I’d like to ask, how early on do you tend to get involved with a project, especially where the vfx plays a huge role interacting with live actors?
It varies. Sometimes film-makers will approach us very early in the process before the script is final just to consult on the sort of things that are possible. We usually get involved in the projects before photography commences because its important to have someone supervising the plates on set to make sure we get what we need. In terms of the initial leads, for some projects a director or studio will approach the VFX company wanting to work with them. Other projects will come in through personal contacts. Most VFX companies have someone out there looking for projects talking to the studios and film-makers trying to get work. Usually well start with a round of bidding the project working out how well do it and how much the VFX will cost. Its a very competitive business so everyone does a whole lot of upfront bidding these days. Sometimes we may try to do some artwork or test to help show our interest.
I saw ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles’ last week, could you talk about that a bit please?
I was only involved in the project during pre-production. The supervisor who started the show, Pablo Helman, was on set in Canada doing plate photography while the development of the various creatures was starting back here at ILM, and I supervised some of that early development for a few months. When Pablo returned I moved on to something else and in the end Tim Alexander joined the show when Pablo started Indy 4. During the time I was aboard we started the modeling, painting and look development of Thimbletack, the Sprites, the Boggart and Mulgarath. We some experimentation on skin. It was an interesting project because ILM contributed some of the creature designs including some rapid prototyping of the models (3D prototyping) and it was the first show to use a new facial animation tool Id led some of the development on as an overhead technical project.
How often were you able to review the vfx as they were developing?
During shot production constantly. We look at shots every morning in dailies, and artists send me IMs with new versions pretty much constantly during the day. We visit each others desks and usually have a later afternoon check-in for stuff we think were ready to finish. We usually do a remote video hookup with the director (or he visits us) at least a couple of times a week to review and animation and shots in progress.
As a vfx supervisor, how much direct contact would you expect to have with a matte painter or concept artist, for example? Or would you pass instruction through the lead?
Id expect to have direct contact at all times, but its great to have a lead you can trust and rely on to help share the load when youre busy, contribute different ideas, and help out with technical issues one matte paintings etc. Weve set up the systems here at ILM to try and make sure we have direct one-on-one contact with the artists as much as possible its very important to me.
Do you advise and define the pipeline to be used, or is that a decision reached according to the whole team?
Its a team effort but I have input. At ILM nowadays we have a fairly standard pipeline that we tweak per-show but generally work is focused on making the pipeline as good as it can be across the company.