The Pre-visualization Department is a growing department in most major films, could you give a run down on what it is?

KYLE: Pre-visualization is the process of blocking out on the computer models of a sequence or a storyboard, and putting a camera move into it, then animating the scene. This is so the Director can get a true feel for what the shot is going to look like before they get to location. Before they start budgeting for what the set is going to cost, they can determine from pre-visualization what they’re going to have to rent, practical, and what they’re going to have to use as CG. This way they can set up a better schedule and budget so when they’re shooting they can maintain it.

MATRIX: So what you create is just like a rendered cartoon?

KYLE: Yeah, it’s a low resolution rendering of a cartoon basically.

MATRIX: How did you get into pre-visualization initially?

KYLE: I studied architecture, so I already had the draw towards spatial relations and volumes etc. I was in architecture for a year after I graduated from college, and had never heard of pre-visualization, a friend took me to a Softimage user group meeting and I saw my current company giving a presentation and I was just wowed; I signed up immediately.

MATRIX: Was it necessary to go back to college to study pre-visualization?

KYLE: I learned on the job. I learned from the guy that I work for, Colin Green, he is like the pre-visualization guru, he’s been doing it since Mass Illusion days. He worked on Judge Dredd, Starship Troopers and a couple of other films that I can’t pull off the top of my head. He’s got an entire science down and bestowed an education upon me, so to speak.

MATRIX: What other pictures have you worked on?

KYLE: I started with the company [Pixel Liberation Front] when they were doing Fight Club, and then we did some pre-visualization for What Planet Are You From?, as well as numerous commercials and music videos.

MATRIX: Is there a lot of call for pre-viz in music videos?

KYLE: There’s starting to be more and more call for it. When you get directors such as Hype Williams doing very elaborate music videos there is sometimes a need for pre-visualization to occur, especially for a music video where there’s really fast tracking, there’s three weeks till it has to be produced, and they want to make sure it happens right the first time and everything looks okay. So you pre-viz it out in a couple of days to get the look and feel, and then hand it over to a final effects house where they put the finishing touches on it.

MATRIX: On average, how long does it take to do a three-minute piece?

KYLE: It depends on the elaborateness of the shot. If it is something simple like falling off a building – for instance, we worked on a No Doubt video, Ex-Girlfriend, where they fall out of the window and we pre-visualized that in probably two days: it is a thirty second sequence of them tumbling down this canyon of buildings. It took about two weeks to do the final work on that, but because we’d pre-visualized it out and showed each shot to the director, who signed off on each one, there was no guess work at the end, it was all just look and feel.

MATRIX: What sense do you have of THE MATRIX sequels in terms of scope?

KYLE: They’re huge, they’re massive, they’re just going to be brilliant. I still haven’t seen the entire set of storyboards or script or anything like that, but from the bits and pieces I have seen and have been working on, it is just amazing.

MATRIX: How detailed are you getting in the Pre-visualization Department?

KYLE: We’re getting pretty detailed in pre-viz, we’re going to slide in some dynamics. I’m working on the traffic sequence where the characters are riding motorcycles through traffic. We’ve actually placed a chase camera on another motorbike and it’s following them through traffic, so it’s pretty detailed, we get down to the lens, how far back the follow bike is, which cars are real, and which cars are CG. We have an actual slalom course on the freeway that the stunt rider is going to practice riding through just about everything they’re going to require to get this shot to look as exact to pre-viz as possible.

MATRIX: Where do you get all the specific information from that you need to plug into your computer?

KYLE: The information usually comes from the Art Department where they have blue prints of each set, and we’ll take the measurements, model out the entire scene and go by whatever specifications are set up by the Art Department.

MATRIX: Do you work with Larry and Andy Wachowski directly?

KYLE: Yes, the brothers and John Gaeta will come around and we give them a show and tell of what we’ve animated, and they’ll basically direct the shot right here in this little space.

MATRIX: How is it working with them?

KYLE: It’s great, it’s fantastic. They know exactly what they want, there is no guess work, they’re just, “Yes, no, yes, no… that’s cool… try this”, and then you show it to them and they say, “That’s great, now go do this next thing”, so it’s a constant forward process with them.

MATRIX: Is there a lot of revision in the process of moving forward?

KYLE: Yeah, it usually takes, to get the shot finalized, especially the big shots, eight or ten revisions. Right now we’re on around three or four with each of them, so we’ve got the major moves down and now it’s just polishing up and getting the look and feel of the pre-viz: the timings, the placement of characters, things like that, getting that down perfect.

MATRIX: You’ve touched a little bit on how the Pre-visualization Department is involved with John Gaeta and the Visual Effects team, how will you collaborate with them when a shot is mostly CG?

KYLE: For example, the opening titles in Fight Club are completely CG, just before you realize that Brad Pitt has Ed Norton under his arm with the gun in his mouth. In that shot you fly down the nose of Ed Norton and along the muzzle of the gun, it is done at an enormous scale so you don’t really know what it is, you get a hint of what is going on, but you don’t really see what it is till the final camera position – that’s all CG until the camera does the final rack focus. When we pre-visualized that, we actually modeled out a face and a gun barrel and did the whole fly through down the nose. So what we basically did was gave the final effects house the full camera move and basic position of the models, kind of dictating what the shot was going to look like.

MATRIX: Where do you envisage technology taking the pre-visualization process?

KYLE: I see pre-vis’s role in filmmaking can only grow because the stunts and VFX sequences are all getting much more elaborate. It’s kind of difficult for a director to direct a shot from blue screen: an actor is hanging off a ledge, it’s supposed to be a sky scraper building, he wants the perspective on the building to be a certain way, but you can’t see that really on blue screen. With pre-visualization we can say, okay the camera angle is going to be 15 degrees, it’s going to be out 20 feet, and this is exactly how I want it to look, so when it goes to the final effects house, they deal with the look and feel specifically. They don’t have to deal with figuring out angles anymore, so it makes their process quicker as well.

MATRIX: When John Gaeta and his team go to do the CG work from any particular scene, they will refer to what you’ve worked on in pre-viz?

KYLE: They will use that exact shot. After we figure out the pre-visualization, we will draw them diagrams saying the camera is ten feet from Neo or Trinity or whoever, the lens is a 35mm lens, something lands 20 feet over to the left of Trinity, and the camera is panned over 15 degrees – this shot is exactly how the Directors want it.

MATRIX: Have you been with the production for long?

KYLE: We’ve been here in this office for about two and a half weeks now. We’ve just started on this, so we’re totally taking off at this moment.

MATRIX: How long so you expect pre-viz to go on?

KYLE: I’m not exactly sure, I think it’s going to go on through the third film, so whatever VFX shots, whatever stunt sequences need to be pre-visualized can be done. It usually goes right up to the filming stage. We’re actually on site sometimes for pre-viz, and they were speaking of having onsite pre-viz in case something changes on location, one of us will be there to fix it for them in the computer and show them how they can change it. I think it should go on all the way, hopefully, to Australia.

MATRIX: Would you like to go to Australia?

KYLE: I’ve never been to Australia, but I’ve been to that part of the world, and it’s beautiful.

MATRIX: You would have seen the first film…

KYLE: …only about eight times.

MATRIX: As a fan of the film, what was your experience on first seeing it?

KYLE: In the opening sequence, where Trinity is running on the roof tops, the only thing I could think of was that I’m going to like this better than Star Wars.


KYLE: And it was true. It’s a different type of movie, a different type of science fiction I guess that seemed a little more… it was a little cooler.

MATRIX: Thanks Kyle.

Interview by REDPILL
November 2000