Interview with Virtual Production Director James Knight
James Knight is a British Born, LA-based Virtual Production Director, specializing in onset realtime visual effects and Virtual Reality (VR). He has managed the Performance Capture for films including AVATAR, I AM LEGEND, HULK and PRINCE CASPIAN and various video games including, SCENE IT, STAR WARS THE OLD REPUBLIC, and GOTHAM RACING. He is a member of the Visual Effects Society (VES), on the Board of Directors at the British Academy’s Los Angeles chapter (BAFTA-LA), and a member of the Scientific and Technical Achievement Committee at The Academy (AMPAS). We have conducted an interview with him.
How different are the challenges in production of 'Avatar' versus video games like "Star Wars: The Old Republic"?
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this profession is the opportunity to confront so many unique challenges and obstacles, and every project I take on as virtual production director for AMD certainly presents both expected and unexpected challenges. For Avatar, we were working with completely new technology and were constantly breaking new ground because of the virtual camera system. This allowed us to see the performance capture actors within the digital world that was created for the film. This process was fully available to us by the time we started working on Star Wars: The Old Republic, but there were still challenges we nonetheless had to overcome.
Do you always go for breaking new ground for the betterment of the film as your first goal?
It is obviously important to break new ground whenever possible, but it should certainly not be done at the expense of the project and is therefore not necessarily the first goal we consider. Instead, we look at all of the options available to us and consider whether those options will allow us to realize the vision we have for the project. If we are not satisfied with those available options, we then consider new ways of doing things, which allows us to break ground while achieving the best possible outcome for the project.
What are some of the most fascinating instances of attention to detail for Avatar?
The facial expressions were absolutely critical to the success of Avatar, and it was a new type of technology that made it possible for us to capture even the slightest of facial expressions during the performance capture process. The subtlety of the emotions conveyed through these expressions had not been achieved before Avatar, and we really benefited from the virtual camera that made it possible to view the actors within the digital background that had been created for them.
Which are your deepest impressions while filming of 'Hulk'?
Filming Hulk was a fascinating experience from beginning to end, including everything from the overall seriousness of the set to the constant presence of the visual effects staff, which was a fairly uncommon practice at the time. One of the lasting impressions in my mind was the number of takes and the sheer commitment required of everyone to replicate the feeling and overall aesthetic of a comic book for the screen.
What do you think about the development of Virtual Reality?
It’s a really exciting time to be working with virtual reality and other related technologies, and the technology available to us continues to improve at what seems like an exponential rate. There is no telling what the future holds, but I am quite proud to be part of the industry that will always be on the cutting edge of these kinds of remarkable and impressive technological developments. This is part of the reason I am so grateful to work on education and outreach through my role with the Los Angeles chapter of BAFTA.
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