(Source: kelowna.com) Every accomplishment John Knoll has achieved in his professional life as a visual effects supervisor for some of Hollywood’s biggest films, he owes to his youthful hobbies.

Speaking at an informal keynote session at Vancity Theatre on Thursday to open SPARK FX ‘10, the third annual convention of the Vancouver visual effects industry, Knoll recalled how his childhood hobby of building model miniatures and making clay animation stop-motion films — not to mention seeing the first Star Wars movie — led to him attending film school at the University of Southern California. While there, he took up another hobby, building a motion control system on a second-hand Apple 2 computer with 64 K of memory. That led to Industrial Light & Magic hiring him.

While at ILM and making a living at motion control, Knoll turned to another hobby, computer graphics, deciding he would create a software that would allow technicians to create visual effects on the computer. With the help of his brother Tom, and a relatively new company called Electronic Arts, he came up with Photoshop, the standard software tool for everyone in the industry.

“It’s all about the hobbies,” deadpanned Habib Zargarpour who, along with co-moderator Henry LaBounta, has worked with Knoll on several films.

It seems odd to refer to Knoll, a youthful 47, as a pioneer, but his CV doesn’t lie. In addition to creating Photoshop, Knoll has been with ILM since 1986, and has worked on three Star Wars movies, two landmark James Cameron films ( The Abyss, Avatar), three Star Trek movies, Mission Impossible, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and all three Pirates of the Caribbean films. He won an Academy Award for the visual effects in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

The movies he’s had a hand in account for $7 billion in international box office and home video, a number that will continue to grow with the phenomenal success of current release Avatar. When approached to do the visual effects on the first Pirates movie, Knoll was skeptical, associating the title with the Disney theme park ride. But his work on that first film, as well as its two sequels, turned out to be some of the best experiences he’s had in Hollywood. Knoll said that while he ran against budget constraints in other productions, including those made by George Lucas, Pirates director Gore Verbinski gave him everything he wanted.

In the VFX world, said Knoll, if you achieve 75 per cent of your vision for a shot, you’re doing exceedingly well. On the Pirates films, he was always above the 75 per cent mark. “I look at those Davy Jones shots now, and I can’t think how they could be any better,” Knoll said.

Reflecting on the state of the industry and where it may go in the future, Knoll believes there is plenty of room for improvement. “We want to get the technology out of the way of the artists,” said Knoll. “Computers can do a much better job of doing images.”

Knoll finds it “depressing” that the push to lower budgets and to do more with less has led movie studios to outsource much of the work that American and Canadian visual effects houses do the best.

“I think the studios do not value what we do,” he said. “They want it cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Asked if he’s likely to swap his seat in the post-production suite for a director’s chair, Knoll shook his head.

“I would rather be a world-class visual effects supervisor than a C-level director,” he said. -

Source:     http://www.kelowna.com/2010/01/29/childhood-hobbies-led-avatars-visual-effects-boss-to-pioneer-work-in-the-field-2/

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