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VanCon 2013: VFX(non)Con

On Monday night, the VFX threw a Con at a local geeky tavern. Officially though, it was not a Con - in order to get permission from the WB, the VFX guys had to promise that they'd just be showing some reels to 20 or so friends at an informal get together. So, they started referring to it as a NonCon... which of course led to many (sometimes slightly awkward) giggles among the fans.

I had been out all day location hunting with friends, and I was very sleepy, but thankfully the tavern they had chosen was only a ten-fifteen minute walk from my place. I did not bring my notebook though, so what follows is just my memory...

MonVanCon13 083
I arrived and missyjack (who had helped Ryan Curtis and the VFX guys organize the event) sat me down at the head table - something I hadn't been expecting, but seeing as how the tavern was filled to brim with fans, I was happy with the seat. I only realized later that it was actually a stolen seat and had been where Adam Williams from VFX had been sitting next to his girlfriend. Oops - I blame missyjack.

Because I was sitting at the "VIP" table, I was right next to all the VFX guys and the livestream that was going out over the internet... which means I'm in a lot of the pictures circulating.

I got there just as the VFX guys started showing reels - there were vids that just showed off the effects as they appeared set to some good music, and then there were videos that showed the process and before and after shots so you could actually see the work that went into them. It was very interesting to everything from things as complicated as the shot of all the dead Deans in Goodbye Stranger to something as simple as removing the trees from the background when Dean climbs out of his grave in Lazarus Rising.

After they showed the videos, they started a Q&A. The Q&A went for over an hour! It was amazing and really informative. I know that missyjack got an audio recording of it that she'll eventually do something with - so hopefully that'll end up somewhere for posterity.

Somethings that stood out in my memory:
1)Yes, they are sometimes called on to remove blemishes and whatnot from Jensen (or Jared's) face. Ryan alluded to, without naming names of specifics, the fact that they also had to hide a significant facial injury last year - and the actor in question rewarded them with a bottle of scotch for their troubles. I'm guessing this was Jensen and the infamous TorCon wrestling incident of 2012 (for those of you out of the loops, Jared, Jensen, and Misha got into a wrestling match at TorCon and Jensen ended up with severe rug burn on his forehead).

2)They work with all departments to get the work done - but they do work with wardrobe quite a bit (the woman asking the question worked in wardrobe in the film industry). For instance, in the scene in 8x08 when the guy steps off the building into mid-air, they needed a picture of the bottom of his shoes in order to do the VFX shot. Wardrobe can provide that. Sometimes it doesn't all go to plan though, in the Prometheus episode, wardrobe had put Prometheus in a plaid shirt that was similar but not EXACTLY the same between two shots that were supposed to be sequential - VFX had to basically digitally put him in the right shirt in order for the shot to work - otherwise it would have looked like Prometheus died, got up and put on a slightly different shirt, and then died again. :P

3)The VFX in the show get dulled when they are broadcast. If you want to see the detail that actually exists in the shots, then you should buy the bluray.

4)The longest thing it took them to get right was the lightening for Zeus. They aren't exactly proud of that - it took them forever to figure out how to make it look awesome and not cheesy and fake-looking.

5)What's something that SPN's VFX does better than anyone? Smoke... and to a lesser extent fire. SPN has perfected smoke over the years. They use some program that I think has the name "fume" in it, but I can't remember - and their own program scripts. Fire, likewise, is also something they've become really good at - it's actually just the smoke program but coloured and manipulated a little differently.

6)They don't write their own computer programs, but they DO write their own scripts so that the commercially bought programs do what they want them to do. After Effects was one of the programs mentioned, I think.

7)Sometimes they'll get directors that insist that something isn't a VFX shot, and then it becomes a VFX shot - that's annoying. Sometimes new directors will make them come in for scenes that they KNOW aren't going to make the cut, but they still have to come in and do the work for them - that's also annoying.

8)Sam's glowing arms in the finale were cool. They were told the whole time that the powers-that-be only wanted them to glow intermittently. Then when it was too late, the powers-that-be were like "actually, it'd be more awesome if they glowed the whole time" and Ryan was like "yes, that would be more awesome - but oh well." There's always stuff that they could do differently or better, but they work on tight deadlines and that imposes limits.

9)Blood is usually always practical, because that looks better. It's usually split about 70-30.

10)The VFX department encourages creativity among its artists. One task is given to one artist and they are told what they have to do, but other than that, they're just told to do whatever they think would be the coolest with it - and that's a lot of trust to put in artists, because one persons "awesome" might not be the same as another's. But it makes it a really fun department to work in, because you get to stretch your creative muscles and actually have an impact on how awesome the end result is.

...I think that's all I remember off the top of my head.

After the presentation, I turned to Werner ten Hoeve and told him how much I loved that shot from Taxi Driver with the graffiti melting into the door to Purgatory. He told me that was Christopher's work and that they didn't actually have the shot of the alley - it was ALL digital. The shooting crew thought that they got the required shot of the alley that was needed for VFX but they couldn't find the shot - so Christopher had to paint ALL of it in post. I told him to tell Christopher that it was awesome - because honestly I think it's my favourite VFX thing that SPN has done.

MonVanCon13 084

After that, it was time for autographs and pictures - and there I was sitting at the head table trying to eat nachos. I'm sure I look very attractive in photographs. :P I also had a purple nurple, which was surprisingly delicious. Usually I hate every drink with the word "purple" in the title, but maybe that's just the case when it comes to martinis.

I was thinking, while I was sitting there though, about the fact that the Q&A had gone longer than an hour and the fact that Creation has such limited production crew give panels at the Con.

I mean, I know some of it is just clearing the interviews with WB/CW, who are getting more and more strict on who can speak to "the press" (basically the fans). The Supernatural Wiki was able to do some really great interviews with production last year, but word on the street is that those would probably be impossible now, because officially only Jeremy Carver and Bob Singer are allowed to talk to "the press".

But that aside, what mainly peaked my interest was the difference in quality of questions. I mean, the Q&A was over an hour of quality questions - whereas Creation panels tend to be a little lesser quality questions (not all the time, but at least more of a mix of good and bad questions). And I couldn't help but wonder if that was because there was a difference in the kind of people who buy tickets to see actors and the kind of people who come out on a school night to listen to production crew. And maybe production doesn't fit Creations business model because they cater to only one circle in that Venn diagram. Maybe you really do need to have a parallel Con dedicated to the other circle - and those who are in the overlapping section would just have to deal with being run off their feet.

I was thinking all this, of course, because on Sunday when Jensen pulled Bob Singer up on stage - I kind of wanted the questioners to ask him questions about writing/producing etc... but we really only got one of those. Now, I understand that those people had lined up for Jared and Jensen and already had their questions mentally prepared, so I'm cutting them all some slack. I'm horrible at thinking up questions on the spot, so I totally understand their lack of going off script - but still. I wonder how much it would be different if it was a Bob Singer panel. We had Jim Michaels and Russ Hamilton this year, but they're more manager types than actually involved in the creative aspects of the show.

I'm not sure what my point is - besides to say that the VFX Q&A was very fascinating and it was great to hear so many good questions and I wish we could have more of that at an official convention.

I should mention that Adam Glass showed up just after the Q&A and just before the whole bar sang Carry On Wayward Son. I tried to talk to Adam and failed slightly.
missyjack told him that I did the timelines and he basically said "better you than me" or "good luck with that" or the equivalent. He mentioned that he still calls a guy who doesn't even work on the show anymore when he wants to know something... I tried (weakly) to finagle myself a job and told him that he could call me instead, and that's approximately when he stopped talking to me because the waitress conveniently (for him) brought his bill at that moment. Ah well, I tried folks. :P

And with the end of the VFX(Non)Con came the end of VanCon 2013 for yours truly. It was a busy year and it's amazing when I compare it in retrospect to my first year at VanCon back in 2010. As I was telling raloria (who incidentally sold me my first ever VanCon ticket and was also the ONLY person I knew that first year) - I'm glad that I have so many friends now at the convention, but I feel like I barely have time to see them, let alone catch my breath!

VFX Q&A audio now available on the Women of Letter's Podcast!

I had a really good seat this year, and maybe I should have bought next years ticket and reserved that same spot - but I didn't. Part of me was debating whether I even wanted to come back on a Gold ticket. We seem to get less for our money every year, with fewer autographs included this year than last, etc... and the fact that by Saturday night I'm too worn out to go to the cocktail party anyway... and yes, I'd miss the extra "breakfast" panel with the boys, but maybe I could live with that... anyway, it was all stuff I was debating. There's also the fact that I'm about to quit my job (so I need to not spend so much money), and if I can't find another job, then I may have to move back to Ontario - or maybe that's something I want to do anyway.

So, I think I'll stick with what I've done the past few years and just wait until someone is selling their ticket online for a discount (or not for a discount, but it's a really good seat) and if it's meant to be, it will be, and if it's not meant to be, then it won't.

It was a very busy but a very good VanCon, and now I need a vacation. :P



( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)
As always, thanks for the recap!

Your thoughts on the difference in fans who want to see the actors and fans who want to talk to the people that make the show is interesting. The thing is, I bet there are enough of the second kind to fill a con that has both! (Run a department panel the same time as Sebastian's and see who get more fans!)
Aug. 31st, 2013 03:43 am (UTC)
Haha, yes, I agree with you there! :)
Aug. 31st, 2013 04:52 am (UTC)
The VFX are so up-my-alley. I'd have been there in a heartbeat. If Vancouver was in Ohio.

I enjoy the smaller, more specific types of panels far more than the big public ones, hands down. Thanks bunches for the great report and keep up the fantastic work. WE appreciate it, and clearly the Show does too!
Aug. 31st, 2013 05:09 am (UTC)
If only Vancouver were closer to everywhere - then I wouldn't feel so bad about living so far away from my friends and family back in Ontario. :P

And yeah, same, I like the specific panels more than the big public ones - mainly because you get the more specific and thought-out questions. The questions asked at the big panels are more for comedic effect, I find, as though something isn't interesting if it's not funny... which leads me into wanting to talk about moments at the Con that were played for laughs, when they were actually serious things, but that's something for another time.

And thank you for the kind words, I'm glad that my work is appreciated! Hopefully I can do it all again next year in some capacity. :)
Aug. 31st, 2013 04:53 am (UTC)
I loved the melting grafitti. I'm really glad they had this. The crew works really hard and they do such a great job. It think it's good for them to hear how much we appreciate it. How did they do the shot with all the Deans? Did they have to get photos of Dean in a lot of different dead body shots and stick them together?
Aug. 31st, 2013 05:12 am (UTC)
They didn't really talk about how that shot was composed, but if memory serves me correctly, two of the bodies were actually Jensen (or possibly his body-double, but I think Jensen) (as in, there were two "plates" with Jensen in them). And then the rest were 3d renderings of Jensen put in afterwards.

I think it's nice for the crew to know how much the fans appreciate the work they do too - and it's not just about how pretty the boys are, but also the craftsmanship that goes into the show. :)
Aug. 31st, 2013 06:04 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this. I'm so bummed I didn't know about the livestream. Would have loved to see that.

You are so right about the difference in con questions. I get so embarrassed by the bad ones. I see it all the time on LJ and Twitter - people asking basically 'please stop asking the same stupid questions! be thoughtful!'. I even tried once on all_spn or something a while back to have users help me compile good questions that people could use if they couldn't think of what to ask. Didn't seem to help much though.

I completely agree about when Jim was on stage. I want to hear about the process - acting, set design, creative decisions, writing, etc. I don't care what their favorite episode was or what their latest prank was. I'd rather the cons were more like that very first PaleyFest with the Js but also some writers and producers. Or maybe like Inside The Actor's Studio heh! I don't understand why the crew aren't allowed to attend cons. That seems counter intuitive to me. Clearly if they attended, they would help support the show and increase our interest and devotion to it. Why is it wrong to fulfill fan interest? Supply and demand, people! Entertainment is a business too!

Ugh I'll stop venting lol. Anyway, thank you again. I missed out on all of this where I am in NY so it was so, so nice to get a bit of insight to this non-con con. (maybe they should have called it the Not Con instead? hehe!)
Aug. 31st, 2013 08:33 am (UTC)
Well, I know there's at least one audio recording of the Q&A out there, so I'll let people know when it becomes available.

And yeah, I'm with you on the venting. There's no way to police questions though, so unless more thoughtful people race up to the microphones first, we're always going to get the more inane stuff. My policy is that I can't really complain, because I never get up to the microphones myself - and if I'm not willing to do it, then I can't complain that others aren't willing to do it. Hell, I'm like the worst person when it comes to thinking up intelligent questions.

But yeah, I wish there were more things like PaleyFest or some weird show-version of Inside the Actor's Studio.

Sep. 1st, 2013 01:06 am (UTC)
I can understand that. I asked a question once at the first NJcon Jared was at. He and Misha were doing a joint panel by the time I got up to the mic. I spent Jared's whole panel in the back of the line. I was so bummed because I have a front row seat center stage and instead I spent that time trying to see over people. Not easy when you're 3'9!
Sep. 1st, 2013 02:41 am (UTC)
Aw, yeah, that sucks.

But that's the problem - you have to line up so far in advance, and I like to take my notes so that I can write up these reports... I can hardly do that while standing. :P

So, I'll be forever relying on others to ask questions, and if those questions suck, then they suck, but if they don't then that's just a pleasant surprise!
Aug. 31st, 2013 08:41 am (UTC)
Thank you again for these recaps! Especially this last one. Which might even sound like one of the best things in this convention.

It is so nice that in Vancouver it was possible to organise this unofficial meeting. And a pity, that it never (most likely) be possible in Europe..
But I have to agree with your idea, that they should make conventions where the main guests are the behind the scenes people.. That would be awesome!

And I wish you the chance to get there next year again (so that I can read all about it :D ).
Aug. 31st, 2013 10:10 am (UTC)
Yeah, it's a huge advantage to being in Vancouver - the fact that production is here and we can organize events like this. Mind you, we can organize events like this only because a)production is willing and able to do things like this after work, and b)we're flying under the radar of the top brass - who would probably not allow this otherwise.

But it's true that I sometimes wonder what people DO at the other cons, where you can't go location hunting and you don't have these extra little events - probably, people actually get sleep and eat regularly. :P

I hope I get a chance to go next year too. Probably the wise thing to do would have been to just buy my ticket right away and keep my seat, but I'm never that wise. :P We'll see though!
Sep. 2nd, 2013 05:17 am (UTC)
I didn't even know about this, or the livestream. Would've liked to see that. I have to agree with the fan questions, I wish they'd be a little more thoughtful. I was at Vancon a few years ago when someone asked a question about slash fic and you could hear the room groan. It's like people are just trying to show off and compete at asking the most embarrassing question, rather than getting any real value out of the experience. I kind of resent them making everyone feel so awkward.
Sep. 2nd, 2013 07:11 pm (UTC)
Well, slash questions come with a whole bunch of cultural baggage that pretty much destroys the room - so yeah, I understand the frustration when people ask them. That being said, I also understand that not everyone has that cultural baggage and they might not realize what they're doing.

I also noticed a lot this year that young people who spend a lot of time using fandom slang on the internet seem to forget that the actors are not part of the fandom and don't necessarily know the slang - such as "otp" - which is something that even I didn't figure out until YEARS of hanging out in fandoms. So, there is definitely that disconnect in some fans mind where they don't realize that the actors aren't in on the jokes/discussion and they treat the actors like they would treat their fellow fandom friends.

I think though, that the main reason beyond the less than thoughtful questions are people trying to instigate something funny - they want to laugh, they want the actors to tell funny stories, etc. The actors do their absolute best to accommodate this wish - and so Cons end up being more like improve stand-up comedy rather than an actual serious Q&A... and that's FINE, we all have a good time. But it's part of the reason I think events like the VFXCon benefit from being completely separate entities in another venue.
Sep. 5th, 2013 07:58 am (UTC)
This was such an amazing non con. Thanks, as always, for the recap!
Sep. 5th, 2013 04:08 pm (UTC)
It was! And, as always, you're welcome! :)
Oct. 29th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
Man, I so wish I would have gone. I was changing hotels that night, and so by the time I left the Sheraton and made it over to our new motel it was just too late. I was bummed, especially when my roomies came back and told me all about it. So, glad to read this report. I definitely need to go listen to the podcast.

It is also interesting to note your observations about the difference in fans. I would eat the stuff up with what the VFX team talked about that night. I love hearing that stuff. I would love to hear all the guests talk a little more in detail about the filming process, or other things that happen. But no, most of the questions generally go to the more fluffy stuff. While fun, I would totally dig more detailed oriented Q&As. If they do this next year I definitely have to go. Especially now that we know what to expect.
Oct. 29th, 2013 08:50 pm (UTC)
It was definitely a fun night, but man, I was so fried by that point.

I just wish the people who asked questions at the VFX Con would line up and ask questions at the Con too. It seems that these days it's all the vapid questioners that are the only ones willing to get up to the mics, and meanwhile everyone who actually wants to ask interesting questions about the filming process just stay in their seats.

That being said, I know there's an element of stand-up comedy to these Cons as well, and that the guests feel the most comfortable when the audience is laughing, because it's an audible sign that they're having a good time... and when they DO get asks interesting filming questions, they start worrying that they're being boring. (I'm talking mostly about the boys here.) But I think it'd be really easy to strike a good balance between the irrelevant questions and the more interesting ones - we just need a wider variety of people to line up for the mics.

I think they probably will try to do this again next year, if they're able to. The Powers That Be may crack down on it - this year they were able to get away with it because they convinced them that it was just "a few friends at a bar" rather than an ENTIRE bar of fans + recording.

Definitely check out the podcast! You can hear me order nachos, and then get complimented on my nachos and offer them to someone else. (I did not know I was sitting right next to a recording device, obviously) :P
Oct. 29th, 2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
I also wish the people who asked questions at the VFX Con would stand up and ask compelling questions like that to our panelists. But, I agree, some of the lines start so quickly, especially for the J's, that if you do have a good question just the thought of getting up and getting in line is enough to keep you from doing that. I know with DJs panel, I had a question that would have been fun to ask, because I asked him the question in my auto line, and his answer was very fun. It would have been fun for the whole crowd to hear that. But, I was in the middle of the row, and the thought of getting up and moving past everybody, I just didn't want to do that. So, I stayed silent. I did regret it though, after I asked DJ my question during autos. Oh well.

I do hope they get to do that next year. I'm not changing hotels this time, so I should be able to attend this time.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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