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VFX for the music industry

By Henry Winchester

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Date Added: 13th November 2013

After more than 10 years working in the VFX industry, Eugene Riecansky's Rockstar is now a music industry go-to for visual effects. We sat down with him to chat about everything from 3ds Max to rock 'n roll.



If you've never seen actor Jim Carrey's official site you're in for a treat. It's a completely bonkers web presence, sitting somewhere between a surrealist animation and a point-and-click game, but one which perfectly captures the comedic actor and his movies.

Jim Carrey's website won lots and lots of awards and truly put Rockstar on the map. Worth checking out: www.jimcarrey.com
Image credit: Rockstar

The character behind the site, and numerous other celebrity endeavors, is Renaissance man, Eugene Riecansky, whose Rockstar visual effects and motion graphics studio came up with the concept and animations for the site after a commission from 65Media. We sat down with Eugene and had a nice big chat about 3ds Max, Solid Angle's Arnold and rock ‘n' roll.

Jim Carrey's site cleverly blends useful information with surreal animations
Image credit: Rockstar

Before we begin, let's get one thing out of the way. Despite the identical name to a certain games studio renowned for open-world ultraviolence, this Rockstar is a rather different beast. Eugene's Rockstar was founded in Norfolk some 15 or 16 years ago, around the same time Dan and Sam Houser were establishing their games empire in New York City.

"The idea was always to get into moving image stuff, because all our websites were always pretty wild”

"We started off by doing websites, oddly enough,” says Eugene. "We did Sugababes' site when they were around the very first time, we worked with The Prodigy on a couple of websites. But the idea was always to get into moving image stuff, because all our websites were always pretty wild.”

Eugene and Madonna worked together on her 2009 Sticky and Sweet tour
Image credit: Rockstar

Using his web design skills as a back-door access to some big artists, Eugene wangled his way up to directing a video for Madonna (Get Together, 2006) and creating the CGI intro for her 2009 Sticky and Sweet world tour. That's on top of TV commercials and teasers for a roster of international megastars, including 30 Seconds to Mars, Mastodon, Alanis Morissette and Sting.

"I got The Prodigy by building them a 7-foot missile and leaving it in Liam's house”

If the mountain won't come to Eugene...

As a veteran of the industry, Eugene likes to keep his approach to finding work somewhat old-school. Although he estimates that half his work is commissioned from artists and their labels, Rockstar spends the rest of the time coming up with pitches and ideas to attract the musicians it wants to work with.

"I got The Prodigy by building them a seven-foot missile and leaving it in Liam's [Howlett, the band's composer and keyboardist] house,” he says. "When he came back from tour he had this seven-foot missile! Our approach to getting clients has always been a bit wonky because we're not in Soho, so we have to take slightly more guerrilla approaches to getting clients. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does.”

"I thought we could take what we do, in our rock 'n' roll style, and mix it with a bit of nice 3D”

Despite Rockstar's unconventional approach to finding work, Eugene is keen for the company to stay ahead of the game. He's invested in a whole bunch of Autodesk software – 3ds Max, Maya and Smoke - to produce slick videos and animations which are in keeping with its deliberately punky style.

"I'd seen other companies making really beautiful bits of 3D,” Eugene says. "I thought we could take what we do, in our rock 'n' roll style, and mix it with a bit of nice 3D. We have done it in the past, but I wanted to fill our studio with the best tools that I could get, so the only weak link would basically be us. If we wanted to make the new Star Trek film we've got the tools!”

Rockstar's MTV idents combine live-action background plates with CGI in the foreground
Image credit: Rockstar

"We went to a local school, went on set, took all the reference stuff, shot HDRIs and all that sort of stuff,” he says. "Then we made it in 3ds Max, rendered it in V-Ray, and spat out all the passes and comped it in Smoke. We had to deliver 36 versions – it was three idents, and each needed six versions, and then they needed HD versions of all six. So there were quite a few in the end.”

He's keen to sing Smoke's praises in particular. "We put everything together in Smoke – it's been a god-send really. We basically use Smoke like an edit tool – most post-houses will do it upstairs, on the cheap, in Final Cut, and then go down to your Smoke suite and do your conform. But we actually use Smoke to cut all our stuff which I think is quite unique – I don't know anyone else who does it.”

"Smoke is the perfect weapon of choice for us as it helps us do away with all the normal exporting and importing between edit and VFX/comping software,” Eugene continues. "We can stay in one box and do everything we need to do on a production, minus rendering the 3D. We currently have one Smoke, but I soon want every artist in our studio to have one on their desk, using it on a daily basis.”

Rockstar uses Arnold, Solid Angle's renderer, in conjunction with Maya to finish the job. "I really liked the quality of it, and it just looked how I wanted things to look,” Eugene says. "You know how you look at something and you think, 'that's kind of how I want our work to look,' Arnold did that for us, more than V-Ray. So I think now we're going to start using Maya and Arnold a little bit more.”

Rockstar's MTV idents combine live-action background plates with CGI in the foreground
Image credit: Rockstar

At the time of writing, Rockstar is working with the similarly versatile tattoo artist, model, musician and television personality Kat Von D. "She's writing a new album now,” says Eugene. "So anything visual that comes from that album we'll basically do and look after, whether that's from the sleeve, or any videos, or whatever. We're putting together a sort of 'digital presence' – not really a website as such, it's all video and animation based.” As well as Kat Von D, Rockstar is currently working on projects for Eminem, Lady Gaga and Dizzee Rascal.

Having been in the industry since its inception, Eugene has seen it evolve into a medium unto itself. "The first website I made, for the Sugababes, was about a megabyte, and it took about eight minutes to load on dial-up,” he says. "So I put a Space Invaders game at the beginning, so you could play a game while you were waiting for it to download! Now you can do pretty much anything really, it's exciting.”

Lady Gaga doing what she does best
Image credit: Rockstar

Rockstar's 2013 showreel. 10 points if you can name every artist featured!

Related links

Rockstar's official site
Jim Carrey's official site

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