What drives people to work in the visual effects industry? The glamour? The technology? All those ravening monsters and exploding spaceships? Or is it just another job? In an ongoing series of articles, we ask a wide range of VFX professionals the simple question: “Who or what inspired you to get into visual effects?”
Here are the responses from the staff at Rodeo FX.
Close Encounters of the Cinematic Kind
Everyone remembers favourite films from their childhood. For Benoit Rimet, character TD, one movie in particular took his imagination to infinity, and beyond: “Like pretty much everyone from my generation, I was inspired by Toy Story.”
Inspiration also came at a young age to Thomas Montminy-Brodeur, digital compositor. “My passion for visual effects started when I watched The Santa Clause. I was at that age when kids think that everything in films is real. So, when I saw Santa’s little helpers flying with jet packs, I asked my parents for a jet pack for Christmas!”
“When I was a kid,” said Samuel Jacques, CG artist, “I was always pausing and rewinding the VHS player at home to show my parents the latest visual effect flaw I’d discovered in a movie. Watching a scene in The Last Action Hero, I told them, ‘Look! You can see how the car is pushed in the air by this metal rod before the explosion!’ They always kept telling me I had an eye for ‘that kind of stuff’.”
Wayne Brinton, VFX supervisor, was sucked into the business by the sight of a spinning singularity. “I remember my friend’s dad taking us to see The Black Hole in the theatre,” he recalled. “It scared the crap out of me. I remember being determined to figure out how they did the movie so that I wouldn’t be freaked out that an actual black hole would come and engulf our planet.”
Having experimented with filmmaking from a young age, Félix Vallières, digital compositor, got a big kick out of a classic Robert Zemeckis film from 1994. “I was watching some bonus features on a Forrest Gump DVD,” Vallières remembered. “That’s when I realised that everything was possible. The invisible effects they pulled off in that movie have always blown me away, from the beautiful feather shot, to adding Forrest Gump next to John Lennon and JFK.”
Martin Pelletier, VFX supervisor and studio manager, was drawn into the effects business by something a little more horrific. “Back in 1998, I got hooked on a documentary about the VFX work on Mimic,” stated Pelletier. “I was struck by the glint in these guys’ eyes as they showed the rigging and renders of a full-CG creature done in Softimage 3D on those old Silicon Graphics O2 workstations. I remember saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe that can be a job – it must be so cool!’”
As for Valérie Clément, production manager, there’s one film alone that shines brighter than any other in her childhood memory. “It all started when I was a child,” Clément reflected. “My favourite movie was the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. For me, it represented everything that was magical in movies.”
Still on the subject of favourite films, there are certain titles that crop up time and again. Ara Khanikian, VFX supervisor, recalled, “I grew up watching ‘awe’ movies like Close Encounters of Third Kind, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and of course Star Wars. I was truly inspired by the storytelling and the visual quality of these timeless classics. Years later, when Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park came out, I was blown away and fell completely in love with the quality and realism of their visual effects. I kept asking myself, ‘How d’they do that?!’”
These same movies were also a source of inspiration for Cedric Tremblay, digital compositor. “Growing up, my father showed me Star Wars and Jurassic Park,” Tremblay remarked. “This is when I really started wondering how those mind-blowing effects were made. Then, those great trilogies of the early 2000s – The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings – helped me discover computer animation and the digital arts. At that point, I just couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, and so I studied as hard I could to get in this extraordinary world.”
Yet another devotee of the classics is Frédéric Simard, CG artist, who commented, “I remember the first time I saw Star Wars as a kid. I was blown away. I believed it was all real. Then came Jurassic Park. After seeing that, I had all these questions boiling in my brain. How could they make these things look so real? What process was involved? I eventually got accepted into graphic design and bam, The Matrix came out. Then I knew for sure that’s what I wanted to do.”
It was the dinos that did it for Simon Mercier, matte painting TD, who reported, “One day, my granny took me to see Jurassic Park. At that time, people in Quebec kept talking about our “Quebecois” talent that had contributed to that amazing movie. Right then and there, I stopped studying the dictionary to become a doctor, and tried to learn everything I could about that emerging and buzzing workstream. Today, I can assure you that it was worth all the effort!”
For Guillaume Poulin, VFX editor, it was less about individual films and more about a single filmmaker. “David Fincher is the reason I got into visual effects,” Poulin asserted. “Movies like The Social Network, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and Panic Room use VFX as a tool to help the story move forward. Invisible effects are often the most impressive ones. When you can’t tell what was done in post-production, that’s when it’s interesting to me.”
For many among the current generation of VFX artists, early inspiration came not only from the movies, but also from hobbies, toys and videogames.
Cedric Tremblay was inspired by a classic children’s construction toy. “As a kid, I played a lot with LEGO blocks,” he revealed. “I was creating worlds and inventing stories in space, on earth, in the ocean.”
Ara Khanikian noted, “For a large part of my life growing up, I had a penchant for creativity. I put it to use by building scale models and radio-controlled cars, by drawing and creating classical animations, or by experimenting with stop-motion animation.”
Commenting on his early research into the specifics of visual effects, Khanikian added, “I got a lot of my answers by watching a TV show called Movie Magic … and by reading Cinefex!”
Frédéric Simard remarked, “I didn’t really know I wanted to do CG until I played Myst – a pre-rendered adventure puzzle game where you can interact with the environment. I started searching for the software I could use to do that stuff. I got lucky enough to use 3D Studio in DOS, and was able to start modelling objects and edit small clips.”
Computer games also inspired Samuel Jacques: “When I saw the cinematics in Final Fantasy VII, I knew for sure what I was going to do later in life. I would record them on the VHS player so I could play them back again and again. At that time, they were a huge step forward in the visual quality of videogames, and the high quality of the images mesmerised me.”
Getting the Picture
By definition, VFX is a visual discipline, so it’s no surprise that the driving force for Wayne Brinton was “my love for making images on a computer.” Reminiscing about his first Commodore VIC-20 computer, Brinton elaborated, “I spent a weekend programming a ball to bounce and change colour, which I had to save to tape. Then I got my first IBM. Someone loaded a copy of 3D Studio release 3, and explained some of the process of making CGI for VFX. I was hooked!”
Nicolas Lemay, digital compositor, recalled his own early obsession with pictures: “I had a deep passion for photography, and I always wanted to push the limits of grading and compositing. For me, the capacity to create and modify images was astounding. You could create universes out of thin air. That is really what brought me into VFX.”
For Félix Vallières, digital compositor, it was always going to be about the moving image. “Everything started when I was about ten years old, and a friend of mine got a video camera,” he commented. “We started doing some analog effects, costumes, and stuff like that, just for fun, making really stupid movies. At that time, I didn’t even realise that digital visual effects were something you could do as a job!”
The author Douglas Adams once wrote, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Early career changes are not unusual for visual effects artists, including Ara Khanikian, who recalled, “When I was studying biochemistry, I came to the conclusion that I hated it, and could not fathom the idea of wearing a lab coat and working in an environment lit by neon lights. I decided to drop out of university and pursue my passion by enrolling in a school that taught 3D animation.”
Tara Conley, VFX producer, also followed a circuitous route into the business: “My VFX story started almost by accident. I graduated from British Columbia Institute Of Technology in Broadcast Journalism in 2002. Over the course of my first year in the labour market, I worked in many different facets of the broadcast industry, from promotions at local radio stations, to writing material for a realtor’s website, to writing, producing and directing my own Mystery Shopping Segment for the television show The Shopping Bags. I quickly realised that I really enjoyed the entertainment side of the industry rather than breaking news after all!”
Valérie Clément, production manager, began by running down a different kind of track altogether. “I started my career in sports, very far from the film/VFX industry,” she admitted. “Several years later, my urge to work on films became too strong, and the geeky part of me brought me to visual effects.”
For Thomas Hullin, CG supervisor, even the lure of the courtroom wasn’t enough to divert him from certain pyromaniac tendencies. “I was about to start law studies, but then I watched The Lord of the Rings. I thought, ‘OK, forget about everything, because there is actually a job where you can bring fantastic universes to life, create armies and blow stuff up!’ Now, a few years later, I am extremely fortunate because I get to work on amazing feature films … and blow stuff up!”
Like Mary Poppins, inspiration will sometimes just blow in on its own irresistible wind, setting its own rules and just whisking you away.
Julien Klein, digital compositor, described his own unique view of VFX inspiration: “I remember a documentary about Jean-Paul Gaultier’s workshop. and all the little hands that were contributing to his collections, and also the fine embroidery that only a few seamstresses could make. I wanted to be part of such an army of little elves.”
For Alexis Bélanger, digital compositor, the act of doing the work is inspiration enough: “There is a point while working on a shot when you think it’s never going to happen. But then, everything comes together, and the final result magically appears before your eyes. Whether it’s removing an ugly scar from a face, or making a planet explode, the feeling when you finish creating something that is completely different, and improved from what it was originally, is such a rush.”
Watch the Rodeo FX 2014 feature reel:
Established in 2006, Rodeo FX has offices in Montreal, Los Angeles and Quebec City. Recent credits include The Walk, Fantastic Four, Tomorrowland, Cinderella, Unbroken and Birdman, as well as extensive work on the hit HBO series Game of Thrones.
Special thanks to Anouk Deveault. “Forrest Gump” photographs copyright © 1994 by Paramount Pictures Corporation. “Star Wars” photograph copyright © 1977 by Lucasfilm, Ltd. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” photographs copyright © 2008 by Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” photograph copyright © 2002 by New Line Cinema.