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11 gifts to buy your CG Artist

by | Nov 25, 2013

When it comes to the Visual Effects artists and enthusiasts in your life, the holiday season doesn’t have to be a technical challenge on par with rendering a Massive crowd simulation! There are a LOT of excellent gift ideas out there for the VFX folks near and dear to you. For today’s blog post I’ve chosen a few that I know I would love to give (and maybe receive!) to any of my VFX buddies. Some are just plain fun, and some are super useful for getting the job done and making their art shine.

  • The VES Handbook of Visual Effects. This is the ONE, the bible that every VFX artist, TD and animator should have on their reference shelf. It’s written and edited by an amazing team of accomplished VFX Supervisors and artists who have been putting the shots we love on the big screen. Co-edited by VES Chair and Animation Mentor VFX Advisory Board member Jeff Okun. If they don’t have this already, time to hook it up! Great toilet reading to boot.

  • The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (Extended Edition Blu-Ray Box Set). There are movies with a lot of visual effects, and then there is The Lord of The Rings. Arguably the series that really established Weta Digital among the top tier of the VFX studios, this is also just an amazing series of films that do the books a great deal of justice. The Blu-Ray extended set is a treasure trove of material that will keep your VFX and LOTR fans happy for ages. This could be the One Box Set to rule them all!
  • Lego Star Wars Millenium Falcon. Let’s face it, every VFX artist loves the original Star Wars. I’m talking about Episode 4, A New Hope. I am NOT talking about episodes 1-3. That’s for another conversation that would not include gift giving of any kind. So why do we love the original Star Wars? Because it felt REAL. It felt like we could live in that world, with those characters, living their crazy intergalactic lives. And the Millenium Falcon was a big part of that realness. The Falcon was a Working Ship. This was a ship that got things done and had the scars to show it. And as for a gift, what VFX fan or artist doesn’t love Legos?! Half of the desks out in production land are covered in Legos! This is a great kit and a fun build, but if it’s too easy for you and you’ve got $6700 burning a hole in your pants, there’s always the Lego Star Wars ULTIMATE COLLECTOR’S Millenium Falcon. Not for the faint of heart and perhaps better used as a investment vehicle; future returns not guaranteed. 😉
  • The Visual Story. Another “must have” for every VFX artist, and really any visual artist working in ANY field. In this book author Bruce Block pulls the curtain back on the hidden visual language of film composition. How do Directors, DPs and Lighting artists tell stories with film? This book explains it all and will make anyone see film in a new light, as well as deepen their understanding of how to take their own work up to another level.
  • Side Effects Houdini Apprentice HD. For VFX artists who lean toward the simulation side of the production process, Houdini has long been the tool of choice. I tend to think of it as the swiss army knife of 3D apps, but the truth is, it’s not just a big sim application! Houdini shines for a variety of tasks and includes Mantra, it’s own renderer. For artists who are Houdini-curious, or who just want to learn it on the side, the Houdini Apprentice and Apprentice HD versions (Free & $99) offer an easy way to check out this amazing VFX toolkit.
  • pCAM Film Calculator app (iOS). For the VFX Supervisors in your life, pCAM can be an incredibly handy little tool. This iOS (iPhone/iPad) app allows you to calculate a wide variety of camera values (DOF, Exposure, Focal Length) when working on-set, all with a very well designed interface that helps you visualize the calculations being made. Updated with the latest camera info on a regular basis, at $29, this app isn’t free but for anyone who has to work on a shoot it’s well worth it!
  • Nikon D800. Yes, let’s be blunt, this is a very expensive camera. But in the world of DSLRs, this is it. If you’re shooting HDR, this is the camera to shoot with. Nikon claims the image quality rivals medium format cameras and they’re not joking, it’s stunning what you can get out of this thing. Sure the numbers are all great, 36+ megapixels, ISO 100-25,000! full HD video at 24fps etc it goes on, but really the magic with this camera is what they’re doing with the sensor. The color, low light sensitivity and dynamic range are stunning. So if your VFX friend has been very, VERY nice this year, maybe an elf with some pull in Santa’s workshop can hook up a D800. But seriously, they better have been really nice this year. Crazy nice.
  • Apple iPhone 5S. Ok, some people like Apple iPhones and some like Android. That’s cool, no platform wars please. But if the Nikon D800 is a bit pricey and the VFX artist in your life happens to be in the market for a new smartphone that takes GREAT pictures, well you might want to tell Santa to look at the iPhone 5S. Why? It really DOES take great pictures. Sure, some smartphone features are gimmicks, but the 5S camera isn’t. Heck, if it’s good enough for a National Geographic photographer, it’s probably good enough for taking my snapshots.
  • Industrial Light & Magic: Into The Digital Realm, by Mark Cotta Vaz. This is a beautiful coffee table book that chronicles many of ILM’s crowning VFX achievements, giving a great behind the scenes look at the artists and setups that were used to pull off some of the biggest moments in film history. What’s great about this book is that it’s not just a gorgeous book, but Cotta Vaz loves writing about the craft of visual effects and he includes a lot of truly useful tidbits that even a seasoned VFX artist might enjoy.
  • Nuke 8 license. Ok, technically Nuke 8 isn’t out yet, but it’s coming! This gift would also fall into the “Wow, they must have been REALLY NICE this year!” category, but hey some people deserve the best and maybe Santa will deliver. And yes, Nuke really is The Best when it comes to comp tools, and frankly it’s really a full 3D tool kit at this point. With the new features in v8, Nuke looks to be mounting a full frontal assault on After Effects position at the top of the motion graphics world. We can’t wait to try it!
  • PS4 and XBox One. Yes, this Xmas List goes to ELEVEN!

    Sure, not every VFX artist out there is also a gamer, but there are a lot that are, and this season represents a bounty of new goodness. Are they Playstation fans or XBox fans? Either way, they win this holiday season! Both consoles sport amazing new technology that game studios will be exploring for years to come. Lighting and effects that we used to think of as the exclusive realm of film and TV are now possible in real time, and it’s only going to get better.

The holidays are a wonderful time to show your love and affection through the purchasing and consumption of material goods, and hopefully this list is a catalyst toward that end. Just kidding.

But perhaps the greatest gift you might give would be the gift of Knowledge. If the VFX fan in your life is looking to jump into the world of effects, film and visual storytelling, enroll them in our fantastic VFX classes at Animation Mentor!

Happy Holidays from Animation Mentor!

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