple shots to play with. Then on the next step, you need to do some actual VFX work on your shot and there are some options. I would like to suggest trying to follow simple online learning materials first. Then if you like it or doable, then study with books or try to attend classes in VFX school. In any case, your first goal is making your own demo reel.
On the other hand, there’s another option that starting as a runner first and to transfer to the matchmove profession later via an internal training program. Many major VFX houses have training programs for new job opportunities internally between departments. However, this could take an unexpectedly long time.
In this connection, I may add that the important thing is, always put your own practice first prior to studying the theory if you want to learn faster. It’s not only from my experience but also there’s science supporting this. If you are interested in the relationships between our brain and learning skills, I suggest to read treatise Explicit and Implicit Second Language Training Differentially Affects the Achievement of native-like brain activation patterns from J Cogn Neurosci magazine.

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9- growth in matchmove

Since matchmove is the foundation and the core stage in the post-production process at the same time, it shares fate with the trend of the VFX industry itself. According to research firm ComScore, North America (Canada and U.S.) broke box office records in 2017 by earning $11.8 billion ticket sales. In addition, with the recent prosperity of streaming platform that are leads by Netflix, Amazon and the latest Disney plus and Apple plus, demand of VFX increased rapidly. And most of the popular shows on the streaming services are VFX heavy. According to Box Office Mojo, as of 2019, Top 10 highest-grossing worldwide films are all VFX heavy as well. Along with this trend, audience expectations for the visual quality of streaming and feature films were increased together. To meet such a demand, the sophisticated matchmove skills are becoming more important and VFX houses want more matchmove artists as time goes on. Also, the recent growth of VR and AR market, skills that related to 360-degree tracks are coming out to the mainstream as well.
On the other hand, there are a chronic condition in VFX business that still need to be solved regarding the force of globalization, the war of tax incentives, etc.

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10- scope and opportunities with matchmove in VFX
Once you start working as matchmove artist, actually there are not many limitations for your opportunities in the VFX, furthermore the film industry.
If you like traveling around you can try On-set supervisor or On-set data wrangler. Matchmove artists relatively have more knowledge regarding those rolls than other professions. If you add lighting and look development skills on your skillset you can set the goal for the CG Supervisor or VFX Supervisor. If you like teaching, you can teach matchmove for the VFX program or can be a VFX trainer in the studio. Many major VFX houses have trainers.
Therefore it depends on how you set the goal. I don’t think there’s a limitation because of just matchmove artists. Let’s just not limit our future opportunities with only immediate discipline.

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11- future technology of matchmove will it be AI originated or will it evolve?
Despite this new technology that is represented by Deep Learning, Machine Learning and A.I. is at an early stage at the moment but I believe that this technology will be part of the core VFX pipeline in the near future.
Some of the major VFX houses are already embracing Machine Learning into their pipeline and using it for such as face expectations and de-aging. Pairing Neural Network with a massive amount of training data allows us to be able to create animatable hi-res 3D version of the actor with a single photo in real-time. This technology is starting with aiming mainly physics-based and labor-intensive tasks such as 3D animation, simulation, rendering, and 2D imaging processing. Of course, matchmove is no exception. Robot from Kognat for 2D tracking and Deep Track from Array for 3d tracking are those. Eventually, more and more tools in the pipeline will be evolved with Machine Learning technology.
In addition, this technology is being absorbed by not only artist tools but also production tools, for example, enabling the detection of scheduling patterns in order to organize timelines and resources more efficiently to handle multiple projects at the same time.
However, I don’t think that AI tools are going to replace artists completely, at least, as long as we humans have the artistic sensibility and emotions. Let’s think about art, music, for example. To the machines, music is just the composition of the expansion and contraction of air. On the contrary, for the humans, that expansion and contraction of air become the music, art with sensibility and emotions which A. I. doesn’t have. And by considering the fact that the average time for pipeline renewal in the VFX industry is approximately 10 years, this technology will be adopted step by step rather than drastically in a short time. This technology is new for all of us. It’s to watch with interest then we’ll see to where it lead us.

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12- advice /tips to Young artists how they can grow fast and be more efficient  

A. Once you start the job, try to keep learning. With digital technology’s rapid pace, there’s always something new.
B. Once you get used to your major roll, try to get the working knowledge from other departments. It will develop your problem-solving skills drastically.
C. In my opinion, the best way to achieve a and b is by doing your personal project regularly. It doesn’t need to be something super cool shot or go public always. Important thing is to finish it once you started.
D. Having code literacy would be good. As per the thesis that’s been submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington in 2016, 1 in 5 VFX workers can code and the top 2 most popular languages is MEL and Python. Matchmove is one of the least coding professions so it’ll give you a competitive advantage.
E. Try to keep a flexible mindset. There is no “right answer” in the VFX industry as there are many different approaches to the same result.
F. Try not to be a “button pusher”. The more in the bigger and strong pipeline, the more that you’re going to face many automatic tools. However, try to do manually as often as you can until you understand what’s going on under the hood through the whole process. That knowledge will pay off someday and will save you and your team.
G. Don’t be stubborn about your salary. It will go up and down through your career. Otherwise, you could lose a great opportunity to join an amazing team to grow fast because of immediate small money.
H. In any case, don’t stop to trust yourself. You’re going to do the same mistakes several times as a junior artist. You’re going to screw things up in many days. However, every great Supervisor has started exactly the same as you. It’s just how we grow. It’s not the end of the world.

Vfxexpress prabu -Thank you Chrismac Hwang

Chrismac Hwang – Thank you prabu

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