Boundary Visual Effects is a different kind of effects studio. Their crew spans locations between USA, Canada, Europe and Brazil and they look to integrate their work into the pipeline of other studios during production. The work they offer is diverse too, from roto to paint, wire and rig removal, 2D and 3D tracking and compositing. Boundary is a close friend to fxphd, so we thought we’d talk to a few of their team about their recent work, their approach to VFX and their fxphd experience.
fxphd: Can you talk about the philosophy behind Boundary and the role you play in vfx production?
Magno Borgo (Canada): One of our main characteristics is that we work remotely for clients around the world. Our artists are from USA, Canada, UK, Brazil, and after 5 years we developed a very good workflow to make it work efficiently and in a way that clients feels comfortable with the distance.
With this idea that there are no physical limitations to our work, we can search for the best talent around the world to do specialized tasks and work with us. Having a company “on the cloud”, we can easily expand the team without the burden of heavy infrastructure costs.
Nick Lambert (UK): Personally I see us as a partner to existing studios. Boundary’s primary purpose is to be there for clients when they need to expand their facility’s short term without the ‘hire and fire’ mentality. Our goal is not to compete with, but to offer ourselves as an extension to, a department.
One thing I did notice was artists setting up companies to compete within the same arena as their previous employers. Some prospered, but many grew and blew. Keeping Boundary small and partnering with clients has been a great asset in these turbulent times.
We all share roles depending on the client, personal workload, location etc., everything from roto to supervision. The rule of thumb is whoever is local to the client takes overall responsibility for the project with one other assisting. Though it’s not unusual for our east and west coast guys to be looking after a European job.
Rob Geddes (Canada): In the beginning, I think we were all a bit uncertain what our role would ultimately be when working with other VFX facilities. Over time though, we’ve really been able to foster some terrific working relationships based on trust and collaboration. I believe Boundary is a good fit for clients that are looking to take on larger projects, but aren’t ready or excited about the added risk and overhead of growing an in house department.
fxphd: How did you first hear about fxphd? What were some of the first courses you took?
Magno Borgo: “High quality online courses from high profile artists” the buzz coming from vfx friends quickly attracted me to check fxphd. My first was in 2009, Intermediate Syntheyes, Secrets of Roto and paint and “Shake and more in production”.
I recently did the Nuke for Trainers certification, which is a great program that I recommend to anyone, even if the person is not interested in the teaching part because it’s so extensive and complete.
Nick Lambert: I joined fxphd back in 2008 when looking for NUKE training, via fxguide if I remember correctly. Pretty sure I took nuk102, shk201 and pft201.
Rob Geddes: I first heard about fxphd back in 2008. To be honest I can’t recall how exactly, it was probably a combination of checking out the content on fxguide, and hearing the rest of the Boundary guys talk about what fxphd was all about. That summer I’m pretty sure I signed up to start taking some comp courses, SHK201, and NUK102. I was hooked right away.
fxphd: Can you talk about the fxphd community – how important has that been for Boundary?
Nick Lambert: I have to say that it’s down to the philosophy fxphd is built on. If one is serious about this industry, you want to learn, and from professionals. Anyone taking a fxphd course is proactive, self motivated and on-line. Three things we always are looking for in freelance artists.
The friendships I’ve made over the past years at fxphd are wonderful, I always look forward to meet ups, a chance to catch up with old and new faces. Sharing a true passion for the art.
Rob Geddes: I’d have to agree with Nick regarding the community. The content at fxphd is top notch, and this attracts people who are keen to learn, and learn from the best. In the years since discovering fxphd, I’ve made the leap to comp, moved my family across the country, had some great gigs at major VFX studios, and made some incredible friends. fxphd has quite literally changed the course of my life, haha.
fxphd: What are some of the recent projects you’ve worked on – can you discuss some interesting or difficult work on these?
Nick Lambert: For Kick Ass 2, we worked on three scenes for nvizible. Hugh Macdonald awarded us clean up and rig removal on the Van sequence, one of the most difficult, along with Mother Russia’s rampage and the final battle. Some serious reconstruction was required to hide the rigs. In-house tools allowed us to work fast and efficiently with combinations of 3D projection and 2.5D patches. Magno’s Roto to SplineWarp tool was used extensively for rigs on clothes. A great example of these techniques is the work Magno did on one of the van sequences. The live action had a huge scaffold rig on the roof with wires for the two stunt doubles.
Pride is our largest project to date, and one we are very proud to be involved with. The biggest challenge would be look dev revisions. We provided quite a few dmp’s that would require feedback from the director. Working closely with nvizible’s R&D team the ability to turn around shots remotely within tighter deadlines is ongoing. Another interesting problem was dealing with archive footage. Although set only 30 years ago, at that time 16mm colour reversal would be telecined to 625 interlaced 1” tape for news gathering. With 575 lines of actual resolution with field shift not to mention colour shift, gate weave and PAL artefacts made it interesting work. For the shoot they had a very mild winter so adding in snow to almost half of the entire film was another job we took on. Crowd replication, ageing of buildings, removing anything out of time, adding buildings no longer standing were all undertaken by a team of 23 artists.
fxphd: What are your go-to roto, tracking, matchmoving and comp tools?
Nick Lambert: Silhouette and mocha are our weapons of choice for roto, Syntheyes and PFTrack for matchmoving and NUKE X for everything else. I’m looking at MARI for projection mapping work. The new NUKE Studio also looks interesting. 3DE is on my radar since the price shake up.
Rob Geddes: Currently sitting in my dock are SynthEyes, Mocha Pro, Silhouette, NUKE, and an older version of Adobe CS suite. I’m looking forward to the recently announced NUKE 9!
fxphd: What tools do you use to fit in with the pipelines of other companies?
Nick Lambert: Shotgun has become a pretty central part of fitting in with our larger clients. Our own in-house tool ‘Boundless’ takes care of those that don’t. The basic concept is to convert from and to whatever system a client uses. Either of those approaches allow us to seamlessly integrate into most pipelines. Keeping to industry standard software is also an important part of fitting in.
Magno Borgo: Boundless is based on Python and other open source resources with the idea of automation and reducing human error by standardization of the workflow on our vfx pipeline.
Anything we can think that will make the workflow more efficient, we try to develop in-house, to maximize our artists time doing important work.
fxphd: You’ve also developed some of your own open source tools – can you talk a bit about these?
Nick Lambert: Magno has to take the credit for our R&D both internally and to the community. The SplineWarp tool he developed I believe has changed the way many artists do clean-up in NUKE. His list of Silhouette additions is one to be proud of too.
Magno Borgo: Since our workflow is usually very dependent of roto, a great part of the tools were developed around it, improving speed on roto tasks inside Silhouette. It’s a variety of tools to do quality control, custom renders, improve Silhouette interface and shortcuts. http://boundaryvfx.com/research_and_development/ http://boundaryvfx.com/research_and_development/
We also worked into integration, allowing artists to quickly import/export trackers and shapes from and to NUKE and Mocha. I’m really proud to have done a NUKE Rotopaint shape exporter to Silhouette.
The Freeze SplineWarp tool is an interesting development that allows you do stabilization and matchmoving like you can do with trackers, but you’re not limited to a 4 point corner pin; because it’s roto based you can stabilized complex organic shapes with any number of points.
fxphd: What are some of the most memorable courses Boundary partners have completed at fxphd over the years?
Nick Lambert: Any course with Tahl, Russell, Victor x2, Matt and Hugo. I think we all love the old ‘voice of Victor’ tracking classes. BKD210 where Mike talks to VFX supervisors is one I still listen too when working.
Rob Geddes: First, select the one or two courses that are jumping out at you, the ones that you can’t do without. For me that’s usually the Nuke comp courses. Then grab something a bit outside of your comfort zone, or from a field you’re not familiar with. Over the years those bonus courses for me have included some DSLR Cinematography, On-Set Lighting, Mental Ray, Matte Painting, the list goes on. There’s never a bad choice, and it’s great to see the creativity and problem solving of artists in different disciplines.
Thanks so much to the Boundary team for talking to us. You can find out more about the studio at their website.