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Victoria Film Festival: Meet the master of destruction

What: The New Visual FX Where: Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St. When: Today, 1:30 p.m. Admission: With Springboard Pass: $59 (includes all four Saturday events, plus after-party at Bay Centre) Info: victoriafilmfestival.

What: The New Visual FX

Where: Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St.

When: Today, 1:30 p.m.

Admission: With Springboard Pass: $59

(includes all four Saturday events, plus after-party at Bay Centre)



If you’re a moviemaker on a mission to blow up bridges and buildings, destroy roads or trash expensive automobiles, chances are you’ve worked with Edwin Braun without even knowing it.

While the CEO of Victoria-based Cebas Visual Technology might not get the star billing of actors such as Robert Downey Jr. and Channing Tatum, his company’s affordable rendering software used by VFX studios and visualization design companies has contributed significantly to the eye-popping visual effects moviegoers and TV viewers take for granted.

“There are thousands more people involved in a movie who are not just the actors,” said Braun. His company is best known in the entertainment universe for products such as VolumeBreaker, its advanced digital demolition tool; and ThinkingParticles, its rule-based particles system that helped create stunning visual effects for blockbusters like San Andreas, The Avengers, Independence Day and White House Down.

“We do everything that explodes, crumbles, breaks, bounces around, collapses and even cars flying through the air,” said Braun, who will deliver a seminar titled The New Visual FX at 1:30 p.m. today at Vic Theatre.

It’s part of the Victoria Film Festival’s annual Springboard industry event that begins at 10:30 a.m. today with What’s App, Doc?, AMC/Sundance Channel Global executive Harold Gronenthal’s talk about how so much content is being channelled around the clock through apps. Springboard continues at noon with a talk on the current state of online PR by Angie Burns, vice-president of publicity and promotions at D Films Corp.

The final seminar, at 3:30 p.m., is titled Storytelling in Virtual Worlds, with input from Victoria Makerspace founder Derek Jacoby; award-winning filmmaker and UVic film production instructor Maureen Bradley; and Kate McCallum, a recent UVic writing and film graduate involved in production of documentaries.

The day-long event wraps at 5 p.m. with an after-party at the Bay Centre.

Aside from the wow factor, Braun’s seminar promises to be revealing as he dispels myths about how visual effects are widely perceived.

“I will talk about the visual effects industry as a whole, and how they’re created,” said Braun, who will explain the difference between special effects — building models, changing colours, using real-world green screens, manipulating various materials and so on — and visual effects.

“Don’t say to someone sitting in front of a PC that he’s doing special effects, or he’ll probably throw the PC in your face.”

As exciting as some of the on- screen effects created using Cebas software are, many people might be surprised to learn how comparatively unexciting the creative process can be. For instance, there’s a spectacular scene in 2012, Roland Emmerich’s doomsday thriller, in which Los Angeles and Las Vegas are reduced to rubble.

“You’d just see people working in front of a PC, especially when you see skyscrapers crashing down, or the Earth cracking up,” Braun said. “It’s because someone spent a lot of time inventing algorithms.”

One example of how his company’s ThinkingParticles technology was used to create some of a movie’s most dazzling scenes of destruction was evident in a “pool shot” for White House Down.

The software gave Munich-based ScanlineVFX the flexibility required to create a shot in which the presidential limousine flies sideways through a cluster of trees before splashing into the pool. It gave the company an opportunity to show how the limousine interacts with the tree line in intricate detail.

“The complex tools and features that ThinkingParticles offer were vital in achieving the desired effects in a timely and flexible way,” according to a ScanlineVFX testimonial.

Vancouver’s Prime Focus Film also used Cebas tools to create the illusion of the Lion’s Gate Bridge spectacularly collapsing, causing people to plunge into Burrard Inlet for Final Destination 5.

Final Render and ThinkingParticles was used by Pixomondo to create a Zeppelin crash during a Second World War sequence for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch.

The company has been headquartered in Vancouver Island Technology Park since Braun relocated here from Heidelberg, Germany in 2009. Although products created by the company have been used by various studios on dozens of projects, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Lost in Space, Starship Troopers, Green Lantern and Spider-Man 3, its contributions haven’t been widely acknowledged outside of the industry.

The company has 10 employees and also works with architectural visualization firms, commercial designers and video-game creators. It is one of several firms that typically contribute to a film or TV production.

Its digital tools pioneered during The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage have also helped convert the Harry Potter movies into 3-D through a long-term deal with Hollywood studio Pixel Magic.

While Cebas was initially known for its “rigid body” effects, Braun said it is moving to more fluid effects such as water, oil and smoke.

“We are now adding this functionality to our software,” he said, admitting it’s a challenge. “It’s tough simulating bodies of water, oceans and such. It’s complex stuff.”

Braun said he will also address the issue of “how Hollywood is driving our development” this afternoon, and share anecdotes about the company’s involvement in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“It’s such an incredible story,” is all he’ll say when asked to elaborate. “You’ll have to come down to hear it.”