5 tips for making a monster movie

Leading VFX artist Miguel Ortega reveals his five tips for creating your own CG spectacular.

Visual effects artist Miguel Ortega has contributed creatures to many movies, including The Mist, Jack the Giant Killer and Harry Potter, but is now working on his own project, The Ningyo, which he describes as "the story of Faust told through the world of cryptozoology".

The Ningyo involved shooting on location and in a studio with a green screen

Mixing digital and practical VFX - "Why spend days simulating falling dust when you can get realistic results by just dropping some baby powder and crushed cork in front of a black screen?" - Ortega used Maya and Mudbox for 3D modelling, Mari and Mudbox for texturing and V-Ray for rendering.

The short film was funded through Kickstarter and is currently being finished off by Ortega with co-creator and production designer Tran Ma.

Inspired to try making your own 3D movies? Here are five essential tips from Ortega that'll definitely help you get it done.

01. Be realistic

Don't bite off more than you can chew: these things take a lot of time and effort. Be realistic about your goal and always remember Tip 02 when planning your schedule.

02. Manage people

Everyone says they will help you when you're starting a project but only one per cent will actually help. Friends will always volunteer - that is, until they get home from work at 8pm and realise they have to start working on your project for free. It won't happen. You will be overwhelmed and won't finish your project.

03. Understand your strengths

If you're a compositor but don't have certain other skills, make a short that works with your strengths. If you can't model and can't texture, for example, don't plan a film with lots of modelling and texturing.

04. Save money

No need for fancy hardware. If you need to build a small render farm, buy a bunch of refurbished gaming machines instead of buying expensive computers. The difference in rendering is 5-10 per cent but the cost difference is thousands. We bought four machines, which we use to render, for the price of one workstation.

05. Know your software

When rendering in V-Ray, don't start using GI right away. You will be surprised what good results you can get from V-Ray without turning on every single bell and whistle (unlike most renderers). It's great that it's there but if you don't really need it, don't use it.

Words: James Clarke

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 178. Find out all about the production of The Ningyo with Miguel Ortega's production diary, starting in issue 182 - on sale now!