Cinematic special effects have come a long way since Jason and the Argonauts. What once required dedicated and labor-intensive filming sessions can now easily be generated in near-lifelike quality by modern CGI. But Luma Pictures, an animation studio responsible for some of the biggest blockbuster movie effects of the last decade, has come full circle and incorporated 3D printed analog modeling into its design process.
We sat down recently with Luma Pictures’ VP/Exec Visual Effects Supervisor, Vince Cirelli, to discuss how 3D printing is making better movie monsters.
Gizmodo: Can you give me a bit of background about your company?
Luma Pictures VP/Exec Visual Effects Supervisor Vince Cirelli: We are an artist-run, artist-owned facility. We specialize in high-end visual effects, we do a lot of creature work, lots of digital double work as well, along with all the ancillary work where we have large 3D environments and simulations. We’re primarily film but have a commercial department. We have two facilities; one here in Los Angeles and the other is in Melbourne, Australia. We invest heavily in technology so we have a really strong infrastructure with clustered computing.
Giz: What sort of technology infrastructure? What do you guys use to do what you do?
VC: So what happens in visual effects is that we have multiple departments—we have animation, effects, lighting, and compositing. So with that there are many different elements—essentially pieces of a puzzle—that go into a shot. We have thousands of these elements running around and they all need to be tracked because they all need to plug into each other and ultimately into a composition.
So, for example, you have a shot that has 100 elements in it including smoke, explosions, and Iron Man; all those things progress differently, at different speeds through the pipeline. And that’s just one shot. So we need our tracking system to be quite sophisticated to make sure we’re hitting our production targets and really the only way to do that is to plug all of the different packages into the same backend at a very detailed level so that we can estimate, based on historical data, how long each scene and element is going to take to render.
Our render farm is all open source and is quite substantial. We have roughly 1000 Linux nodesbetween the two facilities and the majority of our artists run on Linux as well, though we have a few Mac boxes for Photoshop and other packages that can’t run on Linux.