From September 2006, I organised and hosted a series of lectures on visual effects and computer animation at the Tate Modern Museum in London. Sponsored by Autodesk and Escape Studios, the series examined the development of the digital arts over the last 20 years, while exploring their future potential. Working at the cutting edge of technology, many digital artists are nevertheless using techniques that date back to the Renaissance, such as the use of anatomy to inform sculpture. One of the themes of this series will be the meeting of traditional art practices with the new forms of expression developed in the digital revolution. We put together an extraordinary group of industry talent for your learning pleasure.

Lecture One – Scott Eaton and Johnny Hardstaff – 18th September 2006

Scott Eaton – Escape Studios

Scott Eaton is Creative Technical Director at Escape Studios in London where he teaches a number of courses including the popular Artistic Anatomy for Digital Artists course. Scott studied traditional drawing, painting and sculpture in the academic tradition at the Florence Academy of Art. It was there that he began to integrate the lessons of the old masters with the techniques of modern computer graphics. Prior to studying fine art in Florence, Scott worked as a researcher in computer graphics at the renowned MIT Media Lab where he received his Masters degree. He also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Princeton University.

Johnny Hardstaff – Director

A graduate of St. Martins School of Art, Johnny Hardstaff initially worked in print graphics for fashion designers such as Paul Smith and Katherine Hamnett. In his own time, though, Hardstaff was experimenting with his own hybrid of graphic design and moving image. His first film and subsequent Playstation commission led Hardstaff to be signed to Ridley Scott Associates. His graphic design, image making and films have been exhibited extensively, not least through film festivals such as Onedotzero, Resfest and Mirrorball. Hardstaff is currently concentrating on a book and film project, although he still lectures and contributes to academic research and development within experimental graphic design / moving image.

Lecture Two – Joe Letteri and the making of King Kong – 25th September 2006

Joe Letteri – VFX Supervisor, Weta Digital

Weta Digital Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri discusses the creation of the Academy Award-winning visual effects for Peter Jackson’s King Kong showing how Weta built 1933 New York City, grew the lush jungles of Skull Island, and brought Kong to life.
Letteri has pioneered and developed many of the digital techniques that have become the standard in bringing photographic quality to high-end visual effects. As an artist, he has specialized in the creation of highly realistic imagery, from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings to the 25ft. gorilla in King Kong. Letteri is the winner of two Academy Awards® for the visual effects of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in 2002, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003. He is also the recipient of the Academy’s Technical Achievement Award for co-developing the subsurface scattering technique that was used to bring Gollum to life.

Special Mystery Guest – Andy Serkis – Actor

In 1999, Andy was offered the prize role of Gollum in Peter Jackson’s epic film trilogy version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s saga The Lord of the Rings — Although the principal photography for all three films took place over 18 months, Andy spent much of 2002 and 2003 in post-production due to the complex technical nature of bringing Gollum to the screen. The role has been one of the most psychologically complex/physically demanding/technically challenging roles to date.
This was followed soon after with his performance as King Kongin Peter Jackson’s epic. These roles have made him the pre-eminent actor in the field of motion-captured performance redefining screen acting for the digital age.

Lecture Three – Glassworks and The Mill – 2nd October 2006

Juan-Pablo Brockhaus – Glassworks

Juan-Pablo Brockhaus is a Senior 3D Artist at Glassworks. After freelancing for several years in Germany, he joined the Glassworks 3D-team and as well as an all-round knowledge of animation, he creates scripts and tools for use in production.
Pete Reilly is head of Research and Development at Glassworks. Providing in-house tools for use in production, he has also specialised in developing software for visual effects.

Glassworks provides digital animation and visual effects expertise for the production of award-winning commercials, music promos and immersive marketing tools for clients around the world. The company’s expertise is built around a core team of specialists in computer animation, digital effects and compositing, supported by an in-house team of R&D programmers who develop pioneering software and unique tools used for generating digital content.

Rob Van den Bragt – The Mill

Born in Arnhem, The Netherlands, Rob studied classical animation in Belgium. After obtaining his masters degree he freelanced in Belgium for a short time, then moved to South Africa and worked there for three years in commercials for The Refinery Post Production Facility -biggest facility in South Africa. On his return to Europe he worked for Cinesite on feature films as an animator, for Passion Pictures/Slave Studios on an animated CG tv series/feature, as an animation supervisor, and currently as lead 3D artist at the Mill where he has been for the past four years. His work has won several prizes and was awarded the title of Maya Master.

Launched in January 1990, The Mill rapidly developed an international reputation as a pioneering visual effects company. The Mill’s reputation has been built up over many years due the innovative and creative VFX applied to various advertising campaigns for the likes of Sony, Nike and Levis and our work in other areas such as TV and music promos. The Mill has won prestigious awards in all its disciplines, including Europe’s only Oscar for visual effects for its work on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. Other accolades cover best post-production, animation and visual effects awards from Cannes Lions (Grand Prix for Sony Playstation ‘Mountain’), D&AD, Clio and the BTAA, to name just a few.

Image credits in order: King Kong ©2005 Universal Studios : 6MM Hate Head ©2005 Johnny Hardstaff : Archer Anatomy Study ©2006 Scott Eaton : Bjork ‘Nature is Ancient’- visual effects by Glassworks 2003 and Sky HD by The Mill 2006. All Rights Reserved


Following the tremendous success of  the 2006 lectures, I was delighted to return to Tate Modern to host the next in the series –  held in March 2008.

While continuing to examine the development of the various forms of digital visual arts, the series explored the current crossover in Art, Design and Technology. The scope of speakers was broadened from the previous event to include representatives from the fields of Product Design and Games.
They were  joined by scientists and industry heavyweights behind the software and hardware we use to visually express ourselves whose vision and understanding of the creative process ultimately allow us to explore our Digital Dreams.

This year the lectures were accompanied by a Seminar room open throughout the afternoons in the lead-up to each evening’s event where the general public got a unique opportunity to meet some of the leading lights in the visual effects industry and get hands-on with the hardware and software used in the creation of visual effects from Hollywood blockbusters to commercials and games as well as product design and architecture.

The speakers included…

Mike Milne  –  Director of Computer Animation, Framestore CFC

Mike Milne has worked for 25 years in computer animation, starting in the early 1980s as Head of Graphics at Research Recordings, followed by 7 years as Director of Production at Electric Image in Soho. In 1992 he started the computer animation department at Framestore CFC, which has grown to become Europe’s largest CG studio.
In 1997 Mike formed a new team at Framestore to make the landmark BBC television series ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’, followed by many subsequent series which have won an unprecedented three BAFTAs, seven Emmys and six Visual Effects Society awards.
Mike is a regular speaker at computer animation conferences in Europe, and has lectured at colleges in the UK, the US and Europe. In 2002 Mike was elected to the Council of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and is a visiting professor at Bournemouth University.


Vicky Osborn – VFX Supervisor / Moving Picture Company

Vicky has worked in 3D effects and animation for six years and is presently a VFX supervisor at MPC, voted this year’s top facility. Having recently spent time working on ads for Gatorade, Ford Kuga, and Bacardi. Vicky has taken top end film production techniques and squeezed them into a commercials pipeline, most notably MPC’s Sony Paint, making use of Scanline AG’s flowline for simulation of fluid fireworks.

Vicky has recently worked closely with Jonathan Glazer, Nicolai Fuglsig and Traktor in order to help advise and direct the CG within their adverts. With experience across both film and commercials she advises clients on the fastest, most cost effective and best technical route to achieve a Director’s vision. She also acts as an interface between Client, Agency, Production and the 3D team; in this position Vicky is familiar with the benefit of implementing new technologies offset against the practicalities of delivering work within very tight deadlines.


Ben Shepherd –  Visual Effects Supervisor / Cinesite

As one of the industry’s shining talents in Visual Effects Supervision, Ben is currently supervising Cinesite’s work on Nutcracker: The Untold Story.
Prior to this he supervised a wide range of VFX for Cinesite and over 300 shots on Disney’s superhero dog movie Underdog (2007), leading a team of 50 artists. This huge award of visual effects work included high-end character animation, facial animation, lip sync, CG fur effects and full CG city environments. Ben was nominated for a Visual Effects Society award for Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture for his work on Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. His many credits include Post-Visualization Supervisor on the Dragon adventure Eragon (2006), in Budapest and prior to that he was Digital Supervisor on The River King (2005) and Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) as well as his work on Alien Vs Predator (2004), Big Fish (2003), Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). Ben’s practical expertise encompasses comprehensive knowledge of both 2D and 3D making his film and visual effects knowledge invaluable to Directors.
Ben trained as an artist, graduating with a degree in Fine Art from Newcastle University.
He worked as an Illustrator and Graphic Designer before starting his Visual Effects career ten years ago.


Sanjay Mistry – Senior Manager of Electronics Arts University’s Graphics Training

As the Senior Manager, Sanjay oversees training and education for all EA studios World Wide. Sanjay has supervised the development and implementation of new hire training for hundreds of incoming computer graphics artists.
Working with EA’s art supervisors, project managers and HR teams Sanjay monitors artist development needs and provides a wide range of technical and artistic professional development programs, including asset development, acting for animation, lighting, foundation art courses and Mel programming. He also runs EA’s Art / Tech Speaker Series, which features presentations on important developments in computer graphics, art, design, science, and storytelling. Sanjay is responsible for the ongoing development of the companies’ knowledge management systems, and the dissemination of information throughout the divisions to ensure that technical innovations and best practices are deployed across the company.
Sanjay is a key member of the EA team as training and education have become an indispensable component of Electronic Arts recruitment effort and is instrumental in the development of the company’s artists. He also represents EA on the BAFTA Games Committee, and in the larger academic community, working with educators at school level and advanced degree programs in Europe to encourage the development of digital arts curricula.


Scott Eaton Founder / Armature Studios

Scott is an artist, technical director and founder of Armature Studios. He received his master’s degree from the renowned MIT Media Lab and subsequently studied traditional fine art at the Florence Academy of Art, Italy where he began to integrate the lessons of the old masters with modern computer graphics tools. Scott founded Armature Studios to continue developing these and other techniques needed to create fantastic digital art and to make these lessons available to all digital artists.
Scott currently divides his time between his art, production, and consulting. His clients include Pixar, Sony, Microsoft Game Studios, The Mill, Double Negative, and many other post production houses and games studios. He regularly lectures on the digital arts and presented at our previous series at Tate Modern, as well as the Annecy Animation Festival, FMX, and Siggraph.


Henrik Wann Jensen, PhD. Chief Scientist / Bunkspeed

Dr. Jensen is an Associate Professor at UCSD following three years as a Research Associate at Stanford University. Before Stanford, he was a post-doctoral researcher in the graphics group at MIT, and between 1996-98, a research scientist in the industry working on visual effects software. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Technical University of Denmark in 1996.
He has lectured on the subject to computer graphics artists at major digital-effects companies including Sony Imageworks, Disney, Pixar, and Industrial Light & Magic, his work widely profiled in international media.
In 2004, Professor Jensen received an Academy Award (Technical Achievement Award) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for pioneering research in rendering translucent materials. He also became a Sloan Fellow and he was selected as one of The World’s Top Ten Scientists of 2004 by Popular Science magazine.


Marc Petit –  Senior Vice President of Media & Entertainment / Autodesk, Inc.

With close to twenty years experience in management and technology, Marc Petit leads Autodesk Media & Entertainment as Senior Vice President, iIn his current role managing the Media & Entertainment division and guides the development and marketing of Autodesk’s leading 2D systems and 3D animation software solutions, including Autodesk Inferno, Flame, Smoke, Lustre, Toxik, 3ds Max, Maya, MotionBuilder, Mudbox and FBX.
He launched his career with French 3D software pioneer Thomson Digital Image (TDI) in 1987. From TDI, Marc joined Softimage in 1991, and helped the then-fledgling company reach critical mass in Europe. In 1996, he moved to Montreal to serve as Softimage’s Vice President of 3D Products before joining Autodesk in 2002.

Image credits… Tansformers (Image courtesy of Touchstone/Universal Pictures) : X-Men 2 (Image courtesy Twentieth Century Fox) : Prehistoric Park (Image courtesy of Framestore-CFC) : Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Image courtesy of Electronic Arts) : Winged Lion by Scott Eaton : molecular simulation of milk based on vitamin B2, protein and fat by Henrik Wann Jensen (All images copyright of their respective owners. All Rights Reserved.)

These lectures would not have been possible without the generous support of our partners…