Interview with Robin A. Linn – Photorealistic hairy creatures and characters

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Through the years, one of the most difficult challenges in the VFX world has been the integration of CG generated creatures in the real world. The desired result of these efforts is to make them look as much realistic as possible and produce a uniform and well assembled scene.
Comparing the very first attempts of mixing CG elements and reality with the latest productions, it is clear how the development of new technologies and specific software has led to a very detailed result in terms of physical accuracy.
We have decided to focus our attention on a tricky and interesting aspect of this scenario: furry creatures. Luckly we found experts , whom, due to their role and experience, have managed different issues with completely opposite approaches and have then shown us.

We want to introduce you Robin A. Linn!

Robin Alan Linn

His background of work in animation, art direction, sculpting, 3-D character modeling and teaching lasting 25 years, with companies like Hanna-Barbera, Sony Pictures, Reel FX and Loyola Marymount University, made him who he is today. However, he started as a bank manager who only did sculpting as a hobby.

He worked as a director of animation production in many famous movies we have grown up with like Spider Man, Polar Express, The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; showing us the point of view of a supervisor in a friendly, easygoing and extremely helpful way.

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Us: What is your background? And what was your first experience in the CG world?

Linn: I started off in animation as a sculptor, but quickly realized that the computer was able to create via a 3D printer better artwork than I was able to create.With this in mind I moved into CG as a character modeller. This allowed me to use my sculping skills to create digital models.

Us: You have worked in the movie industry since the late 90’s. In your opinion, what have been the main changes in the vfx field?

Linn: There was a time when the softwares and computers need to create digital images was very expensive. This limited not only schools but also individuals ability to learn how to use these systems to create CG images.
Over the years the costs of these items have dropped dramatically and as a result more are able to learn. This has opened up many more opportunities to those with the talent to obtain positions in the animation and VFX field. That has been a very positive circumstance, but it has not come without a price.
As more young talent has come onto the market, the balance of supply and demand has been shifted. That there are many young but very talented artists available, more that the studios could ever hope to hire, the pay rates for this entry-level talent have dropped dramatically. In some cases studios are paying 50% now than they were in the 1990s. Also, countries who wish to attract studios to relocate to their area begun the practice of subsidising the studios to move.
The Canadian province of Vancouver will pay the studio 33% back on every dollar they spend if they move their studios to their area. The studios who traditionally were in California, USA, moved to take advantage of the savings.
This left thousands of California based talent with a hard choice, leave America or choose another line of work. These subsidise have lured most of the California based studios to leave. In 2003 there were over 20 animation and VFX studios in Los Angeles, CA, now there are only 2.

Us: What is your typical workflow? How did the technological evolution affect it?

Linn: Technology sped everything up- no longer do we use paper to communicate-everything is digital. Even the way we talk at work is affected. Instead of talking face to face many of our team use a chat software- even when they are sitting very near each other !

One of the movies you have been working on is The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, nominated in the best VFX category at the 78th Academy Awards.

Us: How it was having three of the largest VFX companies in the movie industry working together on the same movie for the first time? And how did you handle shots where multiple vendors were contribuiting on the same image?

Linn: In cases where the work was split between many studios the film’s production team will hire a Visual Effects Supervisor to ensure that the over all look of the film remains consistent. Nowadays, it is quite common for a film’s visual effects to be spread over many studios, this is often caused by the huge number of shots the film requires that is too large for one studio to take on. It is often the case though that the production may want to spreas the work around because they don’t want to keep all their eggs in the same basket. Imagine what would happen if all the effects work was being done by a single studio, and they suffered a viral hack destroying all the images?

Us: In those days you were working with Sony Pictures Imageworks, what are the sequencies and elements made by the company? And what was your specific task? What about mixing CG elements with real ones and bringing believable creatures onto the screen?

Linn: At Imageworks many of the sequences were fully digital – meaning that every thing in the shot was computer generated. In others, the studio would receive photographic plates and have to composite the CG items into the shot. My role was not only to recruit and hire the teams to create the digital work, but also to manage their careers once they were on board.

Us: The Lion, The Witch ad the Wardrobe was filmed in New Zeland that is famous for its windy climate. How difficult was it to make CG characters affected by the same degree of wind as the other objects in the frame?

Linn: In CG all things are possible!

Us: You started your career as a maquette sculptor. How useful was for the actors and for the VFX team having creatures’ maquette?

Linn: Maquettes were originally created to help traditional animators keep the character they were drawing on-model from various angles. With the advent of CG this was no longer required and maquettes were really only useful as gifts to give voice talent as a token of appreciation.

Us: What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your career?

Linn: Back in the 1990’s I started hiring, against the wishes of my supervisors, graduates into Imageworks. The supervisory team felt that they would require too much training and slow the teams down. I am happy to say that that was not the case. They did great and proved their value !
In fact, the very first student I ever hired, Patrick Osborne, just won an Oscar for his short film “Feast”. That made me very very proud !

Us: Nowadays you are working at Riot Games as a recruiter, how did you end up in the videogames field? What are the similarities and differences between movies and videogames industries?

Linn: It turns out Riot had been watching me for many years on both Facebook and Linked-in to see if I would be a good fit for their studio culture. When they felt the time was right they reached out to me and I joined their team.
I am very happy I did. Gaming is an amazing culture- very exciting and interesting. I am laerning something new wvery day and that is keeping me not only very happy, but young !

Edgar Pironti, Chiara Sapio

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