Meet the Artist - Kevin Mack

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  02 February 2007
questions and answers

Originally Posted by cowtrix: G'day Kevin, you've done some brilliant work there. Ok, got a few questions:

1. Does your professional career provide much time for personal projects?

2. What are the packages Imageworks uses, and is it "set in stone"?

3. What's the biggest challenge you've been given in your cg history?

Hi Sean/Cowtrix,

Thanks for the kind words. As far as my career allowing time for personal projects - I'd say yes overall because I definitely maintain personal projects and activities whenever possible. I have always managed to keep making my own weird art... (shameless plug) and I play guitar. I write and record music and I have a family too. There are periods on any movie when it can be all consuming and I'm lucky to sleep a few hours a night or go to the bathroom without interruption. But there are also periods when things are ramping up or between projects when it's pretty easy going. I wouldn't say I have as much time as I'd like for all my interests but I keep at 'em.

As far as Imageworks software is concerned. We use a lot of stuff, much of it proprietary. I'm sure there are tools being used here that I don't even know about. But in general. Houdini, Maya, Inferno, Photoshop. The usual suspects. And it's not set in stone. If someone finds something cool and wants to use it, it will be investigated by a panel of experts and if deemed worthwhile, we'll get it.

The biggest challenge question - I went into this on the last post but couldn't really name one project. Ghost rider was a huge and really fun challenge but it's new so it stands out in my memory but there have been lots of other fun challenging projects in the past... I'm sorry, what was the question again? ;-)



  02 February 2007
Thank you!

Originally Posted by michael-olszak: Hey Kev. nice of you to take some time for this. Just wanted to say congrats on all the awesome acheivements in your career. Taking part in creating so many awesome movies must be an awesome feeling man.

good luck with future projects and jobs.

Thank you very much! Working on cool movies can be an awesome feeling, but it's like anything else, it has all the components of life - good and bad. I find that it's best to try to find that "awesome feeling" in the present - regardless of where I am or what I'm doing. That way the awesome feeling is independent of anything circumstantial. In fact I'm having that awesome feeling right now.
Can you dig it?
I knew that you could.
Zan qua,
Kevin Mack
  02 February 2007

Originally Posted by ftaswin: Hi Kevin....

Thanks for your time... What do you think is the biggest challenge nowdays in visual effects? Is it more technical such as CG water/fur or more managerial such as how to approach a project with resources available??

Thanks again


The biggest challenge is figuring out what the biggest challenge is. ;-)
Both the technical and managerial aspects are big challenges. I think maybe I don't really think in terms of challenges. I see tasks and processes for completing tasks. Challenges sounds kind of intimidating, like there's a chance you might lose or not make it. I try to live in a dream world where anything is possible and the process is fun. They say if you don't look ahead and you don't look back and just focus on the task at hand, you can do anything.
Thanks for the question,
Wiggle well,
Kevin Mack
  02 February 2007
Answers from Mack

Originally Posted by tokaru: hello kevin.

congratulations for your great carrer.

my first question.
what is the hardest challlenge you have faced in the past?

also what roll do you think is less important in the cg industry?

do you like ghost rider comic book ?

what is your favorite video game?

wich video game producer do you think is the best in the field of video games?

do you like mexican food?

what is your main goal in life?

thx in advance for share some of your time with us.

Thanks for your questions Tokaru,

Okay - hardest challenge... Is that related to biggest challenge? ;-)
The hardest and biggest challenge for me is to continually deny that there is any challenge. I like to believe that every challenge simply requires that I apply a problem solving process to it. And with concentrated effort and practice that becomes effortless mastery. I've always thought it was cooler to do something well easily rather than to suffer and struggle to achieve it. I definitely do my share of struggling. I'm just not that into it.

Everything is important in the CG industry.

I bought the first issues of Ghost Rider when they came out in the 70's. I totally dug them.

I almost never play video games of any kind. It's not that I don't think they're cool. I actually love racing games. My sons keep me up on what's new in games. I just find that I like to apply my effort and time to activities that produce something - art - music - learning - I watch TV though so... hmm. I don't know. I've seen people so consumed by games, it kind of scares me. Also, I'm not that big on any competitive games or sports - unless I can win every time. ;-)

I love mexican food!

My main goal in life is the loss of goals through perfection of means. I'm not quite sure what that even means but it feels right somehow.

Thanks for the questions!
Veda Beta,
Kevin Mack
  02 February 2007
Working with you on GhostRider was an amazing experience...

Any chance you can share what you'll be working on next?

Any chance I can work on it too?

As far as your personal artwork goes, how long does a piece usually take you to do and how many iterations does it go through before you finally call it finished?

What is your favorite type of art to look at, and what setting do you prefer - a muesem, a gallery, a book, online? Please do tell...

Do you have a favorite artist, gallery or collection that you are usually inspired by? Anyone in particular you like?

Who do you look up to?

You're a swell guy for taking the time to do this Q&A with everyone.

  02 February 2007
damn -dc- those were good questions.

Whats the best steps I can take to build my reputation as a professional artist? How do I solidify my identity in the cg industry?

Thanks dude, you rock!
  02 February 2007
Hello Kevin.
I am 17 years old , and i am very interested in studying the 3d graphic .
Could you give me some tips how to became professional CG artist ?
What schools whould you recomend ?
But i am not sure what exactly i want to learn I just want make amazing effects , since i was a kid i loved MATRIX , probably of my favourite movie ... The Matrix bullet effect and fighting sences is my goal i want to learn how to make movies like that . What would you recommend me to do ?

Thank you,
Best regards Dimon.
  02 February 2007
Is it worth it???

Greetings and Salutations Kevin.

Congratulations on your accomplishments.

You do fine work and I look forward to seeing more from you.

Benjamin Dean

Last edited by thewave : 02 February 2007 at 06:55 PM.
  02 February 2007
Dear Kevin,
it´s Florian from Germany. I seems to me, that improving and training skills and technics are one of the top demands in the whole 3D-Industry. So I started to eat books and tutorials and other artwork of people, who are better than me in the areas I want to improve in.
So my Questions are the following:
1. When you reflect your carreer: What of your training-methods seem most effiecient to you?
2. Which methods do you prefer? Are you more the autodedactic one or do you prefer "teachers around" you?
3. Would you name the best 3 books concerning 3D, that came into your mind?
4. It´s very personally and you don´t have to answer it, but in the fact that I am thinking about studying "into" 3D-Industry: Does your family sometimes feel neglected or "uncared" in any way?

Thanks for taking the time!
greetings, Florian
  02 February 2007
Hi Kevin!

First of all I'm happy to see you over here, and I'm feeling honored to be talking to an Oscar-winner! Congratulations on that, and of course congratulations on you amazing career!

I saw you were VFX-supervisor on Big Fish, which is in fact one of my favorite movies! Everytime I watch it I enjoy the vfx more. I've one quite detailed question about the "time stands still" sequence (in the circus, when Edward walks to Sandra in 'bullettime' - such an amazing, lovely, romantic shot!). I've been watching the making-off and reading an interview, which tells me that you shot it with people standing still, and doing adjustments and roto afterwards. I've been thinking about it, and to me it seemed just as effective to shoot different layers with actors on bluescreen, and projecting them on planes in the (tracked) 3D scene.
(similar to described in the new vfx-world article about 'The Number 23': "'Jim Carrey's character at about eight sits with his classmates. Except for a live-action young Carrey, all the kids are still images and IC uses a motion blur effect to make it seem as if time had stopped." Link )
So now I wonder why you did do it this way, and if it was as effective as you have planned?

Can you tell something about the relationship with the director, when you're working on set. For instance: what way did you work with mr Burton? I can imagine that he's only the creative 'dictator', and you just have to come up with a technique to make his vision visible on celloid? And: do you have much interaction with the actors?

I wonder how you rolled into the industry? As I think making your own vfx-films -at an age of 18- wasn't as common as it is these days? Have you made short-films with friends those days?

Do you often watch back movies you worked on? As I red about some directors who haven't seen there own movies since the premiere!

At the moment I'm studying 'Industrial Design' and I've planned to try getting into the film/vfx industry with my education (while it's not 100% related, but I red about alot vfx and cg-people who were industrial designer once). Can you tell me of a hitpoint between being a vfx-supervisor, and being industrial designer? If I get a good one, I can do a vfx-internship, which would be cool!

Do you brush your teeth before a making-off interview is recorded?

Thanks for your time (sorry for the amount of text ), and all the best on your future projects! I'll be looking out for them!
-Gijs (Holland)
multidisciplinary creator of films and spaces
• design • image • film • music •

Last edited by Dutchman : 02 February 2007 at 10:24 PM.
  02 February 2007
Hey Kevin...

This is Chris Nichols. I just got a copy of Post magazine. The cover has the image of Ghostie on the top of the Bridge that you and I worked on for so long, and so long ago. I have to say that with the passage of time, the image looks really great and is something I am proud of. Thanks for being such a great mentor to me. Hope to work with you again.


Last edited by cpnichols : 02 February 2007 at 03:26 PM.
  02 February 2007
hi there Kevin!

What Dreams May Come and Fight Club are in my top-5 movies of all time.

Every time I watch Dreams, even now I am still inspired by the richness of the worlds that you and the other artists created. From the arches over the water in heaven to the upside-down gothic cathedral in hell, they still stir up images in my mind that make me say "wow" even when not watching the film.

I remember trying to re-create the feeling of the movies in my drawings when I was 15 and had just seen the movie for the first time with my dad.

Anway, what I'm getting at here is, you've inspired me, is there anything or anyone that inspired you?

Boy I hope noone else asked this already!

The visual effects were the best thing about Ghost Rider to me! Great job!

Last edited by ThePatches : 02 February 2007 at 05:19 PM.
  02 February 2007
Hey i have 2 simple questions to ask if its not big trouble
With wich programm or programms did u made the flames at the Ghost Rider
and How long can take someone to become good at VFX like you by starting now?
  02 February 2007
Words I made for people today.

Hey thanks everybody for all the great questions and kind words. Here's a few more responses to your posts...

To thedoc – I'm not much of record keeper but I know the fire pipeline took about nine months. CG fire was definitely a technical and creative challenge.

Hey Ralph – My work day is quite different depending on what part of the schedule we're in. Pre-production is all big meetings and planning. When we're shooting. I'm on set all day (or all night) consulting with the director and crew regarding VFX photography. Once we're in post. I do what we call turnovers, where I sit with the artists and supervisors and give them the download of what needs to happen on a per shot basis. Then, I spend most of my time in a “sweatbox”, a small screening room where we review all of the work being done constantly. The artists come in and I look at their work and give them direction. Then with greater frequency as the schedule progresses, I meet with the director and show the work and get any notes or changes.

As far as the usual background of a VFX supervisor, I don't really know. They're all different. They usually come from and excel at some aspect of the VFX world like compositing, lighting, matte painting, animation, miniature photography, motion control, etc.

There are certainly supervisors that aren't masters of all aspects of the work. In fact, there are a lot of supervisors that have never worked on computers at all but have experience with traditional VFX, like miniatures and blue screen opticals. Personally, I think the better you are at all the tasks, the better equipped you are to supervise those tasks. You should at least understand the process and what it takes to do each task. But most important of all are visual problem solving skills. It's a weird marriage of artistic and technical.

My background is unusual. I was born into the film industry. My parents were both film artists. I was a child actor. I drew and painted, sculpted and animated all my life. I've worked as a storyboard artist, matte painter, sculptor, scenic artist, model maker, animator, set designer and art director. I've done about every art job they have in the film business and some they don't. I went to Art Center college of design and studied fine art illustration and film. I had a psychedelic rock band. I got into computers for music in the eighties and started making visual art with them. I was doing traditional VFX (matte paintings, miniatures) for a living and started pushing to use computers for VFX. When it finally broke in the early nineties, I was in the right place at the right time. I had traditional VFX art skills AND computer skills. When I first started doing CG stuff, we did everything. They didn't have specialists as much as now. I did modeling, animation, wrote shaders, did the painting, the lighting and the comp. And it was fun because it was all new. Somewhere along the line someone tricked me into supervising.

Hey Jan,

I was on Ghost Rider for about two years. The biggest challenge was... umm... uhh...

Just let me think a minute...


I listen to all kinds of music when I'm working at the computer, but I don't get to be on the box at work much anymore. I'm big on Frank Black and all kinds of guitar-centric music when I'm working on my own stuff. I like a lot of chill out and ambient stuff for working to as well.


As for juggling the 9 to 5 and making your reel. Persist. A little progress every day adds up to a lot over time. As for burn out – I find it essential to have multiple creative outlets. That way, when I get fried at one, I get refreshed by doing something else. I play guitar and make my own art and that keeps me busy and inspired. Meditation is good too.

Mike Rhone,

Set etiquette is complicated. Someone should write a book. But it's different for everyone on the crew. In general, pay attention, be cool, quiet and WATCH YOUR STEP. Visitors to a set often trip on cables or bump into crucial lighting equipment. Or worse walk into the shot. It's really just common sense stuff mostly. And the looks you will get if your cell phone rings are far worse than having it smashed or paying any fine.

As far as film crew knowledge of what we do. It varies. In general they're pretty sophisticated and really helpful and cooperative. You've got to earn their respect though.

As for personal projects – I have many interests and not enough time for them all. I keep playing a bit of guitar and record something every so often. I make my abstract 3D art and animation which I've been working on a lot lately. I wrote a script and I'd like to direct (who wouldn't?). I have no interest in starting a VFX company. As a Supervisor, I only have to do the stuff I'm good at and enjoy. The business and organizational stuff is someone else's job.


With all the amazing VFX out there, it may seem like we've seen and done it all. We've certainly passed through the salad days when it was front page news. However, “New CG tricks” isn't why we go to movies. What it comes down to is the imagination of the filmmakers. As long as they keep coming up with original cool ideas, we will continue to develop new and better VFX techniques to bring them to life. I'm not worried. Besides, I'm working on a new CG trick that will cause anyone who sees it to explode in ecstasy as they are forcibly merged with the infinite ;-)

Okay. That's my deal for today. I'll be back for more tomorrow!

Thanks again to everyone, I appreciate the opportunity to pontificate!

Clouds and shiny things for everyone,

Kevin Mack
Kevin Mack
VFX Supervisor
Sony Pictures Imageworks ---
  02 February 2007
a couple more posts

Here's a couple more ranting responses to posts...

Johannes -

Thanks for your post. I can see a few different ways to interpret your question...

But I think the answer is the same either way...

I don't think you need any special preparation before working on the computer. I like to read the software manuals but in general I don't do any preparation.

Weather you're just learning, or have done it for years, I'm a big fan of diving right in and experimenting and learning by doing. I like the tools the computer provides for all kinds of visual creations and it has become my favored medium from design to finish.

Hey Joe Harkins!

Thanks for all your great work on Ghost Rider! and for the great questions here!

I don't know what's next yet, but I'd be thrilled to have you work on whatever it is.

As for my personal work, the time each piece takes varies quite a bit. Sometimes I stumble onto something cool right off and other times I search for quite a while in “weird shader space” to find something that excites me. I'd say on average it takes a day or two to create a source image and then another day or two to find a cool shader space. Sometimes I'll make a whole new shader from scratch and that can take a day or two extra. Then I usually go through 5 to 50 iterations to get a final image. Much of that process is searching through the resultant 3D universe for the best view of the space. I will often generate several unique perspectives of the same function as final images. If I could work full time at it, I think I could make a new universe every week. A universe per week. That sounds good.

I like to look at all kinds of art. I lurk here at Cg society and other cg art sites to get inspired sometimes. I love sci-fi illustration type stuff. Frank Frazetta was a huge inspiration to me when I was a kid. Comic book artists – Richard Corbin, Barry Smith, Al Williamson. I was way into DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Rembrandt, Jackson Pollack. I've always dug Dali and the surrealists. Robert Williams is a contemporary fave as is the glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. My wife, Snow Mack has always been a huge inspiration and my sons, Jon and Ray are always inspiring me. We are regulars at the Cannibal flower monthly art shows. I enjoy going to museums and galleries and nature is an endless source. But my biggest source of inspiration is the visions I see in my mind – in dreams – in meditation – in the internal state of imagination and thought.

Thanks for the great questions!

Pie and cake,

Kevin Mack
VFX Supervisor
Sony Pictures Imageworks ---
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