Ask the Artist: Katie Morris – VFX Digital Artist

Katie Morris is a VFX 2D and 3D digital paint and roto artist. She has worked on over 82 visual effects feature films including all five Transformer films, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, ‘Us’, ‘Avengers: Endgame’, and most recently, the promo ‘Become a Jedi’ for the new ‘Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’ video game. She uses Boris FX Silhouette together with Foundry Nuke. Visit her website and Vimeo.

Where are you from and how did you get your start in the industry?

I was finishing up my MBA in Arts Administration and working in the Fine Arts field in San Francisco as an art consultant. I was hired into a visual effects art department as a PA and was looking to work my way up to a managerial position. After a couple of years in the art department, I became fascinated by the work being done in the computer graphics department and transitioned into doing paint and roto.

What project are you most proud of and why?

There are a few that are my favourites. I am most proud of the work my team and I accomplished on A.I. Artificial Intelligence due to how challenging it was from a paint and roto perspective. I am also proud of my stereo work on Transformers: Age of Extinction, as well as my complex paint animation work on The Revenant.

How do you prep before a big project?

I make sure I am up-to-date on the latest techniques that are needed for the project.

What’s a keyboard shortcut you can’t live without?

C for the clone brush. Also, when I’m painting in Silhouette, I have a little Python script I use that rebinds the 1 and 2 keys to decrease or increase the brush opacity. I probably use those hotkeys hundreds of times a day.

How do you keep yourself fuelled/your favourite snack when you’re in an epic session?

CrossFit or getting in a run before long days gives me the most energy. That, and a Cafe Americano. And potato chips. Once, we brought in an inflatable mattress and put it in an empty cube – that was luxurious.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration?

I look for activities and adventures that take me out of my comfort zone such as crazy zip-lining courses, nighttime ocean swimming or taking the elevator up to the tippy top of the Eiffel Tower. You can get a glass of champagne at the top! Due to the nature of the type of work I specialise in – recreating reality perfectly – it’s easy to get caught up in my head with the most minute digital details so it’s important to have some fun, some balance and time in the real world. I have a DJI Osmo Action camera and I take it along with me on all my fun outings and compile the photos and footage for inspiration.

Katie Morris VFX Demo Reel from Katie Morris on Vimeo.

What do you do when you start feeling creative burnout?

A two-hour trail run in the mountains always hits the reset button. I know exactly where I lose cell coverage and being off the grid helps me eliminate burnout

What’s your favourite film and/or TV series

So many, but at the top are Contact, Jurassic Park, and Pride and Prejudice all for different reasons and my recent favourite is the new Apollo 11 documentary – it’s incredible. I loved how thought-provoking Contact was, and can’t forget that epic opening scene. Jurassic Park with its groundbreaking visual effects and thrill – still great, still scary. Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece, so beautifully shot and directed, cast perfectly, editing, sound, soundtrack. I’m also a big Star Trek: The Next Generation fan so I am looking forward to the upcoming series Star Trek: Picard. I got to be an extra for the saucer separation scene for Generations. If you have the book ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketch Book: The Movies, Generations and First Contact’, I am in that as reference for the Borg Queen’s ‘dissolution’ on-screen. Near and dear to me is Star Wars, and I’m really enjoying The Mandalorian.

If you could collaborate with any director/producer/artist living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would collaborate with director James Cameron and filmmakers and divers who specialise in underwater and ocean exploration documentaries, as well as raising awareness about protecting the ocean. It’s an important topic and I’d also get to learn how to use one of those incredible underwater cameras. I was initially inspired after watching The Living Sea, shot in IMAX and directed by Greg MacGillivray. Only one problem – I’m still working on getting my diving certification…

What career and/or life advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t limit yourself. If you are an artist, take up programming. If you are a programmer, explore your creativity in ways not previously done. You never know how different experiences might enhance your workflow or inspire new ideas. Don’t be afraid to pivot from your current position onto another path if you don’t quite know the outcome. Resiliency and the ability to adapt are key for working in the field of visual effects.

You use Silhouette and Mocha together with Nuke for your work. Which features do you rely on most?

When I use Silhouette, I rely heavily on the on-screen controls to adjust the clone source while in Interactive mode, the Grade/Filter controls for colour matching in combination with the compare mode, the flexibility and productivity while doing roto that is enhanced by using layers and tracking, and the ROI feature. Of course, I love the ability to use Silhouette’s tracking options and the integrated Mocha to drive roto and paint. The roto tools, existing and new, are comprehensive, sophisticated and constantly being updated. The new roto Magnetic Freehand tool using the strokes method in combination with the new Edge Snapping is a fast way to make shapes.

What new features are you using most in Silhouette 2020?

One of my favourite new features is the Show Shapes where not only are my shapes displayed in a paint node, I can also use them selectively as a mask to paint with while also changing the edge qualities of the shape for the desired paint effect. In addition, if one checks the “hide brush outline while painting” in the paint preferences, the shapes turn off while painting so it’s really easy to see how the paint looks – brilliant! I’m having fun running Mocha Pro 2020 as a plug-in inside Silhouette, which opens up a cool workflow for creating oversized clean plates with the new DOD node. Lastly, the new Detail Separation feature that allows the ability to paint on the colour and detail layers separately or together, and the new Extract Detail node – very powerful tools.

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