Lead Lighting Technical Director, Rhythm & Hues Studios
As a child, Jack Fulmer decorated his ceiling with hobby shop models from everything from WWII sopwith camels to anything Star Trek and Star Wars. But as he grew older, his pastime shifted towards blowing them up. "I rigged them onto fishing line and sent them through the back yard with a few firecrackers placed in "strategic" positions. I tried to film some of it, but you only get one shot, so to speak. And when your parents find out you're blowing up the models they bought you for Christmas, you're not likely to get any more." So parents, fear not for your own children’s rather odd interests. This experimental youth who "throughout college and beyond was always doing something artistic as a means of self-expression, whether it was music, painting, sculpting, writing performance art,” wound up with a stellar career in digital FX. "It was like a spigot that I couldn't turn off."
- Can you give a little background on your current line of work?
I'm a Lead Lighting Technical Director at Rhythm & Hues Studios. A lighting TD at a large film studio, such as R&H, is generally in charge of properly integrating CG elements with live action plates. As a lead at R&H, my duties also involve wrangling HDRI data and using it to generate a lighting world composed of an image-based reflection environment and the lighting rig that will be used to light the CG components. I will typically lead a team of roughly 10 lighters on a show, providing them with daily direction, solving any technical issues that arise, and creating/implementing technical and artistic solutions on a shot-by-shot basis as well as show-wide.
- What is it you enjoy about it the most?
The short hours . . . just kidding. CG visual effects is truly an art form. Doing it well is a superb challenge. In particular, I like the way the technical aspect is intertwined with the artistic aspect. It presents numerous challenges, sometimes not only on a daily basis, but on an hourly basis. Being faced with a problem that requires a technical solution to achieve an artistic result is like a game or a puzzle. Many problem-solving situations are unique unto themselves. Once a solution is achieved and the final result is on-screen, it can often be quite rewarding. In addition, I have to say that I truly love working with the artists at Rhythm & Hues. They are an exceptionally intelligent and artistically gifted group of people.
- What would you tell someone who is considering a career in 3D?
You better really love doing it, because no one is doing it to get rich. Come to the table with strong artistic skills, and if a great eye for color and composition don't come naturally, then you might want to consider a different career. Plan on working intensely and efficiently, at times for 14 hours a day. Be prepared to have to continually improve upon your technical and aesthetic skillset. If you stagnate, you will get passed by. Quickly. I do this for a living because I love doing it. Don't get me wrong, I'm able to support my family and live comfortably (for L.A. standards), but I'm not getting rich, because that's just not feasible in this industry. It can be an extremely rewarding career if you are the type of artist that takes pleasure in doing great work.
- What has changed in the field since you first entered it?
The clients seem to want more - bigger, better more dramatic effects, yet the budgets haven't increased accordingly. I think the VFX industry may be slightly at fault for not better educating the client on how labor and resource intensive large scale visual effects across a broad scope can be.
- What changes would you like to see?
I'd like to see games move away from the violent FPS mentality. The world of 3D can go so far beyond that. It would be great if visual effects companies as a whole understood the value in taking better care of their employees (excluding a company like R&H, of course). The work we do can often require lengthy hours and is often mentally exhausting. It's inevitable that the artists eventually start to burn out. R&H values the artists and goes out of its way to make sure that people don't completely fry themselves.
I'm not sure what the working environment is at other large studios, but I have worked for smaller boutique shops, and they will chew you up and spit you out if you let them. Altering this pattern would require a paradigm shift with regard to the clients' expectations and production schedules. Due to the amount of competition in the VFX marketplace, this is unlikely to change, unfortunately.
- Where do you think the field is headed?
Conversion of cinema and games is without question on the horizon. I believe we'll also see a deeper integration of a fully-immersive 3D experience in the retail cinema establishment as a way to try to keep people in the theaters, versus watching movies at home on the living room big screen. I can certainly see an integration between 3D and the Photosynth (Seadragon) technologies that Microsoft is developing. Image-based rendering and generating textured models from a series of still images will become widely used and regularly expected in a very short period of time.
- Do you feel education has kept up with the changes in technology?
That's a hard question to answer because it's so broad ranging. I'm not familiar with education outside of the U.S. but it seems like colleges and universities here have never really had a focused curriculum dedicated to visual effects. Most offer courses that cover some aspects, but the actual convergence of computer science and fine art skills at the university level is certainly not a mass appeal scenario. Of course, education will typically be dictated by what the students want to learn.
In many ways, the education toward what we do is very specific. At R&H we are continually conducting what we call Tech-Ops, which are education sessions conducted by individuals who have developed new software and/or new methodologies for using software.
- Do you feel technology addresses the needs of the digital artist?
How can it? Technology never addresses the needs of our field. Even when something revolutionary emerges we always want more. As lighting artists, we want processors that can process data 100 times faster than the current ones. We want real-time OpenGL shaded rendering of a creature with 4 million strands of fur. We're years from that. Or more. As far as software is concerned, R&H works in a Linux environment and for the most part we use proprietary software, so we're not necessarily reliant upon any other software technologies other than OS distributions.
- Where do you think your field will be in 20 years?
Oh jeez, are you kidding? 20 years. It's hard to imagine what this field will be like in 5 years. Let's just say, unless we enter a time warp some time soon where everything in the world slows to a crawl, it will be dramatically different.