Special visual effects have been a hobby/passion of mine since I first saw "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" as a kid....40 years ago. Since that time, I studied stop motion animation until I was about 18....building armatures, sculpting with clay, etc. The pivotal point came when Star Wars came out. While I still loved stop motion animation, reading about how they were able to do visual effects shots while the camera actually panned from left to right just floored me (up until then, most visual effects shots always used a fixed camera). Plus the models actually had motion blur! No strobbing! My mind exploded.
So I started to read about motion control camera systems, optical printing, etc. The mechanics behind it all really fascinated me but I soon realized that building a ball and socket armature is one thing, but a motion control camera system or optical printer was an entirely different thing all together. Not having the resources to build this type of gear, my only escape into this field was to read the "fanzines" that actually discussed this type of visual effects. The best one for the hobbyist was Cinemagic and I remember how Issue 1 had an article with Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, etc. re-doing scenes from an old 1950's movie called "Rocketship-X" on zero budget simply for the love of the movie. I have every issue and going back through the old ones is quite the trip back into time. Other VFX legends of today also appeared as teenagers in that magazine showing off their little student films. I also read every Cinefantastique I could get my hands on and course Cinefex (I have every issue).
When it came time to go to college in 1979, I wanted to study film but could not find any curriculum that went into visual effects. Nothing like that existed at the time unlike today where even main-stream colleges are offering classes in animation and VFX (kids are sooo lucky these days). So I thought about what it was that fascinated me so much about VFX apart from the cool eye-candy and I realized it was the mechanical engineering (registrations, robotic camera's etc.). So I decided to study mechanical engineering. After college in 1983, I applied to ILM but got rejected (I still have the rejection letter....neat letter-head with the ILM logo). So I went to work as a manufacturing engineer in the telecommunications industry.
Had I known that the whole world would go digital in 1993, I think I would have studied computer programming rather than mechanical engineering because I do love to program. The birth of CGI was quite the shift for me because everything I knew about my hobby was now out of date and I had to learn a whole new hobby (I can only imagine what people actually working in the industry at that time had to go through!).
To get me through the learning curve, I started reading Computer Graphics World which talked about the advancements in the industry and the computer animation programs which were currently on the market. In 1993, they were all very expensive (at one point Lightwave cost $5000). So again, I was discouraged - why did I pick such an expensive hobby! But one issue of Computer Graphics World had an article on low-end computer animation programs and it was there where I first learned about trueSpace in 1994. Based on that article, I selected trueSpace as my first computer animation program. I picked it because it was the cheapest program I could find that actually had motion blur as a rendering option (a key ingredient to any VFX shot).
I kept with trueSpace until 2004 when I finally felt that my skills had progressed to a point where I needed something a bit more powerful. So I picked Cinema 4D because it also seemed the easiest to learn and had a great interface (unfortunately, it was not as cheap). But the real reason was because of tall the tutorials at C4D Cafe. I knew that here was a group of people that would help me learn this program and its founders, 3D-Kiwi and 3D-Crew, were also ex-trueSpace users!
While I was still using trueSpace, I was on a business trip passing through the Heathrow airport and I happened to spot a copy of Computer Arts on a magazine rack. The neat thing about this magazine is that it actually had tutorials in it! Now rather than just learning about the industry and the technology, I could actually learn how to use the programs! Soon thereafter, its publisher started to release 3D World which was purely dedicated to computer graphics and animation. Well, it was no-brainer to drop every magazine subscription I had up until that point (except for Cinefex) and subscribe to 3D World. So I now how have all 133+ issues of 3D World sitting on my shelf in my home office and the accompanying CD's in readily accessible CD zippered cases. But all these disks were a bit frustrating because it took me forever to find anything in them. So around Issue 70 I started to catalog all the contents into a search-able database in Excel. This database now holds the contents of all 133+ issues and is available to anyone via the back-issues section of the 3D World web-site and has been put on-line via the generous donation of another 3D World subscriber, Daniel Skovli. Working on the database also keeps me in contact some rather neat people in the CGI world (including Jim Thacker - 3D World's past editor and Steve Jarrat, 3D Worlds current editor) who either request specific information, new features, etc. In one case, I got a request from an immigration lawyer who was trying to get a work Visa for a rather famous London artist to work in the US. She needed examples of his work in a published industry magazine to prove that he was a professional. While I don't catalog the gallery section of the magazine, for this person I did a manual search. Kind of cool. I also ran across a matte painter who has been working in the industry since the 80's on such films as Ghostbusters, Dinosaurs, and Pirates of the Caribbean. We met at the MAXON Power Integration Tour in Boston and talked for hours! I love to contribute to this industry in any way I can (it is a passion after all) and just recently helped out Francesco Guazzi with his awesome SpeedMud plugin by writing he a 40 page manual (you can download it his site at Kekko3D
Now I am a senior engineering manager with a leading telecommunications equipment maker overseeing the manufacture of some of the large high-end routers that probably allowed you to access the Cafe web-site today. So this is about as far away from the 3D industry as you can get. But what is really neat is that I am now more involved with this industry than I ever thought possible. As a young kid of 18, I felt that VFX would be only something that I could read about rather than actually do. Now I have everything I need (and more) right here on my desktop. Plus, I actually get to talk and interact with people working in the industry rather than just read about them!
What a hoot!