To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Armen Kevorkian is executive creative director and visual effects supervisor at Encore VFX, and includes in his career highlights Love, Simon, Titans, The Flash, Supergirl and Black Lightning.
CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Armen?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I’ve always been interested in filmmaking and directing, but more or less fell into visual effects. I went to film school and got an internship working on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise. Then, an entry level position opened up in the visual effects/post department and I jumped at the opportunity. I spent several years learning the ins and outs of visual effects, and I’m constantly expanding that knowledge with each new project.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: It’s rewarding when you’re able to visualize something in your head and bring that image to life for everyone to see.
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I hate when shots don’t turn out the way I imagined. That, and running out of time, which is always an issue in visual effects.
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: One of my first visual effects supervisor jobs was for a series that had fairly significant visual effects needs – including CG creatures and set extensions – and a limited budget. Also, visual effects tools weren’t as advanced then, so creating the work was more challenging. It was nerve-racking, and a make-or-break moment for me, but I worked around the clock to make sure everyone got what they wanted. At the end of the day, we pulled it off.
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: I encounter a lot of strange situations and requests as a visual effects supervisor. One moment that stands out is when a very low budget sci-fi television movie that I worked on was nominated for an Emmy. The film was about a zombie mammoth that came to life in a museum – not your typical awards fare! We cut together a great reel and were nominated alongside some incredible projects, including one produced by Steven Spielberg.
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Almost every film and television series has visual effects now, in part thanks to advanced software and hardware that allow us to create better work faster. Productions are relying on visual effects more, since it’s sometimes easier – and more economical – to achieve certain shots in the back-end. A lot of time it ends up looking better, too. Also, the distinction between content formats is falling away. Audiences expect a certain level of quality, regardless of whether they’re viewing in a theater, on television, or on a mobile device. With social media, you get immediate feedback via online comments and reaction videos, so you learn pretty quickly how your work is received by the audience. This was unheard of 20 years ago.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: This is already underway, but I think that when visual effects is fully integrated within production, it enables more successful results. When artists and storytellers are on the same page, projects run more smoothly and with better collaboration.
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Be passionate. It’s advice that applies to any job, but the visual effects industry can be stressful and frustrating, and enjoying what you do makes it easier to get through the tough spots.
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: District 9 is so well done, especially the way the CG alien is perfectly integrated throughout the film. You really feel the emotion.
Star Wars: A New Hope remains one of the greats. It was ground-breaking at the time and really holds up.
My final spot is a tie between Transformers and Iron Man. Growing up with those cartoons and toys, I found it entertaining and fascinating to see these characters come to life. The visual effects don’t take you out of the story, but rather bring it to life. The films mark a shift for the superhero/action genre, and the people behind them deserve credit for trying things that had never been done before. That takes guts.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
ARMEN KEVORKIAN: Popcorn! I can’t watch a movie without popcorn, even if I only have a few pieces. And a cherry ICEE.
CINEFEX: Armen, thanks for your time!