Meet the Artist - Kevin Mack

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  03 March 2007

Hey Kevin,

i like that you come from an art background, many artists out there know buttons to push but have no idea what looks good or real. Dennis Murren is writing a book about "seeing reality" and the art in it thats a great idea. I would love to know if artists apply how often can and do you go with someone who has an "eye" rathern then just technical skills?

I am an experienced compositor but am terrible ba at drawing, my school called my writing art though so i studied how reality and lighting work in the world out there and became a compositor.

another question: it was very hard for me when i came to the states (I am german) to get a company to "dare" to hire me. It came down to this, i did not do feature film yet in america, so all my music videos, shorts, etc from germany did not count. do you think vfx houses seldom dare to hire an artist if he has not been tested on the us market?

last question would be what you would advise as to beeing persistent on applying at your dream company. i had many teachers at filmschool from places like ilm and they tell these nice stories to keep your mood up that they applied 1000 times, stood in from of the building every day and startet as janitor, animated at nite and finally got their shot!
nowerdays you get arrested and blacklisted it seems.
i think passion should bevalued more, if a guy wants to work, if he would do it for free, give him a shot, let him intern or pa or something! this industry was based on spirit and dreams to make "hollywood magic" and i think the HR never felt that.

Andreas out, nice to have you Kevin!
  03 March 2007
hi kevin!

Just wanted to know if you have any tips and triks on breaking in to the industri, wheiter you're a character designer or an animator.

Can you tell us how you did it?

good luck to ya!
  03 March 2007
hi kevin, my name is ashley,first i would like to say congratulations on ur work. the visual effects on moves like big fish and ghost rider totally rock. First i would like to ask

1) which is the most challenging of visual effects for u?, trying to make real looking and natural elements like the fire in ghost rider or an imaginative effect like lets say something like for example, mystique transforming to other ppl in xmen?.

2) what background does one need to have to be in the visual effect industry?

3) being a visual effect supervisor, do u also look into compositing on the movie where the graphics is combined with live action or u just take care of the graphic side?

4) which was the most challenging of all movies u worked on?

5) Do visual artists also use video references for working on particles effect like fire or water?

thank u for taking ur time to read my question.and i hope to seeing more of ur works in the future.
  03 March 2007
Lengthy typographic tirade!

Okay folks, Here's a bunch more responses to your posts!

Hey Andrew/depleteD,

I'm pretty sure the best step you can take to build your reputation and solidify your identity in the cg industry is to do excellent work. I suppose networking is a good idea too, so people get to know you. I checked out your portfolio – Nice work. You should do fine.

Good luck!

Hi Dmitri/Dimon3D,

When I was a student, they didn't have CG, so they didn't have schools for CG either. There are lots of them now but I don't know which ones are the best. Be sure to get good art training as well as learning software. I think the best thing you can do to learn is to DO. Access to the tools is important, but you can always make art of some kind. Cinefex and other CG magazines and sites like this one are great to learn how things are done. The real trick to getting good at anything is practice, practice, practice. I think the “secret” to doing any task well is to keep at it until it's great.

Good luck!

Hello Benjamin/thewave,

Thanks for writing. I saw your pictures. That miniature lab set looked cool. I used to do stop motion animation years ago. There's not that much being done anymore. So if you're looking to do that kind of thing for a living, I don't know where you find work. Even the makeup fx guys are having a tougher time these days. CG seems to take over more and more. But people get all kinds of opportunities when they've made a cool short, regardless of the technique. If you love what you're doing, keep at it.

Best of luck!

Hey Florian/PenthousePauper,

For me the best training method has been diving in, reading the manuals, doing the tutorials, lots of experimenting and pestering tech support and others to help me when I'm stuck. So while I am, as you say, an Autodidact or self taught, I have learned a great deal from others by not being shy about asking questions.

I always got a lot from reading the Siggraph papers which are compiled in a book each year. A recent book I really loved is “The Magic of Houdini” by Will Cunningham. It's fantastic if you want to learn Houdini or learn MORE about Houdini, which is my favorite 3D software.

As far as my family feeling neglected – I don't know. I hate having to be away from them for long periods when I'm shooting on location, but I've got to make a living and we manage to spend a lot of quality time together. It's a demanding job for sure, but it's what I do.

Thanks and good luck!

Hi Gijs/Dutchman,

Thanks for the warm reception! Regarding your Big Fish, “frozen moment” question – The answer is a little complicated, but here goes... Because the camera and Ewan are moving through the group of people, and I knew the people wouldn't be perfectly still, I needed to have the background, the group and Ewan as separate passes, but for various reasons we did not want to shoot motion control. I shot the passes separate and we matched the camera move each time as best we could using a video mixer to see a blend of the live image with the previous pass. This way we get everyone in the scene with the proper lighting and perspective changes on them. In post we had to fix some slight wobbles and blinks here and there and reconcile bits of the three passes together, and it was far from trivial, but we were starting with real people who were actually in the space, so it looks natural to begin with. If we had done as you suggest and shot the people on blue screen, then mapped them on planes and tracked them in, they would look flat and cutout because without the camera move in the element they would have no complex perspective change on them. If we had shot them in layers on blue screen WITH the camera move, then we would really need the motion control to get the same camera move on each pass. We would also have to deal with matching the lighting of the set, blue spill, matte lines, and the million other blue screen problems. This would have taken way longer to do on set as well as in post and the end result would likely look a bit fake. Whew. I hope that helps.

Regarding working with directors on set – Every director is different, but I've found most directors very collaborative. They welcome creative input. Generally, their creative plate is pretty full so they are happy to trust competent folks to take on various aspects of the process. Tim Burton was no different in this way. I designed characters and sequences and he gave me feedback when needed. He usually just liked the stuff. Fun. Film making is a team sport.

To your question about actor interaction - Depending on the project, I do often work with the actors. And yes, it's true. Eva Mendes totally dug me. ;-)

I talk about how I got into the industry in other posts, but I did make stop motion films on super8 when I was a kid and on 16mm when in college.

I don't usually watch the films I've worked on later. I don't avoid it or anything. I just don't repeat-view movies that often. And the movies I work on – I've usually seen parts of them millions of times while working on them. So I've seen them enough.

I know a few industrial designers who've moved into VFX and done very well. It seems like there are many crossover skills. But they all spent time mastering VFX specific skills too.

And for your last question – Before interviews, I clean my teeth to a sparkle with extremely high frequency thought waves.

Thanks for the questions. Good luck!

Hello Chris Nichols!

Happy to hear that you saw your work on the cover of Post. It's featured in a lot of press. It's a really cool image! You should be very proud. Thanks for all your great work on Ghost Rider. I hope to work with you again as well!

Stay in touch.

Hey Amanda/ThePatches,

Thank you so much for your very nice words. I'm thrilled to have had a part in inspiring you! And yes, many people and things have inspired me. Inspiration is everywhere if you look. I get inspired by art, music, people and nature. I gave some specific examples in an earlier post, but I think inspiration is ultimately a state of mind to be cultivated, like a good attitude.

All the best.

Hi Scott/sOnkitE,

The tools to make the fire in Ghost Rider were developed here at Sony Imageworks. We used Houdini and Maya and a lot of custom development.

Depending on what experience and skills you already have, the time it takes to get good at anything varies greatly. My advice is to dive in and focus on doing the best you can on each thing you do. "Loss of goals through perfection of means" is a phrase worth pondering.


Howdy Andreas/Jabbaworks,

Regarding art vs. technical skills – Ideally you want to have both. Naturally, everyone is different and has different strengths. And the different jobs/tasks in VFX vary greatly in the skills required. Some are very technical and some are more artistic. But the best people at either - are the ones who are good at both.

As for your questions on getting work in VFX. There are so many factors involved. I don't think it comes down to weather you've done film work before (although it helps).
The biggest factor is weather the company needs someone with your skills at that particular moment. Everything else is secondary to that. Yes. You should have a reel of impressive and relevant work. And it's great if you know someone who works there, but trust me, you could be the bosse's favorite nephew and have the greatest reel in the world - but if the company isn't busy right then, you aren't getting the job. Conversely, when they're desperate for CG artists to make a deadline, you could be delivering a pizza or parking cars in the lot, if they find out you have any skill whatsoever in this area, you've got the job. My advice is to make a great reel, apply to different places and check back regularly. There's no need to be a pest about it, but don't disappear after the first rejection. And always remember that secretaries and assistants control the world, so be nice to them. Hope that helps.

Good luck to you.

Hello Brage,

Take a look at my previous posts for tips on breaking into the industry and how I got in.

All the best.

Hi Ashley/hellop,

Thanks for the compliments! I'll take your questions in order...

1. Which is more challenging – Natural effects or imaginative effects? Honestly I'm not trying to avoid the question, but for me there is no clear boundary between these categories. Natural effects should be imaginative and imaginative effects should look natural. See what I mean? Whatever the effect, from demon guts to heaven itself, I'm always after aesthetic beauty, natural realism and clear storytelling.
  1. I talked a little about the backgrounds of people in CG in earlier posts but I should add that people in this industry come from extremely diverse backgrounds.
  2. As visual effects supervisor, I'm responsible for every aspect of the visual effects from initial design to final composite. But of course, it's an army of people that do all the actual work!
  3. Okay! I've thought about it, and after much deliberation, I've decided that I can't decide which movie was the most challenging. Wait... I've got it! The next one!
  4. For your last question - Good artists all know, regardless of the style or medium - ALWAYS GET GOOD REFERENCE!
I want to thank Paul Hellard of CG Society, and all of you for your comments and questions. I've really enjoyed this! Thanks so much!

Best wishes to everyone!

Love is Groovy – Be positive!

Kevin Mack
VFX Supervisor
Sony Pictures Imageworks ---
  03 March 2007
? what is your secret in stepping to this very high position

hi kevin,,

if possible,, can u please mention whats your secrets in getting to a very high position ,,, would like hear some of your replies to feel ourself happy and inspire from that...
  03 March 2007
Hello Kevin,

I saw ghost rider and i was amazed at the effect used to bring life to the flaming guy. I was impressed even the way that is was done while having to play with the clothing and seeing inside (where the neck was).

Just to tell you i love the work you do, since i do 3D in a hobby i was like seeing the new way we see effect in movies.


hope to see your new work soon.

| Coreldraw X6 | Cinema 4D R15 Prime | Lightwave 3D 11.6 | Moi 3D |

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  03 March 2007
Last couple questions. Thanks everyone!

Hi Harish/Harikatt,

In answer to your question, the secrets to becoming a VFX supervisor are the same as for becoming anything else. There are as many different paths as there are people on them. So my path may or may not be relevant to your own. But here are the top eleven factors I believe led to me becoming a VFX supervisor. ;-)
  1. 11. My psychedelic rock band didn't make it big and I had to support my family.

    10. My parents and their friends were all film artists and always encouraged my art.
  1. 9. I was a child actor and grew up on stages surrounded by film people.

    8. I've obsessively made art of all kinds since I was a small child.

    7. I freelanced for twenty years doing art jobs for the film industry.

    6. I love creative and technical problem solving and I'm good at both.

    5. I have a confident aesthetic point of view.

    4. I work well with others and cultivate a positive attitude.

    3. I'm relentless at whatever I do.

    2. I started making art with computers before VFX went digital.

    1. I was in the right place at the right time.

Hello Denis/Spaceland,

Thanks for the nice compliments! I really appreciate them! Folks in the VFX industry work real hard on these movies and it's nice to be recognized!

Thanks to everyone for all your kind words and great questions.

I'll leave you all with my top three tips...

Contemplate the infinite to realize that anything is possible.

Reality is manifest by our thoughts and deeds.

Love is Groovy – Be positive!

All the best!

Kevin Mack
VFX Supervisor
Sony Pictures Imageworks ---
  03 March 2007
Its Time, gentlemen.

Thanks Kevin for your valued comments and for bringing your trememndous personality to the thread. Your encouraging words will stay here for everyone who passes by in search of career inspirations.

Thanks to everyone who posted their questions.
Fmr Editor and features writer, CGSociety; Global Artist Liaison, Ballistic Publishing. Freelance writer, media consultant & digital producer.
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