Interview with Paul Van Camp

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Whats your background?

I have a very diverse background starting with a degree in Electrical Engineering way back in ’79. I worked on theme park attractions with Disney before getting into film with the movie “Brainstorm” where I wrote camera controller software and then became the night-shift motion-control operator. In the eighties I worked on robotic camera systems for films such as “Ghostbusters” and “2010” as well as laser graphics for music concerts and computer-controlled lighting for stage shows. In the early nineties I got into digital post-production by writing match-move software for the film “Judge Dread” and have stayed in that industry ever since working as a Software Developer, a Digital Artist, and a Pipeline Supervisor.

When did you start working at DD and what was your relationship with Nuke?

In 1995 Digital Domain developed a film for Universal Studios’ Theme Park called “Terminator 2 in 3D”. Although the film was short it was packed with visual effects and it was DD’s first stereoscopic project. The supervisors of the show felt that the commercially available compositing packages of the time were not suitable for the rigors of an effects-heavy stereo pipeline so they wanted to make Nuke their principle package. But there was a problem. 

Bill Spitzak had done a brilliant job writing Nuke. It was fully developed; with an impressive arsenal of image processing tools and a unique feature called “cloning” which made it especially suitable for doing stereo. Furthermore it had been used successfully on some especially demanding shots on shows like “Apollo 13” and “True Lies”. However it had never been the principle compositing package on a show and it had a reputation for crashing periodically. But, worst of all, Bill was the only person who really knew its internal workings and he wanted to move into production as an artist which meant that he would not be supporting Nuke as a programmer. 

I was hired to pick up Nuke’s development and adapt it for stereo. My first assignment was to adapt the viewer so that compositors could use the “Crystal Eyes” LCD-based glasses to view their work in stereo. 

With Bill’s assistance I quickly became the company’s new Nuke guru and managed to track down Nuke’s crashing issues to a small number of memory overflow and “dangling-pointers” issues. For the next two years I added a number of features and enhancements including an interactive pan-and-tile interface, seamless integration with DD’s renderfarm, the ability to export and later import sections of a script, and several new processing nodes such as an Ultimatte Keyer, and corner-pinning. Nuke handled “Terminator 2 in 3D” beautifully and it became the backbone to DD’s jaw-dropping effects on “Titanic”.

What was Nuke's competition in the 2002 Academy Awards?

I cannot speak with authority on this issue as I was not involved with the committee that made the decision.

Is there a node/concept you are particularly proud of?

I came up with the idea of adding Nuke’s iconic input stream highlighting which not only looks cool but is actually pretty useful to someone trying to make sense out someone else’s big and gnarly processing tree (which is something I often had to do.) However a more substantial contribution was the development of the “proxy-mode” workflow which allows compositors to develop a script at video resolution and then “flip a switch” and finish the job at full resolution.

Are you still using Nuke in any way?

As a pipeline developer I support the integration of Nuke into our pipeline. Nuke is our principle compositing package at Reliance MediaWorks VFX as it is at most major effects houses.

What would you like to see in Nuke?

I would like to see Nuke develop as a lighting and rendering tool. Of course now that the Foundry has Katana that probably means doing a seamless integration of the two packages. Lighting and compositing are really become a single discipline these days which is great for artists because it means that they get to do more of the work on a given shot. This is not only more efficient but it is more fun as well.

What are you doing now?

I am the Pipeline Supervisor for Reliance MediaWorks VFX where I am in charge of pipeline development for Visual Effects. This is the perfect place for a guy like me who likes to do a little bit of everything.


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