Nikola is Principal PD/PO based in Toronto, working with multiple teams and projects in Autodesk. He is responsible for Maya Color Management, Hypershade, Render Setup, directly working with Arnold Team and designing Maya future workflows like MaterialX – LookDevX and Procedural world building. He was previously working on various positions with smaller and large studios as Sony Imageworks and Framestore. Nikola will be presenting Maya Modern Rendering Workflows at Computer graphics and art conference and share his knowledge how to advance academic programs at Education in Computer Grapnics panel.
You were working in VFX productions such as Sony Pictures Imageworks and Framestore, and now on development of software that you used as a lighting artist. What is the feeling when you know that some of your solutions will affect the development of the VFX industry? Is there something you are missing about the VFX?
I feel challenged since working on beast as Maya it’s not easy task, it’s kind ‘a nerve-wrecking because you are aware that specific change will affect many users through a whole planet. Additional “good” problem is that Maya is CG industry standard that surrounding large sets of different workflows but in same time it’s used in many other diverse Industries that dictating different requirements. To complicate even more, you can divide CG industry requirements in at least 3 groups that in some cases dictating quite different requirements. Yeah, choosing right path many times would need some brave decisions that are based on many factors.
We could truthfully state that I am in some interesting position where I am affecting industry to lean in to specific direction however, greater truth is that behind every struggle and final success is a group effort and there is nothing different in my case.
Working on shots, struggling trough Pipe and finding solution is something that I miss a lot from industry. I guess biggest difference is that in VFX Industry you would see ramification of your work on daily basic, compering to Software developing where your products are coming out after one or two years and actual feedback is delayed even more.
You have the opportunity to work on the development of MaterialX. Can you tell us more about the idea behind it?
MaterialX project is an Holy Grail of Shading that many of us looking in to extensively for many years. Idea is to standardize Shading Workflow btw different DCC’s (Maya, 3DStudioMax, Houdini…etc) and different Rendering outputs (Arnold, RenderMan, Vray, different Hardware Render’s, GameEngines ….etc). You can think of it as having Shader network that can produce same Look across different Outputs.
Industrial Light Magic (ILM) being looking in to these problems for many years, firmly since they had been dealing with many Software’s in their pipeline, and obviously transferring shaders with consistent look was a nightmare. On Autodesk side (one of my initial assignments in Autodesk) we worked specifically on problems how to target different outputs using OSL, GLSL, HLSL etc. , project was named ShaderX.
To make story short, ILM opened communication very early from design stages to smaller group including Autodesk and somewhere just before 2 SIGGRPAH’s ago we open cards to each other and decided to join efforts for everyone’s benefits. We contributed ShaderX to MaterialX project which is fully included in MaterialX spec and downloadable from www.materialx.org .
Stay tuned, lot’s of great workflow’s are coming to our land …
The goal of developing the VFX industry and computer graphics was to reach the level of photorealism. Based on the VFX industry products, it can be said that this goal has been achieved. So, where else? What is the next goal?
Great and tough question. Regarding the photorealism, we still using some optimized algorithms which allowing us to gain rendering speed that in some cases conceding true physical material and light properties. If you check new Arnold update, you would notice significant improvement on SSS look in conjunction with SSS rendering performance and just recently, on research level we achieved some breakthrough in Rendering technology. If we look in the other side I can continue with list regarding how we are consuming Geometry in Scenes and tessellation optimization that are great but it will be proven very soon that they not enough for Industry consumption. I am trying to say that there is still lot to achieve in VFX workflows, “cheating” in Comp is still big subject, but we are very close to do A over B workflows.
Finally, to give you more direct answer, I guess next goal should be somewhere in line of merging VFX Look with Games Workflows. Simply thought is that we need more interactivity in VFX workflows, more FPS.
What advice can you give to the people who are just making their first steps in this industry? What mistakes did you make and they should avoid them?
It’s was way different when I was starting and now, however, there is always similarity’s. For newcomers, I would advise to taste every discipline available in CG and slowly get specialized with something you enjoining to work with. Don’t rush, try not to leave gaps in knowledge, always go back and try to figure out what you did not understand first time. Have long term plans and short term plans, but always do something with your plans. Don’t be affray to do mistake, play on long run and you will always succeed. When you hit a wall, don’t take stuff to seriously since we are not in business of saving life’s, we are not doctors, there is always next day to fix the problem. When you are comfortable with your position think to leave to another position if offer’s you more knowledge and challenges (and money!!!). Do this at least 3 times in your carrier. Always be truthful to yourself and others and if you have great demo real and if you did at least half of mentioned above, call me I can probably help if you think to work outside of Serbia. Ehh… I am hoping you will not need to leave.
I guess all above is more about work-ethics, few direct advices. It’s important to do what you are enjoying doing, however, it’s imperative to go out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in stuff that nobody wants to do. Success is waiting always around a corner. Learn to listen, find your Champion you want to follow, copy only the best from different personas and find your own way, always adjust in every aspect of life.
Yeah… Don’t add music in your demo real, show your demo-real to few trustworthy personas and consider removing non-essential pieces.
Uhhh… that was a lot.
Mistake? Maybe, studding Mechanical Engineering just to have some Degree was mistake however, I passed smoothly as possible and always leaning more my time to CG education than Mechanical engineering.
There has always been a discussing over whether to have more technical knowledge than artistic skills and vice versa. How is your opinion on this?
Ideally you would be mix of outstanding Tec and Artistic skills but that is kind ‘a hard to expect or find in one TD. I have seen just a few personas in my carrier who are truly technical and superb Artist, those personas are being usually quickly snatched from floor level to some Supervisor position.
We are moving industry in direction where you will be less required to be Technical and more Artistic. I am claiming this from the volume perspective, e.g. you would need 1 Tec persona on 9 artistic one’s. During my early industry time, I would organize team’s where we would have functional groups of 7 where 3 personas would be more technical than Artistic. Todays tools allowing us to move this number to 7 to 1.
I have been seeing some awesome Technical TD’s stuck with some shots just because they could not resolve shot from Artistic side and opposite when we look Artistic personas. We should possibly say that you should pursuit a road that you are comfortable with, however, get your self out of comfort from time to time and expand your knowledge, most important is to be selective in your knowledge pursuit.
You’ve decided to return to Belgrade and encourage our local scene, what surprises you the most when each time you come to Belgrade, both on private and business terms?
This year, I got positively surprised by few players from Belgrade, become blown away in Los Angeles with listening Serbian language on SIGGRAPH floor. Being proud with our guys when I got approached on internal meetings where some respective persona would applaud Nordeus talks at Unite Austin.
Yup, Serbian scene is growing and we need to find a way to push it even more in right direction. I see some positive movement in Government, however, I have no any direct connection to figure out if there is something there really happening. In the other hand, few of my close Canadian friends have IT business open in Belgrade for over 10 years and they always praising Serbian satellite company when they compare to other operations they have around the world.
How much is Serbia on the world map of the VFX industry recognizable? What can we do to make us even more visible?
Sorry, next few sentences will be a bit hard for some readers. Serbia as an CG market is not existing in VFX circles, obviously there are always honorable exceptions as Nordeus and few others, especially VFX Serbia, however, that is not enough for capacity that Serbia deserves.
We need to find a way to deal with a prejudice on both sides; from Hollywood side they are being slowly dispersed through hard work from our compatriots but final push must be done from homeland with great Government support. Serbian Government must react with tax incentives and business environment simplifications. It’s an exciting time since I have seen some interest from current Serbian government towards film industry; I guess we all need to be ready to throw away our personal interest through window for a moment and gather under one umbrella and find a way to guide Serbian Government and local City Government’s, they do need help and guidance.
Eventually we will be quite surprised how many opportunities are waiting outside of Serbia and especially how many our compatriots are ready to invest time and their influence to make Serbia an awesome destination for IT and CG technologies, however, some work need to be done here in Serbia.
To recap: CGA is step in right direction, we need to find a way to make it bigger next year in every route possible. Government and special interest need to have some pamphlet’s ready that is explaining how to do business in Serbia especially in Film Business in Serbia. In addition, Serbia is awesome destination and in those documents we should go in details from how much is cost for electricity, Internet bandwidth info, how hard is to find space in cities, price for SQ meter…etc.
By saying all above, I would say that “FilmInSerbia” is undoubtedly shining and reflecting light to the world in correct direction, I think it should be everyone’s first page to read before entering Film market in Serbia.
Film/VFX & IT market is very much dynamic, Governments and Cites around the world are contending each-other with tax incentives and they are being very innovative how to bring clients or just keep them under their umbrella. I hope our Government is following trend’s, it’s not an easy task.
Anyway, if ground is setup for success there is still lot of work to be done by Government, CGA, VFX Serbia, FilmInSerbia and all compatriots around the planet to use this info and try to bring Big Studios or just work in our City’s… When you get ONE studio, other one’s will looking with big eyes!!!
Truth is that everyone benefits form this approach, it’s proven in many cities in planet (London, Vancouver, Bombay, Montreal, Toronto, Paris, etc)
Do you think the VFX industry could give us even better export product than the much beloved Serbian raspberries?
I guess ultimate success would be exporting bunch of zeros and one’s and physically keeping talent in Serbia. I truly believe in Serbia’s capacity to produce talent’s for variety of IT industry’s, it’s proven on home turf and anywhere around the planet.
Serbia is not a big country, another business as raspberries would be quite effective on economy, it would be very much visible on every Serbia corner’s since trend is that you can work from anywhere, Belgrade or Novi Sad would not be only targets. We are hunting talent everywhere, my team is spread from Japan, New Zealand, North America, Sweden to Stara Pazova (Glubinci) & Novi Sad.
So yeah, Raspberries + VFX/CG + rakija could make this market very much attractive, it would take a bit time to get in to position to beat raspberries, however, I am willing to place a beat on CG Industry.
Thank you for your time Nikola and see you on CGA!