Ctan 462 Visual Effects: Contemporary Approaches to Image Creation

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CTAN 462 Visual Effects: Contemporary Approaches to Image Creation

Summer 2011 – Monday and Wednesday nights, 7:00pm-10:00pm in RZC 117

Instructor : Darren Kiner; dkiner@usc.edu; www.bouncelight.com
Student Assistant: Arliss Gammill, agammill@usc.edu
Course Description:

This course will survey contemporary concepts and approaches to production in the current state of film and video effects work. Digital and traditional methodologies will be covered, with a concentration on digital exercises illustrating modern techniques.

The course is taught by Darren Kiner, a very experienced CGI Lighting Artist and Supervisor. Darren has worked both in visual effects and feature animation, on films like Aladdin, Iron Giant, Chicken Little, Charlie Wilson’s War, Black Swan and currently on Green Lantern.

None mandatory, but basic Maya literacy helpful. Familiarity with computers essential.

Course Length:

Six weeks, meeting twice per week, three hours each class meeting.

Required Book:

“Special Effects: The History and Technique” (2nd edition), Richard Rickitt, Billboard Books, 2007 ($47.50).

Optional Books:

“The Art of Maya”, by Autodesk, 4th Edition. ($30.85)

“The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” (2nd Edition), by Ron Brinkman ($52.46)

“Digital Compositing for Film and Video”, Steve Wright, 3rd Edition, 2010. ($35.85)


Further Reading:

“Digital Lighting and Rendering” by Jeremy Birn ($35.00)

“The Visual Story”, Bruce Block, Focal Press, 2001. ($25.00)

“Introducing Maya 6, 3D for Beginners”, Dariush Derakhshani ($26.00)

“Light- Science and Magic”, by Fil Hunter. ($32.00)

“The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting” by Craig Barron

“Visual Effects Cinematography”, Zoran Perisic, Focal Press, 2000. ($32.00)

“From Word To Image”, Marcie Begleiter, Michael Weise Productions, 2001. ($19.00)

“Digital Storytelling, the Narrative Power of VFX in Film”, Shilo McClean, MIT Press, 2007
Grading Breakdown:

Class Project: 60% (Required tasks to complete: Tracking, Roto, Modeling, Lighting, Texturing, Rendering, Particle Effects, Green Screen, and Compositing of UFO over downtown Los Angeles)

Final Exam 30%

Class Participation: 10%

*Additional Bonus Points Possible*

Computer Lab Time: 3 hrs/ Week.

Computer Programs Used:

Maya 2011, Mental Ray, Nuke 6.0, Boujou 4.0, Photoshop CS5,

Pre-Reading Assignment for classes 1 & 2:

Special Effects”; Chapter 1 (p.10-47).

The Art of Maya” (p.15-23) – Optional

The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” Chapters 1 & 2 (p. 1-51) - Optional

Very important: Bring a portable (min 100 GB)

hard drive with you to every class!

Week 1, class 1; (M, June 27th); History of Special Effects in Film

Last 100 Years

Melies, Griffith

Case Studies: Metropolis

Just Imagine

Things To Come

Ray Harryhausen

50's and 60's


Star Wars/ Lucas/ ILM

Blade Runner

Fifth Element Gladiator

The Phantom Menace

Present Day

Screening: "Reel Image/ Digital Filmmaking"
Week 1; class 2; (W, June 29th); Practical Methodologies Survey

Historic Effects Practices:

In-Camera Technique

Use of Mirrors and Projections

Use of Miniatures, Static and Action

Use of Stagecraft, Sets and Cameras

Matte Painting

Extractive Screens

Optical Printing Precedence


Motion Control

Pyrotechnics and Explosions

Creating Weather Effects

Screening: Excerpts from "Things To Come"
Reading Assignment for class 3:

Special Effects”, Chapter 2 (p.50-111).

The Art of Maya” (p.25-32) – Optional

The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” Chapter 3 (p. 53-91) - Optional

Week 2; (M, July 4th); No class for July 4th Holiday

Week 2, class 3; (W, July 6th); Modern Effects Facilities Survey

Modern Digital Workflow

Modern Effects Facility

Integration w/ The Film Process

EFX Facility Staff Structure

Chain of Command/ Roles

EFX Production Software

EFX Facility Components

Naming Conventions

Production Pipeline Diagrams

Color Space Basics

Lin/ Log


Gamma Pipeline

Effects Work Scheduling

Screening: "The Making of Visual Effects in Pearl Harbor"

Reading Assignment for classes 4 & 5:

Special Effects” Chapter 3 (p 114-167)

The Art of Maya”, (p.35-55) – Optional

The Art And Science of Digital Compositing” Chapter 4 (p.93-144) – Optional

Week 3, class 4; (M; July 11th); 2D Digital - Rotoscoping and Matchmoving

Class Project Introduced

Rotoscoping Matte Extraction

Review of Nuke 5.0

Hands On Sessions

EXERCISE: Roto Background Plate (Nuke 5.0)

Basic Principles of Matchmoving, Workflow

Survey Packages

Stage Issues

Lens Distortion Review

Review of Boujou 4.1

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Track Background Plate (Boujou 4.1)

Possible brief screening

Week 3, class 5; (W, July 13th); Introduction to 3D CGI and Modeling

Basic Principles of 3D CGI, Workflow

Survey of Packages

3D Modeling Basics

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Model UFO for Scene (Maya)

Modeling Efficiency

Use of 2D Cards

Poly vs Degree 1 Nurbs vs Degree 3 Nurbs

Proper Modeling Methodology

Character vs Hard Models

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Continue UFO Model (Maya)

Possible brief screening

Reading Assignment for classes 6 & 7:

Special Effects”, Chapter 4 (p. 170-240)

The Art of Maya” (p. 57-73) - Optional

The Art And Science of Digital Compositing” Chapter 5 (p.149-183) - Optional

Week 4, class 6; (M, July 18th); CGI Lighting Technique

Review of Classic Cinematic Lighting

Review of CG Methods

Exterior vs Interior Methods

Current vs Future Directions

Direct vs Global Methods

Simulating Radiosity

Simulating Optical Effects

Incandescence Mapping

Case Study: Fifth Element

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Light UFO (Maya)

Possible brief screening

Week 4, class 7; (W, July 20th); CGI Texturing/ Shading

Shading Models

Procedural vs 2d Mapping

Review of Rendering Applications

Photoshop Techniques

Shader Network Basics

Importance of Specular Mapping

TriPlanar Projections

Weathering Surfaces

Future Directions Texture Painting Review Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Paint and Apply Texture Maps for UFO (Photoshop, Maya)

Possible brief screening

Reading Assignment for class 8 & 9:

“Special Effects”, Chapter 5, (p. 244-265)

“The Art of Maya” (p.75-97) - Optional

The Art And Science of Digital Compositing” Chapter 6 (p.189-231) - Optional

Week 5; class 8; (M, July 25th); CGI Animation and Camerawork

Review of Methods

Character vs Effects Animation

Keyframe vs Procedural Techniques

Dynamic Simulations

Particle Effects

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Animate UFOs, Dust Effect in Scene (Maya)

Visual Composition

Vanishing Points

Perspective Correction

Natural Movement

Proper Camera Setup

Motion Control Rigs

Camera Projection

Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Render Scene Frames (Maya)

Possible brief screening

Week 5, class 9; (W, July 27th); Introduction to 2D Compositing

Survey of Operations

Pulling Mattes

2D Tracking Formats

Color Space

Image Manipulation

Handling Disparate

Elements Hands On Session

EXERCISE: Composite UFO into Scene (Shake)

Possible brief screening

No reading assignment for next week.

Spend your time working on your final project!

Week 6, class 10; (M, August 1st); Intermediate 2D Compositing

Nodal Trees

Scripting for Command Line

Using Alpha for Shadowing

Using Particles for Heat Signature

EXERCISE: Composite UFO into Scene (Shake)

Possible brief screening

Week 6, class 11; (W, August 3rd): PROJECT WRAPUP/ LAST CLASS

Final Projects Due!!

Take final exam

View Final Projects

Lecture on Careers

Possible brief screening



Attendance at all classes is mandatory, and punctuality is expected. If a student misses a class, they must provide a valid excuse, and they must meet with the instructor to discuss a make-up assignment.


Missing an Exam, Incompletes:

The only acceptable excuses for missing an exam or taking an incomplete in the course are personal illnesses or a family emergency. Incompletes may only be given after the 12th week of the semester. Students must inform the professor before the exam and present verifiable evidence in order for a make-up to be scheduled. Students who take incompletes must also present documentation of the problem to the instructor before final grades are due.


Academic Integrity:

The School of Cinematic Arts expects the highest standards of academic excellence and ethical performance from USC students. It is particularly important that you are aware of and avoid plagiarism, cheating on exams, submitting a paper to more than one instructor, or submitting a paper authored by anyone other than yourself.

Violations of this policy will result in a failing grade and be reported to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs. If you have any doubts or questions about these policies, consult “SCAMPUS” and/or confer with the Professor or Department Chair. The Student Conduct Code can be found in Section 11.00. Recommended sanctions are located in Appendix A: http://www.usc.edu/dept/publications/SCAMPUS.gov


Students with Disabilities:

Any student requesting academic accommodations based on a disability is required to register with Disability Services and Programs (DSP) each semester. A letter of verification for approved accommodations can be obtained from DSP. Please be sure that the letter is delivered to the Professor as early in the semester as possible. DSP is located in STU 301 and is open 8:30am – 5:00pm, Monday through Friday. The phone number for DSP is (213) 740-0776.

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