Interview with Patrick Cohen, CG Supervisor for Rango

By AMRITA VALECHA | 15 March, 2011 - 16:49

As CG Supervisor, Patrick was responsible for all aspects of feature production with focus on lighting, FX and compositing on the Gore Verbinski’s animated feature, Rango with ILM's Singapore team. Prior to moving to Singapore, Patrick was with Sony Picture Imageworks working as CG Supervisor on visual effects shows such as Valkyre and Speed Racer. In this interview Patrick shares with AnimationXpress Asia Pacific, on how the Singapore facility built a team of 100 artists including Animators, Modeling, Creature Dev, Lighting, FX and Compositing, what were the challenges faced by the studio and his responsibility as a CG Supervisor.

What was the experience of ILM Singapore team with Rango, as it was the studio's first full length animated feature?
Rango is the first animated feature for ILM so we had to develop a new feature division from scratch. On the manpower front in Singapore we built a unique and new team from a variety of departments and disciplines to work in unison in a short time frame. In addition to VFX artists at ILM Singapore, artists came from the Clone Wars, LucasArts Singapore as well as the Jedi Master’s Program.

Technology wise it wasn't so much developing new technology it was more adapting the ILM VFX pipeline to an animated feature and from a traditional visual effects shot based way of working to a sequence style for animation.

What work happened at ILM Singapore for Rango? How was the work divided between US and Singapore?
All the R&D, design, look development, character modeling, the bulk of the animation was done in the US. Singapore took on 25% of the film and we focused on shot work. The bats sequence was done almost completely in Singapore, but like everything else about Rango it was a collaboration, we worked with the US Digimatte team to develop the look of the canyons, and some of the FX shots were done in the US. This sharing of shots within a sequence demanded we really be in sync with the US team.

ILM Singapore and US teams held daily video conferences and reviews with VFX supervisors Tim Alexander, John Knoll and animation director Hal Hickel to ensure the quality, style and performance matched. In addition Supervisors spent time in the Singapore studio working with the artists. For example with the Creature Development team, a completely new discipline here,  Eric Wong, a Senior Creature TD from the US studio, came to Singapore and trained this group from the ground up, he supervised them and approved all the work sent to the US.

What was your main responsibility as the CG Supervisor for Rango?
Working at ILM, everyone’s goal is to deliver amazing looking work.

As a CG Supervisor your job is serving many bosses.  You have to make production happy meeting bid days and sticking to schedules. You have to make the VFX Supervisor happy so your teams must deliver great quality work.  You also have to make sure the artists are happy and there is harmony within the team. Neglect any of these areas and the production will get into trouble.

What were the major challenges in the production of Rango? How many artists were you dealing with?
At its peak the team in Singapore grew to over 100, including Animators, Modeling, Creature Dev, Lighting, FX and compositing. The main challenge of Rango in Singapore was training a team of junior artists and bringing them up to the ILM standard. For most Singapore artists Rango was their first feature film experience therefore ILM invested a lot of time and resources into training. In addition to Supervisors travelling from the US to Singapore we sent 16 artists from here to embed with the teams back in the US for a period of time normally 4 – 6 weeks. This immersion into the work over in the US was invaluable for fast tracking our team to perform.

Which was the most challenging scene according to you in the film? How did you tackle it?
The Bats sequence, it's a chase sequence that takes place flying through a canyon. It was Singapore largest sequence on all fronts, most shots, most characters, most FX and the most challenging matte paint and compositing work. It's the sequence that really pushed our FX team; we had to deliver most of the dust and all the bats swarms chasing Rango down the canyon. We really had to see all the shots cut together to see determine dust levels in each shot, so like everything else all the work had to brought up at sequence level, rather than finishing one shot and moving onto the next.

What has been your past work at ILM?

Rango was my first project with ILM. I had worked with one of Rango's producers on a past project at Sony Imageworks and they told me about the position here in Singapore. Before coming to ILM Singapore I worked in Los Angeles at Sony Pictures as a lighter & CG Supervisor.  I started my career at Rhythm & Hues. Rango was my 13th feature project. 

Could you share your experience working in Singapore? and with Singaporean artists?
Working in Singapore has been great! It's a young team that is full of enthusiasm. Working on Rango has given them an opportunity that normally they would not get so it was amazing to watch these people come in so junior and grow so much over the course of the show, lots of them got some of their first shots in Rango's first trailer which was lit and composited here in Singapore.

What are the projects that you are currently working on?

Can't say much about it... but it's a Lucasfilm Animated Feature being worked on here in Singapore.

What would be your advice to upcoming artists?*
For students I would say the most important thing is to build a well-rounded foundation, whether you go into games, vfx or animated features- it's all built from the same core skills, technical, artistic, storytelling and traditional film & animation techniques.

If you want to go really far in the industry you have to embrace all of them, don't focus only on learning a software package, software changes all the time and when you start at a new studio they'll probably have tools you've never used and will have to learn fast, that's why it's important to build your foundation.

Take art classes along with programming and scripting. Become a student of cinema... learning classic camera and film techniques will give you an edge. And once you get that first job....  do a little more than asked... what makes people stand out is the extra effort they put in.