By Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull
I’ve been on many sets over the course of my career as a visual effects supervisor and I’ve seen just about everything, from full on greenscreen sets, motion control sets, high-speed photography elements shoots and even guerrilla-style handheld shoots that needed visual effects added later in post.
Although most projects are unique in their own way, the fundamentals of gathering VFX data on set are always the same, regardless of the scale or budget of the project. When I’m preparing to VFX supervise a shoot, there are five fundamentals I keep in mind. Here they are:
1) Bring a laptop with you that is loaded with editing software (Premiere or FCP) and compositing software (Nuke or After Effects) to be able to play back animatics and do test comps to test things out while shooting. Since everything is shot tapeless these days all you need to do is make sure you are nice to the DIT and get them to offload some clips for you to test things out.
2) References! Mega super important! It’s one of the many reasons you are on set in the first place. Bring a DSLR camera. Sometimes I even use my iPhone, which has an awesome camera and HD video recording for reference (Just make sure you get it cleared with production staff that you are doing that since some film sets have strict security on things like that). I also take 360-degree panoramics of the location.
If there is CGI to be integrated then shoot a color checkerboard and lens grid on the camera being used to shoot the film. Obvious other references to shoot are the chrome and grey balls to assist CGI integration.
3) The 1st AD is your first point of contact — before you go and see the director— because the 1st AD is the person that will grant you some time and requests for VFX support, such as lens grid reference shots, measurements or placing tracking markers on set, or even if you want to shoot some clean plates. While the DP and director will say yes to your requests, it’s the 1st AD who will make sure it fits in the schedule and make it happen.
4) Upload your data (VFX shoot data sheets, notes, etc.) straight away using the Wi-Fi on location (studio/stages) or in your hotel. Don’t leave it until you get back to the studio, since you are bound to forget, or things may get lost, etc. Better to be safe because this data is super-important for your team back in the studio to do the work.
5) Keep an eye on the monitor, as most shoots are hectic and time crunching. So keep an eye on things like greenscreen issues and rigs, which may cause an issue that you need to paint out, etc. The director and DP won’t be looking out for things like this — that’s the VFX supervisor’s job. Flag it right away too if it’s something that can be done quickly, such as moving the rig out of the way slightly, adjusting the greenscreen or adding markers in areas that won’t go behind the actor’s hair while a wind machine is blowing!
Dulull is a freelance VFX producer as well as a movie director (his film Project Kronos is currently in development). He has been nominated for several VES awards for his VFX supervision. He is also principal at his own production company HaZ Film.