Tech your time: Jonas Drehn
As part of November's tech focus, we're chatting to production experts about how technology has impacted their workflow in the past few years. Here, Jonas Drehn, VFX Supervisor and MD at Bacon X, talks us through how smaller post-houses can now keep up with the big boys, and how machine learning and virtual production could change everything.
What technical innovation, from the past five years, has changed the way you work? How has it helped?
Over the last five years the tech that was previously only available for larger companies with a lot of R&D resources has become something smaller studios like us have access to. This means that what a company can offer in terms of custom build tools is now less important, as the focus has shifted to what level of creativity and craftsmanship you can offer and what you can deliver with off the shelf software.
One tool that has made this possible is Houdini, which is a procedural CG platform that can do everything from rig, muscle and fur to realistic looking simulations. What can be done in Houdini is mind-blowing and something we use to push the boundaries of our jobs.
Also, some of the texture and sculpting tools available today are worth mentioning, as they help us create realistic and fully integrated CG elements.
The quality of the end-product [for feature film Valhalla] was on par with international blockbuster movies, something we could not have done five years ago.
We just delivered the feature film Valhalla with 400 VFX shots and a lot of CG work, all done in eight months by a very small but highly talented team.
The quality of the end-product was on par with international blockbuster movies, something we could not have done five years ago.
Do you find that people entering VFX nowadays are more tech-savvy?
I would say that the approach nowadays is different.
In the old days, a lot of young people going into VFX wanted to show that they mastered all the software and tech available, which was not necessarily a good thing as they in most cases would not be good at any of it.
Many of our competitors have spent time diving into VR and AR, but for us that is more tech than filmmaking and visual storytelling, our core focus areas.
Today it’s more common to see people who are really good at one or two specific tools/tasks – we see some pretty impressive things from some of these young talents.
Is there any tech you resist, as part of your job?
At BaconX we use tech for creativity and not just because we want to follow a trend. Many of our competitors have spent time diving into VR and AR, but for us that is more tech than filmmaking and visual storytelling, our core focus areas.
That said, we like to use tech and use the newest tools around - a good example is a project we are currently working on with Martin De Thurah where we play around with all kinds of tech and new ways of creating some crazy looking stuff. We do it to find a new visual language, not to be tech show-offs.
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What’s the aspect of your job that you feel could never be overshadowed or replaced by tech?
Good question, on the technical side I guess a big part of my job could be replaced ;-)
However, my job is also to understand a director, an agency and a client's vision for a project, assuming the role of both a creative partner and the person who finds the best solutions and methods to get the results we are after. And accomplishing that requires experience, creativity and taste, which is not the easiest thing for tech to replace.
What problem would you love to see solved by tech?
Within our field, I think that machine learning and virtual production will make our workflow easier. Today, it is mostly technical issues AI can help with, but I would love to see tools that help more on the creative side. VFX is a somewhat slow and labor intense process.
If we can do more and with faster iterations with using tech and AI, we could get closer to how a film set works, where you see the more result instant and can explore the mood, tone and performance and work more based on your intuition. I’ve seen neural-driven animation that works quite well. When we can use that to assist animation, it will be interesting.
Our industry is a great and attractive playground and platform for tech talents to develop and from there they can do all kind of things, even help some of the issues the world is facing.
I don’t think it would put artists in risk of losing their jobs, it will just be easier to get to the result and we will choose to do more in CG.
There is a lot of tech innovation in the film and VFX industry and I actually know some really clever people who started in our industry and moved over to something more scientific.
I see a big potential here; our industry is a great and attractive playground and platform for tech talents to develop and from there they can do all kind of things, even help some of the issues the world is facing.
Outside of work, what piece of tech couldn’t you live without?
My life outside work is pretty analog. I shoot all my pictures on film with a camera that works without a battery, my TV is from 2012 but has better speakers than most TVs you buy today.
But I do like that I don’t have to drive to Blockbuster anymore when I want to watch a movie, so I guess my Apple TV must be the winner here.