SG-P exclusive Interview with Bruce Woloshyn - May 2006
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Bruce (G.) Woloshyn is the Digital Effects Supervisor at Rainmaker Animation & Visual Effects in Vancouver B.C. (Canada). He was born on March 22 1964, so he currently is 42 years old. He's originally a farm boy from the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan and grew up watching television shows like Thunderbirds, Star Trek and Space: 1999.
He was always amazed at the incredible visuals for these shows, and at a very young age he decided that he wanted to create that kind of imagery. He was about 12 or 13 when he first started exploding model spacecraft in his parents basement and shooting them on Super-8 mm film.
More about him, what he does for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, in this wonderful and very long interview, which has been conducted at the end of January 2006. Enjoy!
Stargate-Project: Please tell our readers a bit about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? What are your hobbies etc.?
|Bruce & Ramona Woloshyn just prior to the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
Bruce Woloshyn: I'm originally a farm boy from the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan who grew up watching television shows like Thunderbirds, Star Trek and Space: 1999. I was always amazed at the incredible visuals for these shows, and at a very young age decided that I wanted to create that kind of imagery. As a matter of fact, I think I was about 12 or 13 when I first started exploding model spacecraft in my parents basement and shooting them on Super-8 mm film. And, although my parents were very supportive, I think that they thought of this as more of a hobby for me as opposed to a career path.
As far as hobbies go, my wife and I have two wonderful young sons, and I enjoy anything that allows us to spend time together as a family. Both of our boys are so much fun. Sailing and swimming are both high up on my list of things I enjoy doing. With a life that always seems to be so busy, the sound of the waves on the hull, and the times I spend sailing with my father allow me the serenity and calm that I seem to have so little time for most of the year . . . . not that I am complaining. I also enjoy music (recordings and live concerts) and watching movies, the company of my friends and any time I can spend with the person who makes it all possible . . . my lovely wife, Ramona.
SG-P: We know that you are the Digital Effects Supervisor at Rainmaker Animation & Visual Effects. What exactly do you do?
BW: I am responsible for the day-to-day direction and supervision of the Rainmaker visual effects team for both of the Stargate television series. My specific responsibilities include everything from providing design, direction and input to the artist team during shot development, to delegating work priorities during any given day based on fluctuations in schedules and individual shot progress. And, I not only work with Rainmaker's visual effects team, but also with the MGM Supervisors, visual effects and production teams. When it comes right down to it, I am ultimately responsible for the complete execution of Rainmaker’s visual effects for both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis across all of our company's divisions (as Rainmaker also provides all of the video post-production finishing services to both series).
SG-P: When did you start this job?
BW: I came to Vancouver in 1995 on the invitation of Rainmaker founder, Bob Scarabelli. Bob was in the process of setting up Vancouver's first full service visual effects facility and invited me to join the fledgling artist team that he was assembling. I had been working at a commercial visual effects facility in Seattle, Washington at the time and was actually considering a full-time move to southern California when the telephone call came from Bob. As we started doing effects under the newly formed Rainmaker banner, one of the first television projects we undertook was the pilot to Stargate SG-1.
SG-P: What can you tell us about Rainmaker in general? How many people work for Rainmaker?
BW: What the world currently knows now as Rainmaker was originally founded in 1979 as Gastown Productions by partners Bob Campbell, Larry Muirhead and Peter Sara. And, over the years, Gastown became known as western Canada's leading video post-production facility. In 1994, after tenures at VHQ in Singapore and Valkieser Sound and Images in Amsterdam, Bob Scarabelli came to Vancouver and founded Rainmaker Imaging Co. Then, in 1995 the two companies merged into what the world now knows as Rainmaker. In the years that followed, our company has grown to over 160 artists, editors, colorists, technicians and support staff who are recognized throughout the industry as leaders in our respective fields. To see all of the services our company provides, please visit http://www.rainmaker.com.
SG-P: How does a normal working day look for you?
|One of Rainmaker's equipment rooms
BW: I guess that is one of the best parts of my job. There is no "normal working day"! Almost every day, certainly every project, brings it's own unique and interesting challenges. For both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis, I do have what you could call "a daily routine". It starts in the morning with reviewing all of the previous days (and overnight) renders with lead technical artist, Gary Poole and visual effects editor, Paul Furminger. This is where we take all of the completed work (renders meaning the actual image sequences we can play back) and look at them both as individual shots, and edited into the particular episodes, for evaluation of all the individual elements. Once I do that, it's usually time to review the progress on all of the episodes in relation to the delivery dates with co-ordinator, Tara Conley and producer, Naomi Stopa. This will then lead to whatever decisions need to be made as far as artist and resource scheduling based on our progress. Following these meetings, I would then move on to what are called "artist rounds". This is when I meet one-on-one with all the members of the artist team to review the individual shots and elements each of them are working on. We discuss any notes that I have on what they are doing, questions they might have, and decide how best to proceed. Finally, I then will send shots to the MGM supervisors and producers for review. The remainder of the day can be spent on a myriad of other tasks. From budgeting shots for new episodes, to dealing with problems from other VFX vendors, to answering questions from the production team at MGM and traveling to the studio to shoot additional elements. There is always so much to do.
SG-P: Do you also work on/for other shows?
BW: As a matter of fact, I do. Although, during the last few seasons of SG-1, and especially with the addition of Atlantis, I work exclusively on the Stargate franchise during it's production season. However, as we are now between seasons of production on both of the Stargate series, I am now quite busy on several other projects. I am currently supervising visual effects for two different television commercial projects, as well as visual effects for episodes of Showtime Network's The L Word. For a complete list of my other visual effects credits, you can check out http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004374/.
SG-P: What is your personal/professional opinion about Battlestar Galactica? Especially in regard to their visual/special effects?
BW: I think that both the new Galactica series and the effects are wonderful. I've had the opportunity to watch both the mini-series and several subsequent episodes, and have enjoyed them all. I think the writing, acting and production are all very well done. As far as the effects go, I'm privileged to know many of the supervisors and artists that produce the work. Visual effects co-ordinator, Matt Gore, is a great friend of mine. Gary Hutzel and his teams should be very proud of the outstanding job they do on the series. Top notch work from both Zoic Studios and Atmosphere Visual Effects.
SG-P: Why did you choose to become involved in digital/visual effects?
BW: That's a really good question, and to be honest, I'm not really sure. It's not like I sat down one day and said," Well, today I've decided to pursue visual effects as a professional career". As I've mentioned, I was around 12 years old when I first started my own experiments into how to get images on film. This fascination with imagery started in my parents basement and has followed me ever since. It's not so much that I chose to do it, as I needed to do it.
SG-P: Where are the differences between digital, visual, special effects? Did I miss anything?
BW: At this point in time, there is just so much overlap between the various disciplines. Traditionally, special effects are the in-camera things like explosions and animatronics. The type of effects that you can photograph completed with the camera. Visual effects were things like matte paintings and bluescreen that needed multiple passes in an optical printer to be achieved on the final piece of film. With the advent of powerful enough computers, we now have the term digital effects. Although, the best shots I have ever been involved in have always been visual effects that require multiple disciplines.
SG-P: Did you know Stargate SG-1 / Stargate: Atlantis before you started working for the show?
|Battlestar Galactica's Matt Gore and Bruce Woloshyn at the 2005 Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
BW: That's kind of a funny question. In fact, before I was working on Stargate SG-1, there was no such program. As a matter of fact, the very first visual effects shot we ever worked on, is the opening shot of the Stargate SG-1 pilot, "Children of the Gods". It was to fix a camera bump in the big crane shot . . . the very first SG-1 camera shot ever broadcast. So, as I said, before I was working on these shows . . . they didn't exist.
SG-P: Do you watch Stargate SG-1 / Stargate: Atlantis or is it just a "job" for you? Or would you even consider yourself a fan?
BW: As a matter of course, I really do not watch "off-air" broadcast television. With all of the work on the shows (and two young children), I really don't just sit down to watch TV. I am a fan of science fiction, and do have a fairly extensive DVD library of science fiction titles (including the complete SG-1 and Atlantis series boxed sets). And, as time permits, do enjoy watching the completed episodes. Although, I tend to watch more feature films than television episodes. And, to be honest, I haven't actually seen all of the episodes of either series. A fan, maybe . . . but just a job . . . never!
SG-P: In all those years, what has been most challenging?
BW: I think the fans must think I'm a broken record with this answer, but hands down . . . Stargate: Atlantis "Rising" was easily the most challenging assignment I've ever had. Creating everything we needed for the pilot, and the series and working on SG-1 at the same time . . .and moving to HD . . . when I look back on that, yikes!
SG-P: What Stargate project was the most fun for you?
BW: That can actually get split up into two categories. The First of which would be, of course, the effects creation we do. I am blessed to work with a group of incredibly talented people, many of whom have become dear friends. I have fun with almost every shot, but I had lot's of fun on the effects for Stargate SG-1 "Evolution Part 2". It was one of those episodes that everything started coming together from the "get go". We started with some wonderful production art from James Robbins and my lead animator, Wes Sargent, went on to take these initial designs and create an amazing virtual location for Anubis's fortress. We also had the opportunity to create some new software for controlling the army of Kull Warriors, beautifully executed by Christopher Stewart, Ryan Cronin and Tom Brydon. And the real fun part, I was able to composite all of the biggest shots myself.
The second category of "most fun" for me, is my cameo appearances throughout the years on both series. On those days, I get to not only watch an incredibly talented production crew shoot some of the best science fiction on television, but I get (although only briefly) to enter the world I've helped over the years to create. It is great fun. Especially with such, well . . . shall we say . . . "entertaining" directors.
SG-P: If you remember back, was there ever an instance that you / your team couldn't do what the producers asked for?
BW: Ah-ha! A trick question. Let's get this straight . . . there is no image that cannot be created, given enough time. And, believe me when I say, "getting what the producers ask for" is what my work on SG-1 and Atlantis is all about. I make no beans about it, my work on both series is not to put my stamp on them, my work is to help the producers and directors get their vision to the screen for everyone to see. Granted, I'm allowed a certain amount of creative freedom from the people I work for, but my ultimate goal is to please Brad Wright, Robert Cooper and the rest of the producers with completed images that represent their vision. That's my job.
That said, we need to create these images . . . this on-screen representation of the producer's vision, on an episodic television production schedule. And time (being the schedule), is either your best friend, or your worst enemy. In many cases, the actual details of getting the visual effect shots completed for a feature film or SG-1 and Atlantis (especially as both series are now completed in full high definition) are very similar. And, therein lies the problem. Episodic series work has a much shorter schedule and a feature film. Not only that, but we can be producing visual effects for up to six episodes (over the two series) at the same time. To get back to your original question, the answer is "Yes". I have had to say we can't create an effect the producers had asked for. The big caveat, is it was only because the effect couldn't be created in the time that was available. And believe me, when I say "available time", I am referring to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The nice thing about our shows, is that our producers are very production savvy and understand that even though we are producing some of the best visual effects on television, we do have to deal with getting things completed on time.
SG-P: What are you currently doing? Post-work on the ninth season of Stargate SG-1 and second season of Stargate: Atlantis or are you already preparing yourself for the upcoming new seasons?
BW: Currently (as I write this), we have only just completed effects for the season 2 of Stargate: Atlantis. The last visual effects delivery for season 9 of Stargate SG-1 is actually today [January 17th 2006]. So, for the time being, we're officially done. I spoke to executive producer, Brad Wright, yesterday and the creative team is already we underway on preparing for the new seasons, although principle photography will not get production fully underway until February.
SG-P: What do you guys have in store for the upcoming episodes especially the season finales of both series? Please spoil us a bit!
BW: Sorry, I hate to disappoint, but you'll squeeze no big spoilers out of me. Although I can tell you this, the upcoming episode of Stargate: Atlantis, "Grace Under Pressure", has some of the best artificial (computer generated) water effects we have done to date. How's that?
SG-P: Do you already know a bit about the upcoming seasons?
BW: Actually, not this year. Last year I was privy to many of the things we would be doing in season 2 of Stargate: Atlantis. This year, we've been so busy trying to get everything completed for our end-of-the-season deliveries, I really hadn't even thought about it.
SG-P: I think you guys create your effects in HD. What is your opinion about HD? Is the work more difficult since HD became “standard“?
|Taken on Rainmaker's rooftop deck in Vancouver by SG-1 and Atlantis animator, Rod Bland
BW: As you may know, last year we started completing Stargate SG-1 in HD, as well as the inaugural season of Stargate: Atlantis. Although, as with all visual effects, there was some "slight of hand" with this as only some of the effects were created at full HD. In many cases we were creating effects in SD and using a specialized up-res process to bring things up to HD size. This season (SG-1 season 9 and Atlantis season 2), we moved to full on creation of all of Rainmaker's visual effects work for both series in native HD. The one thing that I do like about full HD production, is that it allows for so much more detail in the work. Especially when you are trying to show things of massive scale for television. The problem, of course, is in the much larger amounts of computer storage and processing power required to facilitate the work. Although, as the world move towards full HDTV transition, this was something we would inevitably have needed to address anyway. For our team here at Rainmaker, we have always jumped into new technologies . . . and HDTV was no exception.
SG-P: Would you like to come to Germany for a convention?
BW: Absolutely. I've never been to Germany and would love to be able to come over and meet the European fans. All I would need is the invite. It's actually one of the things that I've really enjoyed the last few years in Canada, is attending the conventions and getting a chance to interact with the fans. I must admit, I find it very gratifying that something I spend so much time and energy on . . . something I truly love doing, is enjoyed all over the world. It is truly a pleasure . . . and an honor, to be able to attend the conventions.
SG-P: Because you have so much experience to share, what tips would you give a teenager who wants to become a digital artist?
BW: Whenever I'm asked this question, it always comes back to something my father told me. It sounds simple, but as I've learned over the course of my career, it is so true. He said, “Pick something you really like to do, and be really good at it.” The best advice I would offer to anyone interested in getting into visual effects is this . . . . be really sure this is what you want to do. This industry requires a lot from you, both in dedication and time. To excel, you have to be ready to give both.
SG-P: Where do you see yourself in 10-15 years? Still working for Stargate SG-1 / Stargate: Atlantis? In it's 25th season? (laughing)
BW: Okay, that's a trick questions. Let's see . . . I'm 41 now . . . in 10 to 15 years . . . I think . . . . "Sailing"! To be honest, I really haven't thought that far ahead. Something to remember, is that 15 years ago, we didn't at all create effects in the way we do now. 15 years from now, I fully expect that how we do things now will have changed so much that my job (as least as it currently exists) might not even exist. So really, to say that I'll still be working on SG-1 or Atlantis would be assuming that they would still even need me.
SG-P: Talking about the future, how many seasons do you think Stargate SG-1 / Stargate: Atlantis will have before they end? Or will they never end?
BW: I think we've all seen that the Stargate "brand" is now much bigger than one individual. I think, as I've heard Christopher Judge say, that it will end when the writing team can't come up with new ideas or when we stop having fun.