Eric Chauvin of BlackPool Studios

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background

Star Wars still  - Created by Eric ChauvinStar Wars still In college I was a fine art major specializing in Drawing and Painting. After graduation I couldn't get a job anywhere that had anything to do with art. After working in a mortgage company for a couple of years I went back to graduate school and got a masters degree in art. While in graduate school I made up my mind that I wanted to get into matte painting. The week after I graduated I was working at Industrial Light & Magic as a matte painting asst. on the film "Hook" in 1991.

How was it working for ILM ?

Enterprise - Created by EnterpriseI loved working there. I would still be there if it weren't for the desire to buy an affordable house. Marin county is VERY expensive. It was either buy something there or commute. The commute was going to be too far from where housing was within my price range. So I quit, went freelance, moved to Washington state and the rest is history. I've been here for 8 and a half years working freelance the whole time.

What did you learn (techniques, working methods, production, etc) in ILM, and what software did you use back then?

It was at ILM that I learned how to work on a computer to do matte painting. We were working on the TV show "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" As far as I know that was the first instance that traditional matte artists were doing digital matte paintings. We were using just Photoshop back then. While I was there I was also moonlighting at home on the TV show "Babylon 5". I quickly discovered that they would shoot a scene on a sets that required me to do set extensions over and over only the camera set ups wouldn't be the same every time. So I couldn't use the same painting over and over.

That's when I figured I needed to learn 3D modeling and rendering. That way I could move my virtual camera to match the real camera and render a painting element that matched the new angle better. I started out on a 3D program called Infini-D and worked fine as a beginning 3D app. But over time I needed to model increasingly more complex objects and Infini-D just wasn't up to the task at the time.

John Knoll, who was the co-creator of "Photoshop" with his brother Tom, works at ILM as a Visual Effects Supervisor. Back then he was already an active user of Form Z for modeling and ElectricImage for rendering and animation. He suggested we learn those programs for our 3D work. If we had any trouble he could help us out. So we did. I've been using the two together ever since.

As for techniques, we all sort of came up with techniques on our own but then shared them amongst ourselves. It was really a brand new frontier; doing traditional matte paintings with digital tools. As for working methods, all of us in the matte department wanted to do as much work on a given shot as possible. Therefor we were pretty autonomous from the rest of the company. We did the painting, the compositing, the animation elements if needed, the keying, the roto, everything but shoot the plate. It's that way of working that I still incorporate in my working style today.

That's were working digitally really opened things up to the matte artist. In the traditional way of working, typically the artist did just the painting. Someone else would shoot it. Another department would do the compositing. Yet another department would add animation elements. Now the artist could do the whole thing.

And now that you’re independent what do you do in Black Pool studio?

Principally what I do is digital matte painting. However, 99% of the time I do more than just the paintng on a given shot. I will usually also do compositing, roto, blue/green screen extraction, matchmoving, effects animation. Pretty much everything but character animation.

Please tell us some more about Matte Painting and how its used in the Special Effects Industry

Like all effects, mate painting is an inexpensive means to an end. If the script calls for some exotic location and it is either too expensive or impractical to either go to a location or build one as a full set, then matte paintings are employed. It is much cheaper to pay one guy to do a matte painting than a whole crew to build an actual set. For examples of what I'm talking about just visit my site www.blackpoolstudios.com

Do you need an artistic or technical background to do this kind of work?

It would certainly be helpful

Any school or studio you would recommend for this?

Several years ago I compiled a list of schools on my website on the FAQ page. Most of them should still be relevent.

In what projects have you worked in the past?

Alias - Created by AliasSmallvile, Alias, Star Trek Enterprise, X-Files, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, The Young indiana Jones Chronicles, Texas Rangers, Vertical Limit, Bicentennial Man, Contact, Starship Troopers, Return of the Jedi (rerelease), Empire Strikes Back (rerelease), Star Wars (rerelase), Congo, Forest Gump, The Mask (Complete list)
Do part of your works involve Camera Mapping? If so please describe a little bit about this technique.

Yes. Camera mapping allows me to working on a 2D painting that can be easily mapped onto 3D geometry creating a 3D matte painting. Rather than work on custom texture maps for individual elements in the shots, I can render a 3D model with fairly simple generic textures and flesh the resulting render out as a painting in Photoshop. When I getting to a state of finish I can then project it back onto the models and do a camera move. It's a very cool technique and I use it a lot.

What software do you use to do Your Matte Paintings/ Camera Mapping job?

Photoshop, After Effects, Form Z, Electric Image and Boujou.

Why do you use EIAS as one of your main tools?

I've been using EI for over ten years. It's easy to use, fast and produces beautiful renders. The interface has the complexity I need to fine tune certain parameters without being complicated or overwhelming.

What EIAS feature do you find invaluable for your line of work?

Camera mapping.

Is EIAS' camera mapping easy to use or why do you prefer it?

Enterprise 2 - Created by Enterprise 2It's very easy to use. Why do I use it? Sometimes I use it when I probably shouldn't have. For example, I was working on an Arthurian miniseries a few years ago. There was a shot I needed to do were I needed to boom off the plate element into the matte painting to look up over two turrets in the castle walls. When I first layed out the camera move I estimated that I could render the shot with maybe 5 or 6 projection cameras. Well it ended up being more like 25.

In retrospect, I probably should have used a more conventional approach to texture mapping. The one drawback to projection mapping is that the maps are meant to be seen from a very specific angle. If your camera moves too far off that angle you need to add another projection map to play to that part of the move. If you have geometry that has alot of negative spaces or it's a shape that the front partially obscures the back then camera mapping may not be the best approach unless you cut up the geometry appropriately.

What projects (if you can mention them) are you currently working or will work in the future?

My regular job is working on the TV show "Alias" At the moment I'm finishing up on some shots I'm doing for the feature film "Blade III".

Any EIAS tip you would like to share with our users?

I have a bunch. The ones that come to mind right now are if you hold down the OPTION key while clicking on the check box next to an item in the project window, it will turn off or on all the items below it. I use this all the time and it is a real efficient way to turn a bunch of items on or off quickly.

The other thing is if you hold down the CONTROL key on any attribute that has a checkbox, you get a contextual menu that allows you to copy the status of that setting to other items instantly.

Any general advice you would like to give our readers that would like to get in your profession?

Work hard, be dedicated and constantly challenge yourself to do the best work you can. There are many people who want to get into doing effects work. The only way you will have a shot at being noticed is to follow those guiding principals.

Eric Chauvin

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