Compositing at Sony Imageworks


The summer of 2013 was really quiet for the VFX companies in Vancouver. I spent several months doing stereo conversion at Gener8, and then things started picking up again. I was keen to go back to Image Engine, but I also wanted to spend a month seeing my family in Australia. Image Engine were happy to give me a contract, but they couldn’t give me the time off, so the contract started once I got back from the holiday.

This meant I faced the prospect of several months without work between the end of my Gener8 contract, and our trip. This made me a little nervous but I decided that if I waited for ‘the perfect time’ to go to Australia I’d never go. In a very fortunate turn of events, I heard Sony Imageworks were looking for compositors for a short contract to help finish Edge Of Tomorrow. After a telephone interview, they offered me a contract for several months that almost perfectly filled the gap I had between Gener8 and our trip to Australia.

Sony was definitely the most corporate place I’d ever worked at. There was a very structured week of training that is organised for all of the new starters. This included all the basic stuff, like getting your log-in details and the usual security briefing about not uploading your work to Facebook, but we also had to read documents about corporate issues like insider trading.

The software training was very thorough. There were many wiki pages and video tutorials about all the custom Imageworks tools and we had a schedule of all the ‘lessons’ we were expected to work through. There was also a training shot (a shot from an active movie that had already been completed for that movie) which we had to work on for several days, and submit a suitable version for approval before we were ‘released’ from training and officially assigned to our project. I’ve never seen training taken this seriously at any other company, and although bits of it seemed like overkill, it was really nice that they took the time and effort to help everyone get started before you were thrown into the panic of a live project.

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Once I was done with training I started work on Edge Of Tomorrow.

There were two compositing teams on the project, and each team was split between the LA and Vancouver offices, so half of my team, including my coordinator and my supervisor, were about 2,000km away. This was daunting to start with, but worked surprisingly well. During the day we would communicate via e-mail, instant messaging, phone, voice over IP audio and group chatrooms. Once a week we had a team meeting via video conference so we could catch up face-to-face.

The in-house image playback software allowed you to share sessions so I could discuss a shot with the supervisor in LA and see annotations. Review sessions were run with the same system, so we could either go into the screening room, or log in and watch the whole session at our desks.

The project itself was a joy to work on.

The shots contained a mixture of CG elements, matte paintings, FX elements, and 2D elements like dust, sand, fire and smoke. We didn’t have the luxury of time, so we were working fast. We would usually have two or three shots to final each week.

It was really satisfying to turn around shots quickly and move onto new ones. We were working to a high standard but there wasn’t time to get fixated on shots and noodle them to death.

The pipeline at Sony was one of the best I’ve ever worked with. You could tell it was well established and had been perfected over many projects.

And the best thing about the whole project was that it was a great movie.

Towards the end of the project we got to watch a big sequence of our work, the first beach invasion. There was 10 minutes solid of Sony Imageworks shots that set up the whole movie. It was a fantastic sequence and when it finished the whole office gasped – we just wanted to watch the rest of the movie.