Education

Nature of Code

I've often complained about the way that I was taught math.  When I was in school, I really couldn't understand the relevance of a lot of the formulas we were supposed to memorize.  I can clearly remember talking to my friends, wondering why we were being taught coordinate systems and logarithmic math.  Which makes it all the more ironic that I deal with these things almost every day when I'm comping.   

Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I really try to learn anything that can help me do my job faster.  Comp tips and tricks are great, but I have pretty substantial gaps in my basic understanding of math, which is kind of the basis of everything we do in Visual Effects.  

So it's great when you can stumble upon a resource that can fill in those knowledge gaps.  The guy who wrote The Nature of Code has put up a Vimeo channel full of math/graphics related lectures.  I really like these videos, he explains things pretty clearly, and a lot of the concepts are universal, no matter what application you're trying to learn.  So far I'm up to the part where he talks about Vector Math, which will be very helpful when I'm trying to wrap my head around VOPS in Houdini.

F*ck you, pay me...

-This is a great talk given by Mike Monteiro.  He is one of the co-founders of Mule Design, and this talk should be listened to by anyone who gets paid to do creative work. He has a book, called Design is a Job (which is fantastic, and goes into more detail than this talk).  You can listen to his podcast, 'Let's Make Mistakes' here.

-On a related note, this is a service that I'll be using in the future.  It's 'Contract Gurus', a web service that describes itself as 'An attorney will review, summarize and explain your contracts for a fraction of the cost of a traditional lawyer or law firm.'  Probably not as good as a lawyer, but much cheaper.  I have yet to use it, but once I do I'll be sure to let you know my experience with it.  God knows I've signed several contracts without thoroughly reading/understanding every line.

FX Townhall Meeting

-They recorded the FX Townhall Meeting and put it up on YouTube.

If you can't watch all 2.5 hours of it, FX Guide has a nice roundup of the events.

-Houdini 12.5 and Mari 2 were released yesterday.  You can see details here and here.

-I came across a fantastic math talk yesterday.  After watching it, I got mad (again) about the way math is taught in school.  Highly recommended:

Colour Correction

When I started compositing, colour correction seemed like a black art.  I would push and pull different controls until I would eventually get something that looked somewhat like what I wanted.  When I had spare time, I would open other artists’ scripts and I’d marvel at how they would colour correct a shot.  Every artists' technique was different - some would exclusively use curves.  Others would use levels/histograms, while others would use numeric inputs.  Looking at other artists' scripts would allow me to undertand their technique, but I was still clueless about their thought process - about why they did what they did. 

I fumbled around with colour correction over my first few years of compositing.  The first step towards understanding was reading Steve Wright and later, Ron Brinkmann’s compositing books.  They explained basic things like matching black and white levels and checking different colour channels. These details now seem obvious. However, at the time, gaining this understanding was like lifting a heavy vale from my eyes.

Understanding the different tools took time.  I had to learn that ‘gain’ really meant ‘multiply’, and ‘offset’ meant ‘add‘. I had to learn that there was a difference between these controls and between their impact on images. It took me some time to grasp that when you multiply images highlights are affected more than shadows.  Colour correction was one of those things that just took practice.  It was here that the ‘compositing is really visual math’ really started to click for me. 

Even now, whenever I submit a shot for review, I receive feedback about a necessary colour correction. There is definitely a certain level of subjectivity to colour correction: supervisors often have a different idea than I on how a shot should look.  However, I’m now usually much closer to the target than I used to be, and it only takes one or two iterations before everyone is satisfied.


These books contain great advice about how to approach colour correction.  Wright and Brinkmanns’ books are software independent, while Christiansen’s book is specific to After Effects.

Colour correction resources:

Steve Wright

After Effects Studio Techniques