Faculty Shares Lessons Learned from Illustrious Computer Graphics Career
Filed under: Animation & Effects
October 6, 2015
Twenty-one feature films credit Ed Kramer as a Sequence Supervisor or Computer Graphics Artist. Five films nominated for Oscars in visual effects categories list him as a Senior Technical Director. Ed Kramer even spent a year working on a film for NASA.
Today, Kramer is an instructor in Media Arts for The Art Institute of Colorado, where students can benefit from the wisdom and expertise he’s gained from spending over three decades in the computer graphics industry.
“Sometimes I’ll bring in show-and-tell items from a Star Wars movie that I worked on or something from The Mummy and tell stories about the people and the work,” he says.
Yet other times, his lessons aren’t about industry details or specific films. “A lot of what’s important has very little to do with the actual nuts and bolts of doing computer graphics but more with how to have a team that runs smoothly,” he says. “No one does this work on their own.”
To be successful in media arts, it is essential that you can work well with a crew and your producer, says Kramer. “What comes along with that is that there are times when you have to subjugate your own ego,” he adds.
Projects that Defined a Career
Looking back at his own career and the teams he’s worked on, Kramer identifies specific projects as defining moments—from animating the iconic Columbia Pictures logo, to bringing movement and life to the scarab beetles in The Mummy, to supervising the team that created the rock monster in Galaxy Quest.
“That is actually my favorite thing I’ve ever done,” says Kramer, of his work with Galaxy Quest. “That movie itself is one of my all-time favorite movies and it would be even if I didn’t have a role in bringing it to the screen.”
As for his most challenging projects, Kramer selects The Perfect Storm without hesitation. “Today, we don’t think twice about the ocean simulation,” he remarks. “In 1999, no one had done that before. No one had made photorealistic oceans that blended seamlessly on-screen in the same shot with shots done in water tanks.”
For Galaxy Quest, Kramer had worked with a programmer who came up with code that would generate rock chips, dust, and debris every time the rocks ground up against each other. “That code worked pretty much out of the box for everybody who needed to make a rock monster shot, but, with the movie The Perfect Storm, every single shot in the movie required its own R&D,” explains Kramer.
Luckily, at Industrial Light + Magic (ILM), where Kramer worked on The Mummy, Galaxy Quest, and The Perfect Storm—along with films like Jumanji, Twister, 101 Dalmatians, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and three Star Wars movies—creating new technology was old hat.
In fact, ILM, created by George Lucas in 1975, was known for innovation. “At Industrial Light + Magic, we invented a lot of techniques that have become standard in professional computer graphics,” says Kramer.
Computer Graphics: Bringing Together Past, Present, and Future
Ever year, Kramer continues to witness advancements. Now, he anticipates that real-time 360 immersive technologies are close on the horizon. “I think you’re going to see an explosion of that technology, and not only in virtual reality. Where I think the really cool stuff is coming, and where I want to be, is in augmented reality where CGI is superimposed in your entire field of view in the real world,” says Kramer.
This industry knowledge is something he strives to impart to students to prepare them with realistic expectations for their futures.
“The chances are pretty good for someone who really wants to do visual effects,” explains Kramer, with a caveat—many jobs will only be for the length of the project and large projects often require international travel. “If you want to be in on the big movies, the things that you’re going to see in movie theaters, a lot of the production is happening outside of the United States.”
Alternatively, Kramer explains, opportunities often exist in local markets, including at technology and aerospace companies, museums, news stations, and more.
Yet, in any kind of work, Kramer believes understanding the history and theories of the field make you a valuable asset. “I try to make sure students understand what’s going on inside the computer graphics rendering and not just how to press the buttons on the keyboard, because they’re going to have to learn new software over the course of their careers,” he says.
“You know, there were moments in time where things changed. Before Jumanji, no one had ever done photorealistic fur in a movie. Before that you couldn’t do fur, and after that you could do fur,” says Kramer. “In the classroom, I pass on that history to my students.”
The information and opinions expressed herein represent the independent opinions and ideas of the faculty and/or staff and do not represent the opinions or ideas of The Art Institutes of Denver.
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