To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Erik Schneider is a compositing supervisor at RISE. His filmography highlights include Black Panther, Babylon Berlin, Exodus: Gods and Kings and Guardians of the Galaxy.
ERIK SCHNEIDER: When I was in school, I had friends who were working on a small sci-fi project. This was one of the first instances where I considered the impact of visual effects in opening up new means of storytelling for the big screen. It was also at the time when everyone was anticipating the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. After I saw my friends’ project, I wanted to get involved – we started with working on a fantasy trailer. Of course it was horrible! But it was these early works that really got me going further into the field. At the time we were playing around with Maya and Shake. We all thought we should have begun learning these tools earlier in our lives because they were at this time challenging to use – we were only scratching the surface of the software’s full potential. Years went by and then a friend who was already involved in visual effects production described his role as a compositor. It was amazing to see how they worked and the end products of their work come together.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Going to the theater and seeing a film you worked on being projected onto the big screen.
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Going into a screening and the people around you are aggressively eating. Not a fan of that.
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Well, this is before I joined the RISE team. Back when I worked on Exodus: Gods and Kings, there was a wide shot in the sequence Moses where guides his people across the Red Sea. The effects department was already under a lot of pressure because they also were assigned the towering waves that return after the sea closes. However, the water simulations were not holding up. We had to patch in dozens of smaller elements to re-create a larger body of water. It was a tremendous task but we ended up with something really nice given the circumstances.
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: It has to be a film I worked on where the story centers on children who are able to fly by farting. Needless to say, the effect they had originally gone with did not work at all, even for this premise. I now had to make these kids fly with the power of compositing!
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: A few years back we were experimenting with elements such as explosions, fire and smoke. Now, almost always, these tasks are done by the effects department, which is great for the visual effects overall. But sometimes I do miss watching these elements come together.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: A lot of my industry colleagues are becoming more mindful about the incorporation of machine learning into our workflows. I am a bit hesitant about this stuff in general, but also in terms of how it will benefit the artists themselves. If it advances to the point where we as compositors no longer have to fix edges, for example, we will soon be out of work altogether.
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Don’t doubt yourself or the work that your perform – nobody gets it right the first go around. Keep developing your skillsets and, more importantly, find out what it is that you want to do in visual effects. Even during the most intense turnarounds and outstanding tasks, if you are still happy knowing that you are doing what you love, you can handle the challenges.
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner 2049. All these films showed me things that I previously had never thought achievable for the big screen. They made me curious to understand how exactly they undertook these incredible feats in their respective eras.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Club Mate – a German drink with plenty of caffeine.
CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Erik!