Tag Archives: VFX supervisor

Behind the Title: Artifex VFX supervisor Rob Geddes

NAME: Rob Geddes

COMPANY: Artifex Studios (@artifexstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Artifex is a small to mid-sized independent VFX studio based in Vancouver, BC. We’ve built up a solid team over the years, with very low staff turnover. We try our best to be an artist-centric shop.

That probably means something different to everyone, but for me it means ensuring that people are being challenged creatively, supported as they grow their skills and encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I guess the simplest explanation is that I have to interpret the needs and requests of our clients, and then provide the necessary context and guidance to our team of artists to bring those requests to life.

Travelers – “Ave Machina” episode

I have to balance the creative and technical challenges of the work, and work within the constraints of budget, schedule and our own studio resources.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The seemingly infinite number of decisions and compromises that must be made each day, often with incomplete information.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I started out back in 2000 as a 3D generalist. My first job was building out environments in 3ds Max for a children’s animated series. I spent some years providing 3D assets, animation and programming to various military and private sector training simulations. Eventually, I made the switch over to the 2D side of things and started building up my roto, paint and compositing skills. This led me to Vancouver, and then to Artifex.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? 
The biggest change I have seen over the years is the growth in demand for content. All of the various content portals and streaming services have created this massive appetite for new stories. This has brought new opportunities for vendors and artists, but it’s not without challenges. The quality bar is always being raised, and the push to 4K for broadcast puts a lot of pressure on pipelines and infrastructure.

WHY DO YOU LIKE BEING ON SET FOR SHOTS? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
As the in-house VFX supervisor for Artifex, I don’t end up on set — though there have been projects for which we were brought in prior to shooting and could help drive the creative side of the VFX in support of the storytelling. There’s really no substitute for getting all of the context behind what was shot in order to help inform the finished product.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
When I was younger, I always assumed I would end up in classical animation. I devoured all of the Disney classics (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc.) Jurassic Park was a huge eye-opener though, and seeing The Matrix for the first time made it seem like anything was possible in VFX at that point.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Not film school specifically. Out of high school I still wasn’t certain of the path I wanted to take. I went to university first and ended up with a degree in math and computing science. By the time I left university I was convinced that animation and VFX were what I wanted. I worked through two diploma programs in 3D modeling, animation and film production.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The best part of the job for me is seeing the evolution of a shot, as a group of artists come together to solve all of the creative and technical challenges.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Realizing the limits of what can be accomplished on any given day and then choosing what has to be deferred.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
That’s a tough one. When I wasn’t working in VFX, I was working toward it. I’m obsessed with video game development, and I like to write, so maybe in an alternate timeline I’d be doing something like that.

Zoo

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
This past year has been a pretty busy one. We’ve been on Travelers and The Order for Netflix, The Son for AMC, Project Blue Book for A&E, Kim Possible for Disney, Weird City for YouTube, and a couple of indie features for good measure!

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m a big fan of our work on Project Blue Book. It was an interesting challenge to contribute to a project with historical significance and I think our team really rose to the occasion.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
At Artifex we run our shows through ftrack for reviews and management, so I spend a lot of time in the browser keeping tabs on things. For daily communication we use Slack and email. I use Google Docs for organizational stuff. I pop into Foundry Nuke to test out some things or to work with an artist. I use Photoshop or Affinity Photo on the iPad to do draw-overs and give notes.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
It’s such an incredible time to be a visual artist. I try to keep an eye on work getting posted from around the world on sites like ArtStation and Instagram. Current films, but also any other visual mediums like graphic novels, video games, photography, etc. Great ideas can come from anywhere.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I play a lot of video games, drink a lot of tea, and hang out with my daughter.

Veteran VFX supervisor Lindy De Quattro joins MPC Film

Long-time visual effects supervisor Lindy De Quattro has joined MPC Film in Los Angeles. Over the last two and a half decades, which included 21 years at ILM, De Quattro has worked with directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Alexander Payne and Brad Bird. She also currently serves on the Executive Committee for the VFX branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

De Quattro’s VFX credits include Iron Man 2, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Downsizing and Pacific Rim, for which she won a VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects. In addition to supervising visual effects teams, she has also provided on-set supervision.

De Quattro says she was attracted to MPC because of “their long history of exceptional high-quality visual effects, but I made the decision to come on board because of their global commitment to inclusion and diversity in the VFX industry. I want to be an active part of the change that I see beginning to happen all around me, and MPC is giving me the opportunity to do just that. They say, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’ Girls need role models, and women and other underrepresented groups in the industry need mentors. In my new role at MPC I will strive to be both while contributing to MPC’s legacy of outstanding visual effects.”

The studio’s other VFX supervisors include Richard Stammers (Dumbo, The Martian, X-Men: Days of Future Past), Erik Nash (Avengers Assemble, Titanic), Nick Davis (The Dark Knight, Edge of Tomorrow) and Adam Valdez (The Lion King, Maleficent, The Jungle Book).

MPC Film is currently working on The Lion King, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Detective Pikachu, Call of the Wild and The New Mutants.

VFX supervisor Christoph Schröer joins NYC’s Artjail

New York City-based VFX house Artjail has added Christoph Schröer as VFX supervisor. Previously a VFX supervisor/senior compositor at The Mill, Schröer brings over a decade of experience to his new role at Artjail. His work has been featured in spots for Mercedes-Benz, Visa, Volkswagen, Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Cartier.

Combining his computer technology expertise and a passion for graffiti design, Schröer applied his degree in Computer and Media Sciences to begin his career in VFX. He started off working at visual effects studios in Germany and Switzerland where he collaborated with a variety of European auto clients. His credits from his tenure in the European market include lead compositor for multiple Mercedes-Benz spots, two global Volkswagen campaign launches and BMW’s “Rev Up Your Family.”

In 2016, Schröer made the move to New York to take on a role as senior compositor and VFX supervisor at The Mill. There, he teamed with directors such as Tarsem Singh and Derek Cianfrance, and worked on campaigns for Hennessy, Nissan Altima, Samsung, Cartier and Visa.

Behind the Title: FuseFX VFX supervisor Marshall Krasser

Over the years, this visual effects veteran has worked with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, whose films helped inspire his career path.

NAME: Marshall Krasser

COMPANY: FuseFX 

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
FuseFX offers visual effects services for episodic television, feature films, commercials and VR productions. Founded in 2006, the company employs over 300 people across three studio locations in LA, NYC and Vancouver

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In general, a VFX supervisor is responsible for leading the creative team that brings the director’s vision to life. The role does vary from show to show depending on whether or not there is an on-set or studio-side VFX supervisor.

Here is a list of responsibilities across the board:
– Read and flag the required VFX shots in the script.
– Work with the producer and team to bid the VFX work.
– Attend the creative meetings and location scouts.
– Work with the studio creative team to determine what they want and what we need to achieve it.
– Be the on-set presence for VFX work — making sure the required data and information we need is shot, gathered and catalogued.
– Work with our in-house team to start developing assets and any pre-production concept art that will be needed.
– Once the VFX work is in post production, the VFX supervisor guides the team of in-house artists and technicians through the shot creation/completion phase, while working with the producer to keep the show within the budgets constraints.
– Keep the client happy!

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That the job is much more than pointing at the computer screen and making pretty images. Team management is critical. Since you are working with very talented and creative people, it takes a special skill set and understanding. Having worked up through the VFX ranks, it helps you understand the mind set since you have been in their shoes.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
My first job was creating computer graphic images for speaker support presentations on a Genigraphics workstation in 1984. I then transitioned into feature film in 1994.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD, WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
It’s changed a lot. In the early days at ILM, we were breaking ground by being asked to create imagery that had never been seen before. This involved creating new tools and approaches that had not been previously possible.

Today, VFX has less of the “man behind the curtain” mystique and has become more mainstream and familiar to most. The tools and computer power have evolved so there is less of the “heavy lifting” that was required in the past. This is all good, but the “bad” part is the fact that “tricking” people’s eyes is more difficult these days.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
A couple really focused my attention toward VFX. There is a whole generation that was enthralled with the first Star Wars movie. I will never forget the feeling I had upon first viewing it — it was magical.

The other was E.T., since it was more grounded on Earth and more plausible. I was blessed to be able to work directly with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg [and the artisans who created the VFX for these films] during the course of my career.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I did not. At the time, there was virtually no opportunity to attend a film school, or any school, that taught VFX. I took the route that made the most sense for me at the time — art major. I am a classically trained artist who focused on graphic design and illustration, but I also took computer programming.

On a typical Saturday, I would spend the morning in the computer lab programming and the afternoon on the potter’s wheel throwing pots. Always found that ironic – primitive to modern in the same day!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with the team and bringing the creative to life.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Numbers, no one told me there would be math! Re: bidding.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Maybe a fishing or outdoor adventure guide. Something far away from computers and an office.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
– the Vice movie
– the Waco miniseries
–  the Life Sentence TV series
– the Needle in a Timestack film
The 100 TV series

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few stand out, in no particular order. Pearl Harbor, Harry Potter, Galaxy Quest, Titanic, War of the Worlds and the last Indiana Jones movie.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I would have to say Nuke. I use it for shot and concept work when needed.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Everything around me. I am heavily into photography these days, and am always looking at putting a new spin on ordinary things and capturing the unique.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Head into the great British Columbian outdoors for camping and other outdoor activities.

VFX supervisor Simon Carr joins London’s Territory

Simon Carr has joined visual effects house Territory, bringing with him 20 years of experience as a VFX supervisor. He most recently served that role at London’s Halo, where he built the VFX department from scratch. He has also supervised at Realise Studio, Method Studios, Pixomondo, Digital Domain and others. While Carr will be based in London, he will also support the studio’s San Francisco offices as needed.

Having invested in a Shotgun pipeline, with a bespoke toolkit that integrates Territory’s design-led approach with VFX delivery, Carr’s appointment, according to the studio, signals a strategic approach to expanding the team’s capabilities. “Simon’s experience of all stages of the VFX process from pre-production to final delivery means that our clients and partners can be confident of seamless high-end VFX delivery at every stage of a project” says David Sheldon-Hicks, Territory’s founder and executive creative director.

At Territory, Carr will use his experience building and leading teams of artists, from compositing through to complex environment builds. The studio will also benefit from his experience of building a facility from scratch — establishing pipeline and workflows, recruiting and retaining artists; developing and maintaining relationships with clients and being involved with the pitching and bidding process.

The studio has worked on high-profile film projects, including Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Ghost in the Shell, The Martian and Guardians of the Galaxy. On the broadcast front, they have worked on the new series based on George R.R. Martin’s novella, Nightflyers, Amazon Prime/Channel 4’s Electric Dreams and National Geographic’s Year Million.

 

Patrick Ferguson joins MPC LA as VFX supervisor

MPC’s Los Angeles studio has added Patrick Ferguson to its staff as visual effects supervisor. He brings with him experience working in both commercials and feature films.

Ferguson started out in New York and moved to Los Angeles in 2002, and he has since worked at a range of visual effect houses along the West Coast, including The Mission, where he was VFX supervisor, and Method, where he was head of 2D. “No matter where I am in the world or what I’m working on, one thing has remained consistent since I started working in the industry: I still love what I do. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Ferguson has collaborated with directors such as Stacy Wall, Mark Romanek, Melina Matsoukas, Brian Billow and Carl Rinsch, and has worked on campaigns for big global brands, including Nike, Apple, Audi, HP and ESPN.

He has also worked on high-profile films, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland, and he was a member of the Academy Award-winning team for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

“In this new role at MPC, I hope to bring my varied experience of working on large scale feature films as well as on commercials that have a much quicker turnaround time,” he says. “It’s all about knowing what the correct tools are for the particular job at hand, as every project is unique.”

For Ferguson, there is no substitute for being on set: “Being on set is vital, as that’s when key relationships are forged between the director, the crew, the agency and the entire team. Those shared experiences go a long way in creating a trust that is carried all the way through to end of the project and beyond.”

Behind the Title: Weta Digital VFX supervisor Erik Winquist

NAME: Erik Winquist

COMPANY: Wellington, New Zealand’s Weta Digital

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We’re currently a collection of about 1,600 ridiculously talented artists and developers down at the bottom of the world who have created some the most memorable digital characters and visual effects for film over the last couple of decades. We’re named after a giant New Zealand bug.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Making the director and studio happy without making my crew unhappy. Ensuring that everybody on the shoot has the same goal in mind for a shot before the cameras start rolling is one way to help accomplish both of those goals. Using the strengths and good ideas of everybody on your team is another.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The amount of problem solving that is required. Every show is completely different from the last. We’re often asked to do something and don’t know how we’re going to accomplish it at the outset. That’s where it’s incredibly important to have a crew full of insanely brilliant people you can bash ideas around with.

HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER IN VFX?
I went to school for it. After graduating from the Ringling College of Art and Design with a degree in computer animation, I eventually landed a job as an assistant animator at Pacific Data Images (PDI). The job title was a little misleading, because although my degree was fairly character animation-centric, the first thing I was asked to do at PDI was morphing. I found that I really enjoyed working on the 2D side of things, and that sent me down a path that ultimately got me hired as a compositor at Weta on The Lord of the Rings.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I was hired by PDI in 1998, so I guess that means 20 years now. (Whoa.)

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD? WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
Oh, there’s just been so much great stuff. We’re able to make images now that are completely indistinguishable from reality. Thanks to massive technology advancements over the years, interactivity for artists has gotten way better. We’re sculpting incredible amounts of detail into our models, painting them with giga-pixels worth of texture information, scrubbing our animation in realtime, using hardware-accelerated engines to light our scenes, rendering them with physically-based renderers and compositing with deep images and a 3D workspace.

Of course, all of these efficiency gains get gobbled up pretty quickly by the ever-expanding vision of the directors we work for!

The industry’s technology advancements and flexibility have also perhaps had some downsides. Studios demand increasingly shorter post schedules, prep time is reduced, shots can be less planned out because so much can be decided in post. When the brief is constantly shifting, it’s difficult to deliver the quality that everyone wants. And when the quality isn’t there, suddenly the Internet starts clamoring that “CGI is ruining movies!”

But, when a great idea — planned well by a decisive director and executed brilliantly by a visual effects team working in concert with all of the other departments — the movie magic that results is just amazing. And that’s why we’re all here doing what we do.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
There were some films I saw very early on that left a lasting impression: Clash of the Titans, The Empire Strikes Back. Later inspiration came in high school with the TV spots that Pixar was doing prior to Toy Story, and the early computer graphics work that Disney Feature Animation was employing in their films of the early ‘90s.

But the big ones that really set me off around this time were ILM’s work on Jurassic Park, and films like Jim Cameron’s The Abyss and Terminator 2. That’s why it was a particular kick to find myself on set with Jim on Avatar.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Dailies. When I challenge an artist to bring their best, and they come up with an idea that completely surprises me; that is way better than what I had imagined or asked for. Those moments are gold. Dailies is pretty much the only chance I have to see a shot for the first time like an audience member gets to, so I pay a lot of attention to my reaction to that very first impression.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Getting a shot ripped from our hands by those pesky deadlines before every little thing is perfect. And scheduling meetings. Though, the latter is critically important to make sure that the former doesn’t happen.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
There was a time when I was in grade school where I thought I might like to go into sound effects, which is a really interesting what-if scenario for me to think about. But these days, if I were to hang up my VFX hat, I imagine I would end up doing something photography-related. It’s been a passion for a very long time.

Rampage

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I supervised Weta’s work on Rampage, starring Dwayne Johnson and a very large albino gorilla. Prior to that was War for the Planet of the Apes, Spectral and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
We had a lot of fun working on Rampage, and I think audiences had a ton of fun watching it. I’m quite proud of what we achieved with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But I’m also really fond of what our crew turned out for the Netflix film Spectral. That project gave us the opportunity to explore some VFX-heavy sci-fi imagery and was a really interesting challenge.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
Most of my day revolves around reviewing work and communicating with my production team and the crew, so it’s our in-house review software, Photoshop and e-mail. But I’m constantly jumping in and out of Maya, and always have a Nuke session open for one thing or another. I’m also never without my camera and am constantly shooting reference photos or video, and have been known to initiate impromptu element shoots at a moment’s notice.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Everywhere. It’s why I always have my camera in my bag.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Scuba diving and sea kayaking are two hobbies that get me out in the water, though that happens far less than I would like. My wife and I recently bought a small rural place north of Wellington. I’ve found going up there doing “farm stuff” on the weekend is a great way to re-calibrate.

Quick Chat: ArsenalCreative’s new VFX supervisor Mike Wynd

VFX supervisor Mike Wynd has joined ArsenalCreative from MPC, where he spent eight years in a similar role. Over the years, Wynd has worked on many high-profile projects for directors such as Rupert Sanders, Noam Murro and Adam Berg. He has also won a number of industry awards, including a Silver Clio and a Gold British Arrow, as well as a VES Award nomination.

Wynd started his career in Melbourne, Australia, working for Computer Pictures before landing at Images Post in Auckland, New Zealand. Eight years later, he headed back to Australia to serve as head of 3D at Garner MacLennan Design, where he worked on many high-end animations and effects, including the first Lord of the Rings movie. After that studio was bought out, Wynd joined Digital Pictures. Next, he assisted in establishing a new 3D/design team at FSM. After that he relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked for Moving Pixels. Later, he took on the role of VFX supervisor for MPC.

We reached out to Wynd to ask him a few questions about being a VFX supervisor:

What drew you to VFX supervision?
The thing I enjoy most about VFX supervision is the problem solving. From how best to shoot what we require to seamlessly integrating our effects, through to the actual approach and tools that we’ll employ in post production. We’ve always got a finite amount of time and money with which to produce our work and a little bit of alternative thinking can go a long way to achieve higher quality and more efficient results.

How early do you like being brought onto a project?
I’d prefer to be bought in on a project ideally from day one. Especially on a complex VFX project, being involved alongside production means that we, as a team, can troubleshoot many aspects of the job, that in the long run, will mean savings in cost and time as well as higher quality results. It also gives time for relationships to be formed between VFX and production so that on the shoot the VFX team is seen as an asset rather than a hindrance.

Do you go on set? Why is that so important?
I do go on set… a lot! I have been very lucky over the years to travel to some incredible locations all over the world. It’s so important because this is where the foundations are laid for a successful job. Being able to see how and why footage is shot the way it is goes a long way toward finding solutions to post issues.

Actually seeing the environment of a scene can offer clues that may help in significantly reducing any issues that may arise once the footage is back in the studio. And, of course, there’s the nuts and bolts of capturing set information, along with color and lighting references critical to the project. And probably the most important reason to be on-set is to act as the conduit connecting production and post. The two parties often act so separately from one another, yet each is only doing half the job.

Have you worked on anything at ArsenalCreative yet?
It’s early days for me at ArsenalCreative, but thus far I’ve worked on a Chevy presentation for the motor shows and a series of pod shots for Lexus.

If you had one piece of advice for someone about to embark on a project that involves VFX, what would it be?
Ha! Get VFX involved from day one!

The importance of on-set VFX supervision

By Karen Maierhofer

Some contend that having a visual effects supervisor present on set during production is a luxury; others deem it a necessity. However, few, if any, see it as unnecessary.

Today, more and more VFX supes can be found alongside directors and DPs during filming, advising and problem-solving, with the goal of saving valuable time and expense during production and, later, in post.

John Kilshaw

“A VFX supervisor is on set and in pre-production to help the director and production team achieve their creative goals. By having the supervisor on set, they gain the flexibility to cope with the unexpected and allow for creative changes in scope or creative direction,” says Zoic Studios creative director John Kilshaw, a sought-after VFX supervisor known for his collaborative creative approach.

Kilshaw, who has worked at a number of top VFX studios including ILM, Method and Double Negative, has an impressive resume of features, among them The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and various Harry Potter films. More recently, he was visual effects supervisor for the TV series Marvel’s The Defenders and Iron Fist.

Weta Digital’s Erik Winquist (Apes trilogy, Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) believes the biggest contribution a VFX supervisor can make while on set comes during prep. “Involving the VFX supervisor as early as possible can only mean less surprises during principal photography. This is when the important conversations are taking place between the various heads of departments. ‘Does this particular effect need to be executed with computer graphics, or is there a way to get this in-camera? Do we need to build a set for this, or would it be better for the post process to be greenscreen? Can we have practical smoke and air mortars firing debris in this shot, or is that going to mess with the visual effects that have to be added behind it later?’”

War for the Planet of the Apes via Weta Digital

According to Winquist, who is VFX supervisor on Rampage (2018), currently in post production, having a VFX supe around can help clear up misconceptions in the mind of the director or other department heads: “No, putting that guy in a green suit doesn’t make him magically disappear from the shot. Yes, replacing that sky is probably relatively straightforward. No, modifying the teeth of that actor to look more like a vampire’s while he’s talking is actually pretty involved.”

Both Kilshaw and Winquist note that it is not uncommon to have a VFX supervisor on set whenever there are shots that include visual effects. In fact, Winquist has not heard of a major production that didn’t have a visual effects supervisor present for principal photography. “From the filmmaker’s point of view, I can’t imagine why you would not want to have your VFX supervisor there to advise,” he says. “Film is a collaborative medium. Building a solid team is how you put your vision up on the screen in the most cost-effective way possible.”

At Industrial Light & Magic, which has a long list of major VFX film credits, it is a requirement. “We always have a visual effects supervisor on set, and we insist on it. It is critical to our success on a project,” says Lindy De Quattro, VFX supervisor at ILM. “Frankly, it terrifies me to think about what could happen without one present.”

Lindy De Quattro

For some films, such as Evan Almighty, Pacific Rim, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the upcoming Downsizing, De Quattro spent an extended period on set, while for many others she was only present for a week or two while big VFX scenes were shot. “No matter how much time you have put into planning, things rarely go entirely as planned. And someone has to be present to make last-minute adjustments and changes, and deal with new ideas that might arise on that day — it’s just part of the creative process,” she says.

For instance, while working on Pacific Rim, Director Guillermo del Toro would stay up until the wee hours of the night making new boards for what would be shot the following day, and the next morning everyone would crowd around his hand-drawn sketches and notebooks and he would say, “OK, this is what we are shooting. So we have to be prepared and do everything in our power to help ensure that the director’s vision becomes reality on screen.”

“I cannot imagine how they would have gone about setting up the shots if they didn’t have a VFX supervisor on set. Someone has to be there to be sure we are gathering the data needed to recreate the environment and the camera move in post, to be sure these things, and the greenscreens, are set up correctly so the post is successful,” De Quattro says. If you don’t know to put in greenscreen, you may be in a position where you cannot extract the foreground elements the way you need to, she warns. “So, suddenly, two days of an extraction and composite turns into three weeks of roto and hair replacement, and a bunch of other time-consuming and expensive work because it wasn’t set up properly in initial photography.”

Sometimes, a VFX supervisor ends up running the second unit, where the bulk of the VFX work is done, if the director is at a different location with the first unit. This was the case recently when De Quattro was in Norway for the Downsizing shoot. She ended up overseeing the plate unit and did location scouting with the DP each morning to find shots or elements that could be used in post. “It’s not that unusual for a VFX supervisor to operate as a second unit director and get a credit for that work,” she adds.

Kilshaw often finds himself discussing the best way of achieving the show’s creative goals with the director and producer while on set. Also, he makes sure that the producer is always informed of changes that will impact the budget. “It becomes very easy for people to say, ‘we can fix this in post.’ It is at this time when costs can start to spiral, and having a VFX supervisor on set to discuss options helps stop this from happening,” he adds. “At Zoic, we ensure that the VFX supervisor is also able to suggest alternative approaches that may help directors achieve what they need.”

Erik Winquist

According to Winquist, the tasks a VFX supe does on set depends on the size of the budget and crew. In a low-budget production, a person might be doing a myriad of different tasks themselves: creating previs and techvis, working with the cinematographer and key grip concerning greenscreen or bluescreen placement, placing tracking markers, collecting camera information for each setup or take, shooting reference photos of the set, helping with camera or lighting placement, gathering lighting measurements with gray and chrome reference spheres — basically any information that will help the person best execute the visual effects requirements of the shot. “And all the while being available to answer questions the director might have,” he says.

If the production has a large budget, the role is more about spreading out and managing those tasks among an on-set visual effects team: data wranglers, surveyors, photographers, coordinators, PAs, perhaps a motion capture crew, “so that each aspect of it is done as thoroughly as possible,” says Winquist. “Your primary responsibility is being there for the director and staying in close communication with the ADs so that you or your team are able to get all the required data from the shoot. You only have one chance to do so.”

The benefits of on-set VFX supervision are not just for those working on big-budget features, however. As Winquist points out, the larger the budget, the more demanding the VFX work and the higher the shot count, therefore the more important it is to involve the VFX supervisor in the shoot. “But it could also be argued that a production with a shoestring budget also can’t afford to get it wrong or be wasteful during the shoot, and the best way to ensure that footage is captured in a way that will make for a cost-effective post process is to have the VFX supervisor there to help.”

Kilshaw concurs. “Regardless of whether it is a period drama or superhero show, whether you need to create a superpower or a digital version of 1900 New York, the advantages of visual effects and visual effects supervision on set are equally important.”

While De Quattro’s resume is overflowing with big-budget VFX films, she has also assisted on smaller projects where a VFX supervisor’s presence was also critical. She recalls a commercial shoot, one that prompted her to question the need for her presence. However, production hit a snag when a young actor was unable to physically accomplish a task during multiple takes, and she was able to step in and offer a suggestion, knowing it would require just a minor VFX fix. “It’s always something like that. Even if the shoot is simple and you think there is no need, inevitably someone will need you and the input of someone who understands the process and what can be done,” she says.

De Quattro’s husband is also a VFX supervisor who is presently working on a non-VFX-driven Netflix series. While he is not on set every day, he is called when there is an effects shoot scheduled.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

So, with so many benefits to be had, why would someone opt not to have a VFX supervisor on set? De Quattro assumes it is the cost. “What’s that saying, ‘penny wise and pound foolish?’ A producer thinks he or she is saving money by eliminating the line item of an on-set supervisor but doesn’t realize the invisible costs, including how much more expensive the work can be, and often is, on the back end,” she notes.

“On set, people always tell me their plans, and I find myself advising them not to bother building this or that — we are not going to need it, and the money saved could be better utilized elsewhere,” De Quattro says.

On Mission: Impossible, for example, the crew was filming a complicated underwater escape scene with Tom Cruise and finally got the perfect take, only his emergency rig became exposed. However, rather than have the actor go back into the frigid water for another take, De Quattro assured the team that the rig could be removed in post within the original scope of the VFX work. While most people are aware that can be done now, having someone with the authority and knowledge to know that for sure was a relief, she says.

Despite their extensive knowledge of VFX, these supervisors all say they support the best tool for the job on set and, mostly, that is to capture the shot in-camera first. “In most instances, the best way to make something look real is to shoot it real, even if it’s ultimately just a small part of the final frame,” Winquist says. However, when factors conspire against that, whether it be weather, animals, extras, or something similar, “having a VFX supervisor there during the shoot will allow a director to make decisions with confidence.”

Main Image: Weta’s Erik Winquist on set for Planet of the Apes.

Benji Davidson joins Brickyard VFX

Brickyard VFX in Santa Monica has added VFX supervisor Benji Davidson to its staff. Davidson’s experience includes live-action directing, creative directing and VFX supervision. He joins Brickyard from MPC, where he served as VFX supervisor since 2008.

In his career, Davidson has worked as an on-set VFX supervisor, lead 2D artist and director, among other things. Born and raised in England, he got his start at acclaimed commercial production company HKM/The Directors Bureau before joining MPC LA.

His notable projects include Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III Seize Glory, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 16 Madden: The Movie, Samsung’s Do What You Can’t and Super Bowl spots for Coca-Cola and Acura. He also contributed to the Los Angeles Olympics bid.

“I think in today’s climate, with rapid turnarounds, there is a benefit to being involved early on,” says Davidson. “I aim to help the director and agency, not hinder them. I’ve enjoyed being on set, sometimes that’s the only place everybody is together, which is invaluable when you get to post. You already know the expectations. There’s a secret short-hand from that shared experience.”

Brickyard is a digital production studio working in high-end visual effects, animation, design and creative development for advertising, feature films and emerging media.