Spotlight – Andreas Giesen

by Graham Edwards

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

Andreas Giesen is an effects supervisor at RISE, with career highlights including Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Dark, Babylon Berlin and Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver.

Andreas GiesenANDREAS GIESEN: I started by working in the gaming industry. Back then, the limitations were much bigger than they are today, especially regarding model and rendering detail. It was a great experience for starting as a generalist and getting to know Maya in-depth, but soon I looked for new challenges and started as an intern in the visual effects industry.

While I continued working as a generalist in Maya, I started to focus on effects simulations and the software package Houdini. Already in my childhood I had made funny short films with stock muzzle flashes, explosions and lightsabers – AlamDV rocks! – so this was the next logical step. I continued gathering experience at RISE with Houdini as an effects TD over the years, before becoming the effects supervisor for Captain America: Civil War. That was really challenging but also a huge opportunity.

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

ANDREAS GIESEN: The most fascinating thing about this job is that it never gets dull around here. Every project, regardless of genre or production size, has its own set of new challenges. Of course, there are aspects that are repeated or similar to previous assignments. But overall I would say the constant flow of new challenges and ideas is what keeps me coming to work.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANDREAS GIESEN: When people use the render farm with the motto: “I don’t always render 12-hour frames, but when I do they’re completely black.”

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

ANDREAS GIESEN: It would Captain America: Winter Soldier, my first project here in a supervisor role. Everything from the scope to the complexity of each task made it feel at the start like I had undertaken a mammoth challenge. Fortunately I was with other like-minded colleagues who were able to help us realize what was tasked.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANDREAS GIESEN: While building the crowd system for Babylon Berlin, we had one crowd agent who always lost his pants when coming out of the cloth simulation. That was weird.

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

ANDREAS GIESEN: I would say the increasing number of complex visual effects shots in a movie today. Six years ago, you would only have one or two films released where there is a city destruction sequence. Now every second movie has a city that gets obliterated. That makes it way more difficult to create something new which is really outstanding.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANDREAS GIESEN: I think we can go – and are going – further with streamlining the visual effects process so that we can complete even greater amounts of tasks within our set timeframe. We’re also relying more and more on procedural approaches, which save a lot of time in the end.

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

ANDREAS GIESEN: Keep experimenting by doing your own projects. Don’t expect there to be someone to hold your hand or show you how to do this or that. To get into this industry, you need to keep learning and experimenting first-hand. Whether by nonstop viewing of tutorials online, learn what you are good at and where you would like to improve. Never handicap yourself by believing you can’t get it how you imagined it or by passing the work on to someone else. It’s also important to work within a team that you can learn from. Your own ambition and passion ultimately will be the key factors that will carry you through the highs and lows of visual effects work.

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

ANDREAS GIESEN: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, definitely – these films were a part of what inspired me to get into this field. The early crowd sequences such as the massive battle were impressive to see on the big screen then and still are to this day. Another one is The Matrix movie. You cannot imagine how many times I tried to do a proper bullet time effect in my childhood – quite difficult with just one camera and a person who has to stand still for minutes!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANDREAS GIESEN: Popcorn with an appropriate balance of sweet and salty goodness.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time!