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August 15
2018

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

SOLO VFX Supervisor Rob Bredow on the Power of Creativity

By IAN FAILES

Image credit: ACM SIGGRAPH 2018. Photo: John Fujii

When ILM’s Rob Bredow found himself inside the Millennium Falcon cockpit during the filming of Solo: A Star Wars Story – a film on which he was Visual Effects Supervisor – one of the first things he did was call his brother to say, ‘You’ll never believe where I am sitting right now…’ while also making ‘hyperspace’ noises over the phone.

That’s just one of the many stories the exuberant Bredow, now also SVP, Executive Creative Director and Head of ILM, shared about his own visual effects journey during the SIGGRAPH 2018 conference keynote address titled “The Power of the Creative Process,” which he delivered this week in Vancouver.

Other highlights included advice about creativity for the many young artists in the packed room at SIGGRAPH, the announcement of a new book of Bredow’s Solo photography, and details of the VFX supervisor’s involvement in the formation of the Academy Software Foundation that has been formed to promote open-source software development.

Solo Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Bredow sits in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. (Image courtesy of Lucasfilm)

“One of the things that I learned early on was that if you can figure out how to inspire your team creatively, the quality of the work gets 10 times higher. It’s not like 20% better. It’s 10 times better.”

—Rob Bredow

In an interview with VFX Voice directly after the keynote, Bredow relayed that his ideas about the power of the creative process weren’t necessarily formalized in his mind until he put the presentation together, “but I then realized,” he says, “how much they were all driving my instinctual choices during the making of Solo.”

‘Just start’ was the first of Bredow’s tenets in the creative process, and he noted several filmmakers and fellow visual effects supervisors who are constantly creative in their work, as well in things outside of their day jobs. For example, Bredow revealed that fellow ILM Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll was, in his spare time, building a quarter-scale replica of the Dykstraflex motion-control camera system originally devised by John Dykstra for A New Hope.

The second principle in Bredow’s creativity rundown was ‘Know your theme.’ The idea here is that being conscious of the theme of whatever you are doing can drive the entire creative process. For Solo, in particular, Bredow says he was conscious they were making a movie that needed to feel as if it had been made in the 1970s, in an era that was still analog, more grounded, and where things were captured in-camera rather than with digital visual effects.

That meant they would use as many old-school VFX techniques as possible, such as real sets, rear projection, and even miniature explosions. Indeed, a major highlight of the keynote was the incredible behind-the-scenes imagery Bredow showed on stage, such as for Solo’s dramatic train-heist explosion.

At that point, Bredow surprised the audience by announcing an upcoming making-of book he had authored about this latest Star Wars film. The book, titled Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story, published by Abrams, will consist of the photography Bredow captured while working on the picture. It will be a photo-heavy volume that also includes a foreword by director Ron Howard.

Image credit: ACM SIGGRAPH 2018. Photo: John Fujii

“The smartest people you know are so into sharing.”

—Rob Bredow

“What I was looking to do with these photographs,” says Bredow, “was not just capture what was happening and document it, but capture the feeling that I was having while standing on set – ‘What does it look like – the whole movie from beginning to end – from a single point of view?’ That’s what I was hoping to achieve.”

Thirdly, Bredow spoke in his keynote of the idea of leading creative teams, something he has done on individual projects and now in a much larger way at ILM. “One of the things that I learned early on was that if you can figure out how to inspire your team creatively,” he says, “the quality of the work gets 10 times higher. It’s not like 20% better. It’s 10 times better.”

Then Bredow introduced a ‘bonus’ addition to his thoughts on creativity: the idea of sharing. He noted he had benefited greatly from other industry professionals sharing their knowledge with him and the wider community. “The smartest people you know are so into sharing,” he says. This also led to Bredow’s discussion of a new open-source sharing initiative announced only days earlier, which is the formation of the Academy Software Foundation, a joint effort between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Linux Foundation.

The logo for the Academy Software Foundation.

“I think it’s quite meaningful that the Academy was willing to lend its name to this effort. In fact, it’s the first time to my understanding that the Academy has ever lent its name to an effort that it doesn’t control. This is a Linux Foundation operation that is in partnership with Academy. People at the Academy see the value of what this means for the film industry as a community, and that’s amazing.”

—Rob Bredow

Bredow says that the origins of the ASF began more than 10 years ago when several open-source software projects such as OpenEXR and Alembic were already underway. Although a number of companies in the VFX and animation space were contributing to open source, Bredow noted that there remained a myriad of licensing and other legal issues to go through, plus the challenge of companies working in different ways.

The Academy Software Foundation was therefore imagined as a means by which the Linux Foundation can give advice to the industry, and as a central resource for open-source software creation. Bredow, who is also a Member of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council, chairing the Open Source Investigation Committee, and had previously helmed the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee, played a key role in the formation of the Academy Software Foundation.

“I think it’s quite meaningful that the Academy was willing to lend its name to this effort,” Bredow says. “In fact, it’s the first time to my understanding that the Academy has ever lent its name to an effort that it doesn’t control. This is a Linux Foundation operation that is in partnership with the Academy. People at the Academy see the value of what this means for the film industry as a community, and that’s amazing.”


Read our interview with Rob Bredow about the visual effects of Solo: A Star Wars Story: Inside SOLO’s Millennium Falcon: Old School Meets New School

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