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By Corey Rosen

Web: http://www.tippett.com (will open in new window)

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Date Added: 28th August 2014

We talk to Tippett Studio's Corey Rosen about creating the Cosmos, making the leap to MODO and working with a true legend of the VFX industry...



Visual effects hero Phil Tippett's career is so neatly aligned with the evolution of computer generated effects in cinema that the two things might be one and the same. He began his career with the stop-motion chess scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and co-developed the revolutionary stop-motion technique which brought the AT-ATs and Tauntauns to life in The Empire Strikes Back. Tippett Studio was established in 1984, and went on to provide the effects for Robocop's threatening dino-like robot ED-209.

His background in stop motion allowed for a smooth transition – via Jurassic Park – into the not-dissimilar world of visual effects, where his understanding of anatomy and movement proved incredibly useful. As a result, Tippett Studios became one of the big go-to VFX companies for Hollywood studios, providing the bugs for Starship Troopers, alien creatures for Evolution and various photogenic beasties for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1. Now the studio is facing its biggest challenge yet: creating the astonishing effects for space exploration series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

See Tippett Studio's work on Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
© Tippett Studio

"Phil Tippett has a keen creative mind that's rooted in a vast historical understanding of what came before, and a vision of what can be”

"Phil has always been an innovator,” says Corey Rosen, Tippett Studio's director of creative marketing. "He has a keen creative mind that's rooted in a vast historical understanding of what came before, and a vision of what can be. We're historically in the business of realizing dreams – of taking a fantastical notion and making it live on the screen. From that standpoint, the VFX industry is exactly the same as when 'it' started. The goal is to transport the audience – and to serve the story – in the best way possible.”

Transportation is a key theme of Tippett Studio's work on Fox's series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. A continuation of the fondly-remembered Carl Sagan-fronted 1980s series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, A Spacetime Odyssey is fronted by legendary astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson. His vessel of choice for travelling to the furthest depths of space is the Ship of the Imagination, a sleek ship with impossibly shiny surfaces which reflect the cosmos around it. "We built, animated, and integrated the Ship of the Imagination,” says Rosen. "We also created planets (Saturn's rings), creatures (the hardy but microscopic Tardigrades) and the Voyager spacecraft.”

The Ship of the Imagination makes its way through the cosmos thanks to Tippett Studio.
© Tippett Studio

Despite Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey having an intergalactic cinematic feel not dissimilar to Stanley Kubrick's name-checked 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tippett Studio had to reign itself in to work to television's tighter budgets and timescales. "We were challenged to create work that stood up to our standards for blockbuster features on shorter schedules and smaller per-shot costs,” says Rosen. "Because of this, we had to look for ways to optimize processes and re-evaluate parts of our pipeline to accommodate.”

deGrasse Tyson pilots the ship towards earth
© Tippett Studio

A key part of this optimization was Tippett Studio's super-smooth adoption of MODO, The Foundry's all-in-one 3D modeling, animation and rendering tool. "The fact that MODO now runs on Linux made it a natural fit to integrate with our existing pipeline,” Rosen says. "The fact that much of our lighting and texturing pipeline also utilizes tools in the Foundry family (MARI, KATANA, NUKE) didn't hurt, either.”

Tippett Studio also added background vessels and satellites
© Tippett Studio

"The Ship of the Imagination is almost entirely defined by its reflections of the space and planets around it”

"The first challenge we put to it was the Ship of the Imagination – a large, chrome vessel – that was almost entirely defined by its reflections of the space and planets around it. Ben Von Zastrow, our CG Supervisor for Cosmos, led the R&D efforts with MODO and was very happy with what he got – the ability to quickly position lights and, using MODO's very fast rendering, take a look at it while still setting up the textures and the scenes. MODO was an ideal tool for a project of this kind and, we're discovering, others as well.”

"The best thing about MODO is that it allows us to do our work faster”

The most important aspect of MODO, according to Rosen, is its sheer speed: "The best thing about it is that it allows us to do our work faster. The tool gets out of the way, allowing us quick feedback, fast rendering, and satisfying results. Our artists at Tippett Studio are excited about MODO and what we can do with it.”

Tippett Studio's skills at creature creation are very evident in this, um, thing
© Tippett Studio

The Ship of the Imagination is defined by reflections of the galaxy around it
© Tippett Studio

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Readers Comments (Newest on Top)
Gene William Bacha on Fri, 12 September 2014 9:10pm
I am learning MODO 801. Actually just starting.
What is the best resource(s) to learn from or with?
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