Why study Visual Effects as a Theme Park designer?

Posted on March 18, 2012

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What do you do when you want to learn a new skill?  Some read books.  Some talk to friends about the topic. Others dip a toe in to see if it’s “their thing”.  Me, I lead with my head.

In 2008 while working at Thinkwell Design, I discovered that the skills and techniques of 3D Animation could greatly help my design process.  The project I was working on was very complex, by far the most complex project I’d been on at that time, and I needed a different way of organizing my work than 2D AutoCAD allowed.  I needed to go 3D and I needed the model to change over time.  I immediately started looking into animation software.  I had very briefly dabbled in Max back in 2006 and since it was another Autodesk product I asked project management to purchase a license for me to work with. To my utter amazement, a week later I was given a shiny new copy of Max 2008.  I wasted no time, I started importing my blocky, poorly created models from AutoCAD.  Within a week I had the whole facility and show elements modeled and keyframed.

My first wireframe animatic went over very well with the team.  I was convinced that this was where I wanted my career to go.  I started learning everything I could about animation and it was during this research that I learned the basics of incorporating a 3D rendering into live footage.  I learned about Compositors, Modelers, Technical Animators, After Effects, Maya, Houdini, Particle Systems, Color Grading, Node-based workflow, Codecs, Pixel Aspect Ratio, Color Space and Matchmoving.  Matchmoving?  What the hell does matchmoving have to do with working as a set designer for theme park rides?

It turns out, quite a lot.  You see in matchmoving you create a virtual camera in 3D space that matches the physical camera that captured the images.  This allows you to match the perspective of a site photo and accurately place your 3D modeled final product into it’s final location. But this type of visualization is only one level of usefulness for matchmoving. The application in which matchmoving becomes especially useful is in the measurement of an existing space and creation of an As-Built 3D model.  It’s very common to be working on a refurb project that no accurate drawings exist for.  With well thought out video of the location you can use matchmoving software like PFTrack, Matchmover, and Boujou to create a point cloud reference of your space, and with that create camera projected massing objects.  These massing objects then get integrated with your working 3D models and you can much more accurately address the needs of the design.

This is only one example of cross industry application for a technique created for an entirely different purpose.  Through my studies thus far I’ve discovered myriad uses for Visual Effects techniques in my work.  I’m going to continue this series “Why Study VFX to be a Theme Park designer” with more examples of the crossover between industries.

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