From the youth room in Salzburg to the visual effects of Mecca in New Zealand: As a teenager, Christoph Springer spent hours on his personal computer. Thus creating the basis for winning an Oscar
He was 21 years old when he saw his vision of the future appear in scenes on canvas. They showed lush green meadows, steep cliffs in the sea and breathtaking animation of a large army of warriors.
The decisive moment
It was the world that director Peter Jackson created for his epic “Lord of the Rings”. Fantasy landscapes, taken in the breathtaking nature of the South Pacific, New Zealand, on the one hand. Never before seen scenes of a battle with so many soldiers to each other. New Zealand company Weta Digital photographed the military using Massive 3D computer software, developed specifically for “Lord of the Rings”.
»This is exactly where I would like to work on a movie like this one day«
20 years have passed since then, but Christoph Springer remembers exactly the magic of this moment. “After I went to the movies, I told my friends: This is exactly where I want to work on a movie like this.”
The most important visual effects company in the world
A Salzburg resident tells us about it on the phone, because 18,000 kilometers, 22 flying hours and a ten-hour time difference separate him from his home. He was working in New Zealand for Weta Digital, the “Lord of the Rings” effects company at the time, for twelve years. Along with Sony Pictures Imageworks and George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, it is one of the most important visual effects companies in the world.
His work was honored
Sprenger’s work has now won a Technology Academy Award. He and two of his colleagues won the “Scientific and Technical Award” for the “Artistic Achievement” category. The American Academy of Film Arts and Sciences, “The Academy” for short, has honored its development of a “Synaptic Poetry Simulation System”. In John Favreau’s real-life movie “The Jungle Book,” Monkey King Louie’s fur makes it look really, really real.
More than just a great program
It’s a good evening in New Zealand. The 41-year-old Academy Award winner is home just in time before speaking to News to put their two younger children – 9 and 11 – to bed.
»I recently returned from 70 hours of work a week to 50 hours«
With the 70 hours a week he normally works, this can’t be taken for granted. Most recently, it’s down to 50 hours, he says later. However, his job is clearly not finished until a solution is found, and not when the time clock indicates it.
When Sprenger describes the complex process that earned him the award, the enthusiasm in his voice reveals that patching is precisely what defines his passion for the job. “The job was to simulate as many hairs as possible. You have to imagine that each hair has certain physical properties. It bends, it curls. If you look at a lot of hair, they interact with each other, and that just leads to a hairstyle,” he describes the task His award-winning achievement.
In line with this theme:
Oscars 2021 – winners in all categories
While other models design the hairstyle “as a whole,” the challenge for Sprenger and his colleagues was to portray as much of the hair as possible and allow it to interact. “This reaction reveals the physical properties of a natural hairstyle,” says Springer.
»I’m not someone who likes to be big on the show. Better to stay in the background«
This means Oscars
He is pleased to be honored by the “Academy” in recognition of the work accomplished. But the “Oscar” has little significance in Sprenger’s daily life. In the year of the epidemic, an award ceremony was held approximately. A pompous dinner party had to be canceled. “I’m not someone who likes to be in a big screen,” says Springer quietly. “I’d rather stay in the background.” Postscript: “It’s cool, we’ve got it, go ahead.”
Visual Effects are all about teamwork
Weta Digital celebrates the 6 Academy Awards for “Best Visual Effects” and the 12 “Academy for Science and Technology Awards” won in the past few years as recognition for their collective effort. In the field of visual effects, it’s all about affinity, not competition. This is also evidenced by the general terms of the award.
“The Oscars are not only about writing great software, but also about the fact that this technology has to find its way into the industry, that is, it has been used in movies for years. The award is given to your technology or your technology. Software has changed the industry and inspired others to do the same,” says Springer. .
For the job all over the world
The 41-year-old began his training at the age of 13 in kindergarten. He says he spent “a lot, a lot of time” in front of the computer as a teenager. Games were one of them, but he was especially fascinated by the creative field of computer animation.
»You have read my knowledge. There was no internet. The rest was trial and error«
“I found it exciting to make a computer movie at home without using a video camera or leaving the house,” says Springer, who is attending high school. The automatic identifier got its computer knowledge from books. Springer: “There was no internet. The rest was trial and error.”
His first functions and goals
He found his first jobs in computer animation in the advertising film industry in Austria. Then he left home to work in Munich at Scanline VFX, a world-class visual effects studio. “At that time there was no film industry in Vienna that you could live in. But that is exactly what I wanted to do,” so he formulated his goal.
Movies filling his résumés testify that the move to the gate kept him going well. After Munich (“(T) Raumschiff Surprise”), Sprenger went to Adelaide, Australia to develop a skin simulation and muscle animation software. In Sydney, he worked on a program for group animated scenes with the penguins in “Happy Feet”. For “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” it was a short trip to London. His longing for sun and sand made him return to Australia.
Enjoy the stubborn troubles
When word broke out shortly after James Cameron was working on “Avatar” in New Zealand, a new step was taken. Sprenger has become the head of visual effects department for all effects related to “Avatar” water scenes. “Then we thought to go back to Australia. My wife is Australian. But we decided to stay, and now it’s been twelve wonderful years,” the Austrian exile excites.
His life in New Zealand
In fact, he found a lot in New Zealand similar to home. These autumn weekends, mushroom hunting is on program with the kids, and skiing is in the winter anyway. “Today my wife was still swimming in the sea with the children. It’s really good to live here,” he says. The openness and friendliness of New Zealanders make it easy to feel at home.
It is now working on the new Avatar
After eight years as head of effects research and a year and a half break at his virtual reality company, Sprenger is working at Weta Digital again. The face, skin and muscle simulation software for the new “Avatar” movies is now a career and an appeal. When he returned to Weta, he insisted on not running the department, but rather being able to solve problems on his own.
Tinkering was always the magic that drove him: “It’s a creative process because I often work on things that don’t yet exist. I like persistent problems. The challenge is to solve problems within a framework that is also possible in terms of production technology and finance.”
James Cameron plans to release a total of four “Avatar” films by 2028. There is plenty of room for Christoph Springer to see the future.