At Whistling Woods International's weekly Master Class, students go beyond the classroom and the technical sessions and learn from the real world from the Masters themselves. This week's session featured the VFX wizard Samir Hoon, who after over 17 years of experience working in Hollywood's biggest productions, including Mission Impossible, Twister, Star Wars (Episodes I, II, & III), Terminator 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 etc, made at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), is now heading the VFX division of Prana Studios, with the goal of bringing cutting-edge visual effects and expertise to the Indian film industry.
After a show-reel of some of his phenomenal work at ILM, and of ongoing work at Prana, which included a lot of "live action" as reference footage, Samir went on to a detailed discussion on various aspects of his work. Aware of the "cross-discipline" nature of the student audience-besides, the students of Animation, others were from Screenwriting, Direction, Producing, Cinematography, Editing, Sound, etc.- Samir tried to keep the structure of the session, both open and meaningful. While noting that there has been an exponential growth of visual effects (VFX) in films as is evident from the sheer number of shots used: 52 CGI shots in Juraassic Park (1993), as compared to Star Wars III : The Revenge of the Sith (2005) featuring 2400 CGI shots, Samir emphasised the fact that "VFX can be a powerful tool for storytelling in films, adding narrative power as do sound, colour, and experimental camera angles and other innovative film technologies, but VFX cannot be seen as becoming the story." Samir dwelt upon his own close client interaction with directors, producers and editors, spanning the entire pre-production and post production process, and supervising artists and technical directors in lighting , rendering, compositing, animation to create visual effects using a variety of software. For VFX to succeed, he emphasized the crucial importance of "Pre-visualisation, as early as at the scripting stage, with the VFX team involved in the flow of the film, and its look, with the director, cinematographer, the set-designer and even specialists in make-up." Samir pointed out that, even where VFX is used extensively, not all of the film is completely computer generated. "They use the best of both worlds, the biggest challenge being to achieve a seamless look and convince the audience." Noting that the students at WWI are coming into the industry, "past the digital realm", Samir had an informative Q & A session on technical aspects, including a discussion on some of the HD cameras in use, the Sony F35, Red and VistaVision etc. His advice to students on Animation was to focus on acquiring skills in Rendering and Rigging. He advised them on the show-reels they should prepare: "The name of the game is quality. Be realistic, focus on your strengths. Simplicity is important. What you do should be executed well. Make your characters come alive so that they connect."
WWI and Prana are committed towards providing training to WWI students through working professionals in the fields of VFX and Animation.
The session brought back to Samir, "memories of being a student and eager to interact with industry". On WWI, he said, "Very impressive school, would love to come back."