Rob Legato: “Wishing fxguide the happiest of birthdays. Just think, next year when you turn 21 years old I can legally buy you a drink to celebrate your tremendous success!”
fxguide was launched twenty years ago in 1999 by John Montgomery, Mike Seymour and Jeff Heusser — all flame artists who wanted to create a place to share tips and tricks and build the community. It was when discussing what to call the new site, that Jeff looked at his coffee table, saw a TV Guide and said “what about fxguide?” And thus began fxguide.
Multiple Oscar winner and Sr. VFX Supervisor at Weta Digital Joe Letteri, comments “thank you for revealing the pockets of magic buried deep in the technical language of visual effects. Happy birthday and here’s to many more!” Matt Aitken, VFX Supervisor at Weta Digital adds, “Happy 20th birthday fxguide. Many thanks for all the expert reporting you have brought to the field of visual effects over the years.”
The 90s were a time of intense changes for the VFX industry. With Terminator 2 and even more so through Jurassic Park, pioneers at ILM had already paved the way for a digital revolution in Visual Effects. Optical compositing was mostly dead by 1999, and even the days of nitrate films were being counted. This is when Christophe Hery (Now Facebook Labs, formerly Pixar) joined ILM, coming from France in 1993; he arrived in Northern California to experience this period of computer graphics explosion first hand.
Tools and extensions to the production pipelines were spawning every months. The internet’s first browsers were literally just coming online. “Yet, by the end of the decade, it was still hard to find good training material on all these novel pieces of software and other specialized hardware solutions” he comments. “Mike, John and Jeff had the vision to jump in and provide information on flame-style compositing (which we were calling Sabre at ILM). I later saw fxguide morph into a major hub for information in all corners of our industry,” Hery adds.
“In 1999, I was at ILM doing The Phantom Menace, Sleepy Hollow, Mission to Mars, and the Brother Termite test (which was the first facial motion capture test we did, for James Cameron, and where I first started to “play” with realistic skin). These guys at fxguide knew what they were doing and talking about, and each interview I participated in was both deep and thought provoking. I never hesitated to debate with them about the details of subsurface scattering or any Monte-Carlo techniques. I still listen to their podcasts and still read their articles to this day…” he says, adding, “besides starting fxguide, what were you doing at the time?”
Great question Christophe, so we thought we’d ask a few people where they were in 1999.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve written thousands of lines of code and seen this industry change in many diverse ways. Throwing my mind back to 1999, the world was a very different place,” commented Mark Elendt. “SideFX shipped our very last version of PRISMS software and had just started work on version 4.0 of Houdini, including support for a new-fangled operating system called Linux (to add to IRIX and Windows NT). Throughout all these years, fxguide has been a lens that gives me insight into our industry. The broad range of articles and in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers make fxguide a constant go-to site for me. Congratulations on 20 excellent years!”
Since we started, fxguide have covered all the major effects studios, especially ILM, Weta Digital, MPC, DNEG, Framestore, Animal Logic, Cinesite, Pixomondo, Method and Atomic. We have aimed to do the artists justice by respectfully covering their work and digging deeper than just a press release. And in that time, it has not only been the senior supervisors who have helped us, but also the brilliant PR teams. fxguide is only possible because of the direct support from VFX supervisors and the incredibly hard working communications directors at the big VFX companies, who get hundreds of email interview requests a week but always find time to help us.
In 1999 Dave Gouge was living in San Francisco working at Goodby Silverstein & Partners building out their interactive advertising capabilities and getting his first introduction to graphics cards through work with 3dfx Interactive and their Voodoo cards, today he is Head of Marketing & Publicity at Weta Digital. “Congratulations on twenty years! fxguide combines the rigor of a technical publication with the heart of a true fan; I can think of no better way to cover visual effects.”
“1999 was a loooooong time ago,” recalls Greg Grusby, Director, PR & Communications at ILM / Skywalker Sound / ILMxLAB. “I was a Flame/Inferno Artist back then at Manhattan Transfer (now R!OT Manhattan) working on high profile commercial campaigns for VW, Audi, Reebok, American Airlines, etc.”
Rob Bredow, Executive Creative Director & Head of ILM, recalls he had “just recently joined Sony Imageworks in 1999 and was finishing my role as Effects Animator on Stuart Little where I got to do a lot of the effects animation and help a bit with the hair and the fur algorithms. Thanks to the team at fxguide for 20 years of passionate and knowledgeable coverage of the FX industry!”
Few teams have supported us more than the team at Epic Games, and the multiple Sci-tech Academy winner Kim Libreri, who commented, “Over the past two decades there has been no other outlet more dedicated to the craft of computer graphics and visual effects than fxguide. We applaud fxguide for being a guiding light for knowledge in our industry.” In addition to being one of the most influential figures in our industry, Kim has been exceptionally generous with his time to us here at fxguide. (Listen to our recent interview with Kim here).
When fxguide started the site was focused on Flame compositing. Even in 1999, one of the leading VFX & composite supervisors was Sheena Duggal, then head of high speed compositing at Sony Imageworks.
Sheena is currently shooting the Ghostbusters film but took time to share her thoughts. “I’m so happy and proud that fxguide is celebrating its 20th birthday,” writes Sheena. “I remember when it was just a sparkle in Mike, John and Jeff’s eyes! We were fortunate to be part of a small group of artists sharing ideas, techniques and knowledge, and I’m still blown away by what they built with fxguide and how they took artists sharing knowledge and ideas global! I’m so grateful for the amazing job fxguide has done over the years in creating an endless resource of information, education and shared stories from our industry. I join you in celebrating 20 years of fxguide, congratulations everyone involved.”
Senior Film VFX Supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum, also a long time supporter of fxguide, said: “HURRAH for fxguide! Twenty years of educating our broad and diverse effects communities. Somehow Mike, John, and Jeff continue to produce prolific amounts of technically complex left brain content that is rich with substantive details yet easily understood by our right brain brethren. There is no other industry that changes as quickly and fxguide remains my primary source for real and accurate information. Wishing them another 20!”
It hasn’t just been feature film supervisors we have spoken to – we have tried to cover all the work of visual effects artists and this particularly includes the brilliant work done in episodic television.
“Twenty years ago, I had just transitioned from working in film on movies like What Dreams May Come and Armageddon to producing and supervising VFX for TV shows,” commented Mark Spatny (see our Station 19 story). “I depended on fxguide to keep me up to date with how the high-end film VFX was being done, because I knew it was just a matter of time before some TV producer was going to ask me to figure out how to get the latest cool movie effect for 1/10th the time and money. I’ve been a huge fan of fxguide ever since.”
Of particular importance to fxguide has been researchers in our industry. We see a key part of our job as connecting artists to the best research, in a direct, yet accessible way. We have been lucky enough to work with, visit and get to know some of the most incredible minds of our generation in visual image processing and effects, such as the teams at Google, USC-ICT and Disney Research Studios in Zurich. Amazingly, some of today’s leading researchers were still at school when fxguide launched.
“It’s really fantastic that you are celebrating 20 years of fxguide! 20 years ago I was in my 2nd year of computer science undergrad, learning the basics of programming, logic and algorithms. I guess we’ve all come a long way since then :),” recalls Derek Bradley. “Thanks for so many amazing articles, and on a personal level, thanks for all your support of our research and technology. Here’s to the next 20 years!”
Bradley is based in Switzerland, along with Thabo Beeler, “I have been reading quite some press about our own work over the past years, and sadly I had to learn that more often than not the facts are approximate at best” says Beeler, seen below winning his Sci-Tech this year, along with Bernd Bickel, Derek Bradley and Markus Gross, Disney VP of Global R&D and the Disney Research Studios. “fxguide is one of the very few exceptions, where so far everything I read was truthful and accurate, thanks to the excellent journalistic research of Mike and the team. Please keep up the thorough work and continue to enrich our community with highest quality articles for the next 20 years at least”. When fxguide started 20 years ago Beeler had just finished high school, “I had done my mandatory military service and dropped out of university in an effort to abandon academia, – I guess that didn’t work out” he joked.
We were particularly struck by the comments of Ben Grossman, VFX Supervisor, Oscar winner, co-founder of Magnopus (and perhaps the nicest guy in the industry today – certainly the most modest). “Longer than most of us have been in the industry, fxguide has been the spirit of progress for visual effects. The definitive source of “How did they do that?” and “What really happened”, fxguide has been helping the industry’s best minds make the right decisions, and has prepared generations of new talent to push the boundaries,” he stated.
As fxguide was started to help fellow artists master their craft, we were particularly touched when Ben commented that, “In the past 20 years, fxguide has been the honest voice of our industry. I’ve seen rotoscopers make fxguide their daily source of news and grow to become Oscar-winning VFX Supervisors. The tireless diligence and commitment of the fxguide team to share the stories of our industry has given birth to generations of advancements in visual effects. Congratulations on 20 years!”
Some fxguide stats
As mentioned earlier, fxguide was launched in 1999 by John Montgomery, Mike Seymour and Jeff Heusser, and it was Jeff who came up with the name. When discussing on a call what to call this new site, Jeff looked at his coffee table, saw TV Guide and said “what about fxguide?” It was John who had the first content, as the site was founded on tips and tricks for Flame users. John had the archive of every email ever sent on flame-news. (John, Jeff and Mike were then all senior Flame compositors).
Some numbers regarding content:
- Published 3,340 stories (averaging 16 stories a month) since 2002. That’s an average of a new published story every other day, for the last two decades
- over 2 million page views a year
- 919 podcast eposides on fxguide:
- vfxshow: 241episodes
- fxpodcast: 319 episodes
- fxguidetv: 208 episodes
- the rc (red centre): 151 episodes)
- Created 54 Design FX videos with Media Partner WIRED
We want to particularly thank the equipment companies and their brilliant staff/artists, many of whom have done stories with us, worked with us at trade shows, advertised and supported us. People like Dylan Sisson at Pixar had just started at Pixar when we started fxguide. ” In May 1999, I had just started in working at Pixar, so it’s my 20th too! I really appreciated the depth you bring to subjects in our industry … and happy anniversary!”
Industry legend and fellow podcaster Chris Nichols, now at ChaosGroup, was working as a visualisation specialist at Gensler, the largest architecture company in the world, in 1999. “FXGuide is one of the only sites that goes for the the most in-depth, no-holds-barred, high-level coverage of the state of the visual effects and post production. And after 20 years, it has become an essential resource for our community. Congrats to Mike Seymour, John Montgomery, the sorely missed Jeff Heusser, and the rest of the great FXGuide crew”.
It is not just the individuals who have risen over the last 20 years. Many of the companies we have covered have risen and grown from start ups to industry heavy weights. Companies like Discreet/ Autodesk, Pixar, Epic Games, and little companies such as The Foundry in London. “When fxguide started in 1999, The Foundry was only a five-person operation in a tiny office above a Soho restaurant, trying to keep the mice from running along the ethernet cables. fxguide have since become titans in the industry, and you guys have consistently remained knowledgeable, wise and fair”, commented The Foundry co-founder, Simon Robinson. Speaking from London he jokingly remarked ” there’s only three browser bookmarks that have survived my career: BBC News, my train times home, and fxguide.com. You should feel super smug about your track-record. It’s an extra happy birthday from me.”
The Other Work
fxguide has led to numerous other associated projects and companies, most importantly fxphd.com which John Montgomery manages and leads.
fxphd has produced hundred of hours of training since 2006 and remains a shining example of how talent artists never stop learning and are always keen to improve their craft. fxphd is a remarkable community of artists who in some cases have formed companies from the friends they have met while being a part of fxphd.
Along the way, at fxguide have travelled the world; interviewed people at almost every post and effects house in the world; done three years of live shows in Vegas; done nearly a thousand podcasts and videos; interviewed people from India to Sweden, some of whom are no longer with us, like Stan Lee.
We have also been lucky enough to meet some of the most remarkable industry legends such as Ed Catmull (President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios), Jim Blinn (living legend and the guy who invented bump mapping, amongst many other things), Dr. Alvy Ray Smith (co-founder of Pixar), Dennis Muren (ILM Senior Supervisor), Joe Letteri (Weta Digital) who we have talked many times but who we first interviewed in 2004, Dr Paul Debevec (who we have also been proud to interview many times, Duncan Brinsmead (Alias: Maya) and many more.
It is true that along the way one VFX house banned us from doing interviews as they claimed staff gave away too much information, another had an emergency meeting believing they had invalidated patents in an interview, and in two cases we were threatened with law suits if we did not give someone else credit for something claimed in an article. To date we have never actually been subject to a law suit.
But worse of all, along the way as regular readers would know, we lost our brother. Happy Birthday Jeff (we’ll have a margarita for you tonight). And as well as some life long supporters such as Peter Webb. fxguide is a team effort with brilliant contributions from people such as Jim Shen, Ian Failes, Matthew Graham , Matt Wallin, Jason Diamond, Ryan Pribyl, Matt Leonard, Stu Maschwitz and many many others.
Finally, thank you all for reading , sharing and talking with us – and giving us the best 20 years we could have ever had professionally.