CG Animator, Luisa Filmproduktions
Gnomon Alumni Jimmy Berndt has been nominated for a VES Award for his work Pushing Daisies. It’s a fitting new chapter to add to a history of film making, starting as a child from a small town in Misiones, a province in the north-eastern end of Argentina. Most likely remembered as “the guy who ran around town dressed like Superman or Spider Man or Batman” he would entertain the neighborhood kids by drawing comic strips and showing the “movies” on his toy projector.
Berndt grew up on US television, delayed by a few years but still fresh to him. He would devour Space 1999, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trek. “Back then I found out that my passion had a name: It was called Science Fiction.” He now is using his passion as part of the team remastering the original Star Trek series.
- What made you decide to pursue your education?
I used to work as a technical consultant for IBM's Global Services division when our project was canceled. IBM had to let go of a lot of people, including me. My skills were very specific, getting another job was challenging. I had to either upgrade my programming skills (actually more like reset them) and start over. I then remembered my childhood adventures and thought, maybe this is the opportunity I was waiting for to do something I loved. My wife said to go for it, and so I did.
- What was the most valuable lesson you learned at Gnomon?
Gnomon showed me that you can actually work on what you love. Every teacher works or had industry experience. Every term that graduated seemed to be doing very well. The tools you learn take the genie out of the box. Gnomon channels your passion into a career.
- What is your mantra?
Always learn. Remember your friends. Help and ask for help.
- What would you say is a common cause for a person to fail in this line of work?
I have mostly worked in one place, yet I would say attitude. Skills are an important factor, but a lot of your skills come from what you learn on the job. I guess you could also say that if you can't learn anymore, that'd be an issue.
- What earned your recent VES (Visual Effects Society) Award nomination?
I worked on a television pilot named Pushing Daisies. CBS Digital is a small studio, but a very creative environment. One of the requirements of the show was to create fields of daisies. I was involved in creating those fields. There were some very steep challenges in accomplishing the directors' vision, and perhaps better ways of doing the effect; yet, we had a limited time and a lot of work. I am the FX TD at CBS Digital and it fell on my lap to get those fields populated with flowers.
The opening sequence uses a combination of actual and instanced daisies. I think the count is 150 thousand or so. These had to be rendered in layers. Some tools helped make this easier. For instances, I developed a couple of MEL scripts that allowed me to position the flowers on the terrain according to the distance from a locator, in a random pattern, and respecting the terrain's normals. The flowers closer to camera sway and move while the ones in the background don't. There are a couple of shots in which the main characters interact with the flowers as they ran down the field. This was done with actual geometry deformed via softbody lattices.
- What do you think was the standout reason CBS Digital hired you?
I think CBS hired me for a couple of reasons: The main one was being recommended for the job by a Gnomon instructor named David Schoneveld. CBS also knew about Gnomon and often recruited Gnomon artists.
I had planned 2 approaches to my career. One as a rigger TD, the other as an FX TD. My reel was mostly rigs; yet what I really liked was FXs (I thought it would be easier to get a job as a character TD). David suggested that I show some of my homework. I think they liked what they saw; they liked David; they saw that I had a rounded education, meaning I could rig, animate, light if needed. They did not have anyone technical working there, and I guess they saw that potential in me.
- What was your interview process like?
CBS-D needed someone right away, and the amount of work was well... immense. The interview lasted about one hour. I showed the CG Supervisor my reel, though some of it was very crude. He was concerned about the lack of FX shots on my reel. I told him about my interests (FX), my background (Technical), of some classes I took. I also showed him some image sequences I had from David's class.
Two days later they called me and asked me when I could start. First it was a contract position, then a month later it became a full time job. The first week I think was a test week, they were curious to see what I could come up with. I think they liked what they saw, I am still here today.
- What are the positives and negatives of your field?
The Pros: Free sodas (Starbucks' suits me just fine, thank you). Get pay to play. You learn new tricks. See the fruits of your work out there on TV, games, or movies. Meet cool people. Real-life exposure to making offs when you are on set. You may be nominated...
The Cons: Long hours (sometimes) and little exercise (sometimes). Crazy deadlines. Having to learn new tricks all the time. Seeing your shots out there on TV, games, or movies.
- Yes, I know the feeling! Do you feel education has kept up with the changes in technology?
They surely try. Look for instances how long it took to issue some sort of training on the new features of Houdini 9, which incorporates among other things fluids. I think education is great for a solid foundation, not so much for the latest and the greatest.
- Do you feel technology addresses the needs of entertainment?
Technology has come a long way. The tools have been perfected so much that we can assist in realizing some amazing visions. What was difficult 10 years ago is much more possible today. Yet, the appetite for ever greater applications of technology is bigger than ever.
- How do you feel the field, now that you are a working contributor?
The tools seem to be getting easier, the requirements seem to be ever more demanding, in that sense the industry is always evolving and you always have to be learning something new.
I think you rarely go wrong when you invest in an artist. It is not just about the money for us. I feel lucky to work where I do. Sometimes you hear that loyalty gives-in to profit, in the longer run this is a short-sighted strategy. The motto "Just get it done the cheapest, and the fastest" is not very encouraging, and often shows up in the final result.
- What do you hope to see the industry accomplish in the next 10 or 20 years?
1: Telepathic holographic movie distribution without commercials. 2: CG Perfection, where we have perfected realism to the level that the only difference between a movie shot in real life versus one done entirely in CG is the CG's price tag. 3: Faster cloth/fluid/rigid bodies solving (and then even faster).
- I’ll be the first to sign up for #1. What would you tell someone who is considering a career in 3D?
Find your niche. Find that which you love the most and excel at it. A lot of the jobs out there are about getting the task done. The more comfortable you are with the tools the better your chances. Remember your friends.
- Often people mention the importance of attitude in this field. Would you care to share some of your philosophies that have made you successful?
I think attitude plays a fundamental role in this industry. My CG sup has said it more than once, he would rather have a CG artist who is a team member than a highly talented artist who is hard to get along with. It matters in your relationship with your clients, but I would say it is even more important in relationships with your fellow artists.
- Who has been your biggest inspiration?
When it comes to Science Fiction I think Ridley Scott played a big role with Alien and Blade Runner. But I kind of go on a shot by shot basis. I appreciate the complexity of nature and have the most admiration for the people who try to apply it in mathematical terms, a league of their own: Duncan Brinsmead, Jos Stam, Ron Fedkiw.
At Gnomon you have Saty Raghavachary. Anyone who wants to be a FX TD, or even hint to being a technical TD, has to meet and take Saty's classes. He lets the rabbit out of the hat...
- What would you change about your career if you could?
It is hard to say. Right now I enjoy what I do a lot. It is very rewarding to see your contribution to a project out there. I appreciate the opportunities to conduct R&D. I have the flexibility needed to have a life, and I am encouraged to be creative. Above all, I feel that my opinion is heard and as a team we help each other out. I would be nice one day to lead a team in creating some great effects.
- Are there any amusing anecdotes you can share about your time at Gnomon, or on the job?
Yeah, I have a few but I need to watch myself here. I love to play pranks on my friends (I have it coming I tell you...). One time we decided to scare our Star Trek Supervisor. There was a promo piece for an upcoming episode involving a star ship named “Constellation”. We decided to render the color pass which showed the name, but with some typos. We debated naming it Constitution, Constipation, Consummation, etc. and settled for "Consolation". We faked a web site where viewers would post comments on the episodes and altered the footage with the wrong name on the ship so it looked legit, you can see it here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=URZC51fzu44. BTW: It was a team effort.
- So you aren’t the only team prankster, huh? I always get a kick out of blooper reels, be they by accident or on purpose. What are some other examples for how you keep yourself moving forward?
What makes it worth my while is that I have fun doing my job. Often I need to find a perspective to what I am doing. Dust from foot steps is not as rewarding as an atomic explosion, yet you always learn something new. Having fun, laughing some, will keep you doing this longer than otherwise. At Gnomon we had to come up with a final project for the classes we took. My first question when doing a project would be, what would be entertaining, what would pull some laughs? I remember being somewhat successful at achieving this at Gnomon; even though, skill wise I wasn't quite at par with my friends. ;)