About Graham Edwards

I'm senior staff writer at Cinefex magazine. I also write novels. In a former life, I produced animated films for theme park rides and science centres. If you offer me a cold beer, I won't say no.

Marvel Studios Tribute Issue

Cinefex 158 cover

Spring is here, which can mean only one thing: the presses are rolling out a brand new issue of Cinefex. This one’s something special — an all-Marvel issue packed with cover-to-cover goodness in celebration of Marvel Studios’ 10-year anniversary.

So what’s inside? Well, in this special issue you’ll find Graham Edwards’ in-depth coverage of Black Panther, featuring interviews with director Ryan Coogler, production designer Hannah Beachler, visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Baumann and the huge team of visual effects artists who brought the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda to the screen.

That’s just the beginning. In his article Keepers of the Flame, Joe Fordham takes you on a guided tour of the Marvel Studios in-house art department. Read exclusive interviews with the incredibly talented team of artists and pore over the gorgeous concept art hand-picked by the visual development team at Marvel.

Next comes The Marvel Effect. For months, we’ve been surveying the many visual effects artisans who have contributed to Marvel Studios’ films since the launch of Marvel Studios in 2008. The result is an epic virtual roundtable discussion between some of the most important Marvel visual effects contributors of the past decade.

In MCU: The Big Bang, we explore the creative and technological highlights of each of the 18 block-busting, game-changing, superheroic films making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all the way from Iron Man through Black Panther.

And there’s more. Cinefex editor-in-chief Jody Duncan conducts an extensive interview with Marvel Studios executive producer and head of physical production Victoria Alonso. Together they delve into the origins of the studio, the hits and misses along the way, and its long-term goals. Rounding out Cinefex 158, we’ve even got a special tribute to Stan Lee!

Cinefex 158 ships after Easter, and is available to order right now. If you subscribe by Monday, April 2, you will receive Cinefex 158 as the first copy of your new subscription. Or order single-issue copies of Cinefex 158 and get free U.S. shipping. Don’t miss out!

Spotlight – Andrew Whitehurst

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Andrew Whitehurst is a visual effects supervisor at Double Negative, with feature credits including Annihilation, Ex Machina, Spectre, Skyfall and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Andrew WhitehurstCINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Andrew?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: I studied fine art and then filmmaking at college, but I’d always liked mucking about with computers and modelmaking. My final project was a mixture of CG and traditional puppet animation. I found the armatures I built for the puppets the other day and it made me very nostalgic. All of these craft interests, along with the possibilities that making pictures with computers offered in the ‘90s, were an irresistible draw. After college, I worked as a runner at a visual effects facility that went out of business, before working for an animation studio that went out of business. My first tiptoe into visual effects, as an artist, was on Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, and I’ve been working in visual effects ever since.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: I get out of bed to make, and help others make – hopefully – beautiful pictures that tell a story. I love seeing an audience react to the work we do, and seeing a finished shot and thinking about the creative journey we all took to get there. Most of my favorite shots don’t look at all how I initially imagined that they might, and that’s the joy of collaborative creativity. Doing good work with interesting people is a huge privilege.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: I hate waste, so omits break my heart. I have worked on so many projects where visual effects artists’ work is treated so casually and thrown away on a whim, often at the last minute. I think there is still a belief amongst many in filmmaking that ‘it’s all done with computers nowadays,’ so you can do what you like and it doesn’t affect anyone ‘important.’ But, as we all know, it’s done by humans, whose creativity and efforts deserve respect.

Andrew Whitehurst was visual effects supervisor on "Ex Machina," with visual effects by Double Negative, Milk VFX, Utopia and Web FX.

Andrew Whitehurst was visual effects supervisor on “Ex Machina,” with visual effects by Double Negative, Milk VFX, Utopia and Web FX.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: The establishing shot of the Achean armada in Troy is probably the hardest single shot I’ve ever worked on. We had to track the open ocean, create 1,000 unique ships, and get them to blend with the three real ships they had on the shoot – and it had to be completed months ahead of schedule for a Superbowl commercial. It was over 1,000 frames long initially, and just the shadow pass was taking 12 hours per frame to render. I can still remember the shot number – wp_026_0010 – which tells you it must have been a widow-maker.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: Being driven to an unmarked office, to be locked in a room – having been relieved of my phone and any technology that might enable me to take notes – and given just an hour to read a script printed on eyestrain-inducing red paper – to stop me photocopying it with the photocopier I clearly didn’t have – and then being summoned to a meeting to explain, in detail, how all the visual effects should be achieved. It seemed, shall we say, excessive.

Left to right, Mark Ardington, Paul Norris, Sara Bennett and Andrew Whitehurst celebrate their visual effects Oscar win for "Ex Machina" at the 88th Academy Awards. Photograph by Phil McCarten and copyright © AMPAS.

Left to right, Mark Ardington, Paul Norris, Sara Bennett and Andrew Whitehurst celebrate their visual effects Oscar win for “Ex Machina” at the 88th Academy Awards. Photograph by Phil McCarten and copyright © AMPAS.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: The notion that anything is possible has, latterly, made it possible to defer almost all creative decision-making until deep into postproduction. If a production is chronically indecisive about what it wants, the result you see on screen is the time from the last change of mind to the deadline, so it is often not the best work the visual effects artists can do, it’s just what can be done in the time left. The best work always was – and still is – achieved by formulating the plan, shooting to the plan, and then seeing it through in post. Call me old-fashioned …

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: Filmmaking, and visual effects in particular, is still very male, white, and middle-class. The industry has to become more diverse.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: Try to understand as much about filmmaking techniques and technology as you can, and absorb as much art as you are able to. Good creative professionals know their tools, but also have the cultural knowledge to know how to apply them, and why.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: Man With a Movie Camera – because it’s an exploration of every way you can creatively use a film camera. It’s as if Dziga Vertov looked at the technology, thought, “What could I do with this?” and then did all of it.

2001: A Space Odyssey – it’s a staggeringly beautiful film where the effects are created to have the maximum aesthetic and emotional impact. The shots are planned, considered, and exquisitely executed. Everything is done for a reason in that film, and I love that rigor combined with an experimental attitude. I will be a showing a pristine 70mm print, naturally.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – I would like to suggest this is the perfect adventure movie, and the effects are so integral to the story, and so stylishly executed. That final matte painting is one of cinema’s great moments in its own right.

Once Upon a Time in the West – is still the greatest movie of all time, but it’s not really an effects film so I can’t pick it here. Unless you count the dead fly being pulled up the side of a chair on fishing line as a special effect …

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANDREW WHITEHURST: Nothing. When I’m in charge of everything, the first thing I will do is ban all food and drink that make any noise from cinemas. World peace will be achieved later, but I have my priorities.

CINEFEX: Andrew, thanks for your time!

Turning on the Spotlight

Cinefex VFX Spotlight Q&A

At the end of January 2018, we started posting quickfire interviews with leading effects professionals, in a new blog series called Spotlight Q&A. Nearly two months on, we’ve got 15 interviews online, and more lined up in the wings.

The Spotlight format is simple. We ask everybody the same 10 questions, inviting them to be as candid in their responses as they like. We also encourage them to pepper their answers with the two ‘A’s – anecdotes and attitude!

Glancing back through the first 15 Spotlights, we’ve chuckled at some of the wonderful behind-the-scenes stories that our interviewees have shared. We’ve also spotted a few interesting trends – for example, here are three topics that recurred when we posed the question: “What changes have you observed in your field over the years?”

Globalization

Globalization

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Certainly the globalization of the industry has been the most dramatic change. In the early ‘90s, when I entered the industry, all the visual effects companies were in LA with only ILM in Northern California. Now, a lot of those early companies are gone and there are hundreds of companies that have taken their place all over the world.

SARA MUSTAFA: The migration of artists from region to region every three to five years, based on production and postproduction tax incentives, and on where the work lands.

MARK BREAKSPEAR: Now, our teams are huge, remote and unknown half the time. I try to connect with everyone on a show because, for me, the best learning moments used to come when a client leaned over and pointed something out and I went: “Oh, of course!”

Diversity

Diversity

CHARMAINE CHAN: There’s been a nice influx of women coming into our industry, whether that be entry-level positions or other artistry roles. I think there’s a need for a higher inclusion of diversity overall, but the more we educate younger diverse generations about our industry, and teach them that they can thrive in such environments, the better we can make the future of our industry.

OMAR MORSY: When I first started animating back in 1997, it really was a male-dominated field. Things have changed so much now. The animation team has never been closer to 50/50. MPC is one of the studios that is really trying to address diversity imbalances.

LINDY DE QUATTRO: I would like to see equality for women and minorities. That not only means equal pay, but it also means equal opportunities in terms of hiring, crewing, and promotion. I’m not seeing any of that right now. I would like to see all the major studios commit to quotas.

Practical versus Digital

Practical versus Digital

JOEL HARLOW: When I started out, the movie magic in character creation really focused on practical makeup effects. As the digital art form gradually advanced, there was absolutely a swing away from makeup effects. Recently, however, I’ve noticed a slight swing back towards practical makeup. The recent films I’ve worked on have been very much a collaboration between the two art forms. With an open dialogue and mutual respect, we have all created some pretty amazing cinematic moments.

HOWARD BERGER: The partnership of practical special makeup and visual effects working together. I love when we do it. I love the visual effects teams as there are things we can’t do and things they can’t do, and together we accomplish amazing magic.

KENNETH CALHOUN: When I started, most movies were moving towards digital effects, and I would constantly see articles and discussions over whether or not practical effects were dead. With movies like the recent ‘Star Wars’ films, Wonder, and television shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story openly talking abut their use of practical makeup, there has been such an impact on the demand for makeup artists in our industry. I really have hope that since many movies are using a balance of digital and practical we will see this wonderful harmony continue.


Those are just a few short soundbites from the wealth of opinion we’ve amassed in our Spotlight series so far. Hit the link below to browse the 15 interviews we already have online. When you’re done with those, don’t worry – there’s plenty more to come!

Stock images by Pexels. “Creature from the Black Lagoon” photograph by Florida Memory, via Wikimedia Commons.

Spotlight – Eric J. Robertson

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Eric J. Robertson of Mr. X Inc is a seasoned visual effects supervisor, visual effects producer and cinematographer. His long list of career highlights includes Mudbound, American Made, Mother, The Upside, Mr. Robot, Noah, The Dictator, Anchorman 2, The Big Year, The Brave One, Pompeii, Resident Evil Afterlife, Julie and Julia, The Limits of Control, Rachel Getting Married, Burn After Reading, Synecdoche New York, The DaVinci Code, Silent Hill, Dawn of the Dead and Blizzard, which Eric makes special note of as his first effects film featuring talking and flying reindeer!

Eric J Robertson

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Eric?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: I started as a PA in commercials while in college, and was bitten by the bug instantly. I spent nine years in production as an assistant director, but always yearned for more creative work and to see a project through from start to finish. As a photographer and computer nerd from a young age, I saw the visual effects team on set and decided that was the goal. I learned and studied both on set and off to figure out what I needed to know to make a huge career change. A year later, Dennis Berardi at Mr. X recognized that I was well suited for visual effects work even though my resume didn’t support it. He took a leap and hired me for their first big feature Blizzard as visual effects producer. I never looked back.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: When I get to shoot for a project, because at heart I’m a photographer. Also when I get to direct second unit. And when we get to travel. I’ve had my most memorable times while on the road in exotic locations – Spain with Sacha Baron Cohen; Italy for Zoolander where I met my fiancée; Berlin; The Yukon, 90 miles from the Arctic Circle, creating CG birds with David Frankel; London and Wales, again with David.

But it’s really about the people. I’ve made lifelong friends, and have worked with the best in the business. It’s so exciting to work with creative geniuses like Darren Aronofsky, Jim Jarmusch, Adam McKay, Sam Esmail, Doug Liman, Ang Lee, Neil Jordan, Ron Howard, Nick Cassavetes, Norah Ephron, Charlie Kaufman, Jonathan Demme, Sam Mendes, Dan Mindel, John Mathieson, Bob Elswit, and way too many others to mention.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: “Let me show this to my mother who doesn’t like going to the movies to see what she thinks.” Version 175 of a two-minute-long all-CG shot. Native stereoscopic 3D at 120fps – at 4K. Night exterior boat shoots. These are all things that have actually happened.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: Early in my effects career, and just after moving to New York City, I was tasked to create a title sequence. It was the first time I had been entrusted to conceptualize, shoot, edit and present a finished piece with very little creative input from the director. It was amazing. I had to produce a small unit shooting all over Manhattan so there was a learning curve with the city and permits and insurance – all while I was figuring out how to use my new (old) Fries Mitchell 35R3 camera and Panavision anamorphic lenses. It was also the first time as a cinematographer that I had resources to direct and lighting to create. With a lot of help, we did the work in two weeks, presented the edit, and everyone was thrilled. Version three was final. Huge sigh of relief, but an incredible educational experience.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: I once had a producer buy me a pair of extremely tight shorts and asked me to wear them for her. I’ll let you all wonder if I did or not.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: Our work is becoming commoditized. Talent is harder and harder to find – in fact hiring in general is tough due to the rampant rise in the volume of effects work in film and television. Sadly, we’re seeing a lot of sloppy filmmaking. We need to find a way to avoid simple on-set problems and never say ‘we’ll fix it in post.’ There’s way too much cosmetic work happening.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: I would love to feel like the studios and filmmakers embraced us more and saw us as partners in filmmaking. This isn’t a blanket statement – many of our teams both in production and at the studio level respect us and consider our work important. But we do have serious issues still – massive limitations on credits is a good example. If the production staff who are on set for a day or two automatically get credits then why can’t every effects artist who spends six months painting or fabricating creatures and environments that shape the very look of a film?

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: Be very sure it’s what you want. Be prepared to work harder than you can imagine, and get paid less than your technology counterparts in other – more profitable- businesses. Our technical knowledge is vast and our artistic challenges are staggering, but it’s not remunerated as such. If you love to program, stick to the Fortune 500 companies or interesting startups and make some real money. Fundamentally, if you are determined, then listen, learn, and don’t let your ego stand in the way of greatness.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: I have two different types of favorites. The first group is the classics that really inspired me at a young age:

Star Wars: A New Hope – my first movie outing with my dad. The first time I imagined another universe existing. The environments were so real I was transported.

The Matrix – this movie happened right when I was transitioning careers. ‘Bullet time’ and the other time and alternate reality scenarios felt so very possible.

Iron Man – Favreau was the first director who really made humor a part of visual effects. Amazing.

Then I have my more invisible favorites for different reasons:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – astounding skin. A CG face for 53 minutes. Wow.

What Dreams May Come – another innovative and inspirational use of effects that made me wonder about the inspiration for the concepts. Really made me stop and wonder and gape.

The ‘Harry Potter’ series – when I watched my children laugh and cry and grow up in this world and with these characters, I knew that we really create magic. It sometimes brings tears to my eyes.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ERIC J. ROBERTSON: A bottle of wine.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Eric!

Spotlight – Lindy De Quattro

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Lindy Wilson De Quattro is a visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic. From the long list of feature films she’s worked on, she lists her highlights as including Downsizing, Pacific Rim, The Great Gatsby, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Rush Hour 3, Evan Almighty and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lindy Wilson De Quattro

CINEFEX: Lindy, how did you get started in the business?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: I grew up in Silicon Valley. My dad has a PhD in electrical engineering from The University of California, Berkeley, and he started his own semiconductor company the same year I was born. We always had computers and the latest technology around the house when I was growing up, and my older brother and I spent a lot of our childhood playing videogames, starting with simple arcade games like Pong and other Atari games, then progressing to text-based Infocom adventure games, and finally to games with graphics – Legend of Zelda anyone? That was really my first exposure to animation and visual effects, although at the time I had no idea how it was made.

I was always good at math and science, but while I was a total geek on one hand, I was also very girly on the other. I loved art, fashion, shopping, dressing up, doing my hair … all the stereotypically feminine activities. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend the day shopping and sunbathing with my girlfriends and then come home and spend the evening playing videogames with my brother. Eventually, I followed in my father’s footsteps and went to UC Berkeley for my undergraduate work where I was in a sorority – Go Chi-O! – and double-majored in computer science and fine art. I spent a semester oil painting in Italy and Paris, and a summer working as a programmer at Intel. I wasn’t quite sure how to put those two fields together into a career so, after I graduated, I decided to go to USC to get my MS in computer science because they had a strong graphics program.

While I was in my last semester, a professor from the USC Film School came to talk to our class and told us that they were starting a new program that offered an MFA in film, video, and computer animation, and that if we were interested and had an art portfolio that we should apply because they didn’t have enough applicants with a computer science background. I had an extensive portfolio since I had been an art major, so I asked my parents if they would mind paying for yet one more degree, and they reluctantly agreed. I applied and after getting my MS in computer science, I became one of the first 13 students to graduate with an MFA from the new program.

While I was at USC film school, I became friends with Breck Eisner whose father, Michael, was running Disney at that time. Breck was directing a short film called Recon for his senior project and he was looking for someone to do the visual effects. The work I did on Recon got me a couple of internships while I was still in school, and eventually got me my job at ILM.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Being on set is always exciting. Every film has a different dynamic and a different set of challenges. It never gets boring or old. I’ve gotten to travel to many amazing places in the world and to meet some of the best artists, actors, and filmmakers in the business. I love having creative discussions with directors, and being able to contribute my artistic vision to the projects that I work on. I love that I found a career that allows me to use both sides of my brain.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Once I reached the level of visual effects supervisor, I was exposed to the ugly side of the business. As a woman, I don’t get the same opportunities that my male colleagues do. It’s extremely frustrating to be passed over time and again on jobs for which I’m well-qualified. There has been a lot of talk recently about the lack of opportunities for female directors. I hope that eventually the doors that they are opening will help those of us in other departments on the film set. There are so few female visual effects supervisors, composers, editors, cinematographers … the problem goes much deeper than just directors.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Every single show! Honestly, it’s the truth. We often joke that it’s like building your car as you’re speeding down the freeway. Every show has new challenges and needs changes to the pipeline, and there is absolutely no guarantee that we are going to be able to achieve what we have promised our clients. We just have a bunch of crazy-smart, dedicated artists and scientists who work brutally long hours and pour their hearts and souls into making it work and somehow – miraculously – it always does.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Every so often we get tasked with some ‘vanity’ work. I’ve removed double chins, removed acne, covered up visible nipples, filled in thinning hair, gotten rid of love handles and smoothed out cellulite. The list goes on and on, but we are always discreet and I would never reveal who had what work done!

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Certainly the globalization of the industry has been the most dramatic change. Not only are very few films shot now in Los Angeles – or anywhere in the US – but also a lot of the post work in visual effects is being done at companies all around the world. At the beginning of my career, I rarely travelled outside the US, but for the last few years I’ve been a United Platinum member because of all the miles I rack up. In the early ‘90s, when I entered the industry, all the visual effects companies were in LA with only ILM in Northern California. Now, a lot of those early companies are gone and there are hundreds of companies that have taken their place all over the world.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: I would like to see equality for women and minorities. That not only means equal pay, but it also means equal opportunities in terms of hiring, crewing, and promotion. I’m not seeing any of that right now. I would like to see all the major studios commit to quotas. They need to commit to a certain percentage of female visual effects supervisors – and other department heads – each year, and they need to increase that until they reach a percentage that accurately reflects the make up of our population. For women, that’s 50 percent. Until people get used to seeing women and minorities in leadership roles, they won’t get comfortable with the idea that it works. So, until that happens, quotas are the only way to force the issue.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: First of all, understand that this is a very low-margin business, so make sure you really love the work itself. You’re not going to get rich working in visual effects in the film industry. There are no stock options. There is very little security. You must love to travel and to live a semi-nomadic lifestyle as companies continue to chase tax incentives around the globe. Those of us who stick with it do so because we love film and we love creating beautiful images. If that’s not you, then you may want to think twice.

If you still think this is the career for you, study hard in math and science. Make sure you take some classes in composition and color theory because visual effects work is art first and science second. Get an internship. You need experience before you are of value to anyone so get it any way you can, even if that means working for free for a year or two. Understand that film-making is collaborative. If you can’t work well with others, you won’t last in this business. Put your ego aside. Getting critiqued on your work is part of learning and if you can put your ego aside and really listen, then you’ll be a better artist for it. Once you are successful, look for ways you can help others who are struggling or just getting started. Look for ways to give opportunities to those who aren’t getting them. Give back.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: Oh, it’s impossible to pick my three favorite effects movies – those change every day. Of course, I am very partial to the films I myself worked on because I am intimately familiar with all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into making them. For a festival however, I would pick three films that had the greatest impact on me growing up, that made me believe in worlds that didn’t exist and allowed me to dream about what could be possible. Those three films are:

Logan’s Run – when Logan discovers the abandoned city of Washington D.C., I was mesmerized. It was fascinating for me to see what a city would look like if left abandoned for years, and I was amazed that the filmmakers were able to show that to me in a way that – at the time – seemed so realistic.

Star Wars – of course, this had a huge impact on my childhood. I was nine years old when Star Wars came out and I went to see it with my older brother. It was such an amazing experience. The hologram of Leia that R2D2 projects was eerie and heartbreaking and so real to me. I had never seen anything like it, and the fact that the film had a pretty girl as a starring character and she was also tough and independent and smart was not lost on me. I went back to see the film many more times that year and have been a Princess Leia fan ever since.

Raiders of the Lost Ark – a film that embodied the types of adventure videogames that I like to play. When the faces of the Nazis melted off, I don’t think I slept for a week – that was truly one of the most terrifying things I had ever seen!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

LINDY DE QUATTRO: I am a Junior Mints girl all the way. Yummy, and keeps your breath fresh so you can still whisper to the person next to you without embarrassment.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Lindy!

Spotlight – Jeffrey A. Okun, VES

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Currently Chair of the Visual Effects Society, Jeffrey A. Okun is a visual effects supervisor with a wealth of screen credits including Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, The Last Starfighter, Stargate, Lolita (1997), Deep Blue Sea and Cutthroat Island.

Jeffrey A. Okun, VES

JEFFREY A. OKUN: I wanted to be a comedian astronaut and somehow ended up as a photographer, then a musician. When I actually needed to earn a living, I went to work for graphic designer Saul Bass as a personal assistant. He was designing and producing a bunch of packages for the NBC 50th anniversary show – a five-night spectacular. I asked if someone would teach me to edit. The producer threw me a few rolls of 16mm film and said, “Knock yourself out, kid.” I spent the next six weeks teaching myself to edit after work, sleeping on the floor under the editing table.

One day, the producer ran in and asked me for those rolls of 16mm film. I told him I edited them. He ordered me to put them back in proper order because they now needed that segment. I begged him to look at it first. He did and brought in the show director, who brought in Saul, who brought in the NBC producer, who said, “That’s great. It goes on the air as is.” After that, Saul told me I was his editor. I said I didn’t know how to edit and he said, “That’s okay, I’m patient.”

The way that Saul put together his shorts, montages and title sequences was what forced me to learn visual effects, via the great artists at Pacific Studios, CRC and many other optical houses. At one point, the guys at Pacific Title asked me if I wanted to consult on a film that was having some difficulty – that led to New Line Cinema offering me a show to mess up from the beginning.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: When I show a shot and no one can tell what we’ve done. To alter reality or create it in that kind of a seamless manner is very rewarding and exciting to me. I always say, “If you see my work, then I need to go back to the drawing board!”

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: Unrealized opportunities that could have been realized but for the limitations imposed by time, budget or taste.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: On the movie Stargate, we needed a huge shot with 500 extras. It was arranged that we would have 10 minutes just before the set fell into darkness – this was the last day of having the extras. The set was out in the desert of Buttercup Valley, so we needed a kind of dune buggy just to get to the set. We had to shoot VistaVision because it was a plate shot, and just getting that giant camera out to the set was crazy-difficult.

Anyway, the dune buggy got stuck in the sand and, as his wheels spun, a plume of sand kicked up and completely buried the director of photography and the camera he was holding. Then we accidentally flew off a dune that had a 30-foot drop on the blind side. By the time we reached the set and reminded the assistant director about our plate shot, the director was deep into working the crowd to get what he wanted. We watched the sun set behind the dune as we begged the AD to let us get our plate, and all the while the director was furiously trying to get the crowd to do what he needed. When he finally got a take he liked, it was almost dark and the AD called wrap immediately.

My assistant went to unwrap the extras while my producer and I ran across the dune with the giant VistaVision camera, set up and, in spite of all the extras running all over the place and shaking the structure and platform, rolled the camera. The film immediately snapped. Our DP had left for the day to catch a plane for a conference or something, so I had to learn to reload the camera under those conditions. We did get the shot but it really looked terrible – the film was scratched from sand getting into the camera. We fixed it and used it and it’s in the movie. You may notice the shot – it’s sunny and 500 extras are running and fighting and suddenly there is a shot in deep shadow. Oh well …

Jeffrey A. Okun was visual effects supervisor on “Stargate.” Shots of Ra’s spaceship landing on the pyramid were achieved using large-scale miniatures, with effects supervisor Kit West directing model work and miniature photography. Photograph copyright © 1994 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Le Studio Canal +.

Jeffrey A. Okun was visual effects supervisor on “Stargate.” Shots of Ra’s spaceship landing on the pyramid were achieved using large-scale miniatures, with effects supervisor Kit West directing model work and miniature photography. Photograph copyright © 1994 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Le Studio Canal +.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: Sphere – the end sequence where everything blows up and the Sphere rises up out of the ocean. The director described it to me like: “Whoa! A beat. Holy Mother of God! And we’re outta there.” From that, we put together several sets of storyboards, which we attempted to show him many times. When we finally got the meeting with him, he told us that none of them were correct and repeated his description: “Whoa! A beat. Holy Mother of God! And we’re outta there.” We drew up several more storyboards and attempted more meetings until I cornered him on the set at video village and showed him the new boards. Nope. Still the wrong idea. “What I want is: Whoa! A beat. Holy Mother of God! And we’re outta there.”

We did more sets of boards, including one set that I just glued greenscreen material into. We chased the director around base camp and finally trapped him in the doorway to his trailer. We showed him the boards: “Nope.” I pulled out the greenscreen boards. He looked at them carefully. Pondered. I said, “So it’s: Whoa! A beat. Holy Mother of God! And we’re outta there.” He said, “Yeah!” And that was that. We shot the sequence with the actors and moved into post where we did finally manage to give him what he wanted – plus more.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: There is literally nothing that visual effects cannot do, given enough time and/or money. So, saying ‘no’ is no longer an option. Instead, we guesstimate how much something will cost and let the powers-that-be decide. Another change that is not good is how much reliance shooting crews now have on visual effects – sometimes for the dumbest stuff, sometimes for really cool stuff. The most often-heard phrase on a set is not ‘action’ or ‘cut’ but, ‘VFX can fix that.’ It feels like visual effects have somehow de-powered crews, directors, line producers and producers to properly plan and execute that plan. There is never enough time, never enough money and never enough resources to get the job done practically so everyone just defers the work to the digital janitors – so-called because we are always cleaning up. But … it is a real honour and joy to me to do all the work – the janitorial stuff as well as the creative, never-been-seen-before stuff.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: I would love to see visual effects artists get the recognition they deserve, and the commensurate increase in salaries they deserve. After all, we are driving a multi-billion-dollar box office – not to mention what we make possible in broadcast, commercial, virtual and augmented reality, special venue and animation, as well as print and billboard.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: To work in the business of visual affects you need to learn business. It’s a different animal from the art of visual effects and basic business practices will serve one well. Now, if you want to be a visual effects artist, you need to study light, perspective, composition. You need to be one who studies life around you. Observe, reflect. And then, if you can, draw what you saw. Or take photos and then Photoshop them until they are what you want to see. Art is so much more fun than business, but without the business end of it, you can never really be well-rounded, informed and protected. Just my opinion.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – chosen for the way it fired up my imagination at a young age. I saw a dreamworld created, and then the politics that invaded it – provocative. My favourite shot is a miniature in the opening sequence where the Nautilus submarine is charging towards a frigate ship, just under the surface, and the yellow glow from the observation window lights up the water. Cool shot!

Jason and the Argonauts – a whole new world of wonder and imagination was shown to me and it charged up my imagination. The work that Ray Harryhausen did was so creative and inspiring. The shots that remain with me are Jason trying to unscrew the heel plug on the giant statue of Talos, the Harpies scene, and so much more . Tip of the hat to Ray and his lovely skeleton battle – not in this film but still …

Star Wars – I know, I know … but it was transformative. It broke the mold of that time period and opened up a whole new horizon. The opening shot of the cruiser entering frame and getting bigger, and bigger and bigger … it was amazing.

I would also love to tip my hat to Fantastic Voyage, Lawrence of Arabia and Jerry Lewis’ Visit to a Small Planet where he plays an alien!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

JEFFREY A. OKUN: Definitely popcorn – no butter.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Jeff!

Spotlight – Noah Vice

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Noah Vice is a CG supervisor, and look development and lighting supervisor, at Rising Sun Pictures, with screen credits including Thor: Ragnarok, Avatar, Logan, Game of Thrones and Super 8.

Noah Vice

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Noah?

NOAH VICE: When I was a young boy, my father brought an Apple Macintosh back to Australia from the US and it was love at first sight. I quickly traded in my pencil for the hockey puck-like mouse and dove in head first. My first big break was at Micro Forte Games in Canberra, where I designed, built and rendered 3D levels for their isometric space game Enemy Infestation.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

NOAH VICE: Being in a packed cinema on opening night, and seeing the faces of the audience light up as they enjoy my work.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

NOAH VICE: Last minute shot omits at the end of a project. Running out of time on a shot before I’m really truly happy with it.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

NOAH VICE: On Avatar, I was tasked with picking up a complex asset that the project supervisor had look-developed himself. That supervisor was one of my idols, John Knoll. It was a daunting task, however having reviews at John’s desk and learning to work to his standard was incredibly rewarding.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

NOAH VICE: On You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, I brought to life a CG piranha that was trapped in Adam Sandler’s swimming shorts. Enough said!

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

NOAH VICE: Probably the biggest change that I’ve observed first hand has been the industry’s move towards raytracing and physically based rendering. It’s now standard practice on set to capture lidar and HDRs, and that’s the foundation of the lighting process in post production. The acceleration and automation of creative tasks throughout the entire filmmaking process has also been streamlined and democratized. Every day it’s becoming increasingly easier to plan, visualize, and prototype things rapidly throughout the entire process.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

NOAH VICE: I would love to see the increased use of VR/AR and real-time rendering in our daily workflows. I think there is a tremendous opportunity to heighten the level of interaction an artist has with their materials that could dramatically improve our speed and quality.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

NOAH VICE: Believe in yourself – if you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to either. Never give up – persistence will get you everywhere. Smile in the face of adversity and hardship – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

NOAH VICE: Terminator 2: Judgment Day – this is where it all began for me and the visual effects still hold up today. The L.A. aqueduct bike chase is a stand out sequence, for sure.

The Matrix – it’s a triumph of futuristic coolness and it changed the visual effects scene completely. The lobby shoot-out sequence is off the chart.

Blade Runner 2049 – it’s the genre I love the most and it’s executed perfectly in this film. Too soon? No way! The flight to L.A.P.D. headquarters, Las Vegas ruins, and Chinatown sequences are gorgeous.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

NOAH VICE: As a part-Hawaiian, I can’t go past mochi crunch or some good sushi rolls.

CINEFEX: Noah, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Anthony Smith

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Anthony Smith works as head of 2D and visual effects supervisor at Rising Sun Pictures. His feature film experience runs the gamut from spy thrillers to outer space epics, with highlights including Gravity, Thor: Ragnarok, Alien: Covenant, Logan, Paddington, Iron Man 3 and Quantum of Solace.

Anthony Smith

CINEFEX: Anthony, how did you get started in the business?

ANTHONY SMITH: Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s meant the worlds of movies like the ‘Indiana Jones’ films, Back to the Future, Alien, Ghostbusters and Jurassic Park had me glued to the screen. I discovered Photoshop in the late ‘90s while studying at Central St. Martins College of Art in London and it was a revelation to me. This turned to the realization that visual effects was an actual job that wasn’t done only by a bunch of guys in their 50s in the U.S.! The visual effects breakdown on the DVD of Contact was watched many times.

A degree in Computer Arts turned into a job as a runner at a small London facility doing broadcast visual effects where I learnt to comp with Shake. My big break was a compositing role at Framestore on one of the Harry Potter movies. I spent an amazing 11 years there, working with some wonderful supervisors, artists and producers, riding the wave of the London visual effects boom and progressing through compositing supervision to visual effects supervision before moving to Australia with my family.

I never did work on that Harry Potter in the end, nor did I get to work on any of the others during my time at Framestore. So, before I left, I made sure I got a Potter-world wand effect in by assigning myself one on the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trailer. A big visual effects bucket list item done for me after all those years Potter-free!

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

ANTHONY SMITH: By far the best aspect is sitting in a theatre with my family to watch a movie that I’ve contributed to. The magic of movies is so clearly visible in the very human reactions we have to the emotional journeys that we get taken on as viewers, and nowhere is this more obvious to me than when I watch my kids watching movies. To know I’ve helped contribute to their reaction is priceless.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANTHONY SMITH: That ‘See it in 3D’ is still a tagline at the end of trailers.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

ANTHONY SMITH: The pressure of operating the real-time compositing software that provided the imagery for the lightbox for the first time during the shoot for Gravity. Emmanuel Lubezki, one of the most celebrated DOPs of all time, was the voice talking to me through my headset, directing me in animating the sun and earth to light Sandra Bullock’s face while she was strapped into the rig inside the box, and all the while Alfonso Cuarón and the entire crew were watching and waiting. Making a mistake was not an option!

While at Framestore, Anthony Smith worked as compositing supervisor on "Gravity." Photograph copyright 2013 by Warner Bros. Entertainment.

While at Framestore, Anthony Smith worked as compositing supervisor on “Gravity.” Photograph copyright 2013 by Warner Bros. Entertainment.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANTHONY SMITH: While on an aerial element shoot in Slovenia for Narnia: Prince Caspian, flying by helicopter through the mountains to find river water elements for the River God sequence, I realized that one of the most impressive elements was when the downwash of the rotor created some cool textures along the river surface between some canoeists who were on the river. After innocently mentioning it to the camera operator – who was a local – he had a word to the pilot. Clearly wanting to get the job done so he could head to the pub, the pilot proceeded to descend quickly to about 10 meters above the canoeists’ heads, giving them what was probably the shock of their lives and ruining their serene day out on the river. Apologies to the canoeists if they ever read this, but the elements were perfect!

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

ANTHONY SMITH: The globalization of the industry and the increase in creative quality in regions such as India and China. The increase in quality of student work – watching the student shortlist for the VES awards each year is incredible. The sad fact that movie attendance is falling, and the exciting fact that on demand services are growing. That’s something facilities need to be prepared for, with the increase in lower-than-tentpole-movie visual effects budgets but quality expectations that are as good, combined with timeframes that are more challenging.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANTHONY SMITH: An industry where the visual effects facilities and artists have a level of respect given to them by studios that’s appropriate, given the contribution they make to the industry.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

ANTHONY SMITH: Be passionate and dedicated. Take criticism constructively. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop seeing the world around you, and don’t stop being curious about why it looks the way it does – understanding that as much as you can makes pathways to re-creating it much more obvious.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

ANTHONY SMITH: Contact – because the DVD breakdowns and explanations were one of the reasons I wanted to comp. The standout shot for me is the shot where Ellie runs to get her father’s pills from the bathroom cabinet. Superbly shot and delicately comped.

Gravity – because I have such good memories from the show, from the pre-shoot, to being on set, to supervising a great compositing team and working with a fantastic supervisor in Tim Webber. And it still looks great today. The standout shot for me was the airlock shot, which I helped light with the LED panels and then comped in post. A double page spread in Cinefex was the icing on the cake!

Jurassic Park – because when I saw it for the first time I was 13, and I remember not knowing how it was done, but wanting to know so much. It became one of the seeds of inspiration for my career. The standout sequence for me is the T-rex chase and car attack. Such a great blend of practical and digital effects. It’s forever burned into my memory.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANTHONY SMITH: None. I like to eat – and drink – afterwards with friends instead and talk about what we’ve watched.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Anthony!

Spotlight – Charmaine Chan

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Charmaine Chan works as a compositor and area technical lead at Industrial Light & Magic. Her feature film career highlights include Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Pacific Rim. Charmaine is also the founder of Women in Visual Effects, an online project highlighting and advocating women who work within the visual effects industry.

Charmaine Chan

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Charmaine?

CHARMAINE CHAN: I have always had a passion for both art and technology. I was an art major in University, but had a knack for programming and scripting on the side. I wanted to get into a field that combined both of my passions, and visual effects was just that. While I was at University, I worked part time at Deluxe doing motion graphics for DVD and Blu-ray menus – that was kind of my first taste of what it was like in Hollywood. Once I graduated, I mass applied to every television- and film-based company there was in California. My big break was an entry level position at ILM as a digital resource assistant.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

CHARMAINE CHAN: Our industry is global, so a lot of my co-workers are from many different parts of the world. When you bring together such a diverse group of people, that’s when you find unique and new perspectives on where we can take visual effects. Seeing all these people of different backgrounds working together to produce such stunning imagery every single time is what makes me most excited for our field.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

CHARMAINE CHAN: I think one of the biggest issues with visual effects is that the industry has become very dehumanized. We’ve somehow become just machines that push buttons to produce imagery. But we’re not – we are talented and passionate individuals who love what we do, and our industry needs to reflect that. We need better work-life balance, better hours, better support of families, and overall care of every individual who puts all their heart and creativity into those images.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

CHARMAINE CHAN: On Transformers: Age of Extinction, I was faced with setting up a whole new pipeline for stereo compositing. It was the first large show that was shot natively with stereo cameras, and trying to configure that while working on shots proved to be a difficult endeavor of time management and multitasking. It was pretty brutal with the overall show schedule, trying to get everything done at once, but our shots and images were fun and exciting and the final results made all the work worth it.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

CHARMAINE CHAN: I think one of my weirder tasks was to hide the apple box that Tom Cruise was standing on in Mission: Impossible to make him look taller. Movie magic, right?

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

CHARMAINE CHAN: There’s been a nice influx of women coming into our industry, whether that be entry-level positions or other artistry roles. I think there’s a need for a higher inclusion of diversity overall, but the more we educate younger diverse generations about our industry, and teach them that they can thrive in such environments, the better we can make the future of our industry.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

CHARMAINE CHAN: I personally would love to see the inclusion of more women, people of color, or LGBTQ+ individuals in supervisor and leadership roles. Only through diversity do we get new perspectives and ideas we’ve never thought of before. A homogenous environment doesn’t breed innovation – a diverse one does.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

CHARMAINE CHAN: If you have the love and passion for film, television or any medium for visual storytelling, this is the industry for you. It is filled with so many brilliant and creative minds that you can’t help but absorb all that knowledge and want to create more from that. But it’s a tough industry – there are long hours and grueling requests. People right now are trying to make those standards better, but it’ll take a while. Until then you will need work and learn as hard as you can!

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

CHARMAINE CHAN: 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick used visual effects in a way never done before. While no computer or digital imagery was really used, his ways of manipulating the sets, cameras, and compositing made such impactful images and scenes that constantly stick in my mind – specifically the jogging in the rotating room, and walking down the hallway in the spacesuit scene.

Blade Runner – because of the amazing cinematography. The lighting and color palette is such a great nod to film noir. The scenes that stand in my mind are the wide establishing shots, like the opening shot flying past this dystopic, run-down version of L.A. Then the city night shot with the geisha billboard on the building.

Jurassic Park – this was the film that inspired me as a kid to want to work in the visual field. The dinosaurs felt real to me, and the visual effects still hold up to this day. My favorite scene, of course, is when they’re first welcomed to Jurassic Park and you see that wide shot of all the dinos.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

CHARMAINE CHAN: Sour Patch Kids! I know this is totally weird, but I feel like the movie experience isn’t complete until the roof of my mouth is completely shredded by all the sour crystals from the candy.

CINEFEX: Charmaine, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Kenneth Calhoun

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Kenneth Calhoun is a special effects makeup artist and technician at Legacy Effects, with a portfolio of work on films including The Shape of Water, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Captain America: Civil War, Jurassic World and Terminator Genisys.

Kenneth Calhoun

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Kenneth?

KENNETH CALHOUN: When I was a kid, my mom was into horror movies. Every other weekend we would go to the video store and she would buy me a horror movie from her childhood, usually something with a creature. I watched a lot of Ray Harryhausen and giant monster B-movies, and from as far back as I can remember I was always obsessed with dinosaurs, monsters and creatures.

That obsession followed throughout my childhood. I was always drawing vampires, ghosts and creatures in my notebooks. When I was 14, my family took a trip to California and we went to Universal Studios. At the time they had a show called ‘Creature Factory’ all about the special effects in their movies. That was the lightbulb – I realized that Universal had been the ones working on a lot of those movies I had seen as a kid. I also realized that making monsters was a career option and quickly became more familiar with the men and women who had worked on these films.

After that trip, I started playing with latex and cotton and anything I could find around the house. I loved makeup and special effects, and would watch anything I could to find out more about how everything was done. I wasn’t really sure about how to get into the effects industry – being in Seattle, all I knew was eventually I would need to move to Hollywood. I stayed in school and went to college for business, saving up for my move to California. In 2011, I entered a local makeup competition at a convention called ‘Crypticon Seattle.’ During the competition, while I was working on the makeup, I ended up getting three job offers to do makeup from convention attendees. I won the competition, which gave me an opportunity to intern with a local makeup artist Doug Hudson.

Makeup artist Kenneth Calhoun competes in the 'Crypticon Seattle' makeup competition in 2011.

Makeup artist Kenneth Calhoun competes in the ‘Crypticon Seattle’ makeup competition in 2011.

I worked on a lot of short films and low budget movies in Seattle before finally being able to move to L.A. Shortly after my move, I met up with an artist named Christina Kortum, who recommended me to Brian Sipe. Brian gave me my first big break. I was running prosthetic transfers for his ‘Got Flesh!?!’ line while he was working at Legacy Effects. At the time, Brian was leading Terminator Genisys and he thought I would be a great choice to help run the transfers for the film. I was hired at Legacy and that was where everything gained momentum.

Since starting at Legacy I have worked on commercials, television and movies. I’ve gotten the opportunity to go to set and apply makeups, paint, do hair, sculpt, mold and run appliances of many different types. I was fortunate to lead a department for the character Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I’m very appreciative of all of the opportunities I have gotten so far, and I continue to strive to be a better artist and look forward to where my skills, hard work and dedication will take me.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

KENNETH CALHOUN: Working on movie franchises and licenses that I am a fan of! Working on Jurassic World was a big deal for me, because Jurassic Park was one of my favorite movies as a kid. Seeing my name in the Terminator Genisys credits, and knowing I got to help work on Spiderman for Captain America: Civil War, mean so much to me because these franchises are part of who I am and what shaped my interests.

Another thing is getting to meet and work with the artists who worked on those early films. Some of those artists who were huge influences on me are now some of my closest friends and mentors. I never imagined the men and women that used to inspire me as a young artist in Seattle would be hanging out with me! I really can’t help but smile.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

KENNETH CALHOUN: SLC Punk! and The Iron Giant. Though in all honesty it doesn’t take much for me to cry in a movie.

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?

Kenneth sculpting Drax replica scars for Got Flesh!?! Prosthetics in 2017

Kenneth sculpting Drax replica scars for Got Flesh!?! Prosthetics in 2017.

KENNETH CALHOUN: Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, no question. I was asked to figure out how to turn the original silicone pieces into transfers while also resculpting the designs a bit. The lead artist was out of town, so I was basically on my own to figure out how to redesign this makeup. This was the first big character I was involved with so I was nervous as can be, and being a fan of the first movie and David White’s work doubled that feeling. After some trial and error the sculptures were finished, but then the second hard part began – running my first department. I was 24 and had never led a department, much less for a blockbuster movie. I am so grateful for all the responsibility I was given because I gained a lot of confidence during that movie. My department ran smoothly and my team was great – we all worked so hard. I really didn’t know what my true potential was until I had to figure out so much for such a complicated character.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

KENNETH CALHOUN: Making female genitalia for The Human Centipede 3. They had to be edible, but we some had issues with the molds so I had to make them by hand because it was faster. It was a really fun experience getting the chance to work on the movie, but it was definitely the strangest first day on the job I’ve had!

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

KENNETH CALHOUN: While I haven’t been in the industry that long, I have loved the resurgence of audiences being aware and appreciative of practical effects. When I started, most movies were moving towards digital effects, and I would constantly see articles and discussions over whether or not practical effects were dead. With movies like the recent ‘Star Wars’ films, Wonder, and television shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story openly talking abut their use of practical makeup, there has been such an impact on the demand for makeup artists in our industry. I can recall low-budget movies deciding to go digital with all of their effects – even basic cuts and scrapes – and now I see low budget movies wanting puppets and in-camera effects. I really have hope that since many movies are using a balance of digital and practical we will see this wonderful harmony continue.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

KENNETH CALHOUN: I would love to see more monsters and creatures. As an artist, I like seeing beautifully executed old-age and character makeups, but in my heart I always have a soft spot for monster movies. I’m hoping The Shape of Water helps kick off the monster/creature genre again because as a fan I was so happy to see a practical man-in-a-suit creature utilizing modern technology and digital capabilities. Having an underwater-capable suit using silicones – but also having digital augmentation and an amazing suit actor – really created a beautiful and stunning creature performance that was so refreshing to see after the long span of digital creatures that have starred in movies.

Kenneth Calhoun (left) assists special effects makeup artist Pepe Mora on a ‘Jam City’ Halloween commercial in 2017.

Kenneth Calhoun (left) assists special effects makeup artist Pepe Mora on a ‘Jam City’ Halloween commercial in 2017.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

KENNETH CALHOUN: Know your history and practice constantly. Know who John Chambers and William Tuttle are. You always have to look back and respect the greats and at the same time continue to practice and push the limits of what you can do. Make something innovative. Make an improved old-age makeup. Don’t just copy tutorials – learn from them and then change them and make something new. This is a very demanding business and you constantly have to be creating something audiences haven’t seen before. Utilize new methods and technologies, and develop more new ones because our industry will keep moving whether or not you keep up with it.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

KENNETH CALHOUN: Return of the Living Dead – if you want to know what I’m all about, watch that movie. Punk rock fashion, 80’s makeup effects, killer soundtrack. Can’t get any cooler than that! Tarman is one of my all time favorite effects, and the skeletal zombie design is amazing! The first time you see tarman in the basement is incredible. I actually made this movie required viewing for everyone on my Drax transfer team.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite movies. Milicent Patrick’s design was so ahead of its time and the beautiful sculpture done by Chris Mueller is perfection, in my opinion. I think that it is the greatest monster/creature of all time and can’t be topped.

Demon Knight would be the final pick. Todd Masters’ work is incredible in that movie. I love the demons, all punked out with dreadlocks and piercings. My favorite scene is when Billy Zane says, “The property is hereby condemned!” He cuts his hand and drips blood into the ground, then the demons begin to grow where the blood had fallen and they’re covered ultraslime. Amazing creature design, and such a fun scene.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

KENNETH CALHOUN: I’ve never really been into eating popcorn at the theatre, but my girlfriend and I have really been enjoying big soft pretzels. So, a soft pretzel and a soda.

CINEFEX: Kenneth, thanks for your time!