If you have ever sat at the end of a blockbuster film, you may have encountered an epic list of rolling credits. As dinosaurs wander onto our screens (the work of Spielberg), cities fold and collide—bending physics (the vision of Nolan), the real and fake meld into one (like the craft of Rodriguez and Blomkamp); storytelling continues to evolve and explore our cerebral logic. The end credits have become an ode to the artistry that has rewired our brain to forge powerful connections with new characters and new worlds. As the screen fades to black and we run our eyes through thousands of curious roles and new vocabulary (Matchmove artist, Render wrangler, Rigger, Creature Director etc.), it is evident that the VFX industry has become undoubtedly monolithic. It has impacted how we create, communicate and tell stories.
It may feel like old news because C.G. and special effects have become so prevalent in what we stream and binge. For example, yesterday evening, I saw a re-rendered and way-younger version of Will Smith, a scene with an impressively composited factory out in the middle of nowhere, and a train with a time-bomb passing through a city of tomorrow. Still, visual effects support so much of the director's vision and artistic storytelling that, more often than not, it creatively blends into other departments like makeup, costumes, stunts and more. For example, a movie like Iron man 3 (1 billion dollars in gross revenue)¹ had 3310 crew members, with 1834 people working on visual effects alone. A colossal effort! These staggering numbers emphasize just how much crew and production houses have grown to simulate the luscious realism and beautifully strange worlds imagined by directors, cinematographers and visual effects artists. Production growth is just the tip of the iceberg. As technology like VR, AR, AI, impressive game engines, camera solvers, and 360 videos make way into the filmmakers' practice (enabling higher artistic vision), VFX tools will only become more impactful in transforming how we work.
New industry tools like "FasTrack," created by GOFOX AI (a business built with an artist's first mindset), offer incredible new features that are game-changers. But the story of "FastTrack" didn't start as one would expect.
Way back 2080+ hours ago, before product launch, before GOFOX AI collaborated with Digitalist, the proposed project was neither film nor C.G. specific. To set the stage and the establishing shot, it all happened on a dark and stormy afternoon when Aden Bahadori, the GOFOX AI founder (sporting a heavy black trench and baseball cap, as all mysterious figures do), stormed into our Vancouver studio. He was looking to partner with an agency and explore a 360 video solution for live sports streaming. To boot, he wanted to stabilize source footage in real-time (and maybe have asset overlay/post-production capabilities in V.R.). As GOFOX AI joined forces with our Digitalist's R&D lab and A.I. team (led by Jarrod Haas, ML/AI Scientist), the project evolved from "Okay. That's interesting" to "Oh. That's intriguing" (a natural progression in many great passion projects). Like a true artist, and with almost 20 years of post-production VFX and pipeline experience under his belt, Bahadori set up a hot desk (7 hours away from his home studio in New York) to collaborate up close and personal with our in house specialists. Suddenly, the prototype became something more; engineer a simple yet powerful camera tracking workflow.
For those unfamiliar, camera tracking is a common technique used in Hollywood VFX studios; it lets you place virtual assets (objects and animations) into the video footage world seamlessly (as if somebody also filmed those assets in real life). It's the type of virtual assets we see, from animated giant robots in a movie to dynamic 3D text effects in an ultra-sleek fast-moving commercial. At first glance, tracking may sound like crumbs and boring security jargon, but for the most part, it is quite a laborious and detailed process for an artist (especially if you want to achieve a seamless look and feel in the scene you are working with). In the past, if an artist wanted to composite a complex object into a complicated moving scene, it involved a lot of tedious work like manually eliminating jumping/shifting/drifting points, avoiding tracks that blur and other distracting elements. Dealing with things that shift and drift sound frustratingly imprecise, and it can be. This process is often manageable for simple tasks. Still, as moving objects and camera work grows in complexity, it becomes painful to track as these details or lack of detail throw off estimations of the camera's path. The beauty of "FastTrack" is that it harnesses the power of A.I. and deep learning to assist immediately; "FastTrack" actually "learns" the course of the camera through the scene for the user and recreates this path in 3D. Artists need this. It's not about creating a brand new feature; it's about harnessing technology to make it better.
In "FastTrack," compositors, artists, and content creators can quickly and efficiently track 360 degrees and 2D videos. Once the camera path of a scene is followed, the artist can export (we're talking seconds) to their favourite VFX tools like Motion, After Effects, and Collada (e.g. Blender) and focus on their craft of creating next-level effects.
"Harnessing the power of AI, tracking data is both accurate and output incredibly fast. 360/VR community rejoices! Broadens my creative toolset 10-fold!"
—Ezra Fine, 360-VR workflow expert and Manager of Production Technology
This type of feature is invaluable because it caters to different kinds of working styles. Some directors enjoy a meticulous review process, and that's their prerogative. For others, a tool like "FastTrack" is a time-saver; it enables someone to shoot, create, and review a scene all in the same day. This type of flexibility fulfills a wide-angle vision as well; it can help artists come closer to budget without wasting time, production, and studio money. It can quickly bring an idea to life without spending months and months and more months on something and not even realize that all that work upfront is only going to make its way to the cutting room floor—a sad tale that often happens in the industry.
Alas, CG is not just for Hollywood alone. After all, we live in a world of expressive content creators; the visual/communication medium continues to grow. Commercially available tools like After Effects have allowed influencers and YouTubers to dabble in VFX and become artists/C.G. illusionists in their own right (even if for a mere 6 seconds), to capture the attention of thousands of fans, streamers and viewers. With an AI-harnessed tool like "FastTrack," it can only help all content creators realize their visions faster.
But don't take my word for it. Ask Aden Bahadaroi (Founding Partner), ask Jarrod Haas (our lead ML/AI Scientist). They are friendly. It's always better if you can check things out and experience "FastTrack" for yourself. I highly recommend it!
(Recommended by a Visual/Motion Designer/epic film geek that quickly gets immersed by time travel, alternate realities, dinosaurs, android races, funny footnotes, and the rolling credits of a good story)
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To be continued at:
 Reported by Stephen Follows, data researcher in the film industry