When Daniel Lapalme was a kid, one of his favorite movies was the first Transformers, featuring planet-eater Unicron as the evil villain.
Two decades later, the Red Deer native is on a team that made the latest Transformers movie — Rise of the Beasts, which also happens to have Unicron as the major antagonist.
Lapalme, who helped create this movie’s computer-generated imagery, admitted it was a cool but “eerie” feeling to watch his name appear in the film’s credits.
“I grew up with the show. I liked it a lot as a kid,” explained the 32-year-old. Lapalme recently asked some co-workers “does it ever stop feeling weird” to see your name appear on screen? Most confirmed it never does.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is Lapalme’s first major film project since he moved to Montreal to work in the CGI world for the Moving Picture Company, which specializes in special effects.
He’s one of a team of about 17 people who add “light” to computer-generated models.
CGI is a very complex, multi-step processes, explained Lapalme. First, modelers make computerized grey images of — in this case — vehicles that can transform into giant robots. Then texturists create the look of their shiny, metallic surfaces with colour. And shaders will add shadowy effects to give the models a more life-like appearance.
Near the end of the production chain, Lapalme and other lighters will perform their magic. Using a computer program, they will “light up” the Transformers, just as traditional lighting artists brighten the faces of real-life actors.
If the sun is setting in a scene in the live-action world, for example, lighters have to create a glowy reflection on the giant robots. Lapalme said this is among his major challenges — matching the quality of light on the Transformers to the real-life light that’s falling on the human actors.
Lapalme said this integration of the real and imagined worlds feels very satisfying, once achieved.
Lighters also tend to catch inconsistencies in the previous processes and either send the work back to be re-done, or make the corrections themselves, if possible. Lapalme said this kind of problem-solving “is very fun for me. It’s always a puzzle and you have to use your brains to overcome obstacles.”
After graduating from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in 2009, Lapalme pondered possible career choices. As the son of Claude Lapalme and Janet Kuschak, respectively the music director and cellist with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, Daniel learned to play musical instruments, as did his brother. But while Daniel loves music, he didn’t have a passion for performing it, so went in a different direction.
He pursued becoming a linguist for a while, even moving to Japan to study the language. But eventually, it became apparent to him that “I enjoyed the idea of it” more than the actual translation work.
Wanting a more creative job, Daniel then enrolled in the Vancouver Film School, where he learned the skills he uses today.
His CGI lighting work will next be seen in Kraven the Hunter, a super-hero movie jointly made by Sony and Marvel Comics.
Lapalme, meanwhile, maintains his connection to his hometown of Red Deer whenever he visits his parents. He believes he’s carrying on his family’s creativity but in a different way. “I would say I grew up very influenced by the arts, and the RDSO.”