Spotlight – Kirsty Millar

by Graham Edwards

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

Kirsty Millar is a visual effects supervisor at Animal Logic. The movies in her filmography highlights include The Matrix, 300, The Great Gatsby and Peter Rabbit.

Kirsty Millar

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: I started out in broadcast television in Sydney. I was on a working holiday in London when I was introduced to the world of compositing. Something clicked and I knew this was what I wanted to master. I moved onto Flame when it was first released and was really fortunate to have some fantastic mentors. I started at Animal Logic when digital film was kicking in, another huge stroke of luck for me as I really loved film compositing. I moved into visual effects supervision from there.

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: Playing around with visuals and seeing your mind’s eye translated to the monitor. And a freshly completed visual effects bid.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

KIRSTY MILLAR: Delivery crunch-times that lead to crazy tiredness and silly mistakes. As a compositor on Moulin Rouge, I was screening the print of a shot I was working on and realized I hadn’t exported the last few frames. We were cutting it fine to get the negative delivered for the final grade and, at nearly three minutes duration, this was considered at the time to be the longest visual effects shot to date. The whole thing had to be shot out and developed again, which took literally days. It was a nail-biting wait. I still remember the shot code after all this time – how tragic is that? Damn you pv005_010_015!

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: Trying to brief a Ukrainian crane operator via a Chinese interpreter whilst shooting on location in the Carpathian Mountains. It had started to snow and the sun was going down. But they were so lovely and patient, and we got what we needed in the end with a lot of sign language and gesturing.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

KIRSTY MILLAR: At my first job in a broadcast channel, I was told to go and get some more color bars at the hardware shop because the studio had run out. I didn’t fall for it!

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: Technology has changed everything. An artist’s digital toolset is now a lot more accessible in terms of cost, so artists are able to have a few more strings to their bows before they enter the workforce. Tax incentives have led to a nomadic existence for a lot of visual effects artists. That’s great when you’re younger, but difficult for families.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

KIRSTY MILLAR: I’d like to see more female directors and visual effects supervisors up on the stage during awards season.

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: Watch films, read books, and look at art.

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

KIRSTY MILLAR: Aw geez, only three? That’s tricky.

First would have to be Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I’m dating myself here, but when I saw that film as a child, I thought the scene underwater with the cel-animated bubbles and fish was literally magic.

Next would be Terminator 2: Judgment Day. This really appealed as it came out at a time when it felt like action films were the exclusive enclave of the male hero. Sarah Connor was a strong character in an effects-driven blockbuster. The CG fluid effects and morphs of the T-1000 were incredible.

Although it’s not an effects film, I have to give special mention to Panic Room. The way the camera glided around the interior of the house in the big motion control CG stitch shot was completely spellbinding and set the tension for the film perfectly.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

KIRSTY MILLAR: Fantales!

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Kirsty!