Interview - HaymakerFX


Creative Effects Company

Fredrik Swerin
Creative Director / Partner

Östra Hamngatan 31
411 10 Göteborg

Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about your company, when did you start, what are your goals?

Hi and thank you for having us!
Haymaker was founded in January 2012 and consists of a small dedicated group of artists who worked in the industry for at least 15-20 years. Some of us were partners earlier, in a larger film company while others ran smaller 3d/VFX studios. We decided to create a really good high-end VFX/post studio.
We will stick to about 10 artists with a core of really talented artists, and then bring in specialized skills for respectively project that we work with. This to keep up the quality and creativity while being able to be flexible and decrease overhead costs. Our goal is to work internationally with larger and more exciting brands and customers.

Do you collaborate with production companies or manage everything in-house?

It depends on the size of the project we're working on. If it is a small production, we take overall responsibility, but if it is a larger production, or even an international TVC, we collaborate with other production companies. Some jobs may include a few VFX this case we have a production company engaged from the beginning. Usually, our customers are advertising agencies and production companies.

What programs/plugins/scripts do you use?

We use the program that is best suited for the task. For 3D we use Maya and 3ds Max. V-Ray for rendering, Nuke for compositing and After Effects for Motion Graphics. The grading is done in our our DaVinci Resolve suite.
Around this we use all sorts of plugins and scripts. Some we develop ourselves, but for the most part, there are already made. It's usually easy to get in touch with the author of the plugins/scripts and get them to adapt them to our needs.

You do everything from modeling to live action production. How do you keep up with all the changes in technology?

We all started very early with 3d/VFX and have been around with the evolution of the different software over the years. The software is becoming easier and easier and with the background having to do all the processes ourselves, we are only happy when we find new technologies that simplify and speed up the process.

With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?

The most important skill is timing. It does not matter if you have really nice models or effects if they don't move naturally or with a nice flow. I often get comments from artists who made something that feels strange, that "This is how it looks. All the settings are correct". That's when you got to step away from what is physically right and do what looks right. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint what it is that feels wrong but it's often the timing or feeling for movement that is missing. This, together with image composition are two very important qualities an artist must have.

The Volvo Plugin Hybrid commercial looks great. What were the challenges on this project? Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

The challenge of this project was, as in most projects, the short production time. Therefore, we chose to work with fewer objects, duplicate them and put our efforts into animate everything with a nice flow. Together with some nice motion graphics it turned out really good.

What were some of the challenges on Reebok Realflex TVC?

Reebok Reelflex was a very fun and challenging production. 2 days of film shooting in Vasques Rocks, LA, and then 4-5 weeks of production. We were a team of about 10 artists. The biggest challenge was to get the 76 individually animated characters being stuck together on a solid sole. This was accomplished with some scripts we developed in-house.

To get the animated sole to match the filmed shoe required many hours of tracking by hand. In the two days we filmed the weather changed from bright sunshine to dark clouds and rain, which meant we had to spend a lot of time on sky replacement and grading to get the scenes to match.

What is the typical starting point in a VFX commercial? How long does it usually take? How much of it is just trial and error?

The first thing we do is come up with, or transform an already finished, idea. Then we develop a storyboard and present it to the client. When this is done, we go into the effect shots and try to find solutions and technologies to produce them. We always try to do as much as possible in camera, but if it is impossible, we create them on the computer. We show references from other productions to find the look and feel. After that, we usually spend time on R&D. This time may vary on how advanced the effects are. Often it is about 1-2 weeks.
If we're talking about a very tight production time (as it usually is) the R&D time is mixed into the actual production. Then we have to trust our experience that we can solve it.
Once this is done and everybody is happy with the tests, we make an animatic so that the customer can approve the entire film, and also to make the film shoot more effective.
Once we have the footage and start working with the effects, it always tends to be something we didn't planned. That's when the real work begins. To find new solutions... A "normal" commercial usually takes around 1 month to produce.

What other supporting departments do you typically involve on an average project? How large does this list grow when you’re working on a longer project like Terminator Salvation Game Intro?

We are used to manage most of the processes ourselves. What we don't do is the music/sfx. For major productions we might bring in a storyboard artist. The list never grows this long. Most productions we usually do with 2-4 artists. At most, we had 10 artists on staff but it is unusual.

Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What is your company’s strongest point (creative concepts, motion capture, storyboard, animating, VFX)?

We always try to develop and refine techniques we have used before. We never reuse something without modifying it a little. The foundation may remain but there are always things to improve.
Our greatest strength is that we always solve the customer's requirements and expectations. This can be anything from an animated logo to a whole concept. We always try to have frequent signoffs so that the customers can see progress and be involved in the process and thus feel secure. A good customer relationship is the foundation for a long collaboration. With our long experience and interest in 3d/vfx we work fast and maintain a high standard of shading and finish. Is there anything we don’t master ourselves, we bring in that expertise.

Was there ever something you wanted to do in a project and couldn’t? (Technology wise) Which design do you believe was the most difficult to achieve?

I do not think we were ever stopped by technology, only by the project budget. We will usually find workarounds and adapt to the technology that is available.
In the old times, we use to compromise the rendering quality because of the computer power but that is not a problem anymore.
The most difficult design we have ever made is a photorealistic dragon fetus.

We made two vignettes for Gothenburg International Film Festival. The challenge was to create something that made the critical film audience forget that it was computer-generated and concentrate on the atmosphere in the films. What a lot of people tend to forget is how hard it is to create a dragon fetus. 1st There are no dragons… 2nd How would they look as a fetus and 3rd Making this believable…

Tell us a little bit about Volvo Shaping Another Future. What were the challenges on this project?

The first challenge was to find a graphic style that would replace the Volvo Group's previous film that did not reach up to their expectations. Volvo liked our proposal and we began to set up a production flow based on that we first designed a still-frame of each scene. Then we divided the image in 3d depth to see how the illustrations were about to be handled/animated. when it came to the illustrations , a major challenge was to find a suitable level of detail and scale, so it doesn't look messy. We brought in a really good illustrator to help us who knew exactly how to handle this challenge. The film was very well received and won several international awards

What techniques do you use on a project like Skanska Our Story that deals with matching virtual environment with real footage?

There are a few processes that you need to be careful with when it comes to match real footage with CGI. Camera Tracking, HDRI photography and rendering/post production. Just in this case was the camera tracking became very complicated. The presenter was filmed in a desert in Chile and were then placed on a bridge between Sweden an Denmark, where we could not stop the traffic for a film shoot.
In pre-production, it din not feel that advanced. We spent a day on the bridge and took photos for references and textures. The bridge was then modeled in 3d and textured with the photos. In order to ensure that the recording in Chile would be right and no important details would be missed, a VFX supervisor from Haymaker were on place. It was important with an accurate HDRI to light the 3d bridge. Tracking points were carefully placed and all the information about the camera and lenses were collected. Everything went "by the book" but when we a couple of weeks later got the footage it looked nothing like we imagined. Almost the entire picture was filled with the green screen and what appeared outside was just sand ... No tracking points. The DOP decided in the last second to change the lens and also to tilt the camera a bit. There was really nothing to track on. I think we spent 2-3 weeks to solve that particular scene. Everything turned out good and the film actually won gold in Cannes. Category Corporate Films.

How important is it to have a proper education in this field?

It's not really that important to have a proper education, but most talented artists usually have some kind of artistic education behind them anyway. Just because they are interested and want to develop themselves. It is still the basis for making nice pictures. The most important is to show that you are good and dedicated in your field. If you have interest you will always find ways to develop. A course can off course speed up the process a bit. You get tips and tricks from experienced artists, but in the end it is what you show on your reel that counts. I have never looked at what courses or education the applicant have. Only the portfolio or showreel. Even if an applicant is fresh out of school and are just showing things from school, you can see right away if he/she have the skills.

Do you still find time for projects outside the advertising industry? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?

We are working on a couple of exciting international feature films in 2013. A good mix of commercials and features would be ideal. Commercials give better pay and will finance the features that stimulate our artistic and technical capabilities.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?

Hmmm… One day... The first thing that comes to mind is Matt Groening. Just for his amazing job with Futurama. I probably should choose a famous VFX director, but they are probably boring in private. Matt has an incredibly intelligent humor. It would be a fun day!
Outside the industry it would be nice to spend a day with my wife. This job is too demanding ;)