Kirsty Millar is making audiences very hoppy with her VFX talent on screen with Peter Rabbit
Kirsty Millar's career began in broadcast TV in the 1980s before moving on to compositing on high-end TV commercials. Since then, she has gone on to supervise numerous VFX projects from the initial script breakdown & methodology phase, through pre-production, look development and on-set supervision, to leading a team of artists to final delivery.
Kirsty holds an International Press Academy 'Satellite Award' for Best Visual Effects on House of Flying Daggers and was nominated for a 2005 BAFTA Award for the same film in the 'Achievement in Special Visual Effects' category.
You’ve been working in VFX over many years and have more than 26 credits including recent work on The Lego Move, The Great Gatsby and now Peter Rabbit. What drew you to a career in the field and how have you been so successful?
I didn’t have any grand plan to work in VFX. It’s been a fair bit of luck alongside some hard graft that has led my career path. I realised halfway through an arts degree that it wasn’t for me and switched to a TV operations course, before working in a broadcast company. I started bashing my way around a Paintbox whilst working in London, and moved into compositing from there.
I was in the right place at the right time in order to ride the wave of some technical advances in digital filmmaking, plus I had some great mentors along the way. I love stories and film. Compositing was a way to contribute to both and I loved it. VFX is the perfect mix of art and science, and changing technology over the last 30 years has kept it challenging.
When did you start working with Animal Logic?
I started here in August 1997 as a Flame artist on TV commercials, before moving into film and VFX supervision.
Do you think Animal Logic is recognised as a leader internationally?
Absolutely. Animal Logic has been creating images to tell stories for over 25 years. But aside from sheer longevity, it is recognised as a world leader in animation and VFX. Today, we are producing our own stories to share with the world under the Animal Logic Entertainment banner, the first of which is Peter Rabbit.
What can you tell us about Peter Rabbit and working with Will Gluck on the production?
The VFX on the film were led by Animal Logic supervisors, Will Reichelt and Matt Middleton. I came on to the project after the shoot had wrapped and was well into post production.
The release date was brought forward, and so Animal Logic looked at outsourcing a number of CG set extensions and characters. We contracted out to four Australian VFX companies, spread across three states. I managed this portion of the VFX, working to VFX Supervisor, Will Reichelt.
The look of the film, and the sheer visual scale of Peter Rabbit is fantastic. There were clearly some very strong decisions in terms of the vision of the project. Can you tell us how you achieved its look?
The look of the practical environment was down to the live action Production Designer, Roger Ford. Simon Whitely was the Animation Production Designer and Tania Richard was the Art Director on the film.
The main task for the Supervising Digital Colourist Sam Chynoweth was to represent Sydney as the Lakes District in the UK. He did this with contrast management, softening off hard shadow lines, plus cooling off the images overall, to hide the dry yellows of a very hot Australian summer.
The digital intermediate (DI) colour grade began with Will Reichelt and Tania Richard, in conjunction with Director of Photography Pete Menzies. For the last four weeks, whilst the director Will Gluck was working on the final audio mix in LA, the DI continued around the clock in Sydney, with Gluck connecting via a real-time loss-less data stream for intense review sessions.
All the while, Chynoweth worked closely with Compositing Supervisor Alex Fry, to ensure the grade wasn’t undoing the hard work of the comp team.
Peter Rabbit opened to really strong numbers in the USA. Why do you feel it’s been so successful in a market with various animations and VFX films on offer?
I think the success of the film at the box office is down to its broad appeal. It’s clearly a family film, based on a much-loved series of children’s books first published over 100 years ago, but the film has been tailored to the 21st Century. And Will Gluck was tireless in his pursuit of the perfect gag!
Describe a typical work week working as a VFX supervisor on Peter Rabbit.
The day will usually start with a quick production meeting, where the core supervision and production team discuss the hit points for the week and agree on any immediate schedule adjustments in order to keep the project moving efficiently, whilst keeping an eye on longer term milestones.
At the beginning of the project, you’re generally making sure that everyone has the creative brief and access to the right reference material and data from the shoot, including concept art, plates, set measurements and HDRIs. Further into the project, as you start to receive WIPs (work in progress material that ranges from iterations of CG characters’ modelling and texturing, animation cycles, digital matte paintings and test shots) the days are quickly taken over by dailies and director reviews. In between this, you’re reviewing VFX requirements and working with the team to keep breakdowns and schedules current.
Is there anything you already know of coming up in processing technology, or in-the-pipeline technology that really excites you?
I think Virtual Reality (VR) is presently under-developed as a medium for story-telling, although we might see consumers jump to Augmented Reality (AR) first.
At Animal Logic we’re in the early stages of a big push to implement Universal Screen Description (USD) as the backbone of our pipeline. This is with a view to optimising how we can view complex CG scenes. With the ability to load a common scene description in many different contexts (realtime, vs animation vs lighting vs FX), we really open up the possibilities for collaboration. This ties in with VR and AR – the ability to work on a scene in realtime (VR/AR), while at the same time render it for film, means we could develop some pretty exciting workflows, and potentially develop material for new devices.
Talking with Animal Logic’s Head of Animation Rob Coleman, so much of animation is ‘do it, review it, do it again’. So, it follows that the more turns you can see within a given timeframe, then the better the result. On Peter Rabbit we pushed that philosophy as hard as we could, in addition to achieving high interactivity within our animation scenes, we worked to support fully featured review renders for dailies. We were turning around fully furred review renders (with automated HDR lighting, hold-out geometry and plates) in half an hour!
These renders didn’t have the beautiful soft fur that comes with high sample rates and detailed sub-surface scattering, but they presented a huge step forward in providing context for animation reviews. The director is immediately able to get much closer to the look and subtleties of the final performance. This advance wasn’t without new problems though. Rob was a little concerned that the animation reviews looked so good that they may be confused with final lighting renders. But this was kind of a nice problem to have.
Finally, for anyone looking to break into VFX, what advice would you give them?
The industry has grown so much, it’s a completely different beast to what it was when I first started. If you have your heart set on a particular craft, like being an animator or compositor, there are a myriad of courses available.
Entry-level positions are a great way to suss out the inner workings of an Animation and / or VFX studio and can open up different paths that you may not have known even existed. I don’t think any experience is wasted, and the professional connections you make at this phase of your career could lead to opportunities down the track.
Peter Rabbit: http://www.peterrabbit-movie.com/