Hi, my name is Geoffroy Givry, I’ve been in the VFX industry since 2001, first as a Generalist and I quickly became a full-time Compositor around 2003. I’m a proud and dedicated husband and father of 3 wonderful children. I love looking after my family, my garden, cooking BBQs, chopping wood and building AI Drones. But most of all, my two real passions are learning (I’m addicted to video tutorials!) and in developing pipelines and intelligent workflows for the VFX industry, especially everything concerning remote work.
I created my own company in August 2019 after being at ILM for 5 years as Senior Comp, Comp TD and Comp Technical Lead. Now, I’m working remotely in the gorgeous countryside of Surrey in the UK, as a Visual Effects Supervisor, pipeline architect and senior compositor. As well, I am an Art Director and VFX Supervisor for Ubisoft on their game cinematics.
Tell us about the first person or studio who paid you to do VFX. How did the opportunity come about?
Before working in the VFX industry, I was creating interactive multimedia installations for “La Reunions Des Musees Nationaux” in France during the late ’90s (sounds so ancient!). I’ve worked for Museums like “le Musee du Louvre”, “Le Musee des annees 30”, “le Musee d’Orsay”. My main softwares were Macromedia Director and Photoshop. Then I had to animate props and characters I designed in 3D with 3D Studio Max and naturally, I had to integrate them onto videos using Combustion first, and then I quickly switched to Shake (because a friend of mine told me it was ILM’s compositing software!). This is how it all started and in no time I decided to change to go in the VFX industry.
If you could go back in time to your early years of working in VFX, what advice would you give yourself to get ahead in your career?
Think before jumping straight into the comp! Take some time to analyse the shot and what to do on it. Make a strategy of actions and talk to your lead/sup about it, she/he might help you to refine your strategy. As well, I would emphasize what said Ivan Busquets said in his interview — “Don’t be afraid of asking”. I tend to believe that most of the people around you will always help you if you are stuck or if you don’t understand a concept.
As a Comp TD, what were the biggest challenges you saw that prevented Comp teams from working as efficiently as they could be? What tools did you create to help solve these inefficiencies?
Every single company has made very complex decisions regarding their pipeline development. As Comp / Pipeline TD’s, we need to understand that a lot of these decisions are very much needed in order to run the very complex pipeline for everyone. For me, the biggest challenge is in the dependencies with other departments and the general pipeline development. It is quite easy to create a tool just for yourself. It gets much more complicated to integrate into a pipeline. You will have to use some libraries that have been made by other departments, and it will be changed regularly. You must be aware that maybe one day a library you are using will be updated and the function you were using is depreciated and then you end up having your tool that is not working. Working with dependencies is a tricky one.
I do believe that the best tools are the ones that have been first created by the artist and then being passed to the engineers to be integrated into the pipeline.
Generally, a tool is born small, and little by little it gains momentum between artists or leads/supes. Then it starts to get some interest globally and after lots of talks and agreements, it gets integrated in the pipeline.
At ILM, I created the QC workflow from scratch to finish. It came first because I was the main comp QC guy on The Great Wall and I was QCing our external vendors. This is where I started to design our workflow. From there, I showed my tool to some, and it started to take some interest. In total, it took 3 years of refinement and test shows (more than 8!) to be integrated globally in the pipeline.
Are there any Nuke tools that are a part of your repertoire that you can’t work without?
When you work in companies like ILM, you are not allowed to download tools from internet. You must send a form to the legal department to explain why you need this tool. So I used to create my own tools that are simple, fast and efficient.
I’ve designed a pixel push (not an edge extend!) that I use every single time when I work on edges. This is based on a single row matrix that creates a gradient in X and Y, and then you use an STmap to push the pixels. It is not blurring the image at all, that’s the point actually. It is very similar to a tool in Flame. As well I have an alpha erode that I can’t work without! But these tools are very simple, I don’t use anything that fancy!
But if I had to use something from the internet it would be Wouter Gilsing’s W_hotbox. This is an amazing tool that can speed up your workflow drastically. The reason I am not using it is that I know if I start using it, I couldn’t work without, and if I need to go to a company that has a strong policy of not using external tools, that could impact my workflow.
You recently made the switch from Film to Game Cinematics, which is quite rare coming from a Compositing background. How did this opportunity come about, and what advice would you give to other Compositors wanting to follow the same path?
Ubisoft approached me a year and a half ago to develop their pipeline for Comp, and taking over the artistic direction and the Visual Effects Supervision for the shot and asset parts of the cinematics (Props, Lighting, FX, Compositing). I think it was a great opportunity to learn something new and to grow as a Supervisor in general.
They wanted me to move to Montpellier, but we are installed here in the UK now with my family and my eldest son having learning difficulties. My wife and I worked very hard for him to have the support he needs. We couldn’t start again from scratch if we had to move to France.
I had to refuse the offer, but they came back to me asking me if I wanted to create my own company and being an external vendor for them, I could work from home. The decision has been very hard for me. I loved (and still love!) working at ILM, the work culture and the people are amazing. At that point, I asked ILM if I could work 3 days per week remotely, and as much as they wanted to grant my wish, at that time it wasn’t possible. So I took the decision to go remote as I’ve always wanted to be but it was hard for me to leave ILM.
But now, having my own company opens a lot of opportunities that I couldn’t really take while I was employed elsewhere. Since August 2019, I’ve been working on different projects with different clients as well. From being Compositing Supervisor to VFX Consultant both artistically and technically, I really love the diversity of the work.
To come back to the gaming industry, most VFX artists have a misconception of what it is to work on game cinematics. I had this too when I started. I was thinking I was going to work at an insane level of Realtime raytracing in Unreal or Unity like the Storm Troopers demo, Rebirth or ADAM. This is not the case at all. These short films are very much VFX-oriented. In games like Ubisoft is creating, you have a massive part of multi-player complexity, with customisations of characters. The AI is changing the world constantly, you have 24h quests and lots of randomisation within them. You can’t take a snapshot of time to make the cinematics, they must be in-game with the persistence of the world. For instance, you start a new quest at night and you managed to get a sword instead of an axe. When the cinematic kicks in, you can’t be in a locked time with locked armour. So, everything needs to be seamless for the player in real-time. That is the most difficult part when you come to the VFX industry. For instance, cinematics are not working at a shot level, but instead are at a sequence level. Most of the time, the frame average on a cinematic is around 3000 to 4000 frames. That was quite a shock for me! On a game you can have between 30 and 60 cinematics.
My advice is, don’t think you will do some Unreal or unity level of excellence — you should come with an open mind and not try to compare with the VFX industry, otherwise, you’ll be very frustrated. There are a lot of things in the game industry that can benefit VFX and vice versa. Now, the game workflow is quite different from the VFX one. I do hope in the future it will get normalized to be more accessible from both sides.
With recent industry developments such as realtime raytracing in game engines, do you think the future of VFX is trending toward Realtime?
I do see the future might become a hybrid system of realtime / pre-calculated. With the latest technology in The Mandalorian’s first season, we can see all the benefits of a Virtual Production. It will take over, and I would say that it will become the norm for TV shows very soon, and it will kick into Film right after.
We will see a shift in CG environment work, being started before the postproduction process. It will become a part of the pre-production.
Then all the hero assets like FX, Creatures, Face replacements, etc. will be handled in a classic postproduction process as we all know (Renderman, Arnold, VRay, Redshift etc.). Some of the non-hero assets like background and midground crowd, props, creatures, and maybe other environments could benefit from the realtime technology, and then exported to be composited.
Who inspires you, and what are the most valuable lessons you have learned from them?
My children and my wife inspire me every day. Our eldest son is in the autistic spectrum and has learning difficulties. He is working harder than everyone else and every day, I am blown away by his kindness and his resilience. I couldn’t be prouder of him. My daughter is so kind and she is always helping the youngest and disabled. Our youngest is full of love and joy and I can’t feel more blessed to see that between them 3 they are forming a very strong team. I love them so much. My wife is my voice of reason and she always challenging me to be a better human being. She’s got hard work to do! 😊
As well, I get a lot of inspiration from people like Salman Khan of Khan Academy — what he has done is just incredible.
When you get stuck on a problem, what does your thought process or inner-talk sound like? What’s your process for starting to solve said problem?
For me there are two types of problems: The technical one and the artistic one. On the first one, I found answers to almost 99% of my problems online. It might take some time to scrape the internet, but at some point, I’ll find it. If I don’t find the answer, I will talk to my colleagues about it. I am always trying to explain the problem in simple words. The more you chat about that, the more your brain is, on its own, trying to figure out the issue. And with the help of my colleagues, we will unlock the issue.
When it comes to the artistic issue, I am not trying to figure that out alone. I talk to my colleagues, my lead or supervisor about that. Communication is the most important skill in our work.
Tell us about your most productive failure — something that didn’t quite go to plan, perhaps in a negative way, that you ultimately learned from.
I remember, it was in 2003, I was working in France and I only did full CG shows — I’d never touched a live-action one. I’d been hired to work on a small TV series with some very easy shots to do, but I didn’t really know how to start! So my lead was frustrated with me because I wasn’t going that fast. I’ve done the job, but I realized that I wasn’t prepared for live-action VFX compositing. Then after the gig, I decided to put all my efforts into learning how to comp live action. I’ve always loved to learn new things; at that time, I was single and had all the time in front of me. I spent hours practicing, and the company contacted me again for a short gig, and that time it went really well and they kept me in the team longer than planned!
We often work a lot of additional hours in VFX to get projects across the finish line. How do you spend your downtime, to de-stress and balance out the busy times?
I am a proud dedicated husband and daddy, so I’m spending most of my free time with my family. When it comes to deadlines, I am only focusing on them and let my other hobbies on the side. But when I’ve got normal working hours, I like building AI Drones for fun, nothing crazy out there, I’m mostly using openCV at the moment! As well, I am always trying to improve my company’s pipeline, but this is not going as fast as I would like. I prefer taking baby steps and doing it right instead of rushing and having problems later on. The big thing that de-stresses me the most is gardening and chopping wood! I am very lucky to have a big garden with lots of interesting trees and plants. My garden is very much time consuming when it comes to maintenance, but it’s worth it. During mid-spring to mid-autumn, my family and I spend most of our time outside. I love making BBQs, marinating meat and vegs, inviting friends, having good food and a good laugh! Ben, why not are you coming to visit us? 😉
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Ha! I’ve been trying to make my website and to communicate about my company for a long time! But I’ve been so busy since I started to work remotely that I haven’t had a chance to put my head on this. I have good hope to start anytime soon.
But people can reach me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/geoffroygivry, I’d be more than happy to talk to them! 😊