Rebecca Cedermalm, a 24-year-old student from Sweden, had long cultivated an interest in graphics. She knew she liked the visual effects work done on Blade Runner 2049. She also specifically appreciated Moana’s hair, saying “it was so beautiful how it reacts with water and sand”.
As a student of Media Technology and Engineering at Linkoping University in Sweden, Rebecca realised she could marry her curiosity about graphics with her skills in developing and take a crack at VFX.
A course she took, SFX: Tricks of the Trade, opened her eyes to the possibility of a career in VFX and she decided to pursue that path. Rebecca landed an internship at MPC Film in London after getting in contact with someone who came to speak at her course.
The four-month internship with the Virtual Production department became part of the final project for her degree. She worked specifically on real-time fur deformations throughout her internship. Rebecca rendered fur and made it “move with the subdivided surface underneath, and removing the most obvious artefacts, such as hairs crashing into each other when you bend an arm”.
To an outsider, working on hair or fur might seem menial and inconsequential, but it’s far from it if you’re interested in high quality output for film.
“Hair is a lot more advanced than you might think. How it moves and how the light reacts to it — there’s an entire science behind it,” she told The Focus.
“My colleagues must think I’m crazy because I’ve been staring at my own hair — pushing it to see how it actually would react. As a human, you know exactly when something isn’t quite right, and then the whole thing becomes wasted — so if the fur is wrong, you kind of see that directly.”
Rebecca admittedly found it challenging working within a massive, award-winning studio where there is understandably a high expectation for quality. But she welcomed the task and stepped up to the plate. In a blog she wrote for MPC’s Research and Development website, Rebecca detailed the structure of her tasks and the software she used.
“First, I needed a creature and get the hair data from Furtility, MPC’s in-house software for hair, fur and grooming, and display it,” she explained.
“Next goal was to have it deform with a subdivided surface beneath it, otherwise the creature would just leave its fur behind when walking which I would say isn’t ideal. The last step was to add dynamics and handle hair-to-hair interactions to reduce the artifacts of hair colliding into each other when for example bending an arm or leg.”
Some of Rebecca’s biggest takeaways from her time at MPC Film include learning how to articulate herself and ask questions. On a technical level, she said working with GPU has been “a major upgrade” that has required her to reframe her mindset and think in parallel when it comes to dividing problems.
In just a short time in the VFX industry, Rebecca swiftly gleaned the skewered gender balance in favour of men. In fact, she initially had to overcome her own reluctance to apply because she doubted her qualifications.
"Just because I know that women usually don’t apply for things, I kind of want to do the opposite and apply for things that I might not really have the experience for yet, but still at least take the step, and do the impossible,” she said
Like many others, the VFX industry still needs to work on inclusion for women, especially in high positions of power. A sobering manifestation of that was Rebecca bleakly admitting she didn’t have any female role models in VFX — they were all men.
However, she does believe that the key to fostering change would be to reach out to women early on in their careers, particularly while they’re still in education.
“Grab us, because otherwise VFX feels like someone’s dream in my opinion,” she explained. “It feels like something that you don’t do, that someone else that’s really good at doing something does.”
Rebecca is only one example of someone who stumbled upon VFX because they weren’t aware of the career possibilities within it. But the reality is the industry requires people with a wide variety of skillsets. So Rebecca has this advice for anyone on the fence about giving it a go:
“I would say to just take the step — apply for it. Because it doesn’t matter if you apply and don’t get it — apply again! What’s the worst that could happen? You get a no but you can still apply to a lot of different companies. It’s going to work out, I really do think so.” — thefocus.com