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If you want to learn something about the vfx industry in the US, you can look at all those companies located in Los Angeles. We suggest to have a look at Santa Maria.

You will find the cafefx HQ there and today we have the honor to talk to David Ebner, one of it's founders and for us, one of the outstanding creative poeple in industry.

cafe fx

David - as Germans we get right to the point - we want to talk to  
you about your latest film project, Marc Forster's 'The Kite Runner' based on a bestelling novel from Khaled Hosseini, and the future of the vfx - industry. (For those who want more background information, please read the great interview with David Ebner by Wes Beckwith on CG Focus.com .)

The Kite Runner - infiniMap Pro in production

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So David, can you tell us a little about this project?

I was lucky enough to be the visual effects supervisor on Marc Forster's The Kite Runner.
I took this project because I am a huge fan of Finding Neverland. I felt it was a wonderful film and besides kite runner being a great book - I wanted to work with Marc. We feel very blessed at cafefx being able to work with the top directors - and Marc definitely doesn't disappoint with this new film - which is his best work to date.  It was an incredibly fulfilling project, as we knew we were part of something wonderful and that motivated us to be a the top of our game.

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That's nice David – as far as we know, cafefx is always on top of the game.

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You used infiniMap Pro in production. How did you find out about infiniMap Pro?

I was introduced to infiniMap Pro by one of our artists who was working on the 3d landscape work. He said - "hey check this tool out - I think it is just what we need."  and so I downloaded the free version - did some tests and replied "Wow ! Let's get it! " others in the facility were also amazed when we told them what we were up to with infiniMap Pro and LightWave, and immediately started asking - when can we get that for maya and xsi  etc..   much better than mental ray map files etc..  and so little hit on the network and server resources.
FYI, there are no plans for a Maya or xsi version, but a new and better versions of infiniMap Pro and exrTrader are on the way. 

"... much better than mental ray map files etc..  and so little hit on the network and server resources."

What kind of machines do you use?

Most of our artists use dual cpu 2.66 gigahertz or faster systems with 4 gigs of ram.

These are being upgraded to quadcore systems with 8 gigs of ram as we speak.

We have roughly 800 cpus to render with.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank David and his team here for testing and making infiniMap Pro more scaleable.

What exactly did infiniMap Pro do for you?

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For The Kite Runner – we had to build about 40 square miles of Kabul as seen from the air. Our camera was flying between 300 and 900 feet up in the air and could be looking in any direction. Our primary close-up hillside was created in Maya and at one point was 10 million poligons with hundreds of megabytes of textures. This was optimised along the way prior to final full res rendering.

The surrounding areas – land and buildings, fields, trees were built in Lightwave with instanced geometry and landscape geometry and distant matte paintings. The matte paintings that covered the distant mountains and sky had approximately 40000 lines wide of resolution to hold up for wide shots as well as telephoto shots where we would be zoomed in on a small section of background.

The land itself was mapped with a 40000 line resolution image as well, several layers including a snow coverage layer. There really wasn’t any other practical way to go about this other than use infiniMap and Lightwave.

To sum it up, half of our 3d layers for aerial kite shots were generated using infiniMap.

infiniMap Pro Feature Requests

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What didn't you like about it? (yeah, the management, I know....suits are always boring)

The only thing we didn't like is our own unfamiliarity with jpg2000 and ecw compression. So we had to learn what works best and Michael Wolf at db&w was very helpful with that. The learning curve wasn’t that steep an undertaking though - so wasn't even an issue.

The management – hmm….. I can generally tell when a software or hardware company is giving us extra attention due to our name. With db&w – I can tell they are interested in supporting each customer big or small with the same level of dedication without favouritism. You can tell they are genuine in their desire to please and be helpful to their customers. They’re very professional.

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Thank you so much David for saying this. Yes we actually do try to give the best support and we’re always happy with customers like cafefx, who come up with questions, since this is the only way for us to learn, where our weaknesses are, and how to improve our software and our service. We rely on our customers very much, in fact they teach us.

For those who don’t know, support at db&w is free, and we are working on making infiniMap Pro more accessible;-) 

Any special features you definitely want to see in the next version of infiniMap Pro? 

For me, I want to see it for Maya and xsi - so we can use it more on other projects that we are not doing in LightWave. Mixing and matching 3d applications is always a pain. I am a real fan of LightWave and continue to use it on the projects I supervise - but it has been eclipsed by other packages here for larger pipeline projects.

We would love to have an easier way of lining up the features of the image map with the geometry details. It is common to have 2 different sources for this original data and lining them up perfectly can be challenging. Also it would be nice to be able to use these high resolution maps for geometric and pixel displacements as well. High Dynamic Range image support could be useful in some situations as well.

We can at least promise you will get HDR support with the next point update.:-))

The future for cafefx

Talking about the future - what is next for cafefx?
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I feel that recently we have arrived as one of the premier effects companies taking on entire projects such as the work we did on Pan's Labyrinth, The Kite Runner, The Mist and currently Nim's Island. We just landed another high profile project we are doing almost all the vfx on and will be supervising. We can announce that soon. We have really demonstrated what our talent can do - how our art department can help design creatures and environments and shot and movie designing - so it’s nice to see the studios taking notice of this.

The future for us is more project collaborations in which we are assisting in the creative process - whether it’s for co-productions, our art department and supervising involvements, or complete films of our own. Our development production company is kicking off a production which starts shooting end of year.

David - we wish you all the best for your plans.

Vfx and globalization a challange - not only in Europe

Image courtesy David Ebner:<br/>Miles and David looking into a bright future.

Do you feel that globalization is posing a threat to vfx-companies?

Absolutely. I think talent all over the world is a great thing. What is hard is when the studios cut their budgets to the point that projects are not even doable and at the same time have just as demanding challenges and more demanding schedules. The whole industry is feeling this pinch - and a lot of good companies are getting pinched out of business - even while globalizing their talent base. It all seems very unreasonable right now what is being asked of us for the amount of money being offered.

What do you think about the development of the vfx-industry in Europe?

I love it - I am really impressed with the talent over there, and what companies like rise |  fx GmbH (http://www.risefx.com) in Berlin  have done. The PIXOMONDO STUDIOS GmbH & Co KG (http://www.pixomondo.com ) people are really nice.

I’ve met allot of apassionate artists working at other facilities there in germany – all loving what they are doing and full of passion.

And a question especially for our European customers. Can we listen to one of your talks in Europe soon?

I am checking on fmx08 currently - so I hope to be back there demonstrating the Kite Runner work. 

David thank you very much for talking with us and for your patience, during the work on this interview - and just to repeat it again, you and your team were a great help to us and we hope to see you again at fmx08 in Stuttgart, we owe you a beer.