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Dr Who Whizz bestows VFX wisdom

Published: Mon 13 Oct 2014
Dr Who Whizz bestows VFX wisdom

As part of the Bradford Science Festival 2014, Will Cohen, CEO & Executive Producer of Milk visited the University of Bradford to deliver the Creative Skillset Guest Lecture on Visual Effects (VFX).

Founded in 2013, Milk has won a BAFTA Television Craft Award for its work on BBC’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: Day of the Doctor. The company has also created Visual Effects for 24, Sherlock, Merlin, Hercules, Snow White and the Huntsman, Les Miserables, Dredd 3D and 47 Ronin amongst others.

Prior to Milk’s genesis, Cohen originally joined VFX company ‘The Mill’ in 2003 as a VFX Producer, later heading the Film and TV divisions as Managing Director/Executive Producer of Mill Film and Mill TV until 2013.

As the Mill’s focus had shifted from Film & Television to the advertising, games and music industries, Cohen took the opportunity to branch out with his own company, taking many of his team with him. Milk is now a small to medium sized 100 strong company. This is key as Will Cohen believes: “It’s all about the people”.

Cohen values his team and nurtures great talent at Milk. He explained that: “Visual Effects is the biggest team sport – nobody creates visual effects on their own”.

He was keen to stress the importance of storytelling within visual effects, an intuition that has helped to secure Milk’s reputation as an industry-leading VFX company. Will is committed to the ethos that VFX is not just the digital manipulation of moving images, but their role in augmenting and presenting a story, also emphasising that “less is more”. It was Milk’s dedication to this approach that caught and held the attention of Russell T Davis, Writer & Producer, Doctor Who.

During the lecture a number of fascinating show reels and breakdowns of VFX scenes from Doctor Who and other projects were shown, transporting the audience through the different stages of scene development; from the initial storyboard, Previs (low resolution scene blocking), concept art, texturing, grading to the final composition.

Cohen went on to explain how digital crowd simulation had evolved and continues to evolve, with the advent of software like Massive, Golaem Crowd and to some extent, Mo-cap.

Mark Goodliff, Senior Lecturer, Creative Media, said “It’s always exciting and inspiring when Visual Effects professionals show off their developmental work in person and talk through the challenges and decisions made along the way. But Will did much more than that. He gave an entertaining and refreshingly honest account of the current health of the visual effects industry, the global context and the nature of running a business that operates in this demanding, but hugely rewarding area.”

Adam Hindle, a 2nd year Computer Animation and Visual Effects undergraduate at the University of Bradford, particularly enjoyed the lecture: “Will Cohen’s talk left me and many of my peers’ very motivated to push VFX to the next level.

“Getting a behind the scenes look at some of Milks best work really inspired me to look towards a career in VFX and compositing. His insight into the current state of the 3D industry reassured many students and maybe even influenced graduating students to start their own VFX company!”

For anyone who missed the lecture here are some of Will’s key points for success in Visual Effects:

1. It’s all about the people and the story
2. Visual Effects is the biggest team sport – nobody creates visual effects on their own
3. It’s where Arts and Science come together
4. Previs EVERYTHING!
5. Less is more
6. Mystery solved – it’s meant to be fun!

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