Vincent Maurer studies Technical Directing and is already working for leading CGI companies in Canada during his studies. He owes that also to his skills in virtual production.
Vincent Maurer during his "Mobility Year" in Canada, where he works as real-time TD for ILM
Vincent Maurer, a Technical Directing student at the Animationsinstitut, shares with us over the phone from Vancouver that it has always been his dream to work at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Vincent admits that being actually employed at ILM right now feels a bit surreal to him.
Founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas in the 1970s, ILM has been setting new standards in visual effects ever since. Vincent currently works as a real-time TD in ILM's virtual production environment, located in a studio in Burnaby near Vancouver. The studio boasts huge LED wall sets with motion capture systems, as well as a big preproduction department, he tells.
Currently, Vincent is working on the production of the upcoming series PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS, which is based on a fantasy book series by Rick Riordan. The series is scheduled to air on Disney+ in 2024.
Shoot at the ILM Virtual Production Studio, called Stagecraft (Photo via ILM)
"I'm in the process of getting the studio ready for the actual shoot," Vincent says, describing his job. He prepares the environments, which come from different departments. Among other things, he says, it's about making sure they work smoothly on the LED walls. In addition to bug fixes, he takes care of the right lighting conditions on the wall and on set, or adjusts colors accordingly.
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ILM calls the virtual production technology Stagecraft. ILM has pioneered this revolutionary virtual production technology, which utilizes large LED screen walls as backdrops for film sets. This allows virtual content to be seamlessly integrated into live sets, creating a more immersive experience for both the actors and the audience. ILM first used virtual production technology during the filming of ROGUE ONE in 2016 (to learn more about virtual production VFX technology, click here).
However, it was not until the release of THE MANDALORIAN in 2019 that the technology gained widespread recognition and adoption. Today, more and more studios around the world are embracing this cutting-edge technology to push the boundaries of what is possible in filmmaking.
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"My responsibilities are very broad. I'm sort of the person between the departments," Vincent explains. He is in close contact with the department that "builds the environments," and as a result, he works closely with VFX supervisors and artists. Additionally, he collaborates with the team shooting on set. He appreciates the collaborative work and says, "ILM is a fantastic company. I have great colleagues, and the projects here are very exciting."
The Animationsinstitut has also contributed to the development of virtual production VFX technology through its research. For example, its Research & Development (R&D) department conducted important research in developing open-source software for virtual productions and optimizing real-time pipelines.
Therefore, for several years, training in virtual production has been part of the curriculum at the Animationsinstitut. Vincent has also benefited from this. Although he had worked with LED wall studios before his studies, "the real start for me regarding real-time walls was when we were able to work with a LED wall at the Set Extension Workshop," he recalls.
Set Extension Workshop Helped Vincent to Become a TD and a Virtual Production Specialist
At the Set Extension Workshop (SEW), Filmakademie students from the specializations of Cinematography and Production Design as well as Animation, VFX, and TD students from the Animationsinstitut realize a short film project together. In particular, the workshop trains the students to combine animations and visual effects with live-action filming using state-of-the-art techniques. The SEW production HIGHSCORE HEAVEN (2020), in which Vincent participated, was the first time the students had an LED wall at their disposal (read more about the SEW here).
When he began working on the film, Vincent was still studying Animation. "I was first in the role of a VFX supervisor at the SEW, but then I co-developed some software tools for the production," he says. With that, he took on TD duties within the SEW team. Vincent then decided to become a student in the Animationsinstitut’s Technical Directing specialization. Now, he is studying Animation with a focus on TD.
Clips of the Set Extension Workshop 2020, in which Vincent participated
"I realized while I was studying that I had a strong interest in the technical side," Vincent explains. "I quite like being in that in-between area: on the one hand, I'm interested in the artistic and creative part of VFX and animation, but on the other hand, I'm also interested in the technical part of filming."
During the "Mobility Year" via Outreach Program to the VFX Metropolis Vancouver
This versatility also helped Vincent make the leap to Canada. During his stay there, he took advantage of the so-called “mobility year.” It allows students of the Animationsinstitut to pause their studies for a year to gain professional experience or participate in university exchange programs.
To come to Canada, he applied to iCAD, the Academic Outreach Program of Sony Pictures Imageworks, another large CG content company also based in Vancouver. The application was successful and Vincent was able to work as an intern on an animated film for two months. "I worked as a lighting artist using the software Katana and I also did compositing for shots." That was a great experience for him as well, he emphasizes.
At ILM, however, Vincent is by no means just doing an internship like he did at Sony. Rather, he is a permanent employee. The contact to ILM, the premises are only a 15-minute walk from Sony's headquarters in Vancouver, would have come about through Dennis Müller. Dennis is an Animationsinstitut alumnus who now works as a senior lighting TD (sequence lead) at ILM. As Dennis had given workshops at the Animationsinstitut, the pair already knew each other. Dennis also knew about Vincent's virtual production skills and told him that ILM was looking for real time TDs. Vincent then applied and was able to start at ILM shortly after his Sony internship.
TD Expertise from the Animationsinstitut in High Demand at Major Studios
"It's quite a good time for virtual production right now," Vincent notes. "From everywhere you hear that capable artists and TDs are in high demand within the field. The studios here all have job postings. I myself have had several conversations with other companies that are looking for real time TDs right now." In particular, he said, they are looking for people who are currently working in games and are interested in film. After all, virtual production is a technology that is set right between games and films, states Vincent.
To get these jobs, he recommends that those interested familiarize themselves with the Unreal Engine, the tool Blender and the real time renderer eevee, which is part of Blender. This, he emphasizes, is certainly also helpful in getting into the TD program at the Animationsinstitut, which has a good reputation among studios in the U.S. and Canada. For his application at ILM, his work with virtual production before his studies also had a positive impact. He worked as a 3D generalist in Fürth and was involved in several productions at Penzing Studios, one of the first virtual production studios in Germany.
Both Sony and ILM have already asked Vincent if he can imagine working at their studio after his studies. "It could very well be that I go back to Canada at some point. But I'll have to see about that," Vincent says. After all, he won't graduate from the Animationsinstitut for about another two years. Until then, he still has a lot to do in his studies. In addition to the many projects he will be working on as a TD, he also has to do a scientific research project within the TD program. His topic will probably revolve around virtual production.
Vincent's career shows that anyone who studies Technical Directing at the Animationsinstitut has the best prospects for top jobs in the film industry. Be it in Germany, Europe, or in the leading dream factories on the West Coast of the United States and Canada.