Interview with Alessio Bertotti – VFX Artist

Standard

Showreel of Alessio Bertotti’s best VFX, Compositing, 3D and Motion Graphic works, until Winter 2015:

Alessio Bertotti, VFX Artist and supervisor, has worked in Italy and abroad in different fields: movies, commercials, TV series, music videos and motion graphics.
Since he was young he’s been interested in this industry and in video and photo editing. He’s graduated in Graphic and Virtual Design at the Polytechnic of Turin, and then he has attended two master’s program: one in Computer Graphics in Turin and the other in Professional Compositing at the Escape Studios in London.

Alessio Bertotti

Despite his age, he’s already taken part to the realization of remarkable projects, such as “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), “The Expendables 3” (2014), “Everest” (2014), the featured RAI film “One thousand and one nights” (2012), the Tv series “Constantine” (2014-2015) and the commercials for “Vision Express” (2014), “Direct Line” (2013), “Mercedes-Benz Assist” (2013).

Having the possibility to interview Alessio Bertotti, we’ve decided to ask him some questions about his experience in this industry, the differences between working for a movie, a tv series or a commercial, and some details of some of the most interesting and remarkable projects he’s worked for.

Why did you approach the visual effects world? What was your first experience in the VSX world?

I’ve been always passionate about videogames and movies and, since I was a child, I’ve always wanted to be part of this industry. I started quite young approaching video and photo editing, as some years ago there was not many ways to know how to proceed, because internet was really slow and not so full of informations as today.
So I started playing with Photoshop and Premiere and I started doing some small paid works.
Then I decided to join the University, studying Graphic and Virtual Design at the Polytechnic of Turin, where I first approached some 3D programs.
My first real job in the field was an internship I did in my Erasmus period in Valencia, where combining video editing and 3D animation I started doing Motion Graphics.

We saw on your personal website that during your Erasmus period you didn’t work only with motion graphics, but also on a university project about the virtual reality. Can you explain us something about that?

During the Erasmus period I’ve worked in a studio, first in an internship and then as an employee, but I’ve also taken part to a project with the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia regarding the virtual reality. It was a very long project with the objective of the union between the CAVE available in the campus and the Visionarum, a power wall for the stereoscopic vision, in order to offer an experience of visualization of different virtual scenes not only to a single person but to a small group of people (around 20). This has been possible thanks to a software able to transmit, in the Visionarium, a 3D visualization of the scene displayed in the CAVE. Furthermore, I’ve worked at the realization of the university’s 3D model, with textures, urban fabric and vegetation, and at the following integration in the applications of the Cave and the Visionarium, creating a platform of virtual tour of the university with an high level of realism and immersivity.

You work especially as a Compositor and a VFX Artist. What are the differences between these two figures?

A compositor is a person specialized in compositing. That means working mainly in the 2D field, combining various layers created by other people/team to create the final image.
A VFX Artist is a sort of generalist, that is capable to do both the 2D and 3D parts, so that means that he can produce the elements to composite afterwards, starting from scratches and delivering the final image or video.
Normally a VFX artist is very useful in any company, because he is a jolly, that can be used for different purposes and that can take care of particular shots that are totally different from the rest of the production.
But at the same time he can work in a role, being part of a team.

Which are the steps in a compositing process?

Normally the compositing process starts analyzing the plate (that is the footage, with the correct frame range that will be need to work). In big productions when a compositor starts to work on a shot there are the 3D elements that are prepared from the other departments, in form of rendering of image sequences, so the first approach normally is to make a quick comp, combining all the elements together to see what is needed to do.
After that it is usual to do some prep work (for example cable/wire removals, tracking marker removals, green screen, etc), then the real compositing starts.
The steps are usually making sure to have the right lens distortion, applying the same grain of the plate at the CG elements, matching the black and white point of the CG to the plate and so on, depending on what the shot needs. The goal is always to make the most beautiful and believable image.

What are the main difficulties and fundamental points in the job of a compositor?

The job of the compositor is really difficult, because he is one of the very last of the pipeline, so if there were some mistakes in the previous steps, normally it is his duty to fix them and deliver the work.
Another really difficult aspect is the stress and the working under pressure, because having to wait all the other departments to deliver their elements, the time that a compositor is able to spend on each shot is usually very short and the delivery deadline is always something to keep in mind.

What are the main difficulties and fundamental points in the job of a VFX artist?

The VFX Artist must know a lot of programs, tools and techniques, to be always able to work on every task and solve any kind of problem. In particular it is very difficult to stay up to date with all the new softwares and updates that very often are coming up. A VFX Artist has a lot of responsibilities and must not only look to the technical point of view, but also must have an overview on the project, a lot of “eye” for beauty and balance and some creativity.

 

CINEMA

You’ve just finished working as a compositor at Trixter for the Marvel feature film “Captain America: Civil War”. What was your specific task?

In this movie I was mainly doing compositing and prep works, in particular I did many shots inside the tunnel, integrating a full CG Black Panther running and fighting with Captain America and Winter Soldier.
In this sequence it was particularly difficult to consider every light of the tunnel, that was constantly changing due to the high speed of the shooting and of the action, as well as the blinking lights of the cops cars. It was necessary a manual labor in order to adjust the lights frame by frame.

“Captain America : Civil War” Movie Clip – Black Panther Chase (part of the chasing sequence he’s worked at).

Which were the guidelines that the director or the production provided to you? In which measure were you free during the work?

This sequence was quite strict, because the Black Panther character was shot in real, and then he was replaced by a CG one, that needed to be more realistic possible and referring to the real one was the best way to make it believable.
There was a lot of talking about the shading and lighting of the suit, because it is supposed to be made of a material called vibranium, but it doesn’t exist in reality, so we had always to find a way to make it look metallic, but not wet or rubbery.

captain america - black panther4

Did you also work on interactions between real characters and virtual ambient? What are the difficulties in this case and how did you manage them?

Yes, I’ve also worked on interactions between real characters and virtual ambient, mainly trying to emphasize contact shadows and giving the impression of a real contact, by means of roto, color correction and deformations of 3D rendering. It was mostly a manual labor frame by frame.

You’ve also worked for the films “DxM” and “Everest” with the role of compositor. Where have you found more difficulties? Why?

In “DxM” I did a small part of the show. It was difficult because we were doing the laboratory rats, that involves fur and that usually means a lot of problems, including compenetration, flickering, etc, but it was a nice movie to work on.
“Everest” was way more difficult, first of all for the look of it. In fact we worked doing mainly snow storms in a snowy environment, so looking at the screen and judging the image was not easy at all, as it was all white.

Everest-1

“Everest” was more difficult and more interesting also technically for what concerning the compositing part, because we were using renderings done with deep to integrate the snow storm with the characters that were shot in real on top of a green screen, that was replaced by matte paintings for set extension, that each compositor was preparing for his own shot.

Everest-2a
Everest-2b

Last year you’ve worked as a Compositor, Comp Lookdev and Motion Graphic Artist at Trixter for the Marvel feature film “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. Could you talk us about your specific tasks in this movie?

In this movie I was mainly working at the complex one minute long sequence, nearly at the beginning of the film, in which 5 Legionnaires return to the Avengers headquarters flying over New York City.
About 30 seconds of this sequence are realized in CG for which Trixter was responsible for what concerned the 3D elements, the lighting, the animation and the VFX for the Legionnaires and the internal settings in the tower.

Avengers-1

In particular, I was involved in the compositing of the 5 Legionnaires and in their integration in the scene, managing the potential contacts with real actors, creating light effects and integrating fire and smoke in order to obtain a realistic volumetric effect.

Avengers-2

Then I focused on the look development and on the solving of some problems due to single scenes, working as a compositor with Nuke (keying, CG compositing and set extension).
I’ve also realised and did the compositing of some motion graphics, such as some Tony Stark’s holograms, and worked for the creation of other elements as the laser ray for the scansion and the castle shield.

How long did it take to realize the sequence of the 5 Legionnaires?

The total time to realize that shot is difficult to tell, as it was a big effort from different teams and many people. Almost everyone of the team contributed to this huge shot, some doing rotos, some doing some warping and cleanup. For the real compositing part we mainly worked in 3 people for about 3 full (really long) weeks, doing quite a lot of overtime. But the shot was so nice that we were really happy to work on it.

 

SERIES

Talking about tv series, we know that you’ve worked as a Compositor at Important Looking Pirates (ILP) for different episodes of the NBC series “Constantine”.

In the episode “A Feast of Friends” you had to deal with a multitude of insects. How did you manage to create the insects and swarms of insects?

The complex dynamic system was managed mainly with a particle rig in Maya, thanks to which the single insects were manipulated as “simple” particles, which, in a consecutive phase, were substituted by 3D models of the insects; we had also the full control of shape, speed, path and spatial distribution of the original particle system.
Once approved the blocking of the animated sequence, the particle system was replaced by the animation cycle in high resolution.
A different method was adopted for the close-up shots: in this case the insects were animated with a traditional keyframe technique, giving back to the animators the full management of the characters.

constantine (scarafaggi-mouth)

All these shots were renderised using light sources and standard materials of the rendering engine VRay and employing an efficient environmental acquisition system in HDR images inside the set. The maps generated in this way were then used inside VRay in order to create the correct lighting conditions.
Where needed, camera projections operations were implemented in order to properly manage the light bounces on the 3D insects and on the surrounding environment.

What type of work has been done for the creation of the demon Coblynau in the episode “The Darkness Beneath”?

The visual aspect of the demon Coblynau is a kind of mix of rocky and liquid elements.

constantine-ILP_wip_concepts

The integration of the virtual version of Coblynau in the shooting was possible only thanks to the multiple phases of “face and body replacement”, a technique that allows to add a 3D model to body parts of the real actor; it was often rebuilt the whole 3D model of the demon in order to completely substitute the actor and to have a vaster “digital” margin of action.
Thanks to Houdini’s powerful simulation tools it was then possible to manage the definition of the fluid-dynamic system that characterizes the demon.

 

COMMERCIALS

Let’s talk now about some of the commercials you’ve worked for.

In the “Go Ahead” commercial you’ve been involved in the compositing and tracking of a new pack for a snack. Why it was decided to recreate the snack digitally instead of using a real one?

In the first place the snack was real, but then there was the need to do the “localization”. That process means that for every country you use the brand, colors and texts in the relative language.

go-ahead!

For this reason it was replaced digitally to make as many versions as needed. In fact it was a hard work of tracking and masking, possible by 3D tracking inside Nuke and 2.5D tracking in Mocha.

Go Ahead!/The Most Important Snack of the Day

In the opening shot of the “Vision Express” commercial, how did you realize the transition between the real take of the face and the 3D model of the eye? How did you realize the effect of depth with the camera movement, making it continuous?

In this commercial I’ve worked mainly on the initial shot, which consisted in the camera movement from outside the scene to inside the eye. This shot was realised starting from a live action shooting then 3D models of the eye and the face were built with a complex camera projection system in Nuke, to create the virtual camera movement needed in the compositing stage.
To deal with the problem of the image resolution, the work has been conducted in 4K, replacing the projected image (transformed in texture in this case) with a detail of the iris of larger dimensions. In this way the camera could approach the eye and touch it (simulating an effect of gelatinous substance through a displacement guided by the shooting of a real element).
To convey more emphasis to the final result, a warping operation was realised on the iris, in order to build and highlight the characteristic micro-movements of the pupil. The brightness and the focalization develop dynamics for the totality of the commercial, in order to prepare and conduct the audience towards the deeper/darker atmosphere of the eye’s inside.

Vision-Express
Vision Express

For this commercial you chose to recreate the fluids physically and not digitally. Why?

As many VFX major films are demonstrating every day (“Mad Max”, “Fast and Furious”, etc), creating physically effects and enhancing them with the CGI it is very often the best choice: that makes the image more believable and less artificial.

 

We’d like to ask you now something in general about your experience in the VFX and compositing field.

How much is important the stage of filming and image composition in order to simplify the operation of those working in post production (for example the compositor)? Have you ever had some problems about this? If so, how did you solve them?

The filming part is the most important one to get a successful and beautiful result. It can happen often that something on set goes wrong for many variable reasons: climatic changes, weather, time, equipment etc.
A lot of times it happens that a shot is done in the morning and the following one in the afternoon, and that means a complete different lighting. This problem is solved normally trying to fake a bit more light in the opposite direction in comp and with some color adjustments.
Other time it can happen that the shutter angle is too close or too wide, delivering a noise image or a super motion blurred one. For this minor fixes it can be done, but it requires a lot of work to integrate the CG and making it less perfect.
Other usual issues are the green screens badly lit or with different colors or not covering all the space of the action. That is solved with long works of rotoscoping and key techniques.

Which projects you worked on make you particularly satisfied? Why? What job has motivated you the most?

A project that satisfied me a lot was the realization of the video for the introduction to the concerts of the famous Italian musician Jovanotti. For that project I worked with the directors from the beginning, helping and advising to write the script and to decide the shooting angles for the best realization of the vfx. With iMasterArt, a Turin’s school and a production company with which I collaborate from various years, we created the storyboard and we went to the shooting to manage green screens, tracking markers, etc.
There were also a couple of full CG shots.

jovanotti video1

I am very satisfied about this project because I followed it in every step, from the original idea, through the storyboard creation, during the shooting on the set and doing the post production and finalization of the project. I was involved in all this steps as VFX Supervisor, so it was an important role and a lot of decisions were depending on me. It meant a lot of stress, but also a lot of pleasure when you see the results of the work.
jovanotti video2
2184 – Film Intro “Lorenzo negli Stadi 2015”

Which is the most difficult project that you have faced until now? Why?

Probably the most difficult job was the realization of the introductive shot for the advertising “Vision Express”.
The main technical problem, after realizing a 3D model of the face and of the eye and the camera movement, was to blend between different footages to project on the 3D geo to never lose resolution. It was particularly challenging also because it was meant to be shown in movie theaters in the resolution of 4K, that a few years ago was really difficult to manage with any pc.

What are the main differences in the processing stages (or between working for) for a movie, a TV series, a commercial and live events (concerts)?

Film is very long process to build the image, it is normally more relaxing, but also it happens more often that directors or clients ask for dramatic changes after a huge amount of work has already been done. It can also happen that they decide to omit the shot in the final cut of the movie, after a whole team of people worked on it for months. But from the good point of view, the quality of each step is much higher.
I think a commercial is the most funny and stressfull think to do. It allows the artist more creativity compared to a movie and the quality is getting higher and higher. The good thing is that even if it is super stressfull, it has always a short deadline, so the suffering is limited in time.
Tv series and concerts are a way in between movies and advs, with fast paced environments, but more quality oriented style of work.

Do you find any difference between working in Italy and in other countries?

Working in Italy and other countries it is really different, but of course it depends a lot on the specific country. Normally in UK, Germany or northern states the work is better organized and less stressful, but it can always happen that a project is going wrong and at that time in any place you are, there is need to hurry!

Where do you work now and what are you working on?

I am working at Trixter Munich, doing the final stages of “Independence Day: Resurgence”. Unfortuntely I can’t reveal you anything about it.

In conclusion, what are the most useful learnings from your university studies? What is your advice to young students who want to approach your field?

From the university I learnt a lot. First of all the methodology of work, as well as the amount of effort that is needed to achieve objectives and to finalize projects or exams.
My biggest suggestion to everyone is to find something that passionate you and work as hard as possible, better if it is more than possible, so focus some years to really achieve some results and get doing the things you love. The more you make a big effort, the quicker you get the results.

 

We thank Alessio Bertotti for his time and availability.

 

Authors: Valentina Diaferio, Martina Gagino, Rosina Iacovino, Matteo Luison, Elisa Occhipinti.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s