visual effects

  • A Talk with the VFX Artists Behind ‘Sharknado’


    A storm whipped through the New York Film Academy Theatre last week—a combination of wind, water and sharks, known by the title Sharknado. After the screening, NYFA students welcomed Emmy Winning VFX Artist Glenn Campbell and VFX Supervisor Joseph Lawson from “The Asylum” Studio. NYFA Animation Chair Mark Sawicki moderated the event.


    NYFA Animation Chair Mark Sawicki with VFX Supervisor Joseph Lawson and Emmy Winning VFX Artist Glenn Campbell

    Sharknado was a made-for-TV disaster film produced between the SyFy Channel and “The Asylum” Studio. Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante and starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, and John Heard, the film has been a cult sensation since its release, spawning a franchise that includes three sequels (the fourth installment will be coming out this summer, titled Sharknado: The 4th Awakens).

    Following the screening, Glenn Campbell and Joseph Lawson showed a reel featuring shots from the movie before and after the visual effects were added, with their own personal commentary on the process. They showed scenes from the first three films in the Sharknado franchise.

    Campbell and Lawson explained that visual effects aren’t just for storms featuring murderous aquatic creatures—it’s for things as simple as turning a blue sky into a stormy sky, or removing satellite dishes from houses.

    sharknado picture

    They both agreed that planning was a very important part of the process—making sure that all necessary shots are taken, knowing what you want before you start setting up. “Don’t change your mind so much,” they advised.

    They also spoke to the importance of things like storyboards to help with planning and getting the best performance out of the actors. “It’s a challenge…nothing can replace the tangible, someone holding something in their hands.”

    Finally, a student asked them if there is, or should be, a limit with visual effects. “There is no limit,” they responded. With enough time and creativity, anything that one could imagine is possible with visual effects.


    April 11, 2016 • 3D Animation, Guest Speakers • Views: 5394

  • One-Year 3D Animation Student Accepted into MetroCAF 2015


    Having no previous experience in the craft of animation, New York Film Academy One-Year 3D Animation & Visual Effects Conservatory student, Felipe Amaya Quintero, put together a remarkable short film, Lights, that has been accepted into NYC AMC SIGGRAPH’s MetroCAF 2015. Amaya is the first non-degree student to have his film accepted into the prestigious animation event, which is considered the leading showcases for student animations in the New York City area. Celebrating the thirteenth edition of its annual metropolitan-area college computer animation festival, this year’s festival will be held at NYIT’s Auditorium at 1871 Broadway.

    Amaya says he began developing the idea for Lights while taking a screenwriting class at NYFA. His main goal was to tell a story that was appealing and funny; and could me made with one character, with no dialogue, in under one minute.

    “My education at NYFA was mainly what made this project possible,” said Amaya. “Without the knowledge I have gathered here, this animated film would not have made it further than just being an idea written down on a piece of paper.”

    Amaya’s goal is to accumulate as much knowledge as possible in order to be able to continue to produce better and more compelling computer generated imagery. We think he’s on the right track!

    The MetroCAF screening will begin at 7:00PM and will be followed by the MetroCAF Awards presentation.


    September 22, 2015 • 3D Animation, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 5342

  • Mark Sawicki, Chair of NYFA LA’s 3D Animation and Visual Effects


    One of the more enticing aspects of the New York Film Academy is its belief that our instructors should not only be well versed in their crafts, but also strongly established in their respective fields. As a testament to this commitment, we focus on the New York Film Academy Los Angeles 3D Animation and Visual Effects Chair, Mark Sawicki.

    After attending USC film school, Mr. Sawicki entered the film industry as a lab technician at Cinema Research Corp., where he worked on the original Superman film. He later began working as a cameraman for Roger Corman’s New World Studios on low budget sci-fi pictures such as Escape from New York. From there, he went on to shooting effects and creating award-winning animation for commercials, rock videos and 3D features including Jaws 3D and Friday the 13th Part 3.


    In 1986, he became the matte photographer for Illusion Arts, working under visual effects masters Albert Whitlock, Syd Dutton, and Bill Taylor. During this period, while working on mainstream films, Mr. Sawicki became an instructor for Kodak’s Cineon system (a landmark digital film compositing system). After a 10-year stint of compositing matte paintings at Illusion Arts, for such projects as Cape Fear, The Birdcage and Star Trek IV, he became a co-supervisor for Area 51 on Tom Hanks’ From the Earth to the Moon.

    Mr. Sawicki was later the head effects camera supervisor and digital colorist for Custom Film Effects, contributing to films such as Gangs of New York, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Tropic Thunder, and The Dark Knight Rises.

    As to reaffirming his remarkable insight into the field of animation and visual effects, Mr. Sawicki has authored three DVD’s on the art of clay animation and a documentary entitled Twilight Camerman, which focuses on the craft of optical printing available from He is also the author of the book “Filming the Fantastic: A Guide to Visual Effects Cinematography,” published by Focal Press.

    And to top it all off, Mr. Sawicki frequently performs as an actor in independent films. Indeed, an incredible career that carries with it a lifetime of knowledge and hands-on experience that can be passed on to his students.


    “Whenever possible, I will take pictures of professional green screen set-ups and share them in the classroom,” says Mr. Sawicki. “This is extremely helpful in giving the students an up to the minute, real-world exploration of what is happening in the industry today.”

    His involvement with the school’s animation and visual effects students is not only valuable to NYFA, but also to himself. “Teaching at NYFA has been a rewarding experience for me as I am able to address an international community with different insights and attitudes. The one commonality among them all is the love of movies and the desire to work hard toward their goals. It has been a pleasure to see them blossom and grow to be artists in the field.”

    His advice to students graduating from his program, with the intention on working in the field, is to build up an impressive reel and resume that can only be created by working with a small team or as a vendor on independent films and TV commercials. Graduates should expect to work on projects that may not be particularly glamorous, but getting even the most mundane animation job will keep animators focused and allow them to build credits and move up the ladder.

    As a professional who embraces most aspects of the entertainment industry, Mr. Sawicki recently wrote a feature screenplay called Call Center, which he describes as a comedy comparable to Mike Judge’s Office Space. He also has a short film in the works that he hopes will bring interest to the script.

    One thing is for sure, Mr. Sawicki’s hard work and dedication to both his career and his students is extraordinary. There is no doubt that under the tutelage of Mr. Sawicki, NYFA’s 3D Animation and Visual Effects department will continue to grow as one of the most demanding schools for aspiring animators and visual effects experts.


    August 31, 2015 • 3D Animation, Community Highlights • Views: 6611

  • Making Magic at NYFA

    virtual stage

    Director of Photography Yan Rymsha composes the shot of Sawicki playing the giant.

    The students in my Cine 810 class in visual effects cinematography outdid themselves recently by shooting a mock Solar Power commercial complete with miniatures and size scaled performers. Originally, the plan was to have the concept take place during the day but director of photography student Yan Rymsha suggested that it take place at night with mysterious film noir lighting.

    I loved the idea and modified the script just before the shoot. The principal photography took place on a green screen stage in Hollywood and is an example of a poor man’s virtual set. The miniature and myself (playing the giant) was set up at one end of the stage and was shot with a Red Epic A camera. Colin Meyer, playing the solar panel owner, was shot in the same room simultaneously with a Red Epic B camera, using the same focal length lens as the A camera. This enabled the performances and camera angles to be synchronized very easily.

    To “pre viz” the shots a Panasonic AS50S switcher was used to do a rough video composite between the two cameras to make sure the critical alignment was spot on. The crew also used an Atomos Ninja recorder to record the output of the switcher for editing purposes. The giant coin prop was created by sticking a blow up photo of a coin on a film can and having Colin pick it up off of a C-stand. Animation of the giant’s hand holding the coin was then executed in After Effects to link up with the prop coin that Colin picked up at just the right frame. The shoot took all of a fun filled eight hour day. Post compositing was executed in After Effects and saved in our database of real world exercises. The students and I had a lot of fun shooting the project and we look forward to developing more virtual stage projects here at NYFA Los Angeles.


    July 25, 2014 • 3D Animation, Cinematography • Views: 4415

  • How H.R. Giger Changed the Way We See Aliens


    alien head designed by H.R. Giger for the movie Alien

    It’s hardly an understatement to say that H.R. Giger, who died on Monday at the age of 74, permanently altered the way Hollywood depicts aliens. When his frightening and singular extraterrestrial debuted in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien, mainstream audiences had frankly never seen anything like it. Having pioneered a biomechanical style that infused robotic elements into his representation of biological organisms, Giger hit upon a truly original style that has continued to keep movie fans up at night thirty-five years after his creation first hit the screen.

    Simply put, Giger created the first extraterrestrial that looked positively alien. After all, who can ever forget his creation’s mouth within a mouth moving Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to terrified tears? From the metallic sheen of its over-exaggerated forehead to its sleek to its skeletal body—with what looked like steam valves protruding from its spring—and limber legs and threateningly ribbed tail, Giger fused together natural and mechanical motifs to create a creature that looked positively other. While his alien creation—also known as a “xenomorph”—became his calling card, Giger is also credited with creating the film’s “facehugger” and “chestburster”, embryonic versions of the xenomorph that emphasized the biological influences on his work.

    H.R. Giger designed facehugger from the movie Alien

    Though aliens have had a presence throughout the history of sci-fi, before Giger, aliens were often exaggerations of the human form with actors dressed in absurd make-up and costumes that often looked downright goofy. After all, the modern viewer will often be moved to laughter when viewing the creations of such schlock masters as Roger Corman or the aliens that plagued Doctor Who. But Giger’s alien is unlikely to elicit even a giggle from the most veteran sci-fi fan, a creature so terrifyingly original that it helped to spawn three sequels of diminishing quality and a prequel, Prometheus, that is essentially an exploration of Giger’s mind and aesthetic.

    Once Alien entered the popular consciousness and helped to win Giger and his colleagues an Oscar for Best Achievement for Visual Effects in 1980, extraterrestrials on the big screen started to look nastier, more menacing, and truly otherworldly. Even though the adorable Wookies are often what first come to one’s mind when thinking of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, Giger’s influence can be seen in such terrifying creations as the Sarlacc, the sand pit beast that gleefully swallows its victims down its spikey opening. The height of Giger’s influence can arguably best be seen in Predator, whose titular creature fused human-like dreadlocks and reptilian mandibles with a technologically advanced creature that looked equal parts alien and machine. It only seemed a matter of fate that both creatures would face off countless times in comic books and movies like Alien vs. Predator.

    To this day, Giger’s biomechanical vision of extra-terrestrial life continues to permeate popular culture, be it the aliens in movies such as The Avengers and Transformers to the cyberpunk creations of William Gibson to characters in countless graphic novels and comic books. While Giger was a true artist who created an extensive pantheon of paintings, movies, album covers, and works of interior design, when it comes to Hollywood and its many aliens, his influence is likely to be felt for decades to come.


    May 14, 2014 • Filmmaking • Views: 6872

  • Does an Animation Student Have to be Great at Drawing?


    Computer animation attracts a wide variety of personalities and incorporates a variety of interests; a glance at the credits of any CG or visual effects-heavy film will show just how many different roles and people are incorporated. Not only are there the artists, character designers, and modelers; there are people in charge of dynamic simulations (i.e. cloth, crumbling buildings, explosions) and developing and maintaining the pipeline (i.e. streamlining the interaction of various departments through programming and scripting). Not everyone has to be da Vinci — or, on the flip side, a computer genius like Pixar’s Ed Catmull — to find a niche in CG.

    Students with skill in drawing (or, again, other areas such as programming) will definitely be able to exploit those skills. Students who have not done much drawing (or programming, etc.) will get the chance to develop and subsequently flex those muscles thanks to the instruction offered, for instance character design, storyboarding and life drawing classes which are all part of the NYFA animation curriculum.

    New York Film Academy’s 3D Animation programs are generalist programs, meaning they will touch on all these aspects, and give students a chance to find the areas which interest them most.

    -Robert Appleton, Chair of NYFA Animation Department



    November 20, 2013 • 3D Animation • Views: 863