If you take your craft seriously, the odds of having heard these words are quite high. Audiences associate good images with great cameras, and for the longest time this (almost) accusation has bothered photographers who felt their skills were downplayed. The interesting bit is that we’re walking towards making the “great cameras = great photos” equation true! And they fit in your pocket.
Speaking of great cameras, here’s an Arri Alexa with a cinema prime!
Before I started for real with photography and cinematography – more than ten years ago – I used to play with a Sony compact camera. Back then I believed that great photos could only be achieved with great cameras. Mine lacked everything I associated with great photos: shallow depth of field, wide dynamic range and beautiful color science (I did not know these terms back then).
When I got my first DSLR in 2008, a Canon Rebel XTi, I started to learn that a good camera indeed makes things better, but it won’t prevent you from taking plenty of crappy photos – as most of mine were. I’ve had this thing where I look at the total number of images shot on a given project and the number of images I process and export out of Lightroom. Back then, this used to be a 25:1 ratio. These days I’m at 3:1.
Over the last ten years I’ve improved my photography skills considerably while also improving my gear – from the XTi I went to a 7D, then to a 5D MkIII and lastly to a Sony A7sII. Every time I switched cameras I remember being blown away by the new capabilities and improvements on the image – color reproduction, full frame sensor and low light sensitivity. Each one of my cameras was stronger than the ones preceding it. That was never enough guarantee some photos wouldn’t turn out bad anyway – out of focus, poorly lit, too contrasty, too shallow depth of field, too much depth of field, and so on.
During this trajectory I took more than a few photos I’m proud of, and many times I heard the bothersome “Woah! This is such a great photo! Your camera must be amazing!”, as well as its reverse when people saw me working: “With a camera like that I bet all your photos turn out flawless”. Many of these people were close enough friends that I was able to explain the camera is just a tool and without someone behind it to push the right buttons the quality of the photos is not guaranteed.
During my learning process I also watched the rise of smartphones. I used to write a column for a photography magazine back in Brazil (2012-13) and I saw several big photographers arguing about the validity of an image taken with a phone by an untrained photographer. This was a particularly hot topic in the journalism community. Regular folks (non-photographers) would be closer to a story when it broke, snapping photos on their phones and recording precious developments in real time – way before a photographer got to the scene.
The pros would get up in arms about the media outlets using low-quality, phone-shot images. “These are not good photos!” they’d say, “Then you should’ve been there faster”, magazines, newspapers and TV channels would reply. Phone cameras and lower entry-prices for digital cameras represented the democratization of photography, an extreme boom in popularity. Everyone was now a photographer – but not everyone was able to make a living out of it, sometimes not even the established photographers from before the boom.
Until recently it was easy to tell when a photo was taken using a phone or an actual camera. In its latest iterations though, through the use of dual-lenses and/or machine learning and automated processes, smartphones experienced an unparalleled upgrade in the images coming out of their cameras. This is where optical photography lines start to blur as we introduce the powers of computational photography.
Wikipedia has the perfect definition: “Computational photography … refers to digital image capture and processing techniques that use digital computation instead of optical processes. Computational photography can improve the capabilities of a camera, or introduce features that were not possible at all with film based photography, or reduce the cost or size of camera elements”. Smartphones are taking advantage of their strong processors to bring in serious upgrades over their optically limited cameras.
The latest iPhones (7 Plus, 8 Plus, X) use two lenses – a wide-angle and a telephoto – in order to create a depth map of the scene in front of its lenses. With said map it’s easy to realistically simulate out-of-focus areas like a full-sized camera would. The difference is the depth map gives you freedom to manipulate that data in ways your camera wouldn’t. You can change the lighting of the scene to some extent, you can create impossibly shallow – yet accurate – depth of field, as well as you can change your focus point after pressing the shutter. None of this is particularly new = the Lytro camera kicked around with a similar concept ages ago – but it has never been so accessible and easy to play with. Apps like Focos and Anamorphic allow cost under $5 and allow you to fiddle the results of your dual-camera shots.
Hover over the image to see the difference between the original photo and the one using the depth map in the Focos app
Apple’s approach can be seen as conservative when compared to the solutions implemented in Google’s Pixel 2, which relies in a single lens camera and the full force of its artificial intelligence. The Pixel 2 stacks and aligns up to nine photos taken on a burst in order to achieve maximum dynamic range as well as to create its own depth map based on the camera movement and the parallax in the scene. Not only that, its AI has been taught what a person looks like and as soon as they find something that fits the bill, they’ll make sure that part of the shot is in focus. This leads to amazing photos coming out of a fairly inexpensive, light and multi-functional device when compared to a full-size camera. Plus, the photographer doesn’t need to make any decisions. Photos taken by my 7-year old niece and taken by me can look just as good with the press of a single button.
This makes now a time when someone can say “Great photos! You must have a great camera!” attributing the quality of the images solely to the equipment used and not be wrong! At the same time computational photography levels the playing field of day-to-day photography, it makes other skills stand out – for example framing and lighting are things machines are not good at just yet, among other subtleties we pick up while honing our craft. It goes to say if you’re only able to take good photos because you have a good camera, things are about to get tough! Just to paint a clearer picture, all the photos in this post were taken with an iPhone 8 Plus and a Google Pixel 2.
This is an endeavor I’ve been working on and off for the last two years and now I can see the finish line.
It all started when I stumbled upon a post on Craigslist from a guy selling his Contax Zeiss set. It had five lenses: 28/2.8, 35/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.4 and 135/2.8. The price was pretty good and I’m the type of person that can buy something just because the price is good. Speaking of good prices, many links in this post will take you directly to eBay searches of each specific lens!
So far, I had no previous love for Contax and a little bit of prejudice against Zeiss for making lenses too clean. As a reference, my main set of lenses at this time was a Soviet kit that I put together because of their imperfections and organic look. Also because Soviet glass was super cheap.
Original Contax Zeiss set on the left, Soviet set on the right. Easy to see which one I loved the most back in 2015
After I got the five Contax I went to look for more info and found Nick Morrison’s Contax Zeiss Survival Guide at REDUser. That’s where my obsession started. These lenses thread the fine line between organic and sharp, a line as thin as depth of field on an 85/1.2 wide open, only second to Leica. The main difference being that a normal human can afford Contax Zeiss but not Leicas.
If you wanna follow this path, there’s no way to dodge reading the Survival Guide. It’s been there for quite a while and I have checked up on it countless times to help me make decisions. Here are some things I got from it:
Contax Zeiss lenses were designed for 35mm full frame, which means they’ll cover all the way up to Vistavision sensors on modern cameras and anything smaller. As they were designed for photography, they have clicked stops, which has to be dealt with, but they all feature non-rotating front elements, which is a very valuable feature these days with vari NDs.
The lenses were made in two generations. The first one is AE and the second one is MM. It’s agreed that MM lenses perform better and have cleaner results than AE lenses, they’re also less prone to flaring. AE lenses also show ninja-star bokeh when stopped down, which is a major turnoff for some folks. You can tell them apart because MM have their last aperture number painted green, and they have a small tab on the mount that doesn’t exist on AE’s.
The tab and the last stop in green that mark MM lenses
One last note on their generations, MM’s were mostly made in Japan, so they’re called MMJ’s, while AE’s were made in Germany and named AEG’s. But Zeiss was so precious about these lenses that some of them were only made in Japan and others in Germany. This means that not all MM lenses are made in Japan. There are MMG lenses out there – I was weary of that for quite a while, since it’s not mentioned clearly anywhere. You can also tell their place of manufacture based on what’s written on the lens! On my set some were MMJ, others AEG. It was not a problem as a starter set.
Back to the story. I started using these lenses casually. It was a time when I didn’t shoot much, but I went on long bike rides. I always took the 135 with me and some of my favorite photos come from that time.
Canon 5D3 + Contax Zeiss 135mm f/2.8
Slowly I fell in love with them. Whenever I started thinking the Soviet lenses were sharp, I’d pop one of the Contax on the camera and stare in awe.
Momentum picked up and I saw myself getting ready to DP a webseries pilot. The Soviets were good enough for my own projects, but I needed something more reliable on this one. So far I had been using adapters on them, and they sucked. That’s when I learned of Leitax and their mount replacements.
Leitax mount on the left, original Contax/Yashica mount on the right
They are made in Spain, cost about 60 euros each and you install them on the back of the lenses using the provided screws. This turns the original C/Y mount into a solid EF mount that won’t budge for nothing.
I’m a fan of DIY, so I decided to install the mounts by myself. That was probably one of the most stressful experiences of my life with lenses. The screws on the back of the lenses are tiny, and if you strip them, you can’t get the new mount into place. Luckily for me, out of the five lenses I only messed up really bad on one (the 85mm, which was also the first one I tried). So I kept using an adapter on that one (the best adapter I had).
Horribly stripped screw on the 85/1.4
Still on the DIY train, a friend and I had just bought a 3d-printer, so I started making my own focus gears. I didn’t think too much about them when designing, they just needed to fit around the ring, and our printer was painfully slow (M3D, I’m looking at you). The process turned out alright and the gears worked great, but later on I learned some useful tricks.
When designing your focus gears, keep the number of teeth constant for all the lenses. This will ensure a constant outside diameter, which means you don’t have to adjust your follow focus every time you change lenses.
To fit the barrel of the lens, use a caliper and be precise about it. I like to add 0.3mm to the measurement to give me a little wiggle room after printing. In my experience, the gears never fit on the first try. So I sand the inside down a bit and try again. Another trick is to heat them up with a blow dryer or even your house heater. They dilate quite a bit and fit much more easily.
Plus, fitting these is never a “one-slip move”. You have to keep wiggling them slowly, side by side, until they are in place. The rubber grip on the focus ring of the lenses is awesome because it prevents the gears from sliding, but it’s also a pain because it makes the fitting a lot harder. Be patient, use heat and sandpaper, and you’ll get there.
Last point on the focus gears: the same way you always want to have a constant outside diameter, you want to place them on the lenses at the same distance from the mount. See the photo below! This is another trick to make lens swaps faster, since you won’t need to adjust your follow focus back and forth on the rig. You know, like a cine lens!
The last thing I did was add step rings to normalize all their fronts at 58mm, to make my life easier when swapping ND’s and other filters – or anamorphic adapters in my case.
For a little over a year, this was enough. But then work started picking up and I saw that as the perfect opportunity to upgrade. I returned to the guide and started eBay hunting. I went for the fastest lenses and snuffed out the AEG’s I had, in favor of the prettier bokeh of the MMJ’s. Lucky for me my 50 and 85/1.4 were already MMJ.
I started with the 28mm. The f/2.8 never really impressed me, even though it’s regarded as one of the best budget 28mm out there. Every time I had to pick a lens I went for the 35mm f/2.8 instead. After I read stellar reviews about the 28mm f/2.0 “Hollywood”, I went looking for one. These are way more common in AE, but I was lucky enough to find a MM coming straight from Japan. This was a game changer. The Hollywood is indeed a star and the image that comes out of it is much more appealing than the 28/2.8. It’s also a big change in size and weight, almost doubling its predecessor.
28mm comparison: 28/2.8 on the left, 28/2.0 “Hollywood” on the right
Next up was the 35mm, two stops faster at f/1.4. Standard lens, can’t really make a set without a 35mm in it, right? I’m gonna stop saying these lenses are sharp, because at this point it’s just standard! Impressive performance and also the fastest 35mm I ever owned. Also almost twice as big and heavy as the previous one.
The 135mm f/2.8 was a great lens. It’s the one I always took with me and it gave me gorgeous shots. There’s a lot of discussion whether the 135mm f/2.0 has a clear advantage over the f/2.8, especially when you take into account the price difference. I needed the one extra stop of light though, for consistent f/2 or faster through the main set. My favorite lens switched to the 85/1.4 after that, though. Not saying the 135/2 isn’t worth it the investment, it’s just much heavier and harder to carry as a walk-around lens.
I then redesigned and printed new focus gears for these and ordered more Leitax mounts and that was good for another five months. It’s a gradual process, guys.
Then, near the end of last year I decided to round out the set and make it suitable for renting. That meant getting a few more lenses and upgrading various aspects I had neglected so far.
The 21/2.8 was a must. It’s regarded as one of the best 21mm ever made, and to this day they still use the same formula for the 21mm f/2.8 ZF/ZE primes. This one was only made in Japan and it doesn’t exist in AE, just MM. It was the most expensive lens in the set and it shares a lot of the beautiful look of the 28/2 “Hollywood”.
Next came the 60mm f/2.8 Macro. I almost went for the wrong one with my MM obsession, but I was warned by my followers on Instagram about the edge the AE had over the MM. The 60/2.8 AE can do 1:1 magnification, while the MM can only reach 1:2. The downside of such magnification is that the focus ring travels a lot, pretty much doubling the physical length of the lens. For that reason I had to make a super tall focus gear that would not slip off when travelling from infinity to minimum focus.
Contax Zeiss 60mm f/2.8 Macro AEG: Infinity focus on the left, minimum focus on the right
I know I stopped mentioning how sharp these lenses are, but the 60mm is worth highlighting. Yes, it’s one step slower than the its siblings, but it definitely crushes them with razor sharp focus and a beautiful transition into bokeh.
The last decision I had to make was between the 18mm f/4 and the 15mm f/3.5. I took this question to Instagram again and got really good arguments for both sides. The 18mm is almost one fourth of the price and half the weight of the 15mm, plus it fits along with the other MMJ’s in the set. At this point the price argument was adding a lot of weight. These babies were bleeding me dry.
The 15/3.5 took the cake though. 18mm is way too close to 21mm, plus lots of reviews mention its not-impressive performance. The 15mm is a gorgeous rectilinear super wide angle, it shares the same optical formula as the Leica Super-Elmar 15mm f/3.5, with different coatings. It’s also quite similar to the modern 15/2.8 ZF/ZE offered by Zeiss, just a 2/3 stops slower. It also has built-in color filters which I freaked out when I realized how to turn them. I still don’t know when to use them, though!
This wraps the first step in building a set of lenses: getting the glass. Now I’m gonna move into streamlining it for shooting and making it the best possible lenses to handle on set.
I already talked about the mount replacements and focus gears, so I’m left with standard fronts and de-clicking.
Conveniently – for me – as I was finishing the set, SIMMOD Lens came into the picture, with very competitive prices, impressive customer service and super high-quality products. I got all my standard 80mm fronts from him, as well as slip-on lens caps. For a while I didn’t understand the need for 80mm fronts, so I’ll share what I learned so others won’t live too long unknowing like me!
80mm diameter Cine rings by SIMMOD Lens and 77mm filter threads
80mm is the outside diameter of the rings, and that number is so specific because it’s a standard size for clip-on matteboxes. Since the filter threads across the set are wildly different (from 55 to 72mm), standardizing the filter threads to 77mm allows you to own one single set of filters which can quickly switch lenses without the need for tons of step rings. So all you do is get a Cine Ring with the rear thread of your lens and that’s gonna make it standard!
It looked neat, but from my experiences as 2nd Assistant Camera, I was constantly being asked how fast so-and-so lens was, or what’s its minimum focus. That information was usually written in the lens case, and the focal length was on a sticker attached to the lens cap. I was not impressed, so I decided to make my own.
My custom made front caps with focal length, f-stop and minimum focus distance
First I measured the slip-on caps I got from SIMMOD and created a Photoshop template with that size. I plugged in the focal length in white so they’re easy to read in dark sets. I also added the f-stop for each lens and its minimum focus in meters and feet. Then I sent that to be printed at StickerYou in vinyl stickers. Each page with eight stickers costed me about $10. You have to admit they look sexy.
The issue that came up from was the stickers were having a hard time sticking to the material of the lens caps and were peeling off on their own. To fix that I took the stickers off, added a thin layer of glue, put the stickers back in place and let it all dry overnight.
I repeated the technique for the rear caps, this time with only the focal length written on them. These I ordered from MOO, because they offered me more variety at a much lower price.
Focal length marked on the rear caps as well
For declicking, I read a lot of posts from people saying it’s a super easy process on Contax Zeiss lenses, but I didn’t have the guts for it. I shipped all of them to SIMMOD for declicking and a quick checkup. Ron also offers the full mod service for great prices, including focus gears and lens mounts. I was just ahead of the game, so it wasn’t necessary on my case. You can use the code CINE at check out for a nifty discount!
After aperture was made smooth and clickless I still had my 3d printer hanging around, so I printed aperture gears as well. I haven’t tested these much yet, and I ended up not doing standard outside diameters. If I have a motor on the iris, it’ll have to be adjusted every time the lens is swapped.
Iris gear on the 35/1.4
This gave me a great set of lenses ready for action, all I missed was a way of getting them to said action. All I ever had so far was a Canon backpack and that is not a safe way to transport this grade of gear everywhere. I needed a proper case!
I reached out to David at Hardcases.ca and got both a Nanuk 918 with padded dividers and a Nanuk 904 with foam to fit these babies. On the 918 I keep the main six lenses of the set plus variable NDs and other filters. The two “specialty” lenses – the 15/3.5 super wide and 60/2.8 macro – go on the smaller 904 case. This makes life easier when grabbing gear to go out and renting it as well. If I know I’m not gonna need either the 15 and the 60, I just don’t take their case with me. Having them separate also gives me versatility on pricing, since the main set can still go out without them for a more accessible price.
The 6-lens set in a Nanuk 918 Case and the two specialty lenses
Building this set was a great experience throughout. I met amazing businesses with folks that really know how to deal with their customers, I did try out mindblowing glass and I was humbled by all the feedback I got when asking questions about what would be my best options in the middle of the process and posting updates of what I was working on.
Fluorescent paint to make markings easier to spot in the dark, by Moritz Schierenbeck
Contax Zeiss lenses are the gems for sharp yet vintage glass. They’re fully manual – focus and aperture -, have solid metal construction, long focus throw, and a great feel overall. They’re much cheaper than modern lenses, yet share similar designs and performance. They cover full frame, are super easy to adapt to many other mounts and never lose their value. You have a wide range of lenses to pick from and equally different price tags. You can either build a $1500 set or a $10000 set and you’ll always impress with the results.
They’re killer tools for video, but in order to achieve maximum performance, there’s a number of steps and procedures to tackle. This is a guide for people that love handling gear and tweaking little things here and there. If you want something ready to use from the get-go, I’d say this is not for you.
Lastly, just for curiosity’s sake, Carl Zeiss has a specific nomenclature for his lens designs – and you can see some of them written on the ID ring of these Contax Zeiss lenses. Distagon, Planar, Sonnar, Tessar, Biogon and Hologon. Here’s a very interesting article by Edward T. that summarizes tech papers published on these designs and their differences, pros and cons.
Tito Ferradans here to tell you that I’ve updated the anamorphic calculator (or the HFOV Calculator if you wanna be precise).
What is this calculator again? This is a webapp that allows you to input various settings from your camera setup in order to figure out if you’ll get vignetting when using an anamorphic adapter.
You can pick your focal length, camera crop, focal reducer, anamorphic adapter, single focus solution and sensor aspect ratio. These are all the values that I need to tell if you’ll experience vignetting.
This time I coded it all from scratch and the new version is much more like what I originally envisioned for it. It works more fluidly and it’s much easier to update. I did some fixes to the overall math and added many features.
I added a checkbox for pancake lenses, which are more tolerant with vignetting, added another checkbox for Baby Anamorphics and custom rules for their behavior. I also added single focus solutions which influence vignetting and – in some cases – can change your field of view according to the focused distance. Lastly, I included a field that allows you to check if you’re limiting your maximum aperture based on your anamorphic’s rear element size.
The calculator only has two functions. HFOV will tell you what’s the Resulting Field of View and Resulting Aspect Ratio based on your setup. I WANT A TAKING LENS will also take into account your setup but do the math in reverse, using the Resulting Field of View and Resulting Aspect Ratio to tell you which taking Lens will give you that result, and what sensor crop is required. Both buttons will always tell you if you’ll get vignetting or not.
In the last minute I added a second calculator for diopters. You can input your maximum focus and that will give you a diopter strength, or you can input a diopter strength, and that will work out the focus math. If you put your lens’ minimum focus value in, it’ll give you the new minimum focus as well. For expert diopter hunters, this will help you figuring out diopters that aren’t so clear from manufacturers (like the ones that give you what’s the new minimum focus of a given lens, instead of the optical power).
In terms of functionality, every time you input something wrong (mostly characters that aren’t numbers), that field will be red and you can’t do the math until all red fields have been fixed. I also included a donate button at the bottom, because getting the data to build this took me months, and coding it wasn’t easy task either. So, if the calculators are useful for you, you can show it by sending me a little something. Now go break it, and I’ll see you next week.
If you want to include this tool on your website, just copy the code below into your HTML!
To report a bug, miscalculation or send suggestions, please use the form below!
Ever since I reviewed the Isco 16:9 Video Attachment I, the only 1.33x anamorphic I was missing in the reviews was SLR Magic’s. Now that I have it here, I wrote a very simple and straightforward script then got a ton of help (and patience!) from my friends while shooting this side project mixing all the 1.33x attachments in unmarked shots to see if we can actually spot the difference between them. Thank you very much Nicko and Ariana, you are the best.
Shooting this was all kinds of crazy since I was constantly swapping taking lenses, anamorphics and diopters (every single shot!) and keeping track of which shot had which combination was a complex task but not more challenging than shooting it all in a single Saturday afternoon. It was a fun project and also my first time shooting with Rob’s Kinemini, so I took advantage of the S35 sensor + SpeedBooster to match full frame and shot it all in 4K Cinema DNGs without having to worry about crop factors and math (the resulting crop factor was 1.066x, which for me can be considered 1x).
Telling which shot used which lens, without looking at my notes ended up being much more difficult than I expected. A few of them are easy to spot thanks to more visible features – SLR Magic’s super blue flares, the Panasonic’s super wideness and poor edges, the Isco’s oval bokeh – but when these features are not so visible in the shot, it’s blind luck trying to tell which lens was used. Check the list below for full specs. How many did you get right and which ones are your favorite shots?
Before I end this video, I would like to point out the amazing score composed by my friend João Gabriel Rodrigues, he was my classmate back at Film School, and he did an outstanding job coming up with the music from the most bizarre set of notes I ever wrote about what I wanted for the mood in this project. If you’re looking for good music, he’s a freelancer and works super fast, so you should definitely get in touch!
O mundo acabou à meia noite de Sábado para domingo.
Ok, isso ficou um pouco sensacionalista. O “Mundo” não “acabou”. As leis da física que dizem respeito à eletricidade é que resolveram tirar férias. Nada mais produzia corrente. Nem turbinas, nem painéis solares, hélices, nem aquelas lanterninhas mecânicas que fazem um barulho desgraçado produziam qualquer ampére, volt, watt, nem um mísero joule.
Pilhas e baterias não perderam suas cargas num passe de mágica, mas era impossível recarregá-las. Geradores viraram pesos de papel exageradamente grandes. A única eletricidade que ainda existia eram os raios, mas ainda vamos chegar nesse ponto.
A gente sempre acha que tá preparado pras coisas, quando na verdade a gente tá “mais ou menos” preparado praquilo que podemos imaginar, prever. Te digo que não tve um cientista prevendo data de validade pras teorias dos titios Faraday, Tesla, Franklin e por aí vai. A “Fé na ciência”, haha, prevejo um grande aumento na religiosidade ao redor do mundo depois dessa pegadinha científica que praticamente sustentava a sociedade.
Aquela primeira frase foi tão exagerada que vale a pena colocar mais um aviso: esse não é um conto megalomaníaco. Não tem guerra, zumbis, aliens, nem esses clichês de fim de mundo – Mad Max, Eu Sou A Lenda, Guerra Mundial Z, Walking Dead, The Last Of Us – ou sociedades totalitárias – 1984, Admirável Mundo Novo, Equilibrium. Se você está ok com essas informações, vamos adiante.
Por motivos de exaustão e tédio, Pedro deitou para dormir às 20h30. Desde que chegara em sua cidade natal, três semanas atrás, não tinha conseguido acordar depois das 4 da manhã nem sequer uma vez. Suas olheiras eram profundas. “Melhor dormir cedo pra tentar descansar um pouco mais”. Ele sabia que iria acordar às quatro e estava determinado a continuar dormindo. Essa decisão lhe custou a primeira chance de entender o que estaria acontecendo.
Dito e feito, como máquina, seus olhos se abriram às 4h15. O quarto estava claro, iluminado pela tela do notebook. “Alguma coisa deve ter desativado o descansador de tela”. Ao fundo os apitos do nobreak da casa perdendo carga preenchia o silêncio. Levantou-se, foi até o computador e abaixou a tela. Aí é que percebeu como o mundo estava escuro lá fora, sem os postes para iluminar as ruas do condomínio. “Falta de luz de madrugada? Essa é nova…”
Depois de sucessivas tentativas fracassadas de desligar o nobreak para fazê-lo calar a boca, resolveu que fechar a porta do quarto teria que bastar. Voltou e deitou-se para continuar seu sono. Se tivesse aproveitado aqueles últimos minutos de bateria tanto do notebook como do nobreak, poderia ter descoberto na internet que não era uma mera falta de luz. Pela manhã ambos os aparelhos já estariam sem carga e sua chance escorregou por pouco. Bom, ele teria que descobrir as coisas no caminho. Que história chata seria, se o herói já soubesse tudo de partida, não é mesmo?
Not sure how this is gonna go, but let’s give it a shot.
Here at VFS, once we reach Term 4 we’re moved into the studio and each student has their own assigned slot and computer. If you’re reading this you’re probably a VFS student and know it all too well. Anyway, that’s also the moment that we get our Industry Mentors, people that are currently working on shows or features that come to the school, once a week, to give us advice and review our work.
As you might’ve gotten from all my previous posts about hard times and such, I lack social skills and I’m a little too much task-driven. For the VFX folks at 3D111 our mentor was a guy called Werner ten Hoeve. First class, he calls our names as we enter the door. Gotta admit, that makes you feel a little special, he’s not just trying to decipher the names on the fly, he actually took time to know all the faces and stick names to them. He shows us some of his work, explains how the classes are gonna go – “render your stuff to show me, I don’t wanna wait forever while you render and it’s your turn” – and rushes us back to the studio.
For Term 4 he got really close to some of us, chatted a lot, told stories about work, showed us unbelievable work, spent more time with some and less time with others. I was usually one of the fastest to get feedback, I never had much to chat about. I’m not too good at knowing which company worked on which movie, or who’s this or that compositor, so small talk didn’t go far. Eventually we got to talk about filmmaking in general, set experience and all the crazy stuff that happens in real world, and that got me into the conversation – mostly with Sean and Rityka. Then we started to talk about movies, and references – fucking Seth Rogen references, every class, man! – as I started to think that’s not the regular conversation students have with their mentors. At least that’s what I got from hearing the animators and modelers talking to their mentors. We joked. A lot. All the time.
That doesn’t mean Werner was a cool guy that would give an “ok, move to the next shot” easily. Hell no. He also wouldn’t spare hard comments when they were needed. He’s always been very direct about feedback and that got my respect right from the start. I’d rather have my work trashed than waste time working on something that isn’t going the right path. And we had that, several times, thank you very much. I had dealt with picky clients when freelancing back in Brazil, but never like this. The great difference this time was, whenever I worked on the fixes, the shot actually improved – sometimes drastically.
By the end of Term 4 I wasn’t too close yet. Term 5 was the moment when the magic happened for me. I mean, we could talk on facebook, what other mentor does that? I’ve always tried to avoid talking about work whenever we chatted, because facebook isn’t work, right? At some point I hit a wall with one of my tracks. I was three weeks in in Term 5 and still working on my first VFX shot (one which I thought would be simple) out of seven. The track just wouldn’t stick, no matter what. Then, one sunday I didn’t know what else to do to get the shot working and sent him a message out of desperation, shoving all the problems I was having onto his way. I can’t remember what he replied exactly, but based on that reply I changed my way of working. Not trying to get it all done at once. Small steps. Get one thing working, move on to the next, onto the next, and the next and so on until it was finished.
I got that shot done before Wednesday on that same week (we always had Werner’s classes on Wednesdays). Of course it wasn’t final yet, but the track worked and I learned that sometimes automatic stuff won’t help and you need to push through hundreds of keyframes, sometimes it’s easier – and you get to listen great music in the meanwhile. Later on I went back to that shot for some fixes he suggested that made it better (like the ship reveal on the sky).
After that one shot was done, I went berserk on the others, taking them out of the way as fast as I could, as good as it could. Once we had a first pass on everything – except the last shot, but that’s gonna be explained later – Term 5 was getting to its end. During the break I sent him another huge message, saying that I was feeling I could do more and sometimes would have nothing to work on while waiting for feedback. He replied that he was going to push us hard in Term 6. We took some extra time besides all the feedback and shots while he explained me how shotgun was supposed to be used, and we spent over a day setting my account more like a real world one – “do you see the Tasks area? well, put your tasks there. Upload shot versions, not just random things onto Media” and a lot more.
By that moment, I was willing to trust my life to this guy. Aaaaand then I got very fucked up and had to go back home in Brazil. It was week 4 and we just had our last official presentation before Graduation. All my shots were final but the last one. The last one had always been some kind of wishlist. A thing so elaborate that I actually thought I couldn’t pull it off. Thanks to being on that stage I was allowed to present my reel at my class’ graduation ceremony and come up on the stage with them. Werner was very supportive when I told him I had to go home. He came to school off his schedule so we could talk about what I was going through.
While I was home I had plenty of time to think. Process some of the crappy choices I made, think about what I wanted for my life, what I wanted regarding work, and that eventually led to another of those huge messages I sent him. This one was tricky because it wasn’t about anything specific, it was about work in general, all my insecurities and doubts, all my fears, everything I thought I couldn’t handle was there on display and, I have to say, he aced that conversation. By that time he was already a close friend.
I worked on some small stuff for my last shot while I was home, not much. I also spent some time on the WeatherCaster app, but in general I didn’t work hard. I would say “I played around in Nuke”. In the meantime he told me about his request to VFS that he could still be my mentor during this “Term 6 v02”, which meant I would be his only student. How incredible can this guy be? Seriously, not only I luck out to have him as my class mentor, I also get to be his only student for two full months.
When I got back we talked some more. More shit happened, but I was in a different state of mind. Really, I was VERY different when coming back to Vancouver this last time. After our first meeting at the studio, he insisted that we went out and ate something – you could remember I was a little slimmer – which was awesome and the healthy food surprised us by being tasty too.
Another thing I did differently now was I took my time with work. That meaning I went VERY, VERY slowly about things, simply because I had a faint idea of how to get them working but didn’t want to put it to the test and see it crash and burn, you know, like I said in this other post. I always ran my ideas through Werner, to see if I was going right about each shot and this time wasn’t different, even when I presented what I thought to be a series of crazy steps to get the shot working. He had this “I’m about to laugh” look while he agreed upon my strategy. You should remember he’s a funny dude. But he didn’t laugh, he said that “do it!”.
And then I went on, as brave as I could, tackling down tracking issues, growing the most confusing nuke tree in my entire reel, sorting out what should be comped first and what would come on top, slowly and always going back to Werner to be sure I wasn’t overcomplicating things (I do that a lot too). The last week rolled by and I was left with just a couple fixes on a shot I didn’t even think I was capable of doing. These were left for the end because… I had no idea of how to deal with them. Yesterday I was at the studio, in pain just with the thought of having to back into Maya to tweak renders and pray to the gods of mentalRay, and talking to Werner at the same time, saying I was about to go and adjust my geo to fix the issues I had left, when he mentored up and taught me some new tricks, which got things working without rerendering. Of course, he also pointed some larger issues which made me keep my computer running renders all night, but not the ones I was afraid of.
This morning, when I sit down at the studio I get a message from him “ready to finish this?”. Last adjustments were done and submitted around noon. By then I shot him a message and went home. I was taking the bike out for my daily seawall ride when I notice two missed calls from Werner and a message of “check Shotgun”. Hell, why check Shotgun if he just called me? So I call him back, expecting some smaller tweaks to be done, easily explained over the phone, but I’m wrong. He was calling to say the shot had been approved and I was officially done with the reel. SERIOUSLY, no one could ever ask for a better mentor than this. I couldn’t ask for a better friend, for I’ve learned from him so much more than what school was supposed to teach me, for I tried for whatever-many paragraphs explain what he means to me and I still couldn’t.
In short, if you skipped EVERYTHING ABOVE, I say that I wouldn’t have gotten where I am without my mentor and my reel wouldn’t be anything near what it is without his advice and support along the crazy ride these last 8 months were. Thank you, Werner ten Hoeve, you earned that first spot in my credits, my friend.
And it’s finished! Many many thanks to Felipe Sampaio (Cogo), Diego Orge and my parents for letting me block the garden/backyard for almost an entire week! Also, thanks to mr. Panayiotis Verropoulos for the hint on the rain. Read more about this project in the previous post!