VFX Supervisor, UK
Please describe your background in VFX?
I graduated from Bournemouth University with a degree in Computer Animation and Visualization back in 2000 and was fortunate enough to get my first break in the industry at Cinesite that year. The VFX industry in the UK was still relatively new at that stage so I was able to build up some great experience as a CG Generalist in those first few years, learning a huge amount from some really talented people. I then spent about 10 years working in Commercials, which gave me a great opportunity to hone other skills- working directly with clients, getting out on set, bidding and running small teams as well as continuing to build skills and knowledge across all disciplines.
But more latterly I found my home in TV and Episodic work where I've been able to use the skills I learned across both Film and Commercials to great effect.
In your own words how would you describe what you do?
The best analogy I have for what I do, is that I'm a little like the conductor of an orchestra. The VFX work we create is the result of often hundreds of individual artists, each working in their own specific discipline and having to ensure that what they do can flow seamlessly up and down the pipeline to be used by others. My job is to ensure that all these individuals are working in sync, pulling in the same direction, creating the best work they can and delivering what the client needs. Essentially, it’s making sure that everyone is playing the same tune, keeping the rhythm, and making sweet music. Without the VFX Supervisor, they would all still be creating great work - just not necessarily the great work that the client was expecting. And without the awesome team of artists… well, I'd just be some weird guy standing at the front of the room waving my arms around and shouting random comments at the walls.
What part of the job are you most passionate about?
I come originally from a traditional fine arts background and have always enjoyed emulating and replicating the world around me. To this day I still get immense pleasure from creating visual effects which blend seamlessly and invisibly into the world they inhabit. It's a strange job when I'm considered happiest when no one knows what I've done!
The projects I enjoy working on the most though are animation driven ones. Projects where the visual effects are integral to the story telling. Even after over 20 years of doing this I still get a thrill sitting in Animation dailies watching life, character and emotion being breathed into the characters and creatures that we create.
Is there a particular project you worked on that you can discuss? If so, what was the project and what was the work you contributed?
Two of the projects I'm most proud of to date are Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance for Netflix and Prehistoric Planet for Apple TV. These were both huge and challenging shows to supervise due to the sheer scale and complexity of the work involved. But both shows played exactly to what I love the most which is animation and storytelling. Both, in their own different ways, were fantastic collaborations of visual effects and traditional filmmaking, executed by incredibly talented teams of people who were passionate about what they were doing. For me this is the best of the best of what I do and why I do it.
Any advice to others looking to break into VFX?
I don't know if it's advice as such, but I'd say that you must have a passion to do this job. It's a great way to earn a living but it can be incredibly demanding, exhausting and sometimes frustrating. So, if you don't really love film, art, being creative, telling stories, and being locked in windowless rooms for hours on end with a bunch of other VFX artists then this might not be the business for you! I think my advice is biased because of my background, but one of the easiest things you can do is to just get out into the world and look at it. Look at how things move, how things grow and evolve, the way light plays of things at different times of day, and the way people interact, Also sketch, paint, take photographs, watch movies, read books, and just soak up as much reference and inspiration from the world around you as you can. Because no matter what area you might end up moving into you will always, always come back to one thing . . . reference. The more you soak up the world around you the more that reference will become a part of your internal library and inform the work you do. And besides, just going outside and looking at stuff is largely free. And if anyone accuses you of just sitting around being lazy you can tell them you're working!
Where do you see the VFX industry headed in the next 5 years? What excites you about the future?
This is such a hard industry to predict, and I'd be crazy to try. I wonder how many predictions which might have been made five years ago are true now! But clearly, we need to continue to keep a close eye on AI, automation, Virtual Production, and real time. Often the most exciting things are also the most terrifying and we need to ensure that we're leveraging new technologies for the good of the craft and people in it.
Personally, I'm more excited by the possibilities that lie in future technologies like machine learning than I am scared of them, as long as we ensure that they are utilized in the right ways. The tools and technologies which we develop are only ever as good as the people who use them and how. The development of CGI didn't kill off stop motion or cel animation as many predicted it would at the time. It has obviously changed the landscape but now some of the best animated projects are traditional ones which are enhanced and supported by visual effects. And a bad film will be a bad film regardless of its visual effects. So, I think AI and machine learning have the potential to enhance and augment our abilities as artists and filmmakers. Though maybe ask me again in five years when I've been replaced by a robot...