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.

The Illusionists — Joe Letteri

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Joe Letteri

CINEFEX — Early in your career you were at Industrial Light & Magic, pretty much at the start of the digital revolution.

JOE LETTERI — Yes, but before that I was working for a company doing commercials in Los Angeles. I got to ILM right in the middle of their work on Terminator 2, although I did not work on that film. I did a couple of commercials for them, then got put onto Star Trek VI. I worked on the opening shot — that big ring-of-fire explosion of Praxis. That was the first shot I ever did on a film, and it made me want to keep going and do more.

CINEFEX — Soon after that you sunk your teeth into Jurassic Park.

JOE LETTERI — That’s right. That film opened up a new avenue of exploration in that we were doing organic characters. As cool as Terminator 2 was, with the T-1000 as a moving character with real performance, we now had to figure out how to do the dinosaurs’ skin, the skeleton, the muscles, all that organic movement. A lot of work went into making that happen believably for what I think was the first time.

CINEFEX — Were aware of how revolutionary the work was?

JOE LETTERI — It certainly felt pretty new at the time we were doing it. But we were flying by the seat of our pants, just eyeballing it: “I think this looks good. This looks about the right exposure.” We really had no way to measure things like that at the time. That worked for 65 shots on Jurassic Park, but now, when we’re doing thousands of shots in a film, we need ways to really understand what we’re looking at.

CINEFEX — Every year you’re called upon do more and more shots, of ever-increasing complexity. How has that changed your thinking?

JOE LETTERI — In visual effects in general, we’ve started to take a really broad approach. This started for me on Avatar, where we had so many components to work out. We weren’t just putting a character or a creature in a background plate — we were creating a whole world. First time around, we hand-dressed that Pandora forest. Then we spent years thinking about how forests really grow, writing software to mimic that whole process. That came in really handy when we did the avalanche scene in the third Planet of the Apes film, when were able to deploy this software to grow the forest.

CINEFEX — On the flipside, is there anything in your thinking that hasn’t changed?

JOE LETTERI — Really, what we’ve always done with visual effects is try to convince an audience that they’re seeing what was in front of the camera on the day everything else was shot. But we also have to add a fantasy element — because that’s what we’re doing, right? We’re shooting things that could not be shot, by definition. So we’re always looking at reality — things like having the correct weight in an animated movement — but with an eye towards making something a little bit more fantastic to serve the film.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Rob Legato

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Rob Legato

CINEFEX — When did your interest in visual effects begin? Did you enjoy watching effects movies when you were young?

ROB LEGATO — Quite frankly, whenever I saw movies that had something odd or fanciful in them, I just knew I didn’t like it very well. I know this is a blasphemy, but even when I saw the Ray Harryhausen stuff, like the skeletons fighting, it looked kind of strange to me. I guess I was starting to identify that things looked weird without motion blur — not that I knew what motion blur was at the time. But there were also things that were incredibly well done, like hanging miniatures and the Schüfftan process, all those things the masters did so many years ago.

CINEFEX — Early in your career, you made a name for yourself working on Star Trek: The Next Generation. How did that come about?

ROB LEGATO — I started out working in commercials, using videotape compositing in standard definition — more analogue than digital. I also became pretty proficient in shooting miniatures with motion control against bluescreens. I was recommended to the people doing the television remake of The Twilight Zone. To make their show on time, they switched from film opticals — where you could only do two or three shots per show — to doing it this more expedient way. When Star Trek was reborn as this new television show, they were looking for ways get the right production value in a short amount of time, and I was the only one around who had the requisite skillset: I had on-set experience, I knew visual effects, I knew postproduction compositing, and I had already worked on a television show.

CINEFEX — You were essentially a one-man band.

ROB LEGATO — Yes. I was shortcutting the system because I could shoot eight ship shots in a day, make the shots up, supervise every composite. I learned that the more you do yourself, the more you can do it expediently and inexpensively, and hence get much more production value. That show became my training ground to try things out. If an idea didn’t work, I’d just try another one next week.

CINEFEX — These days, easy access to the latest technology means almost anyone can become a one-man band.

ROB LEGATO — Absolutely. When I first started, there was only a handful of people who could do this stuff. Now, there’s amazing films coming out of film school by people who are self-taught. It’s like, “Holy shit, you would have had to be a genius to do that when I first started.” You can do almost anything at home on your laptop and in just a few months get experience it took us years and years to get. There’s lots of Mozarts out there right now waiting to flourish.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Ken Ralston

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Ken Ralston

CINEFEX — When did you first get interested in movie magic?

KEN RALSTON — As a kid, I was always interested in monster movies and monster makeups, and I read Famous Monsters like a lot of us bozos did way back then. Then I started to see the films of Ray Harryhausen. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew there was something amazing about what I was watching. I can still remember being in a little theatre watching The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad — I think it was a reissue on a Saturday matinee. I was mesmerized by it, just obsessed. It changed the wiring in my brain and off I went in my awkward, clumsy way. That’s what really kicked me into gear.

CINEFEX — Your career was well-established long before the digital revolution, with films like Star Wars, Dragonslayer, Cocoon. What was it like making the transition to the new technology?

KEN RALSTON — It was more frustrating than you might think. The technology was so complicated and awkward. In those early days at Industrial Light & Magic, you had to fight for the smallest amount of space to do digital shots in a movie. And you couldn’t do that many because it was too difficult and just took too damn long.

CINEFEX — You’ve worked a lot with Robert Zemeckis over the years. Have you got any anecdotes from the set of one of his films?

KEN RALSTON — Here’s one from Death Becomes Her. You know the shot where Meryl Streep pulls her head way up, and her neck stretches, and then her head snaps down? One of the things I asked Meryl to do was wear this kind of a beard that was the same color as her hair. It was basically a hairpiece to help us fill in the area around her neck later. Of course, Meryl wanted to know why she was doing this. Bob said to her, “Whatever Ken wants, just do it. You can trust him with your life.” That kind of trust is incredibly important because, when you’re in these weird moments trying to get the raw material to do the work you have to do, you sometimes have to ask for some really stupid things!

CINEFEX — When you have an ongoing relationships with a director, does that help the trust to develop?

KEN RALSTON — Oh, yeah. As the years went on, Bob and I developed a shorthand that was great. It also helps you feel free to try new things. If the director’s confident about what you can do, maybe it opens up different shot design ideas. Younger supervisors, or people without the kind of credits I’ve been lucky enough to get, may have to beat people over the head to do the right thing.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — John Dykstra

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - John Dykstra

CINEFEX — You began your career as a photographer. What sparked that original interest?

JOHN DYKSTRA — The reason I wanted to be a photographer was a television show called Love That Bob. In the show, Bob Cummings was this photographer who got to drive nice cars and meet a lot of women. I thought photography would be the ideal thing for me to do!

CINEFEX — And once you started, you found you couldn’t stop?

JOHN DYKSTRA — Oh, I became enamored of the process, both the mechanics of the cameras and the optics involved, and also the assembly of the image in the darkroom, the ability to take something apart bit by bit and put it back together again in registration. I did a lot of research on disassembling images into their component parts — a little bit of color but mostly black and white — analyzing contrast, luminosity, making my own masks, creating assemblies of deconstructed and then reconstructed images.

CINEFEX — When you think about it, that process of deconstruction and reconstruction lies at the heart of the visual effects process.

JOHN DYKSTRA — Yeah. Taking things apart and putting them back together. It’s essentially what an optical printer does for cinema.

CINEFEX — So how did you make the move from photography into visual effects?

JOHN DYKSTRA — Well, I was also an avid model builder when I was a kid — lots of cars and airplanes. Then I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theater. I remember being in awe of the illusion that was created in terms of its verisimilitude. I did a little research on how that was done and, as fate would have it, I met Doug Trumbull and ended up working with him on The Andromeda Strain.

CINEFEX — You assembled the original Industrial Light & Magic team for Star Wars, inventing a lot of technology from the ground up — not least the Dykstraflex motion control system. Is the visual effects world still an inventive place to be?

JOHN DYKSTRA — We’ve lost one aspect of invention and gained another. Invention as an element of creating visual effects has diminished — you don’t often invent and build things like cameras or motion control systems any more. But, invention has increased in terms of the ability to visualize things of gigantic or minuscule proportions, and interpreting those things to the screen in a believable and understandable way.

CINEFEX — Making things believable … is that still the fundamental trick?

JOHN DYKSTRA — The trick is as it’s always been: to ask the question, “How does this visual contribute to the emotion of the story?” We’ve all seen movies in the recent past where the visuals are very complex and very accomplished, but don’t do a whole heck of a lot to advance the story. That’s always been the criteria that’s hardest to meet.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Dennis Muren

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Dennis Muren

CINEFEX — What’s the appeal of visual effects for you?

DENNIS MUREN — You know, ever since I was a little kid watching effects films, I always had an opinion about what I saw. Always. I would think, “That doesn’t look real,” and I would also think, “Why doesn’t that look real?” In those days, you could look at the screen credits to find the names of the guys who did the effects, and then look them up in the Los Angeles phone book. You could talk to them, even go and meet them. Doing that, I learned that this looked real because of this, and that looked fake because of that.

CINEFEX — Has that early sense of curiosity endured over the years?

DENNIS MUREN — Yeah, because I’m unsatisfied with everything. Whenever I finish a show, I put in my mind that it’s obsolete, so what’s the next thing? That’s a conscious thing that I do.

CINEFEX — So each show is part of a continuum, and you’re moving from one, to the next, to the next.

DENNIS MUREN — Exactly, and that all started because George Lucas kept Industrial Light & Magic going after the first Star Wars. As more films came in, we could stay in the business and continue to learn, doing effects year after year. That was wonderful. We had an opportunity to improve the technology, and also our own mental vision of what we were trying to do. We were able to get our minds out of the nuts and bolts and start thinking, “We’ve got a great toolset. Now, how can we improve it and make something better?” That ultimately opened the way to where we are now, when we can almost do anything.

CINEFEX — You were a real mover and shaker during the digital revolution. To what extent were you taking a leap of faith back then?

DENNIS MUREN — Oh, every step was an unknown. We just went with the best information we had. We did a CG dinosaur test for Jurassic Park that came out really terrific, then we did a second test and it was horrible — and we never fixed it. But it wasn’t like I was just being foolish about it. I had backup systems for everything, even for Terminator 2 and The Abyss. If the CG didn’t live up to a certain standard, we were going to do shots in a more traditional way. In my mind, there was always a way we were going to be able to get through it in time and on budget.

CINEFEX — Now that almost anything is possible in visual effects, given time and money, are there any real challenges left?

DENNIS MUREN — It used to be you would spend a huge amount of time just getting things to look real. That’s much easier to do now, so what’s more important is designing the shot in the first place. How can I take this sequence and make it different and more entertaining than the other eight films that have had the same thing in them? It’s an incredibly important question, and it’s where the effort ought to go in, because the end part is now taking care of itself. There’s enough money and talent and people to get the stuff to look real. What we have to ask now is, “Was it worth getting it to look real?”

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

The Illusionists — Richard Edlund

Open up our 40th anniversary celebration issue, Cinefex 169, and you’ll find The Illusionists, a giant roundtable discussion in which 21 Oscar-winning visual effects supervisors debate the past, present and future of cinematic illusions. We recorded over 14 hours of interview material for the article, and inevitably some of it ended up on the cutting room floor. In this series of short blogs, we’re pleased to share a few of our favorite outtakes. To read the full roundtable, pick up your copy of Cinefex 169.

The Cinefex Illusionists - Richard Edlund

CINEFEX — What do you remember about watching films as a youngster?

RICHARD EDLUND — I remember being in the seventh grade, going down to one of the movie palaces in Minneapolis and seeing The Robe, the first Cinemascope movie. I remember seeing Victor Mature standing on top of a mountain with this green halo vibrating around him. I didn’t realize it then, but I’d spotted a matte line!

CINEFEX — You spent many hours later on trying to keep matte lines out of the picture on Star Wars. How did you get that gig?

RICHARD EDLUND — After I had gotten out of college, I was a rock‘n’roll photographer for three or four years, and then I worked in commercials with Bob Abel, which was where I got involved with visual effects. One day I got this call from John Dykstra, who wanted to talk about a sci-fi movie he was going to do for George Lucas. I jumped in my car, drove out to what was then Industrial Light & Magic, and wound up talking to John and Gary Kurtz. After about half an hour I was given the job as director of photography for the miniatures.

CINEFEX — What did you think when you first read the script for Star Wars?

RICHARD EDLUND — I thought it was a teenage movie. I was a little bit worried about lines like, “Trust in the force, Luke.” I couldn’t think of many actors in America who would have the gravitas to pull off those lines, except maybe Marlon Brando. About three or four months into the project, when we were getting ready to shoot in England, we heard that George had just cast Alec Guinness to play Obi-Wan Kenobi. I thought, “That’s it! He’s the guy!” It was the perfect casting. I realized at that point the film was going to transcend the teenage demographic and capture the adult audience as well.

CINEFEX — So Alec Guinness was the key?

RICHARD EDLUND — Oh, there were four keys to Star Wars. The first was Ralph McQuarrie. He did a series of maybe 12-15 paintings of various aspects of the script, and George used those paintings to sell the project. The second was choosing us to do the visual effects. It was just a great team that John put together. Nobody else at that time that could have done it— you have to remember there was no infrastructure at that time in visual effects. The third thing was the casting of Alec Guinness, and the fourth was John Williams’ music. Those were the four super-critical things.

Cinefex is a bimonthly magazine devoted to motion picture visual effects. Since 1980, it has been the bible for effects professionals and enthusiasts, covering the field like no other publication. Profusely illustrated in color, with in-depth articles and interviews, Cinefex offers a captivating look at the technologies and techniques behind many of our most popular and enduring movies.

Cinefex 169 - The Illusionists

Spotlight – Angela Barson

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

Angela Barson is creative director and co-founder of BlueBolt. Based in central London, BlueBolt’s credits include Game of Thrones Season 1, Skyfall, The Current War, Mary Queen of Scots and The Last Kingdom.

Angela Barson

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

ANGELA BARSON: My route into the industry was very haphazard. I sometimes feel guilty that it was never a dream of mine to work in film and yet I’ve been lucky enough to succeed. I think I’ve had lots of little breaks rather than one big break; it’s all about making the most of any opportunity that comes your way.

I studied architecture, during which time I developed an interest in photography and computing. On a visit to London to see friends, I visited Parallax – a software development firm – for a general look around, which ended up being an interview, which led to a job offer. I had no idea what they did or what I was getting myself into! They had developed a digital paint package, Matador, and were developing a digital compositing package, Advance. I spent several years showing this software off to post houses around the world, mainly in London and Los Angeles. This allowed me to visit some of the top facilities like ILM, Digital Domain, CFC and Cinesite.

After having children I wanted more flexibility. Starting out as a freelance compositor with two very young kids probably wasn’t the brightest idea! I managed to get a job at the BBC as a Flame operator – having never used Flame – and spent a really fun year there working with some great people. I wanted to move into film after that, so I got a job at MPC, where I stayed for eight years working my way up the ranks. That’s where I met Lucy Ainsworth-Taylor which ultimately brought about the creation of BlueBolt.

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

ANGELA BARSON: Creating invisible effects. When a client thinks they are looking at something they shot, not realizing it’s CG – that’s the ultimate compliment.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANGELA BARSON: When shot turnover is delayed, the shot count is doubled, but the delivery date is still the same.

Watch BlueBolt’s 2019 visual effects showreel:

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

ANGELA BARSON: I was working with the ‘Oompa Loompa’ unit on Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We were shooting multiple motion control passes of one Oompa Loompa singing and dancing. I had to capture each take as it was filmed, sync them together with the music, composite them, and cut the result into the edit, ready to show the second unit director for sign-off as soon as they’d completed the last take. We couldn’t move onto the next setup until I’d finished and shown everything was okay. This went on for about five months. Probably one of the most stressful, yet enjoyable, jobs I’ve done.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANGELA BARSON: Also on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. My desk was on a platform in the middle of the chocolate river for several weeks. It’s amazing how fast that can become normal!

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

ANGELA BARSON: Visual effects used to be seen as an expensive luxury. Now, it’s often seen as the default fix to almost any problem. Just because something can be done in visual effects doesn’t mean it should be! “Fix it in post” is sadly heard way too often.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANGELA BARSON: I’d like visual effects to be embraced as just another tool of the filmmaking process. I believe films should be all about the story and vision, with visual effects used to aid and support that where needed, and not be the main focus of the film. It would also be great if the other departments understood visual effects more – although it’s getting much better – and gave it the time and respect needed both on set and in post. Having to battle when on set to get your clean plate or HDRI data is just ridiculous.

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

ANGELA BARSON: Get a range of experience in other, but related, fields. It’s great when we get people who have had a previous life in photography, or architecture, or set design. You can bring so much more to the craft when you have other areas to draw on rather than just doing a visual course then coming straight into the industry. If you do go down the direct route into your first job, try and supplement that with other interests.

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

ANGELA BARSON: I don’t particularly enjoy watching effects movies. I spend too much time analyzing the visual effects work instead of just watching the film. The worse the film, the more I watch the visual effects; the better the film, the more the visual effects are irrelevant. I won’t know my favorite visual effects shots, as I wouldn’t know they were visual effects!

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANGELA BARSON: None. If I’m enjoying a film, I don’t want to be distracted by eating … or by anyone else eating!

CINEFEX: Angela, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Simon Carr

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

Simon Carr is a visual effects supervisor at Territory Studio, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. His filmography highlights include Face/Off, Star Trek Into Darkness, Bohemian Rhapsody and Mindhunter.

Simon Carr

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

SIMON CARR: After writing a lot of letters to a lot of companies, I was offered a job as a runner in a motion control studio for cel animation. I essentially made tea for two years whilst learning everything I could about the business. When the Quantel Henry came along, I used my evenings to teach myself that, which led to an opportunity with Animal Logic in Sydney. I would say that was my biggest break as it led to working on film compositing and gave my career a real boost.

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

SIMON CARR: The job is most fun when you see the work that’s been discussed and planned coming together in support of the story. The effect can be a very simple one, but if it bridges a gap and sells a scene or action, that’s really exciting. But the one thing that has given me most pleasure over my career has been discovering talent. There’s nothing quite like having your expectations exceeded by a brilliant artist.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

SIMON CARR: Nothing would be quite that bad – we’re not saving lives! But it is frustrating to work on projects with no clear direction and constant undecided feedback. The best projects are the ones in which a clear idea is followed through from script to screen.

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

SIMON CARR: Many years ago, I worked as a compositor on a beer commercial. The material came to us from a chaotic shoot as a paper edit, which I had to reassemble. I was working from 24/25 pull-down, juggling cuts on Henry and Domino, running a video and film cut simultaneously. After 14 days working 16 hours a day, I was incoherent with exhaustion. The boss sent me home and banned the client from the building! After that, almost everything seems reasonably benign.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

SIMON CARR: I was once asked by a client to put a penguin in a shot. Let’s just say it was not a shot that would naturally feature a penguin.

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

SIMON CARR: The biggest change is in the speed and power of the technology, leading to a huge growth in the use of visual effects in all genres. Alongside the recent explosion in content creation, this has led to a much greater demand for visual effects and the technology to produce them. When I started, producing a 30-second commercial on one machine was almost inconceivable. Now, my phone has more computing power and storage than the workstations being used back then. The downside, to my mind, has been the tendency to push decision-making to later and later in the process, and this can lead to some projects being uneven and rushed.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

SIMON CARR: Although the industry has become more diverse than when I started, it would be great to encourage more people from all backgrounds to join, and also to break the idea of art and science being mutually exclusive. If there was ever an industry that illustrated the blend of math and art, it is visual effects.

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

SIMON CARR: There are so many good courses now – that seems an obvious place to start. However, I would also say the visual effects industry – like the film industry in general – has such a wide range of jobs needing such a diverse set of skills that plenty of people move across into it from other areas. The most important thing is to find something you’re passionate about and aim to do it as well as you can.

CINEFEX: Territory is celebrating its 10th anniversary. What are your predictions for the next decade?

SIMON CARR: I expect AI will have an impact, potentially helping with tasks like rotoscoping and clean-up as image detection and recognition improves. It will also help with tracking for both cameras and objects. I imagine there may be an increase in the use of digital actors or digital make-up. Hopefully, the current level of content creation will continue and lead to a more stable relationship between studios and facilities. That stability will enable longer-term R&D and investment.

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

SIMON CARR: This is a difficult one, because I don’t really think of films in terms of their effects, more in terms of their storytelling or the effect they had on me. My stand-out films tend to come from my early years. The original Star Wars – now called A New Hope – had a massive impact on me. If I had to choose one sequence, it would be the opening space battle. The entrance of the Star Destroyer is still one of the most breathtaking moments in movie history.

My second choice would be Blade Runner, for its visual invention and the completeness of the design. I loved that movie from the first time I saw it and have loved it ever since. The spinner journey across the city of Los Angeles, which was made from etched copper flats, is an object lesson in achieving a huge amount with very little.

The third choice is hard. It’s between E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think CE3K wins for the arrival of the spaceship. The fact it never touched down but was just this gigantic hovering object had a visceral impact in the cinema.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

SIMON CARR: I’m a terrible curmudgeon who thinks no food of any kind should be allowed in a cinema. I go to watch movies, not to eat!

CINEFEX: Simon, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Andrew Popplestone

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

Andrew Popplestone is creative director at Territory Studio, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. His filmography highlights include Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One, Spider-Man: Far from Home, No Time To Die, Ghost in the Shell and Dune.

Andrew Popplestone

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

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: I trained as a fine artist then studied graphic design at university. I had no idea I would get into this industry – all I knew was I loved design, films and telling stories. My first big break came when I was offered a design role in Los Angeles at Prologue Films, which specialized in film title sequences. It was there I started to understand how design can be translated across into visual effects. I’ve always loved the idea of combining practical hand-crafted processes and a graphic designer’s eye with innovative CG and visual effects techniques. It’s this ‘designed-VFX’ approach that we specialize in at Territory Studio.

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

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: I love those seemingly magical days where the creative just flows effortlessly and you really crack it. You go home floating on air. Also, when you show the client, visual effects supervisor or director something they love but which surprises them – in a good way – or goes beyond their expectation. Ultimately, our job is to help the storyteller tell their story; if we can do that in a way that is new, innovative or unexpected, that’s the really fun part. Outside of that, the real joy of what we do is provoking some sort of emotional reaction from an audience that draws them into the story.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: Well, thankfully it’s never got quite that bad! Although, it can be quite disheartening when schedules and budgets in no way align to expectations, ultimately leading to comprising the work. As designers and artists, our desire is to create something to the very best of our ability.

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

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: A lot of what we do at Territory has some sort of narrative or storytelling objective, helping to explain a plot point and push the story along. These are often the most challenging tasks, but also the most satisfying. We have to work very closely with the director or visual effects supervisor to visually communicate a complicated part of the script.

We had some really interesting challenges on Ready Player One. In one case, we were asked to create a volumetric database archive that a character had to physically interact with. This being Ready Player One, it needed a distinctly ‘80s vibe. We based the design concept off an old reel-to-reel system. Another task was to design the entire OASIS galaxy as a 3D interactive map in the form of a Rubik’s Cube.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: So many! We’ve been asked to create all sorts of bizarre things ranging from the inside of Ryan Gosling’s brain, worm protein vending machines, holographic ‘Love Motel’ signs, and even an alien porn channel!

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

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: The incredible advancement of technology would be the first obvious answer. This is an industry that pioneers innovation in technology, which has made everything wonderfully more accessible and allowed individual artists to explore new ways of doing things. Along with that, the expectations of clients and audiences has massively increased.

However, utilizing more developing technology needs to be done in a considered way. The downside has been a perception of speed, ease and scale which can cheapen the art, to a degree. This has led to situations where, instead of thinking or designing a way to a solution, it’s all too easy to simply throw people and technology at it. This can lead to less consideration in the early stages of the script/production process.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: I would love to see a little more crossover and collaboration between the production art department and postproduction visual effects.

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

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: Firstly, grow some thick skin and make sure you truly love what you do. If you can’t do that, this is most definitely not the business for you. Always keep asking questions, stay curious and never stop learning. Be flexible and generous with your time, but always try to maintain a personal life.

CINEFEX: Territory is celebrating its 10th anniversary. What are your predictions for the next decade?

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: The quality and complexity of visual effects is going to continue to grow. Volumetric capture, augmented reality and AI tools will all become more commonplace. With the increase in original content from the likes of Netflix, Apple and Amazon, there is a huge amount of work in both features and episodic television. Hopefully, this will allow the industry to consolidate and facilities to become more robust in structure.

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 POPPLESTONE: The first is Jurassic Park. As a child, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Seeing them brought to life before my eyes is what made me fall in love with the magic of movies.

The second is The Matrix. I was a little late seeing this after it came out. Everyone was raving about it, and I couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about. When I finally saw the film, it absolutely blew my mind. It was like nothing I’d seen before, and possibly the first time I realized how visual effects can bend the rules of reality in storytelling.

The last is a toss up between Gladiator and The Lord of the Rings. I think The Lord of The Rings would take it. As a massive fan of the books, I was just gobsmacked at how it was re-created on screen at such an epic scale. It’s an incredible example of beautiful cinematography, practical effects and visual effects working seamlessly together, all wrapped up in a compelling story.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

ANDREW POPPLESTONE: Sweet and salted popcorn all the way.

CINEFEX: Andrew, thanks for your time!

Spotlight – Marti Romances

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

Marti Romances is co-founder and creative director of the San Francisco office of Territory Studio, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2020. His filmography highlights include Avengers: Endgame, Infinity War and Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Martian, Ex Machina, Ad Astra, The Fate of the Furious, The OA, Jupiter Ascending, Mile 22 and Rampage.

Marti  Romances

CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business?

MARTI ROMANCES: I started as an Autodesk Combustion artist creating animated DVD menus, back in the day. This gave me close proximity to senior Flame artists and visual effects talent, so I quickly became exposed to matte painting, rotoscoping, compositing, color – all that great stuff. I began creating visual effects on film and commercial projects that required the re-creation of realistic surroundings — for example, placing a tree here, a road there, or whatever else the scenes required.

What really fueled my desire and propelled me into visual effects was discovering its overlap with design. That’s when I hit my stride. I began designing holographic interfaces and other 3D elements on some incredible sci-fi films. Joining Territory Studio and helping it grow into a global company with over 120 people is another feather in my cap, and a crucial element in the trajectory of my career to date.

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

MARTI ROMANCES: Working on films that I grew up watching and admiring, including the experience of designing on several Marvel films. All these different franchises have defined my taste over the years, and now I’ve actually been able to participate in them as a designer. Thinking about it makes me grin like the Cheshire cat!

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

MARTI ROMANCES: Seeing effects used just for the sake of adding them. Unfortunately, some people force stuff when it’s not required. Conversely, I am always looking for something that needs to be designed, especially if it has never existed before. This is what drives me as an artist.

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

MARTI ROMANCES: Starting Territory Studio in San Francisco has been an incredible challenge, creating a facility out of nowhere and, within a few years, being lauded for our visual effects and design work. Challenging, but very satisfying!

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

MARTI ROMANCES: For Guardians of the Galaxy, we had to add a cassette tape from the ‘80s into a holographic screen from another galaxy, all so that Star-Lord could play his mix tape.

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

MARTI ROMANCES: One of the most impressive changes we’ve seen has been the accessibility young artists have to the software we use, and how easy the internet has made it for them to learn how to master such tools. Without this, we wouldn’t have as much talent working in the industry today.

I’d also highlight the many advances we’ve seen in raytracing, and almost real-time photorealistic rendering. It helps the creative process so much when you can actually iterate while lighting a CG scene, or when moving cameras around. Something we needed to wait for hours to achieve in the not-so-distant past can now be updated in a fraction of a second.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

MARTI ROMANCES: I experience a lot of visual inconsistencies between departments on big jobs. Each department has its budgetary concerns and they don’t always play well with others. Because some studios are so big and complicated to navigate, this can lead to people trying to re-create your work under a different budget, generating the same assets for use in production, then postproduction, then for marketing purposes. I see this working well on smaller productions, but it’s something bigger studios could learn from.

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

MARTI ROMANCES: Never take shortcuts. I think the industry puts you where you need to be. If you want to gain seniority and respect, the only way to do so is to build up your career step by step. Experience becomes everything: one day you will have people below you who rely on your knowledge and wisdom, because you’ve been there before. Self-entitlement is definitely something that doesn’t work very well. Also, there is no final goal. Our industry won’t ever stop, so you should never slow down.

CINEFEX: Territory is celebrating its 10th anniversary. What are your predictions for the next decade?

MARTI ROMANCES: Real-time render engines are already beginning to pick up the pace. Computational power is growing exponentially, and our perception of what’s possible should also follow suit. I envision more integrated experiences with the audience, with immersive storytelling and experiential narratives leading the way.

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

MARTI ROMANCES: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – take a look at those gorgeous hand-made effects and environments! Even the propmaking department on this film would be a gold mine of information for anyone who wants to work in the art department nowadays.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – I think there is a before-and-after watershed moment here regarding elements of the film like matte painting or crowd duplication. While we rely on CG techniques to create these things today, back then there was a lot of stitching and compositing work happening.

The Matrix – this is an obvious one, but the techniques they used back then were definitely ahead of their time, especially being so innovative visually with just camera effects.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

MARTI ROMANCES: Always salted popcorn. None of that melted buttery business I’ve found brazenly added to popcorn here in the US!

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Marti!