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Chris Noellert: Thoughts on the 20th Anniversary Edition

Posted by Caitlin Troughton, 17 December 2012 2:14 pm

Chris Noellert and his Flame

Chris Noellert, Creative Director and VFX Supervisor at CarbonVFX in Santa Monica and  long-time beta customer for Flame, talked to us about all things Flame including his career, his favorite spots, and his experiences with the 20th Anniversary Edition.

CT: Hi Chris. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for our ‘Flame Can Do That!’ blog.  We’re thrilled to have the chance to talk to you. While many people in the Flame community probably know your name, they may not know just how deep your Flame experience goes.  So, let’s start there.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

 Chris: 19 years ago I started as an intern at Chimera Digital Imaging, a 3D/VFX boutique that had just opened in New Orleans.  They had an Indigo Elan, an Indy, and a handful of Macintosh desktops and were trying to break in to what, at that point, was an industry in its infancy.  It must have been either SIGGRAPH or NAB that year that the partners saw Flame and were convinced that it was the way forward for the company.  

After that convention, the office was scattered with Discreet Logic marketing blitz -- spec sheets, copies of Logik magazine, testimonials -- everything that you could get your hands on regarding Flame and Flint.  I read through everything, trying to suck up whatever glory there was to be had by being near such an amazing new product, even if it was just through press-kits and sales pieces. 

The first time I actually saw Flame would have been when a reseller from Dallas installed our Indigo 2 Extreme-based Flint, complete with a DL4 disk array and Accom WSD.  I sat off in the background watching them assemble the kit, curious about this magic box I had read so much about.  It sure as hell didn't look like much, but, as was the general feeling back then, everything from SGI was exotic and cool and exciting, and a cut above the rest.  

When they powered it up for the first time and opened Flint, I was immediately taken with the fact that there were no floating windows – that everything was locked down.  More impressive was the speed at which the trainer whisked through the various menus, the Wacom pen moving at a pace I had never seen before. Showing off a simple warp setup in the warper, throwing some 3D text around in 3D Effects, playing SD video in real time (via the Accom):  I was amazed. I had truly found my niche.    

Since then I've lived in New York, London, Stockholm, and now LA.  I've had the amazing good fortune to work with and for some of the most talented people in our industry.  Apart from my duties as a Flame artist, I've built multi room, multi-scanner DI facilities at Nordisk Film, written and designed  multi-user collaborative database driven back-ends for desktop compositors, driven every compositing package ever made, and opened my own visual effects boutique, Syndicate, together with the amazingly talented and sometimes controversial Bjorn Benkert – and all before the age of 30. Since returning to the states, I've had the pleasure of working with talented crews at shops like Public VFX and Mirada.  

A couple months back I took the post of Creative Director and VFX Supervisor at the newly opened west coast office of CarbonVFX in Santa Monica, a sister company of Whitehouse Post. There, I just finished up the Microsoft Windows 8 launch campaign for 1st Avenue Machine and Crispin Porter.  

I'm an avid photographer, husband, and father of three crazy but amazing children.  Life has been kind. 

CT: As you are a die-hard Flame artist, we are curious to hear your thoughts on the 20th Anniversary Edition workflow. What do you like the most?   

Chris: The static connection between the different areas is fantastic now, especially for Flame users who got used to having to go into batch to access any of the timeline features including BatchFX.  It's a whole new world opening up.  

Since my kit of choice has been Flame Premium Timeline for the last couple years, the single thing that I was most excited about in the 20th Anniversary Edition was that I would be getting my reels back.  Just the idea of being able to blend those two ideologies into a single cohesive workflow was such an exciting prospect.  That being said, I still think we’re a little ways off from the perfect execution of that concept, but this first step at an "advanced system's grand-unification" is without a doubt a giant leap forward, and ultimately I believe it's the only way forward for the products.   


CT: It’s a big change for experienced artists who know how to drive the Flame system with their eyes closed.  How are you adapting?  What is the biggest challenge for you?

Chris: Once I got the first beta of Flame Premium installed, I realized that alongside all of the malarkey of relearning the hotkeys, button positions and pulldown menu madness, I had to completely relearn how to work.  Driving the machine blindfolded was obviously out of the question now but that concern paled in comparison to completely rethinking how to take a job from start to finish in the kit.  Tasks on the reels that I had relearned in the timeline had to be re-considered.  The revamped desktop and library structure were also huge game changers.  How would that figure into my new workflow?  How would I do breakouts?  How will I version now?  How will I organize?  How the HELL do I export a quicktime movie?  Everything was up for grabs.  

However, with a bit of time on the kit the dust began to settle and throughout the arduous process of refining my workflow, my mantra slowly but surely became "Finally!"  The core logic finally jelled between the different creative dichotomies--there is a method to the madness.  Finally.

CT: We are continuing working on improving the product and listening to feedback. Even with the challenges you’re facing, you still sound optimistic about the 20th Anniversary Edition. Can you give us some examples of what you find exciting about the upcoming release? 

Chris: I would say I'm cautiously hopeful and significantly more so after having seen a preview of Extension 2. I think this extension is about restoring the user’s faith by completing what started in the 20th Anniversary Edition.  In essence, this release is the logical progression of what is currently shipping - with the emphasis on stability and refinement.  If people were saying that the 20th Anniversary Edition was only half way there, then I would say Ext2 is going to take us to 90% of completion.

A few standout enhancements for me: the desktop improvements and fixes will make the Flame crowd draw a large breath and sigh of relief. Most, if not all, of the usability has returned, and much of the annoying GUI strangeness has been wiped away.  Conforming and file handling seems to be improved a bit, and libraries appear to have made a comeback which will definitely make some people very happy. But as I said before, this release is really about stability, and the logical conclusion of things left incomplete or broken – as well as a fair amount of spit and polish. 

CT: Thanks Chris. And now that we’ve talked about the latest release, with this year being the 20th anniversary of Flame, what are some of your favorite Flame projects from over the years? 

Chris: Most of my own favorites have not just been "mine", but rather the product of "many's" hard work and dedication.  In the Chimney days the best was probably Madonna's "Nothing Really Matters" where I was working with Bjorn Benkert on a Flint O2 and Cineon.  That was a blast.  Or "Erase and Rewind" for the Cardigans--lovely old promos for great songs with amazing directors.  But, the one that sticks out most in my mind pre-millenium was a pair of adverts I did for Mats Stenberg for Sensel where we did all the effects & CG in 2k from Spirit scans, filmed-out and struck a print which we telecined for the final.  The results were gorgeous.  

At Syndicate I loved all the work we did for Renck--TGV, Audi, Tiger and the big standout for me being Kylie's "Love at First Sight" promo.   I did a lot of work for Adam Berg, Fredrick Callinggard and Amir Chamdin which also really sticks out in my mind.  We were making beautiful pictures most of the time--the commercial aspects came second. 

Since being back in the states I loved being such a big part of the Lincoln films we did a couple years back at Public for Lance Accord--they were really something new and special both in look and process.  It was fantastic seeing the full gamut of Flame's toolset being traversed on an hourly basis.  It was amazing, and it really felt like a tip of the hat to the European visual sensibility.  And at Mirada, I was lead flame on Jon Favreau's adverts for Wrigley's 5 Gum which is hand's down my favorite job in years--an absolutely amazing effort by many talented artists lead by Zach Tucker and the legendary John Fragomeni. 

Regarding other people's work, there are too many amazing projects to name, but one will forever stick out in my mind.  Bjork's "All is full of Love" has got to be one of the most artful uses of the kit that I have ever seen.  Aside from the fact that Cunningham is a visual genius, all of the physical elements, 3D and 2D elements are so seamlessly blended into a symphony of visual awesomeness.  The polish on everything is astounding.  Pasi if you're reading this I will forever be jealous.  It remains an amazing piece of work by you and your team, brother.


CT: Your Flame experience and artistry has taken you around the world:  New Orleans, London, Stockholm, New York, and now LA.  What would you say to someone thinking of getting into this business?

Chris: When I look back on my own career and consider how I got from where I started -- over the river and through the hills to LA in present day, I always jokingly say that I owe it to a mix of Apple Computers, one scoop of talent and a gallon of blind luck.  

In New Orleans, Matt Hales and Matt Wisdom at Chimera took me in because I showed that scoop of talent, and because I just happened to be the right person at the right time.  I also cold-called them every day for months until they caved. Once I was in a whole world opened up.

Hales and Wisdom mentored me in 2d and 3d respectively.  I learned what I could of Alias and moved on to that fascinating green-powerhouse.  COSA and Denim Software came out with cool new programs that ran on Macs called After Effects and Paint/Composite and I just drank it all up.  

I think that in any industry one needs to take chances and jump off into the deep-end--sometimes at a moment’s notice.  Our abilities aren't enough to get us recognized by our peers alone.  We need to take risks, not with just with our craft but in most aspects of our lives.  In retrospect, I could have gone to LA or to London immediately after New Orleans, but a series of events found me, ticket in hand, on my way to Stockholm to start at the Chimney Pot, under Flame god Mads Linden, and with Henric Larsson at the helm.  

After New Orleans, moving to Stockholm was like sensory overload.   Everything was different from the food to the music to the culture, and I just focused all of that into my work.  If Chimera had taught me the framework, Mads taught me to be the artist I am--how to run the room, how to play the game, how to be fast--all that came from Mads.  When he stepped aside I did my best to fill those shoes.  Conversely, Henric showed me what it means to be a business man and a proprietor of the highest grade, something that would become invaluable in the coming years.   When I left Chimney, I knew that I could do anything and go anywhere.

So, aspiring artist, you need talent and you need luck (neither of which you have control over) so hope for the best there. You equally need to be driven, possess an insatiable desire to learn, and most importantly, you need to be willing to trust your intuition and take chances--sometimes veering hopelessly off course.  Once you're in, find a mentor and stick to them like glue or until they threaten bodily harm.  Without Wisdom, Hales, Mads and Henric mentoring me, I would never have made it.

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