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From VFX to virtual reality with Nathalie Mathé


By 3dtotal staff


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Date Added: 22nd July 2015

Dive into the future of virtual reality with VFX artist-turned VR compositor Nathalie Mathé, and discover the possibilities of this nascent technology...


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Meet with Fast & Furious 6 and Dark Knight Rises digital matte painter, Nathalie Mathé, who successfully left the world of feature film visual effects to use her skills and expertise in the brave new world of emerging virtual reality...

3dtotal: Who are you and what do you do?

Nathalie Mathé: I am a virtual reality (VR) compositor and supervisor since 2013, using my previous expertise in films visual effects and CG animation to create fully immersive 3D 360-degrees videos seen in the Oculus Rift or Gear VR (head-mounted displays). My role consists of stitching multiple cameras together into a seamless spherical image, correcting parallax issues, improving color and 3D stereo, stabilizing camera moves to avoid VR motion sickness, as well as adding effects or CG elements into the spherical image if needed. On the technical side, I design VR compositing workflows and templates adapted to each project. I also collaborate with developers to create new tools or plug-ins for working with full stereo spherical images, since most of the commercial post-production tools are not adapted to this kind of image yet.

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3dt: What are some of the projects you have worked on/clients or studios you've worked with? What are you most famous for?

NM: I currently work at Jaunt, a VR start-up, as director of creative technology. I've contributed to several VR experiences such as the music video Paul McCartney - Live and Let Die, which was our first online release in November 2014, as well as The Mission, an action-packed cinematic VR short produced in collaboration with New Deal Studios. Other VR videos I've worked on include North Face Climbers, an extreme sport experience, and Kaiju Fury, a short fiction homage to classic Kaiju films which was presented at Sundance Festival 2015 New Frontier.

With Condition One, another VR start-up, I supervised compositing on Zero Point, directed by award-winning filmmaker Danfung Dennis. It was the first movie made for the Oculus Rift in 3D 360-video. This documentary follows the pioneers of virtual reality, the researchers and developers creating an entirely new digital dimension. It was released online in October 2014, and also selected at Sundance Festival New Frontier in 2015.

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Before that, I worked for 12 years as a digital matte painter, environment artist and textures painter on VFX feature films and CG animated movies in Europe and Canada. I truly enjoy creating environments; it might entail destroying buildings, extending existing environments, removing roads or adding mountains, or whatever needs to be there to fulfill the direction of the story. I also enjoy the first research and design phase, when you try to define the concept for the shot.

I had the chance to work on Persepolis, an animated film by Marjane Satrapi which won the Cannes Jury's prize in 2007. At Double Negative in London, I created matte paintings, textures and 3D projections for Captain Philips, Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises' explosion sequence, Fast and Furious 6's tank chase sequence and Les Miserables, among other films. I later worked as concept artist and lead matte painter on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at Image Engine, in Canada.

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Prior to being a visual artist, I had another career as a computer scientist in the 90s. I worked for 8 years at NASA Ames as lead of the advanced interaction media group. My team developed an adaptive online documentation system for Space Shuttle operations, and one of the first Internet bookmarks sharing tool integrating a machine learning engine.

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3dt: Was there a decisive moment that made you decide to leave VFX? What was your motivation to get into VR?

NM: For years I have been interested in creating more interactive experiences. With films you get to work with incredibly talented people and on very challenging projects both creatively and technically. But in my opinion, big blockbusters movies have kind of become all of the same lately, and you spend weeks or months sometimes working on a scene that only lasts a few seconds on the screen. So VFX became less interesting and challenging to me.

The other reason was the necessity to constantly move around the world to get work. I've lived in Paris, San Francisco, London, and Vancouver, and didn't always enjoy it there. When I made the choice to come back to California, it was because this is a very creative place where the future gets invented, and an amazingly beautiful landscape. I knew clearly that the VFX industry in the Bay Area was having a real hard time, but nonetheless I decided to take my chances and quit my job. And after a month of being here I met with a virtual reality start-up, Condition One, and that's how it all started.

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3dt: What was your first VR experience?

NM: At the first SFVR meetup in San Francisco in July 2013. I tried ZSpace stereoscopic display with a 3D stylus, and Condition One's first 360-video in the Oculus Rift. Quite impressive. I was hooked.
I also remember trying the Data Glove in Jaron Lanier lab years ago when I was working at NASA.

3dt: What is it that you are personally most excited to try as an experience in VR?

NM: The VR experiences I find the most compelling personally are the ones where you have an emotional immersion, not just a 'waou' kind of experience, and you feel connected to the characters. I would love in the future to be able to have an experience where I could participate in the life of someone else, in another country, a different culture, being able to experience how they think, how they feel. And the second thing that is really special about VR is the fact that your body feels that it is really there in this alternate reality. I've tried some snowboarding apps and my legs were starting to move on their own. There is really an opportunity to be able to interact with your entire body, and not just with a game console.

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3dt: Did you feel any sim-sickness or do you ever feel any sim-sickness?

NM: Yes I am fairly sensitive, especially when real or simulated body movement is involved. I usually feel uncomfortable in my stomach, never really sick to the point of having to stop. Except with some games I tried where the movements were really crude. Stable and constant translation is less an issue.

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