"No other software can create natural environments in full 3D as quickly and fluidly as VUE does! It's a very versatile and impressive piece of software. It would be totally insane to even try doing what VUE does in any other tool such as 3ds Max or Maya!"
Please meet Jean-Denis Coindre, Matte Painter currently working for Universal Pictures - Illumination Mac Guff.
E-on: Tell us a little about yourself?
JD Coindre: I have studied 2D and 3D in various design schools, including Supinfocom, one of the French's top graphic schools. While there I studied 2D and 3D techniques for Advertising and Movie Special Effects.
During my last year at Supinfocom, we were tasked to produce a short film in teams of 3-4 students. My colleagues and I immediately decided that I would be taking care of all the environment work. Once finished, our short was shown to professionals in the industry (advertising companies, big studios etc), and I got lucky as my environments drew a lot of interest. Duran Duboi then approached me and offered to work as a matte painter on their upcoming production: "Asterix at the Olympic Games". So I started my career as a professional Artist with Duran Duboi back in 2007.
You've been working in visual effects for the past 7 years. Can you fill us in on some of the highlights of your career, some of the different areas of the industry you have worked in, and some of the studios you’ve worked for?
JD: I'm passionate about what I do so admittedly, I never got bored! Each project I've worked on has had its own special qualities. Though, a few of these shine above the rest for their specific universe or artistic direction.
One of the first short projects (between advertising and professional short films) that comes to my mind happened in 2008 for the ParisFX trade show. I really got a kick working for the Cube-Creative studio. The whole project's Universe was based on interesting environments. The crew was awesome, and we really enjoyed working on this project.
Jean Denis' artwork for ParisFX
In regards to full feature length films, my first animated movie at Mac Guff and Universal was really rewarding. It was the first time I worked on a full CG feature film, produced by "Americans". That movie was "Despicable Me". The whole universe had to be really stylized, colourful, and the movie had to target a family audience.
I had to keep track with the compositors, lighters, 3D environments supervisors, CG supervisors, Artistic Directors and the 2 Directors. Working with people that don't share your speciality makes you grow in your own proficiency. Everyone has their own vision, but we were all going in the same direction. That was really rewarding.
Then there was "The Lorax", another feature-length animation produced by Illumination Mac Guff and Universal. The movie is based on an American tale. Our work had to be even more stylized and colourful than what we did for "Despicable Me". This forced me to up my painting skills in Photoshop, as well as do a lot of research on working with brushes.
I then was contacted by MPC in Vancouver, where they offered me to work on their upcoming blockbuster "Sherlock Holmes 2 : A game of shadows". I learned a lot on a technical aspect while at MPC. I hadn't used Nuke nor Maya until then and found out both proved to be really complementary to VUE.
I finally came back to Mac Guff / Universal for personal reasons (I became a father!), and this is where I stand for now!
Check out MPC's shots breakdown on Sherlock Holmes 2
Over the past decade, what struck you most in terms of the evolution of VFX, i.e. hardware, software, various techniques, or even political aspects?
JD: For me there are 2 key points to answer this question. What is tied to our own trade in studios, and what relates to the politic aspects and intricacies between the major production houses, the Studios and the Artists.
The VFX industry is endlessly evolving. Computers become more and more powerful and software can do more and more. Our pipeline is therefore in constantly evolving with time. The use of full 3D is becoming more and more common. Even in matte-painting, which used to be artistic 2D-only, has drastically changed. We have to always stay on top of new processes, new software, and up our skills in many areas. Try new workflows, and learn from what others are doing in other studios.
My time at MPC taught me a lot. As I said, I was mostly using Photoshop and VUE, and did not use Maya or Nuke at all, and I had to understand their production pipeline from the ground up. In the end, everything is at your disposal and you can choose whatever tool you want to use per shot. We ended up mixing VUE with Maya, Nuke and Photoshop. VUE is a terrific tool used with Photoshop and Nuke. Clearly a great combination of tools will help your work a lot. This doesn't take away any artistic merit, quite the contrary, as it allows you to focus more on the visuals aspects of your shots rather than on technical stuff!
On a political standpoint in regards to production houses vs studios, I was greatly saddened by what happened to Rhythm & Hues. Unfortunately, it's one example of many. The world sadly spins around profit! The 2 major problems are Artists do not get paid for their work, and VFX/CGI studios are relocated abroad very frequently (re-locations triggered by production houses). You end up running around the globe for work to make your living. Production houses force studios to relocate based on various government incentives with only one goal: profit. This forces Artists (and their families most of the times) to relocate systematically and very frequently.
I really wish that this will change one day, and that profit will not be the one and only key goal for this industry. But I'm probably being too naive.
The Lorax Featurette
What lead you to using VUE? What spurred your interest in VUE and when did you become involved in it?
JD: VUE was already part of Mac Guff's software arsenal when I started working on Despicable Me. One of my colleagues was using it, and it tickled my curiosity. I had already heard about it before, but it was at Mac Guff that I really got hooked to it. I feel really lucky that I met Jean-Baptiste Verdier back then. He almost taught me everything I know.
VUE is a must have tool for us matte painters and environment Artists since it allows the creation of a complete full-3D natural set. This gives us a lot of flexibility in regards to lighting scenarios, framing, layout etc... The problem with pure 2D is when you get asked to change lighting or framing, you've just lost all you did previously! VUE saves you time, big times, especially that it is rendering really fast (when you know what you do in the render settings of course). Infinite vegetation, mountains as far as the eye can see, unlimited detail... VUE gives you everything! On top of this, since you can render all passes separately with every render (lighting, objects, shadows etc), it's really flexible!
How long have you been using VUE?
JD: I never stopped working with VUE since "Despicable Me", so it's been 4 or 5 years!
Check out some of JD's Environments in this Despicable Me teaser
As an artist, how does CG art fit into your work? What is its place in your workflow?
JD: The holy grail for our trade is ever more flexibility hence the fact we continue to go for full-3D (full CG) more and more, even with matte-painting. We usually define our pipe in advance, for each shot, as it may differ depending if it'll be animated, still etc...
In your opinion, what has been your most important skill for you as an Artist? What advice would you give someone who'd wish to start a career in the VFX industry?
JD: I think my most important skill would be my artistic eye. You have to be both critical and objective when you look at your images. You have to learn something new everyday, nothing is ever granted, and that's what I like most about my job. You can always better your image, it's a never ending process - well, deadlines also teaches you to stop at some point too!
The more time you spend learning, the faster you learn as well. It is really important to know what you are hoping to achieve even before starting actual work. It'll help you define your pipeline in advance, the tools you'll be using to bring your images where you want them.
The best advice I could give is to be patient, interest yourself to all that surrounds imagery, go to museums, photo exhibitions, learn from both traditional and digital Artists. Practice a lot, don't be afraid to do things the wrong way. Failing is learning!
Despicable Me 2 Official trailer
How does VUE, in general, contribute to your artwork? What's its place in your workflow?
JD: I've used VUE on every production I worked on since "Despicable Me". I use it for almost every aspect of my creations, shots that require dense vegetation, mountain shots, cities and whatnot. We usually receive colourscripts (the colour palette that will be used to create the mood of each shot), and starting from there, I decide whether I'll be using VUE or not. I often start by importing pre-existing cameras in my VUE scenes, the ones that come from the production shots. Finally, I start from there to create all I need for that specific shot, according to the layout that was approved beforehand.
On all the shots/movies you've worked on, is there one that you're particularly proud of?
JD: Not really, I like them all equally! I've used VUE on mostly all the major shots I've worked on because the software can handle it really well. As I said earlier, the fact I can change framing or lighting in a snap is really important when working on hero shots.
More VUE shots from Despicable Me
What was the most powerful part of using VUE in your workflow for both visual development and production work? What do you consider to be the most fundamental difference between VUE and traditional 3d programs?
JD: VUE can create scenes with virtually infinite horizons, by this I mean that I can create large scale forests quite easily. Also, the rendering takes almost no time when you know how to properly optimize your scenes. I can create really naturally complex topologies with loads of details, and all this in full 3D. Sorry if I repeat myself, but 3D allows me to quickly change lighting, layout or framing at the last minute if required, without the need to do it all over again. This is a major time saver in a production environment.
No other software can create natural environments in full 3D as quickly and fluidly as VUE does! It's a very versatile and impressive piece of software. It would be totally insane to even try doing what VUE does in any other tool such as 3ds Max or Maya!
Half of the movies you've worked on are animations. Is that by personal taste? What would you say is the main difference between animation and live action films, in terms of workflow?
JD: I really enjoy going from CG animation to live action VFX. It's true that I've worked on animation more lately but I do enjoy both styles. One requires you to work more with photo manipulation and a bit of 3D (live action), the other one leads you more to a bit of photo manipulation, a bit of brush work, and loads of 3D (animation).
VFX is a pretty strict domain. In a VFX movie, most of the time, the matte-painting department is quite substantial. On top of this, in such productions, many studios are working on the same project. Whereas for CGI (animation), most of the time there's only one studio working on the majority of the shots, and this is particularly true for the environments / matte painting team, which then is quite small.
For instance, at MPC, for VFX work, there can be up to 15 Artists, only for environments and matte painting, and that's for only one of the many studios working on the film. While for Despicable Me, I was almost alone for most of the production and we were 2 to 3 Artists at most.
Finally, for VFX, you get more time to work on your shots, opposed to CGI where I feel the pace globally more sustained.
Can you tell us a little about what your typical day contains?
JD: When I start working on a shot at beginning of the day, I always start by checking the colorscript and the ambiance guide. From there, I quickly analyze what pipeline and what tools we should use to produce the shot We'll go either full 2D or part 3D or full 3D (However, even in full 3D we usually end up doing a tad of cleaning inside Photoshop). We also check whether the shot is animated, which will help us decide if we need to do some camera mapping (projections). Then I continue by researching my own image database (photos I did myself during various trips). Once I've found all I needed, I can start the real matte painting job, i.e. creating the image. I also do a lot of back and forth work to add more details using photos or 3D items, it's an endless process. Oh and of course, loads of meetings to interrupt you when the creative juices are flowing! ;-)
What is your favorite feature or features of VUE?
JD: I use a bit of everything. But what I like the most, and is really handy and effective, is the EcoPainter. It's really intuitive and practical. Numerous other tools are also well thought out, like the shader engine, mixing shaders, all population modes... And finally I'm really in love with the atmospheric and lighting engine.
How do you train yourself to VUE (and do you need training?) And what would you like to learn next?
JD: Google is one of my best friends. But I also ask a lot to other fellow VUE users. One area I really would like to get better at is using VUE's famous Function Editor. This would allow me to create even better procedural shaders. I would also like to get better at making clouds too.
Would you recommend VUE to other artists, and why?
JD: Of course!!! It's a must-have tool for anyone working on CG environments. It saves you loads of time, and is very flexible. Changing lights and framing in a breeze, that's essential for all matte painters and environment TDs.
One must not forget that your VUE scenes can be used on all the shots that take place in that environment. This can cover a gigantic number of shots. The topology remains unchanged throughout the shots, so you're pretty free to place your camera wherever you need to in the scene without fearing any inconsistencies.
The icing on the cake: you can also make your environment evolve over time, add snow using predefined shaders and run through various seasons!
Could you share one of your top secrets with VUE? That trick that saves your life every time?
JD: Without doubt, it would be the whole EcoPainter. This saved me hundreds of precious hours overall. I use it very very often, be it to paint vegetation or to create an entire city.
Do you still have time to work on more personal CG stuff? Or do you prefer spending your personal time on anything else than CG?
JD: I manage to find a tiny bit of time to work on illustrations and concepts at home. But since I became a father, I admit I have less time to focus on CG (I'm not complaining at all!). Family business takes time. I also do a lot of manual work on our house here. I'm really happy to devote my time to this new life. You just have to know how to juggle between the 2.
"Battle of Giants" Cinematic Game for UBISOFT - Hover the image to compare the renders
Do you follow our activity? If so by what means? How do you stay informed of what's coming up?
JD: I read a lot of CG forums, and I'm in contact with loads of VUE artists as well, so I get the news quite rapidly anytime anything new shows up. I also check the e-on and Cornucopia3D websites and forums from time to time.
Can you spot VUE environments in the abve trailer for the upcoming "Minions"?
One last word to wrap things up?
JD: Massive kuddos to the whole team at e-on. VUE is a fantastic application. And you guys should keep on developing VUE towards VFX and CGI, you're on the right track!
Thanks for your time JD!
More VUE Artwork
VUE in Despicable Me
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