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A taste of animago at MD.H Munich – meet Matthias Menz!

Animators, film technicians and digital creatives gather in Munich for 2 days each year- visiting the highly ranked industry convention „animago – AWARD&CONFERENCE “, which takes place once a year in the fall.

It is this special industry get-together that allowed us to host two very special guests as speakers at MD.H Munich on September 6th.

First talk of the evening was held by Matthias Menz, who is a senior lighter at Weta Digital. He came all the way from Wellington, New Zealand to visit us the night before animago.

Professor Henning Janssen opened the expert talk night with a warm welcome to speakers and the audience at the university´s audimax.

Matthias Menz started his career at Weta Digital in 2001, after having worked at Stardust Entertainment in Berlin and at Das Werk in Munich, Hamburg and Berlin for a couple of years. At Weta he is a senior lighter who has worked multiple projects that made it to the big movie screens all across the world.

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Matthias invited the audience to explore the art of digital lighting from a cinematographic approach, kicking off his presentation by asking one simple question:
„How important is lighting in movies?“ Followed by „How important is it in storytelling?“

It goes without a saying that lighting plays a major role with regard to captivating the spectator and gallantly walking them from scene to scene, making sure they are attentive and engaged throughout the entire movie. „The best lighting cant make up for a lack of an interesting story (which puts our work in perspective) but great storytelling with dramatic lighting and score can add up to an intense movie experience “, according to Matthias.

Matthias explained how a documentary differs from a Hollywood blockbuster. The first of which usually makes use of natural light, whereas the second carefully inserts light (as a means of dramaturgy) into each scene of a film.

At Weta Matthias was a key contributor to the process of lightening the legendary Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He also touched sequences in King Kong, Wars of the Planet of the Apes, Avatar and many more globally successful productions.

So how does his team get inspired? How do they know how to best light objects, characters and sceneries?

As back in the day, little had been developed considering digital lighting in moving pictures, in particular in productions with a mere 1/4 or less Real Life footage, the efforts of his team may well be considered ground-breaking pioneering.

Matthias described their approach to studying the classics, both in the works of the great masters: Vermeer, Monet, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt to name just a few, as well as thousands of movies and photographies in order to learn to understand the nature of physical objects

Matthias passionately talked about how Rembrandt´s portraits play with light and shadow, almost always lighting faces from the sides, which gives them an edgier and more charismatic look.

Continuity rules arent mandatory

But while studying nature and art is a must do in order to truly learn the ropes, cinematographic lighting is what it is: a form of art. And art does not necessarily require logic, said Matthias, thereby quoting Steven Spielberg!

Matthias shared a number of sequences in screenshots which vividly illustrated how image composition often overruled continuity in lighting, aiming to carefully direct the attention to each cut´s point of interest, a trickery of illuminating that usually goes unnoticed by the general audience. In a comparison of thumbnails these aspects became all too obvious.

Matthias closed his most interesting presentation of almost an hour by resuming that:
A great story + great lighting makes a good movie!
He sure knows what he is talking about!

After answering many questions from part of the audience. We would like to thank Matthias for taking the time to share his insights from one of the world´s leading lighting companies, hope he enjoys his time at animago and will come back to enlighten our students and guests at MD.H Munich again in the future.

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