H Hammond, a VFX artist with VFX Legion, comes from interesting parents. They really liked the idea of their son having the initials HHH, but they could only think of a middle name that worked… and so H Haden Hammond was born. This Northwestern Pennsylvania native grew up with a love of film. In fact, as a kid he commandeered the family camcorder as part of his production kit. “I regularly created movies with kids in my neighborhood — or by myself,” he says. “Whoever was willing to contribute, really.”
This interest in making things led him to Florida’s Full Sail University, where he earned a degree in computer animation before relocating to California in search of a job. “I didn’t have a position lined up, but I was committed,” explains Hammond. “Each day I hand delivered my reel to VFX houses I’d seen in film credits. I also went online and sent out emails with a resume attached to each company. I started with the As and was determined to get to the Zs if that’s what it took.”
His efforts paid off. He landed a job working on websites at small production company whose upstairs neighbor happened to be a very young VFX company Luma Pictures. “I kept in touch with them over the following weeks and bugged them until they gave me a job. They told me to show up Tuesday and I came in Monday. I was so excited! I ended up working at Luma for more than 11 years.”
Hammond currently works with VFX Legion, which while based in Burbank, California, calls on artists from around the globe to work on projects. One of the things that drew him to the company was that he could live and raise a family near where he grew up, just outside of Pittsburgh.
Let’s find out more about this artist named H.
What films and television got you interested in the industry?
As a kid my career aspirations constantly shifted. I wanted to be everything from a fireman to a toy designer to a cartoonist. But it was the summer of 1993 that changed my career destination. I was 13 and at a theater to watch a blockbuster film. I had no idea what it was going to be about; it had something to do with dinosaurs, so it sounded good to me.
It was Jurassic Park and it had me hooked. It inspired me to be where I am now. It inspired us to believe dinosaurs looked the way they are portrayed today. It inspired us to believe what a velociraptor sounded like – accurate or not, it felt real. When I found out how they did it and that the dinosaurs were computer generated, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on during your career?
The Marvel movies were a lot of fun and contained a lot of creative eye candy to develop. Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy were a couple creative favorites, but when I saw my name in the credits for The Avengers, I felt like I had made it. It was such a fun movie! My face is actually hidden in the film at one point (approved by Marvel, of course).
X-Men: First Class and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince were a lot of fun as well. Before that I worked on Crash, No Country for Old Men and True Grit.
What drew you to VFX Legion?
The biggest draw was working from home. I had moved back to Pennsylvania from California and a friend I used to work with at Luma pointed me to James Hattin (president/CD) and told me he had a company that allowed artists to work from home. I emailed him immediately.
What do you like most about where you live and work?
The cost of living here is much lower than LA’s, which is great. However, the main reasons we moved to Pennsylvania were to be closer to our extended family and for the great public school system. We are able to have a great big yard here, which leads into the woods. That would have been impossible in LA, unless I was a millionaire. I do miss the beach, but it’s not uncommon to see all kinds of colorful birds, deer and little bunnies cross through the backyard.
What are your core skills?
My primary skill is Nuke compositing, but I’ve also done particle and fluid effects animation and rendering in Maya. I also enjoy design, keeping an eye out for continuity across sequences, character and effects animation, lighting, shading and rendering.
Which projects have you been most proud to work on at VFX Legion, and why?
The film Jem and the Holograms (2015) had a hologram sequence that was quite touching. When I watched the edit after it was assigned to me, I was surprised at how much it tugged at the old heartstrings. It was nice to work on a sequence that I knew would move the audience, especially after all the blood, guts, creepy ghost kids and murders I had been looking at.
A good horror film is always fun, but this hologram sequence didn’t give me any nightmares, so that was nice. Speaking of blood and guts, though, it was cool to work on Hardcore Henry as well. I always thought a POV film would be great, and I had the opportunity to work on the first of its kind.
What projects have been particularly challenging or exciting?
The hologram in Jem and the Holograms was a cool challenge. I was handed a good start for the look from other artists that had created the effect for a temporary, earlier version of the film. Finalizing the look and making it consistent across all 40 of the shots was a fun challenge. I had to dial in exactly how much glitching and color it would have and how transparent it would be.
As far as exciting, my wife, mom and sister in-law were all pretty excited to hear I got assigned a few shots on Scandal and The Catch!
What are the challenges facing compositors today, and how do you overcome them?
Mustering up the motivation to get a new shot or project started is always really tough. I find the best way to combat this inner voice is to refrain from letting it speak to you in the first place.
Another challenge will always be finding work. As long as you’re not afraid to take on new challenges you can find a way to make it happen. In this industry I’ve found it helps a ton to have an “I can do that” kind of attitude.
Why do you think remote working is so important for today’s VFX industry?
I’m very glad the option exists and that I’m able to take part in it: it’s great that we live in a day and age where it’s not uncommon to transfer huge files across the internet. It’s thanks to this kind of technological innovation that allows the VFX industry to hire the best artists no matter where they are in the world.
On a more personal level, I can save the time, cost and hassle of making a commute to work. My commute is downstairs, and that’s actually more empowering than you may think. Of course, being in my jammies all day can also be quite empowering.