New Weta unit will wed research, vfx

Transfx to be headed by Sebastian Sylwan

Weta Digital, the New Zealand vfx shop working on James Cameron “Avatar” and Steven Spielberg’s “Tintin,” is launching a working group aimed at bringing advanced computer graphics research together with movie vfx production.

The new group, Transfx, is headed by Sebastian Sylwan, who has joined Weta as head of research and development.

Sylwan was most recently senior industry manager for film and television at software developer Autodesk, where he spearheaded work on stereoscopic 3-D.

Transfx will be partly funded by the Kiwi government but mostly by Weta, Sylwan said. “This is a significant investment (Weta) has committed to.”

The core of Transfx is Weta’s code-writing team, but it will expand to include advanced computer graphics researchers and students. The entire Transfx team will consist of about 20 people, half of whom will be new hires. Weta will be recruiting for Transfx at this year’s Siggraph and Siggraph Asia computer graphics confabs.

Sylwan told Daily Variety that the new assignment is his “dream job.”

“The goal is to get CG closer to reality while maintaining artistic control,” he said.

Many visual effects are cobbled together with improvised “hackish” solutions that look good in that shot but can’t be reused on other shots, Sylwan said. Transfx will look to find CG techniques that can be applied more generally.

He pointed to simulations of real-world phenomena like fire and water as targets for Transfx. The group will also work on speeding rendering and on digital capture.

Three visiting professors have already come to Weta to work on problems with the group: Henrik Wann Jenson from UC San Diego; Robert Bridson of the U. of British Columbia; and Eitan Grinspun of Columbia U.

The Transfx group will work directly on Weta’s slate, which includes “The Lovely Bones.”

Besides his position at Autodesk, Sylwan has been director of technology for Digital Domain and chief technology officer for Milan-based vfx shop Lumiq.