Interview with Important Looking Pirates (ILP), VFX for Academy Awards Nominated Film Kon-Tiki

January 18, 2013 4 min read

We are excited to feature our interview with ILP today on our blog, a vfx firm from Sweden who has worked on many projects, from commercials to video games, and is now expanding to movies. Niklas Jacobson, the co founder of the company, answered our questions.
Novedge: Tell us about yourself and Important Looking Pirates
ILP: We are a visual effects / post production company based in Stockholm, Sweden. ILP was founded by me (Niklas Jacobson) and Yafei Wu in October 2007 with the vision of one day be able to compete with the best international studios. Since we come from an artist background, our focus has always been about the quality of our work, together with an inspiring and creative work environment to accomplish it.
Today we are 20 full time employees which we believe are among the most passionate artists, producers and support personnel in the industry. 
Our core business has always been visual effects for commercials, but in the last couple of years the way we consume media has changed quite a bit, with the internet and other technologies. So now we see ourselves more as content providers for all kinds of platforms like television, web, game industry. We recently finished the visual effects work on our first feature film Kon-Tiki which was a fantastic project to work on. And we are definitely looking forward to more film work as well!
Novedge: What or who inspires you? 
ILP: We take inspiration in lots of things. There are plenty of "nerds" in the office so there is obviously a lot of discussion around art, movies and games. But what drives us the most is the passion for what we do, the competition in seeing what other people and companies manage to achieve. I think it is very important to take pride in what you do, while remaining humble. There is so much we are constantly learning from each other, and from others outside of ILP, we all feel equal within our team.  There is a never ending journey of self improvement. This is a very fast paced and evolving industry and so you need to keep looking forward and not get stuck on old merits. 
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
ILP: We have recently finished about 60 very visual effects intensive shots for the upcoming Norwegian feature film Kon-Tiki directed by Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg. The film is about the legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal’s epic journey crossing the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in 1947.
The movie has been very well received and has just received a nomination to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
This was an extremely fun and challenging project to work on. We worked on a sequence featuring digital white sharks and a digital parrot.
SH_I_114_110_breakdown_dvd_v01_002_dawa (1)
One exciting thing with this kind of work is that you often get to do some pretty in depth studies on very random subjects. For this project we spent a lot of time watching documentaries like "Life" and "Planet Earth" We studied the movement of sharks and the look of underwater footage. 
One of the greatest challenges with our work was that it had to look 100% believable. We are cutting between live action scenes and completely digitally created scenes which puts incredible high demands on everything, from models, textures, lighting and animation to compositing and integration of the computer generated elements. 


Kon-Tiki Making of from Important Looking Pirates on Vimeo.

Novedge: What software do you use? Tell us why.
ILP: Before we founded ILP, Yafei and I spent a few years working abroad in London and Los Angeles. We were very inspired by how well developed the industry was at that time compared to Sweden. A lot of the companies were developing proprietary tools and pipeline workflows which in a lot of cases gave them an edge in creating really stunning visual effects or in their workflow. We have embraced that at ILP and are not afraid of putting a lot of resources into research and development and pipeline work. Among our tools we have developed a proprietary volumetric render to meet our needs for speed while rendering effects like smoke and fire. 
Among the "off the shelves" software that we use, Maya is our main 3D software. Maya feels like industry standard in our field and is a powerful tool that many 3D artists know and like. We use The Foundry's Nuke for compositing for more or less the same reason. We sometimes use Adobe After Effects for more motion graphics work. We use both ZBrush and Mudbox for sculpting when you need that extra detail in your models. In case we have to finishing work directly with the client we have Smoke for quick playback and last minute tweaks but more often we work remotely and review work over the internet especially with international clients. For FX work and heavy simulations we use Houdini and Naiad. We render our images using V-Ray. We switched to V-Ray about 1.5 years ago and are really happy about that. It makes the look development process extremely efficient and V-Ray has a lot of ways to get very fast feedback while still keeping all the fancy features like GI. You can get a quick read on how your lighting will look and when satisfied you can increase the settings with very predictable results. Two other good reasons to use V-Ray is the pricing and the excellent support.
Novedge: What innovations do you see in your field, now or in the future?
ILP:There are lots of great things already happening on the software side of things. Things are becoming more accessible and new features are being implemented to make our work easier. However, the expectations are increasing as well. Higher resolution, frame rates and stereo production have been  introduced and make for a continuous struggle to keep your head above the water. The thing I personally look forward the most for ILP is the fact that we just started using Shotgun in our pipeline as a production management tool. I think the key to survive in a business with continuously increasing demands is making sure the work you do is made as efficiently as possible. And a huge part of that is production management. 
To see more of ILP's work, check out their website.
To learn more about specific software, take a look at Novedge Best of the Best Webinar Series.

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