At some point of my learning curve, I started to feel that most of online tutorials and courses couldn’t answer my questions. I felt like I reached a certain level when intermediate stuff seemed already familiar and anything advanced and technical caused confusion, followed by the idea that I would never understand it. I was stuck in a transition between the end-user and a TD. Back in 2008, I read a Siggraph article about how ILM rendered the movies like Iron Man and Pearl Harbor. The article talked about unique rendering solutions, ILM came up with to overcome the limitations of the technology. When I finished reading it, I realized that while my creativity and workflows have been constrained by software limitations, there were people who could actually cross the limits of technology and engineer outstanding things. So my questions were “How do they do it and where do I start?” Even though the internet was full of great tutorials and Google Search was at my fingertips, I couldn’t find the answers. It turned out that the info I was looking for was so vast and complex that it couldn’t be expressed in a single tutorial or even a book! However, I was lucky to find truly informative resources that were a catalyst of new discoveries and made me a better technical artist. Here you go, the list of top 3 websites that will get you started in development and rendering.
I’ll start with www.fundza.com This is a great website to start with. The beauty of the website is in its simplicity. Fundza.com was created by Malcolm Kesson, a VFX prof at Savannah College of Arts. This website helped me to master the basics of programming for rendering and served as a solid reference of various technical concepts. There you’ll find the info on RenderMan, Mental Ray, Python, MEL, TCL and C++. Moreover, fundza.com is a home of an amazing free app for programming called Cutter. The app has tons of features that make certain developments really easy and efficient. I use Cutter for all my shader writing tasks since 2009.
Many smart people reside there.
The second resource that had a great influence on me is the 3delight’s forum. The forum is free and has tons of super useful posts on 3delight, RenderMan and rendering technology overall. Most importantly, 3delight’s forum has an active, professional community. Unlike Pixar’s Renderman non-commercial forum, 3delight’s non-commercial forum is very structured and has lots of great insights from industry pros. The stuff I learned there can’t be found anywhere else.
Hack and invent.
The third website I would like to write about is www.magiclantern.fm It is not render tech related website. Yet, it played a great deal in sharpening my color science and color grading knowledge, which are essential skills of any Lighting TD. Magiclantern.com is a home of a free open-source camera add-on, which magically transforms a Canon photo camera into a killer raw film camera. In 2012, I upgraded to 5d mark III and I was disappointed with its video capabilities until I discovered the add-on. Since then, I never wanted any other camera. The footage I captured with Magic Lantern allowed me to experiment with 14bit raw sensor data and different color science workflows, which are so important in VFX. The Magic Lantern community forum has 46000 members and it is a good place to learn how to hack and invent things.
All of these three website’s have tons of useful stuff and very rare technical knowledge. But the most important thing, that makes these websites to stand out, is their spirit and small communities of awesome people.