Tim Sassoon & Johnathan Banta of Sassoon Film Design

This month we have a double interview with Tim Sassoon (owner) and Johnathan Banta from Sassoon Film Design. SFD is a studio doing feature films, as well as large format (IMAX) and stereo productions.

Hello Tim/Jonathan, could you start by giving us a small intro about yourself and your studio?

Tim: We are a modest sized studio doing mostly independent feature films, as well as large format and special venue films. By that I mean mostly IMAX and stereo.

How and why did you start your career as a 3d artist/digital video producer?

Sassoon 1 - Created by Sassoon 1Tim: In high school I had the opportunity to shoot a sponsored 40 min. film. When we were finishing it, we needed to super titles over live action, so without knowing anything about how it should be done, I built an optical printer from a projector to do it. That was in 1975. A few years later I was working in a commercial photo studio in Washington, D.C. which did a lot of composite shots for IBM AV presentations.

Johnathan: I started doing visual effects when I was 9 years old after seeing Star Wars, and reading an article about Ray Harryhausen in Fantastic Films magazine. I had not seen any of Ray's work, but immediately began taking the lessons I learned from that article, and my father's super-8mm camera, and applied them to clay dinosaurs in the back yard. I also collected all information I could about Star Wars visual effects, and began building models. All this led to drawing, sculpting, photography, painting, and special make-up effects. Terrorizing the cheerleaders in my high school with my werewolf costume was one of the more interesting moments of this obsession.

I began programming an Apple II computer in High school as well, and then started working the Macintosh in college at Brigham Young University. My day job doing print artwork on the Mac, only occasionally crossed over to film. Once Jurrasic Park hit the screens, the die was cast, and I approached several of my professors, and became part of the just-formed computer animation program; for which I later was the teaching assistant.

In the mid 90's I joined BOSS film studio as a matte-painter/texture artist, and then picked up Electric Image on my own. Soon after the demise in 1997 of BOSS as a company, I joined with Tim at Sassoon, where EI became my main 3D program. I am still here, and we still push this product to new extremes.

What kind of work do you do where you work?

Sassoon 3 - Created by Sassoon 3Johnathan: I am the digital supervisor of the company, in which I set the tone for the techniques we use. SFD Has several IMAX, 3D IMAX, special venue, television, and feature projects under its belt. We excel at invisible effects, the kind most audiences would not notice as effects. Virtual environments, matte painting, 3D modeling and animation, and reconstruction of locations in 3D are some of our mainstays.

In what projects have your studio worked in the past in ?

Tim/Johnathan: Spartan, DeLovely, Life as a House, Roar IMAX, Forces of Nature IMAX, Sesame Street 4D, Discovery Channel Unsolved histories, Back to the Future, the Ride, Roar - Lions of the Kalahari and the West Wing.

What has been your favorite/most rewarding project and why?

Sassoon 4 - Created by Sassoon 4Tim: Sesame Street 4D, now showing at Universal Studios Osaka was a great show for us, especially since we were so involved in the finishing. DP/VFX Super Peter Anderson, ASC gave us the time and space to do our absolute best on the show.

Johnathan: I would say that Sesame Street was one of our most rewarding shows, in that it allowed us to create photoreal virtual environments with complete control over 3D tracking, grain, and compositing techniques that we had not tried before. We used the show as a growth project, in that we experimented, and pushed our techniques to their logical limits of the time. It set the trend for how we approach all our projects now; not limiting ourselves by merely what is on the film, but how it contributes to the story, and how our work can better enhance it.

What are the tools/software that you use in your work?

Sassoon 2 - Created by Sassoon 2Johnathan: Electric Image is our main 3D package, supported by Maya. Our compositing is all Adobe After Effects, and we are supported by several of the Adobe product line as well. All running on Macintosh G5 computers.

What are the benefits of this tool, in your opinion?

Tim: I can go out to a job with nothing more than a laptop, sitting in an Avid or Inferno session, and with EI and AE, Photoshop, etc. I can make really sophisticated, complex scenes quickly and easily. I don't think I could do that with many if any competing products. (Johnathan) I am also a fan of the camera-mapping tools.

Any tip (productivity) you want to share for our fellow EIAS users?

Tim: Don't be afraid to try fairly ridiculous pictures as reflection maps for metals. One of the most successful I've ever used was a photo of a half-eaten pizza.

Johnathan: Learn to optimize your projects. Use fewer lights where you can. Paint your way to a solution. Reduce polygons, and re-use maps where you can. I find the biggest problem comes from projects set up to take advantage of all the maximum features of a product, like radiosity, and mult-frame blurs. If you don't need it in the scene, don't render it. Build only what you need.

Any projects for the future, (personal, or otherwise)?

Tim: A real challenge is to continue working the way we want to work, in the face of pressure to do things the way everyone else does them.

Tim Sassoon & Johnathan Banta

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