Since its inception in 2014, Cinesite’s Feature Animation division has been working with filmmakers to deliver compelling stories that are created with increasingly complex, and progressively higher quality animation. Our feature animation departments work collaboratively together to breathe life into the characters and places these stories rely on.

In this series, we explore each department through conversations with our crew and dive into the role they play within the production pipeline.

In this edition: FX with Nik Slotiuk, FX Supervisor at Cinesite Vancouver

What is FX within the context of feature animation?

There are many departments in Feature Animation, but the one which deals with explosions, water, destruction, magical effects, and others is the FX Department. Our job is to make sure that all the cool stuff that the director and client can dream up can be executed to fulfil their vision while remaining on budget and within our production schedule.

What are some methodologies in FX?

In FX, we use a program called Houdini. This is our primary tool for dealing with simulations and effects creation. A common workflow for FX is to set up our emitters, which we use to add things to a simulation, then simulate these emission sources using solvers built within Houdini, and finally review the results and send that data to render.

What role does the FX department have within the overall production pipeline? Where does it come in relation to everything else?

FX is parallel-upstream to Lighting in the pipeline and comes right before Compositing. We are a unique department in that we create data as well as manipulate data. We usually work in parallel with CFX (and sometimes need to use CFX), and our outputs feed Lighting. In FX, we also routinely render our own work, and sometimes this goes directly to Comp. We get our inputs from Layout and Animation (sometimes CFX), and our outputs feed Lighting and Comp.   

What is the objective of FX?

Our objective is to produce a variety of physically and magically based effects to meet the creative brief of the client and our Supervisors while maintaining budget and time constraints for production.

How is FX for a feature different from a series?

In general, when working on FX for a feature as opposed to a series, there is not too much difference apart from the time we get to create and produce our FX. The overall quality needs to be on par no matter which you are doing. For Feature Animation, we tend to get a bit more time earlier in the process, which we call “dev time,” which is used to develop our FX work.

What skills are required to be successful in FX?

Being a good problem solver is essential to being a successful FX artist. This, mixed with time management. It is very easy to spiral into a rabbit hole in FX if you are not mindful of your time. The best way to problem solve is to identify the issue, try a couple of methods to fix the issue and quickly move on if things aren’t working. A huge part of being a great FX artist is the ability to be humble and without an ego; there is never any shame in asking for help. In fact, this is a powerful tool at your disposal to help with being a great problem solver as insight from more Senior artists will help you in your own problem-solving process.

What is the best thing about being in the FX department?

This answer varies among artists. For myself, I get a rush when things are working cleanly and efficiently. If I can use my problem-solving and technical skills to make a beautiful piece of FX work with minimal farm or disk impact, it’s a solid win!

Another great thing about FX work is the artistic freedom granted. There are a great number of times we’ve received a brief that says, “make it look cool.” Developing your own system to take an effect from conception through to “cool” is very rewarding.

What is the best part of being in the FX department at Cinesite Feature Animation?

Cinesite Feature Animation gives a lot of artistic freedom to its FX artists. Every day we are challenged and rewarded with producing high quality work from a very talented crew. Another great part of working at Cinesite is the crew! It’s very constructive here; we build each other up with the understanding that every idea is a good idea. We live our daily lives with the passion and drive afforded us by Cinesite and our clients. This culture enables us to do the best FX work possible while maintaining an inclusive, constructive atmosphere bursting with creative talent.