Spotlight – Tara Conley

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

Tara Conley is a senior visual effects producer at Image Engine. Ask her about her movie career highlights, and she’ll tell you how much she enjoyed working on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Thor: Ragnarok, Game of Thrones, Pacific Rim and Immortals.

Tara Conley

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

TARA CONLEY: I actually ended up in the visual effects industry completely by accident. I had just finished my diploma in broadcast communications at BCIT, and was working several jobs to make ends meet. One of these jobs was at Rainmaker as a scanner assistant in postproduction. Essentially, my job was to assist during the color transfer of film to tape, by syncing up the audio with the picture. After three months, a position opened up in visual effects. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to jump into a world I knew really nothing about, getting my feet wet as a visual effects coordinator.

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

TARA CONLEY: I love the personal relationships I have built because of this industry. We tend to be a close-knit group since we are deep in the trenches together, at the best and the worst of times. Our crew becomes like a second family, and the camaraderie I have seen over the years is truly outstanding.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

TARA CONLEY: I always make it my personal mission to protect my crew to maintain a work-life balance. I feel the best work comes out of a crew that is happy, and happiness stems from having time for all facets of our lives. When forces beyond my control impede that, it makes me feel like I have failed.

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

TARA CONLEY: One of the biggest challenges of my career was being part of the Rodeo FX expansion. When I started with them in 2009, we were about 15 people working in the basement of a building in Montreal. By the time I left to head out west, we had become a global operation, working alongside what was once our bread-and-butter client Industrial Light & Magic on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, as a competing vendor. Where I was once the sole producer, by the time of my departure I was one of six producers supporting a team of over 200 artists in Montreal, 30 in Quebec City, and 15 in Los Angeles.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

TARA CONLEY: I don’t know if this is the weirdest, but at the time it happened it was unique! While I was working at Rainmaker, we had taken on the daunting task of making Will Ferrell and Jon Heder into professional figure skaters. Back in 2007, CG face replacement was definitely a tricky order. It was pretty hilarious seeing these shots become a reality, and to this day many people ask me, “What were the visual effects in Blades of Glory?”

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

TARA CONLEY: The main changes in my mind would be technology. Visual effects that were once so complicated can now be achieved with great ease. I find it incredible that with the advancement of technology, and of course the talent behind it, we can create stunning photorealistic work.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

TARA CONLEY: I feel visual effects is still very much a male-dominated industry. I would love to see more powerful women dive in and embrace key roles.

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

TARA CONLEY: Roll your sleeves up and prepare to pay your dues. We all started at the bottom and worked a lot of not-so-glamourous hours to get to where we are now. Patience, perseverance, and a passion for the craft will get you there.

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

TARA CONLEY: Okay so here we go! First things first, I would say Star Wars. I think this movie really started it all. Second up is none other than The Matrix. I think we all remember ‘bullet time,’ where Keanu Reeves dodges bullets fired at him by an agent while the camera circles around him. My third pick would be Jurassic Park. I might be biased as we are currently wrapping out of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, however in terms of creature work, I feel it was really the beginning of putting fully animated creatures into a live action environment.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

TARA CONLEY: My guilty pleasure is nachos with processed cheese sauce!

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Tara!

Spotlight – Raphael DeAlmeida Pimentel

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

Raphael DeAlmeida Pimentel works as an animation supervisor and animation director at Luma. Picking some of his most memorable assignments from a list of over 80 screen credits, he lists No Country For Old Men, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, Prometheus, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther.

Raphael DeAlmeida Pimentel

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

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: The Goonies was my first ‘wow’ moment at the movies, when I was six, and Jurassic Park was my first ‘wow’ moment with visual effects when I was 14. After watching Jurassic Park, I knew I wanted to work in films and in visual effects in some facet. Also, I have always had a long attention span: if I played with my G.I. Joes, I’d do it all day; if I was using Microsoft Paint on my sister’s Windows 95 machine, I would use it all day. I think this mindset of long concentration moments as a kid has helped me in animation in a lot of ways, since animation and concentration go hand in hand.

When I attended Miami Beach Senior High School, I didn’t write my schedule in the folders, I drew the teachers. Actually, I sat near the back of the classroom and drew most of the time. But I knew when to pay attention and when to goof off. My girlfriend at the time, Emilie, asked me what I was going to do after high school, and mentioned that an art college could be a good option since I was into the arts and film. At the time, I was deciding between film or art school, or the Air Force.

In 2004, after three years and a B.A. at the Miami International University of Art & Design, I began sending my animation demo reel to a few visual effects studios in Los Angeles. Luma was the first one to call me back and setup an interview. I remember walking into Luma and being nervous, especially since I had never worked with films before. As soon as I began showing my portfolio to the CEO, Payam Shohadai – who was also the visual effects supervisor at the time – I started to feel very comfortable. I ended the interview with a very bold, borderline-arrogant statement – I promised Payam that although I had no film experience, if he only gave me a chance to prove myself, I would become his best and fastest animator. I got hired as an animator that afternoon. He kept his end of the bargain and I kept mine. Here we are in 2018, over 80 film credits later and almost 60 of those as animation supervisor at Luma.

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

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Tapping into the creativity of our animators and watching them become better artists. Creativity is contagious and inspiring for a team, and artists use inspiration as fuel for creativity. Being able to see a team improving and becoming more creative and collaborative through the course of a show is pretty rad.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Man, I am a crier! Two minutes into Wall-E I was crying. Boogers running down my nose and everything. Crazy.

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

Raphael-A-Pimentel-2RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: As an animator, it would be animating 20 pronghorn antelopes across two shots on No Country For Old Men. I created this entire social hierarchy within the herd, where the moms would be closer to the young bucks and does. The males were in the outer region protecting the herd with the exception of the alpha, who was more towards the center and more observant – especially having a 320-degree field of view, which all antelopes have giving the size and placement of their eyeballs. Oddly enough, he is the one that gets shot. It took me two months from block to final. I was working with the Coen Brothers for the first time and wanted to make sure they loved the work.

As a supervisor, it would probably be Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy. He had never been done before in the MCU, with the exception of a quick glimpse after the end credits of The Avengers, where we only see his face. Luma had done dozens of quality characters prior, but being a huge fan of Marvel Comics, the pressure of making Thanos as amazing as possible was more personal. I wanted to do right for the fans. The model, textures – his entire world for that matter – was built from scratch at Luma. We received facial data reference of Josh Brolin performing the dialogue, and I performed the body motion capture for his condescending dialogue with Ronan the Accuser. Our talented animation department took it from there. Fun fact: I animated the last shot in that sequence where Thanos sits back on his throne and breaks into a psychotic grin.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Weirdest and also the awesomest. On Deadpool, I animated the severing of a goon’s head with a katana sword and then had it kicked it onto another goon, all in one move. Thank you, Tim Miller!

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

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: For me, the word ‘animation’ barely means what it used to. The stuff we animate today in visual effects is boundless. At Luma, most of our animators are technical artists. Some are also riggers and set up their own controllers in order to speed up their workflow. For example, we animated every single piece of the church bending on Doctor Strange, right? All rigged and setup by animators. It speeds up our workflow and iteration time for our clients, which is paramount. Most Luma animators are also proficient with physics tools, which we use to check gravity and arcs. I am a firm believer in only bending the rules once we understand the rules.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Visual effects artists being credited properly.

Raphael DeAlmeida Pimentel

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

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Moviemaking is a team sport. Most people who are arrogant, or more into themselves than the greater good of a project, tend to not stick around too long. As my mom always said, “Be nice.”

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

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: I would probably need two different audiences at my mini-festival. Maybe separate adults and kids screenings?

Apocalypse Now – for practical effects. Don’t hold back. Blow your budget in the first 10 minutes with massive explosions! Who cares?

The Goonies and Labyrinth – for special effects. I don’t care how many times I’ve watched them – I have so much respect for on-set animatronics, puppeteering, stop-motion and so on.

Jurassic Park – for visual effects. Hopefully some kid will see a film I worked on and feel the same way I did.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Oh, popcorn! With a little butter and salt. Nothing comes even close!

CINEFEX: Raphael, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Harrison Ellenshaw

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

With some people, it’s hard to describe their career in brief. That’s certainly true of Harrison Ellenshaw. By turns, he’s worked as a director, visual effects supervisor, associate producer, matte artist, second unit director, title designer, supervisor of film restoration and preservation … the list goes on. As for his screen credit highlights, where to begin? If we just listed Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Tron, Ghost and Dick Tracy, we’d be skipping over The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Black Hole, Honey I Blew Up the Kid and many more. Perhaps we should just get on with the interview.

Harrison Ellenshaw in his studio

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

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: Truthfully, my first big break was being born into a family of filmmakers and artists! I grew up in England, where my father, Peter Ellenshaw, worked as a matte artist for Walt Disney Productions, MGM and Warner Brothers. When I was eight years old, we moved to Sherman Oaks in California, so my father could continue working for Disney, at the studio in Burbank.

I attended Dixie Canyon Elementary School and then Harvard School for Boys – now Harvard-Westlake – in North Hollywood. After that, I went to Whittier College in Whittier, California; its most (in)famous alum is Richard Milhouse Nixon. I graduated in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

In late 1970, I had just finished a three-year stint as a junior officer in the Navy. I was looking forward to getting back to the ‘real world’ and perhaps enjoying a successful career in advertising or marketing, living in Connecticut in a large house with a big lawn, a rose garden and two well behaved golden retrievers named Goldie and Murphy, and two cats named Fred and Ethel. It was either that, or moving to Australia and managing a self-storage facility in Perth.

Then, I changed my mind. I decided I didn’t want to move, and started looking for a job in L.A. However, although my father and my grandfather, Walter Percy Day, were both visual effects artists, I had no desire to follow in their rather large and intimidating footsteps. I wanted to make a name for myself, on my own.

Soon reality reared its ugly head. The country was in a recession and jobs were hard to find, even for a psychology major. The only work available was in social services or selling life insurance. Not exactly my thing. But I was not about to panic – at least not right away. After a few more months of no job offers and a dwindling number of interviews, I was running low on cash and self esteem.

I started collecting unemployment and watching daytime soap operas. With little hope of meaningful employment, I was bored, depressed and slowly going out of my mind! Even Days of Our Lives and As the World Turns couldn’t raise my flagging spirits. Then, within a couple of months, Alan Maley, head of Disney Studios’ matte department, called and offered me a job as an apprentice matte artist. My take home pay would be $68 a week.

I took the job.

It was pretty obvious that my father had asked Alan, his former assistant, to take pity on me, promising him that I would happily wash brushes and take out the trash in the matte room without complaint. I considered it just a temporary job – certainly not the beginning of a career path I had ever really contemplated.

Nevertheless, Alan became my mentor, teaching me to paint, showing me how to load a VistaVision camera and – most important – how to run a Moviola without scratching the work print. Soon I was immersed in the world of film emulsions, f-stops, edge numbers, bi-packing, separation masters, and the joys of perspective, composition and acrylic paints. I had become seduced by the process of making ‘movie magic.’

I was at Disney less than four years when Alan, unexpectedly, decided to retire and hand over the reins of the matte department to me. The Disney execs were a bit stunned by his sudden decision and started to panic when they realized that Alan’s hand-picked successor had very little real experience in visual effects. But Alan assured them that if I couldn’t do the job, he would come back to run the department again.

I think I did okay, because Alan never came back.

I stayed at Disney for five more years. Working on all their live-action films, I even found time to take on some ‘outside’ projects, including The Man Who Fell to Earth, Star Wars and Big Wednesday.

As Industrial Light & Magic matte department supervisor, Harrison Ellenshaw oversaw the production of some 70 paintings for “The Empire Strikes Back,” working alongside matte painters Michael Pangrazio and Ralph McQuarrie and assistant matte photographer Craig Barron. Ellenshaw produced many of the paintings himself, including this artwork showing Boba Fett’s spaceship Slave One on a Bespin landing platform.

As Industrial Light & Magic matte department supervisor, Harrison Ellenshaw oversaw the production of some 70 paintings for “The Empire Strikes Back,” working alongside matte painters Michael Pangrazio and Ralph McQuarrie and assistant matte photographer Craig Barron. Ellenshaw produced many of the paintings himself, including this artwork showing Boba Fett’s spaceship Slave One on a Bespin landing platform.

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

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: I loved shooting miniatures. I also loved stealing shots – which means guerrilla filmmaking without getting required permits – and playing wiffleball with the effects animators and staff in the parking lot of Olsen Lane & White, the independent effects facility we created from scratch in 1986 to do effects on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Every new project was a different challenge, and I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the luminaries and legends in the business. Most of all, I’ve been fortunate to work with dozens of talented men and women who always made me look good. That is what really makes me grin!

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: Visiting the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C.

During postproduction on “Tron,” individual 65mm frames of film were enlarged onto 12½x20-inch Kodalith animation cels. By employing a series of reverses and holdout mattes, selected portions of the images were brought to glowing life on an animation stand using back-lighting and color filters.

During postproduction on “Tron,” individual 65mm frames of film were enlarged onto 12½x20-inch Kodalith animation cels. By employing a series of reverses and holdout mattes, selected portions of the images were brought to glowing life on an animation stand using back-lighting and color filters.

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

Harrison Ellenshaw (left) and Richard W. Taylor co-supervised special effects for “Tron.”

Harrison Ellenshaw (left) and Richard W. Taylor co-supervised special effects for “Tron.”

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: Three immediately come to mind. The first is Tron – we accomplished something spectacular that had never been done or seen before.

The second was dealing with the infamous Cannon Films and its owners, Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, who produced Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Those guys were double DDs – delusional and dysfunctional.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films. A cautionary tale to be sure.

I once had a meeting with Menahem in his suite at the Dorchester Hotel in London, where he insisted that I had to add dripping blood to the fingernails of Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), Superman’s nemesis in Superman IV  – even though it wasn’t in the script. Menahem had seen a billboard on his way in from Heathrow for an Iron Maiden concert with band members showing off bleeding fingernails. Of course, Menahem had never read the Superman IV script – he bragged that he never bothered reading any scripts! Additionally, he never bothered paying any of his bills either. It took me over a year, with many irate phone calls and the threat of law suit, to finally get my back salary. When I did, sure enough, the check bounced! The positive side about that whole rather unfortunate experience was that I had the opportunity to work with Christopher Reeve. Great guy. A real class act.

But perhaps my biggest challenge came in 1996, when I was trying to hold Buena Vista Visual Effects (BVVE) together as the Disney execs were determined to dismantle it and lay-off 60-plus people. It was an ill-conceived idea, since we were making a profit – something few effects facilities can accomplish – as well bringing in a lot of outside work. Go figure.

At least I was able to delay the shutdown.

Fortunately, BVVE had signed contracts, approved by the Disney legal department, to produce visual effects for two Paramount films – The Phantom and Escape from L.A. – so we could keep the facility going for an additional three or four months past the scheduled shutdown. There’s more information on that in the article Escape from L.A., Hasta La Buena Vista in Cinefex 67.

Through the summer of 1996, BVVE stayed in business – just barely – keeping the wolves away from the door. The higher-ups at Disney were having their own issues including the exit of Jeffrey Katzenberg, the brief tenure of Michael Ovitz and stockholder lawsuits galore – it was a management in deep crisis. My reporting structure kept changing, almost daily. For a brief time, I even reported to the company’s general counsel, a senior lawyer who had no experience trying to understand visual effects or even movies.

After more shuffling, I ended up reporting to the manager of studio operations. A decent guy in charge of the commissary, the gardeners and the transportation department. His day consisted of making sure the paper towel dispensers in the restrooms never ran out of paper towels, and answering a peeved exec’s question about why there was not enough won-ton in the won-ton soup from the commissary. True story – I’m not making this stuff up!

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: The Man Who Fell to Earth, my first non-Disney movie, was pretty weird. In fact, very, very weird. A script that made no sense and a film that made even less sense. I’d fly out every few days to the location in Alamagordo, New Mexico, and there were entire days when the cast and director never showed up on set since they were probably still stoned from the night before!

For “Dick Tracy,” Harrison Ellenshaw joined co-supervisors Michael Lloyd and Steve Rundell at Buena Vista Visual Effects Group, where a team that included matte artists Michele Moen and Paul Lasaine created a total of 55 matte shots.

For “Dick Tracy,” Harrison Ellenshaw joined co-supervisors Michael Lloyd and Steve Rundell at Buena Vista Visual Effects Group, where a team that included matte artists Michele Moen and Paul Lasaine created a total of 55 matte shots.

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

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: The rise in the number of ‘specialists’ needed to create an effects shot – rotoscoper, compositor, color corrector, visual effects coordinator, visual effects supervisor, visual effects producer, visual effects accountant, previs artist, IT person, assistant IT person, assistant to the assistant … and so on. Even the interns now have assistants!

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: Better on-set safety for cast and crew. No shot is ever worth endangering life or limb. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

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

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: Be careful what you wish for. Nevertheless, do what you love and love what you do. Bottom line – the effects business is not going to be what you think it will be. The good news is: it may be better. The bad news is: it can be worse.

Harrison Ellenshaw was special visual effects supervisor on “Captain EO,” a 17-minute 3D film starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, shown at Disney theme parks from 1986-1996.

Harrison Ellenshaw was special visual effects supervisor on “Captain EO,” a 17-minute 3D film starring Michael Jackson and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, shown at Disney theme parks from 1986-1996.

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

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: My four favorites are 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Brazil and Top Gun. They are all on my list because the effects in each movie were an integral part of the story. Though, in the case of 2001, I’m not really sure if there was a comprehensive story anywhere in the film.

Two favorite sequences stand out for me, both from 2001. The shuttle docking with the spinning space station, and the Pan Am stewardess plucking Dr. Heywood Floyd’s pen out of mid-air then exiting the rotating cabin.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

HARRISON ELLENSHAW: I don’t take snacks into a movie theater. I go there to watch a movie, not to eat. Besides, Red Vines get stuck in my teeth.

CINEFEX: Harrison, thanks for your time!

Photographs courtesy of Harrison Ellenshaw.

Spotlight – Karl Herbst

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

Karl Herbst is a visual effects supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. His roles have also included modeler, look development artist, lighting supervisor, CG supervisor and digital effects supervisor, and he lists his career highlights as Surf’s Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Hotel Transylvania 1 & 2 and Edge of Tomorrow. He is currently in production on Smallfoot.

Karl Herbst

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

KARL HERBST: It was all by chance. I was an architecture major at Clemson University when a virtual reality project was getting started in the computer science department. They needed some modelers and I started helping them out. Next thing I knew, I was spending more time there than in the architecture building. The Nightmare Before Christmas and Jurassic Park both got me interested in film – Nightmare from the idea that I could design and build sets, and Jurassic for showing me what was possible in the computer.

My big break came when I bought a T-shirt from Rhythm & Hues. The woman who filled the order saw the URL of the work I was doing at Clemson and gave it to the modeling manager. Keith Hunter, who headed up modeling at Rhythm & Hues at that time, contacted me and asked me to model a motorcycle that he took a picture of in the parking lot. The rest is history.

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

KARL HERBST: Finishing! Along the way to that point, there are all those great moments of being confronted with problems to solve and working with great teams to solve them. Especially on the full CG features, there is just so much to design, so many tools to be built, so many methodologies to come up with – every day is an adventure. The moments in rounds and client reviews where we come up with ideas on how to make each shot just that much better, from the smallest thing to the largest, makes my job the best.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

KARL HERBST: Constant changes. There is nothing like spending months coming up with how to solve something, getting all of the wheels in motion, pushing on all of the people involved to meet a deadline or improve the look of something, to just have it all end up on the cutting room floor.

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

KARL HERBST: Each show comes with its challenges, but I think the hardest was doing a face replacement for a skating film many years ago. Everything we tried in that era of technology just did not work. The visual effects supervisor on that show pulled me on late and I was trying to remodel the face, work on the shading and the tracking all at once and we just did not have the tools to do it. In the end, we mixed parts of renders, parts of 2D elements and crossed our fingers the client would be happy. They weren’t, but it was the best we could do at the time. All of the tests we tried during that film proved to me that humans are the best facial recognition systems and it’s really hard to fool us.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

KARL HERBST: I can’t say I have had what I would call a weird one, but I can say that there have been times where I could feel myself losing more hair! On Men in Black II, we came on late to add the final shot in the film. It was Grand Central Station for aliens, and we created all the creatures and the environment at a record pace. On the final night, with the visual effects supervisor sitting over my shoulder making composite tweaks, the new RAID system at the studio failed – in the middle of a tweak, the comp update just stopped mid-frame. After many phone calls, we waited for hours to have a new disk brought in. Luckily, the system worked as advertised and once the disk was installed all of the data was recovered and the frame stuck on my monitor, finished. I looked at the supe and said, “What next?” “Send it to filmout,” was the immediate response.

Karl Kerbst worked on the closing shot of "Men in Black II," created by Rhythm & Hues as a continuous pullback in which our entire world is shown to be contained within a single locker at an alien version of Grand Central Station.

Karl Kerbst worked on the closing shot of “Men in Black II,” created by Rhythm & Hues as a continuous pullback in which our entire world is shown to be contained within a single locker at an alien version of Grand Central Station.

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

KARL HERBST: The remoteness of everything. It used to be that all of us involved with a film could sit in a room and do a whiteboard session to solve an issue. Or, while reviewing work, everyone felt free to bring up ideas and address issues on the fly. Now, the client is in one location, the artists are in another and I sit in a room almost by myself just giving notes. It takes a lot more effort to get everyone to contribute their ideas since it’s like a CB radio and everyone needs to feel okay with interrupting someone else to get their idea on the table.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

KARL HERBST: I would really like to see films at a point where we are not trying to “find it” in the middle or at the end. With all of the time spent in pre-production these days, it still feels like we are trying to squeeze all of the work into the smallest amount of time – which kills creativity. On the technology front, there are some interesting things happening with real-time rendering that could really improve workflows in all departments along the production pipeline.

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

KARL HERBST: Do this because you love it. Don’t go into it thinking you’re going to make a ton of money or that you’re going to be making ‘your art.’ Do this because you love the challenges and being part of a team that creates great movie moments. While in school and in your first years in the business, learn as much as you can about the whole pipeline, not just a specialty area.

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

KARL HERBST: Man, this one is hard! I’m all over the place here since I work more on animated features versus visual effects films. Star Wars – since it’s the first visual effects film I remember as a kid. The ‘Indiana Jones’ movies for the great mix of practical sets and matte paintings. The Lion King – for being the rebirth of great Disney animated films. Jurassic Park – for just breaking so much ground in digital effects. The Nightmare Before Christmas – for all of the amazing sets and characters. A power hour of ‘Looney Tunes’ shorts for just all of the great shapes and performances. I could keep going!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

KARL HERBST: Peanut M&Ms.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Karl!

Spotlight – Rosa Behrens Camp

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

Rosa Behrens Camp works at Sony Pictures Imageworks as production services and resources tools developer. Her career highlights include Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Amazing Spider-Man and Storks.

Rosa Behrens CampCINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Rosa?

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: After spending 11 years as a software developer in the defense industry, I wanted a change. My husband, who works as a creature effects artist, told me about an entry-level position at Sony Pictures Imageworks that could utilize my skillset and also allow me to explore options in the industry. I became a production services technician, which encompasses being a render farm wrangler, dealing with data management, client/vendor ingests and deliveries, production requests and artist support. It was a great way to dive into the various pipelines involved in making visual effects and animated movies, but with a more technical emphasis. After a couple years in this role, a position opened up to move into a more software development-oriented role in the department.

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

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: I definitely enjoy the team camaraderie we have in our department –the laid-back environment is a lot more comfortable than my previous job and we have a lot of fun working together. It’s also nice to be able to exercise a bit more creativity, and have more freedom and flexibility in design and implementation of the various tools we build.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: A lot of times – because we are behind the scenes – we tend to be forgotten. I think a lot of the artists and production staff don’t realize how much support we give the show-specific members of our department. So, when we see the credits roll by and our team is completely left out, it’s like a tiny little dagger in my soul.

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

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Currently, I’m working on designing and implementing a tool that will automate archiving all the necessary data for re-creating a finaled shot. It’s pretty elaborate, and it’s crucial that all the components work as expected. If something doesn’t go right and data is lost, that’s time and money lost as well.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: I don’t really have a ‘weird’ task that stands out in my mind, but I know that our department has had to bring some interesting reference images and videos online, including a huge chunk of monkey butt pictures. I think a disk volume filled up because of those butts!

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

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Being on the tech side of things, and having only been in the industry for six years, I haven’t noticed huge changes. But I know a lot has changed for artists and on the corporate and business levels. Production schedules are becoming shorter and more demanding, and it feels like it’s becoming more brutal trying to win work for the visual effects houses, especially since studios have changed how they hand out shot work. When I first started, we’d have pretty much the entire movie awarded but now it’s just a few sequences split across multiple studios. This, along with the grueling schedules, ends up putting a lot more stress on everyone. Less room for mistakes, less time to address any bugs or issues in the tools used.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Maybe more emphasis on work-life balance. Since we’re not artists or production, we have a little bit more leeway regarding working normal hours – at least we do at SPI – but I know a lot of people on the show side who suffer the ill-effects of a demanding schedule. While making movies has never been an easy job or one that fits a nine-to-six schedule, it feels like the hours are getting longer and harder, and there’s less happening to counter that.

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

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Don’t be a jerk. It’s a small industry so you never know who around you will end up becoming your future lead or supervisor at a different studio. Just treat your co-workers with civility and respect.

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

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Avatar – the sheer amount of work and detail that went into creating the environments and models, the advancement of mocap technology, all of the visual effects – it was just amazing to me. I’m a huge sci-fi fan, so seeing an alien world brought to life on the big screen and looking photoreal was a real treat. Probably one of my favorite shots was the first time you saw the floating rocks.

Tron is a classic. I was only two when it came out, so I didn’t see it until a few years later. But that movie is a great starting point to show just how far CG has come.

Jurassic Park – because dinosaurs! That movie was a staple of my childhood, and I must have watched it hundreds of times since it was released. The visual effects still hold up in most places, too. And that movie is a good blend of both CG and practical. I think sometimes people get over-enthusiastic trying to do everything with CG and forget that practical effects can still be just as good-looking on screen.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ROSE BEHRENS CAMP: Almond M&Ms! Or maybe Peanut M&MS …

CINEFEX: Rosa, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Scott Stokdyk

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

Scott Stokdyk’s career as a visual effects supervisor embraces films including Hollow Man, all three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, G-Force, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk strikes a pose on the set of "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets."

Visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk strikes a pose on the set of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: I had always been a fan of effects work, but seeing early 90’s computer graphics working its way into visual effects gave me a notion that it was something that I could participate in. My big break was when I first got access to SGI workstations running Side Effects Prisms software. That happened while I was doing programming work on a digital ink-and-paint software system at a small visual effects company called Motionworks.

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: The most exciting part of my job is the moment when I’m loading up a sequence of images that I haven’t seen before to review. It still feels like a Christmas present for me, with all the possibilities contained within. I’m a big fan and appreciator of visual effects as well as having it be my job.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Computer and networking crashes. We manage around it better now, but we still depend so much on the tech problems not getting in our way!

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: Working on the ‘birth of Sandman’ shot in Spider-Man 3 is probably at the top of my list – so many moving parts, both literally and figuratively. I think that if we tried it again 10-plus years on it would still be excruciatingly hard. Any sequence I deal with now that combines character and effects animation is something I give special attention to, because I know the inherent problems.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Hollow Man was unique in so many ways. It was so ambitious in terms of what was trying to be done – all this amazing tech and artistry to do an invisibility transformation in an anatomically accurate way. The amount of artist and scientist brain power to make those pixels was absurd!

John Frazier, Anthony LaMolinare, Scott Stokdyk, and John Dykstra. Academy Award winners for Achievement in Visual Effects their work on "Spider-Man 2" at the 77th Academy Awards. Photograph copyright © AMPAS.

Left to right, John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier celebrate winning the Achievement in Visual Effects Oscar for their work on “Spider-Man 2” at the 77th Academy Awards. Photograph copyright © AMPAS.

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: The growing collective experience of visual effects artists keeps making images better and better. Yet, it is very hard to impress anyone with visual effects imagery anymore. It takes a very interesting story context nowadays to really shock people.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

SCOTT STOKDYK: More discussion on the art and design of visual effects is needed. Marketing and press is still so focused primarily on tech innovation, but our industry has now gotten more mature as a craft, so the artistic contributions are most relevant.

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: There is still no single best path to getting a job in visual effects. Above all, you have to really love what you do to put up with all the hours. Find a niche that you don’t mind spending thousands of hours living with.

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

SCOTT STOKDYK: Blade Runner, The Matrix and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I would want to watch them all together with fresh eyes, and try to figure out why I love the visual effects in these movies so much, how does the visual storytelling draw me in, and do they still hold up and feel as amazing as the first memorable time I saw them? I still recall vividly where I was when I first saw these movies – that’s how much they imprinted on my brain!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

SCOTT STOKDYK: Popcorn! It best fills out the other senses – taste, feel, smell – besides sight and sound to help round out the cinematic experience!

CINEFEX: Scott, thanks for your time!

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!

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!