Five Questions with Van Ling
By Don Lie

Van spearheaded the use of Macintosh systems for storyboard processing and visual effects design on writer/director James Cameron's feature film The Abyss. In addition to serving as Cameron's technical researcher and creative liaison for all aspects of production on the film, he played a significant role in the design and creation of the visual effects, and subsequently served as visual effects coordinator and creative supervisor on "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." His company (Banned From The Ranch) can be located on the web at

What are some of the projects you've worked on in the past and ones that you are currently working on?
Starship Troopers, Spawn, Stir Of Echoes, Inspector Gadget, Dr. Dolittle, Deep Rising, etc. We're currently finishing up The Hollow Man screen graphics and I'm hot and heavy into The Abyss and T2 DVDs right now, where we're doing some incredible 3D animated menus all on the Mac. The BFTR website pretty much covers everything we've done in the past...

What type of Macintosh computer(s) do you use for your projects?
I use both a blue and white G3 and some G3-upgraded 9500/9600s, as well as an Avid Media Composer, which runs on a Mac 9500.

At left is one of our two digital fish shots. We modeled and animated this Macrourus berglax in Softimage with different light passes and composited it using Adobe After Effects on the Mac.
©1997 Paramount/Fox

What applications are you currently using in your projects?
Adobe Photoshop, a ton of Adobe After Effects, Play's ElectricImage, Puffin Designs Commotion, Adobe Illustrator, and autodessys' form*Z... those are the main ones.

What are some of the challenges you face in your projects?
Speed is okay, but storage and file movement are always a challenge, as we have routinely put 500-frame 2K shots through the Macs. Also, getting people to take seriously the ARTISTRY that goes into the work, when they can't see past the idea that it's "just a Mac." In Hollywood, you don't sometimes get taken

The guinea pig was photographed against a blue board (to keep him from falling), with his paws attached to a metal rod, all of which had to be meticulously erased before animation could begin.
Rodney doin' his thing, in one of our guinea pig shots.
©1998 Twentieth Century Fox

seriously if you're using the same hardware that some studio exec's nephew can use, even if your work is on par with the effects stuff done at the big houses on much more expensive platforms. It really comes down to HOW you use the hardware, not necessarily what the hardware is. You don't have to be on SGIs to do A-list feature film work. We're proof of that, and I think we and other houses and artists have proven the Mac as a viable professional platform in everything from feature film visual effects to screen graphics and DVD content creation.

Of all of the projects that you've worked on, which is your favorite? Why?
The FINISHED ones...;-) Actually, that's a tough question... both TITANIC and DR. DOLITTLE were pretty satisfying in that we did stuff that could cut in seamlessly with Digital Domain and ILM's work on the former, and we were able to make animals talk in After Effects for the latter. But all of our shows have been kind of neat in that we can say "We did all that on Macs."

To view the Banned From The Ranch demo reel click here (Quicktime 9MB)