To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Korbinian Hopfner is a Houdini effects TD at RISE, and has worked on films including Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy and Exodus: Gods and Kings.
CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Korbinian?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: When I first watched the massive battle sequences in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I thought that I would like to get involved in this line of work by helping to make these visual effects-heavy productions. I started by reviewing as many available tutorials as I could find. My research also included how effects were achieved throughout previous decades when digital technology was in its earlier years – particularly in understanding how exactly they got around the technical hurdles by developing their own tools and processes. It still motivates me to take my work further.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Those lucky shots where the first attempt gets to final – that’ll always make me smile.
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: The sad sight of a broken espresso machine and the chilling reality that the day has only begun.
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Probably Captain America: Civil War, where we went through a lot of look development phases for a specific effect and needed to change it in a very short time.
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: We had to create an effect for rocks that consume light. Conceptually, that was a strange task.
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Effects work is always a very time-consuming process – at least, it can be when it comes to big simulations. Of course, every year it becomes easier as the software and hardware are continually improved upon. A positive aspect of these advancements is that becoming involved in this industry is easier now for beginners. The software has evolved to be more user-friendly, albeit still offering the tools that artists need to complete their tasks.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Real-time photorealistic physics and simulations – I would definitely like to see this more and more implemented.
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Start with some simple tutorials, followed by an internship. If you’re still on board after that, I guess you’re good to go for the next level. Go step by step, and don’t ever give up after a hiccup. Keep practicing.
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: I would begin with the classics – Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day. They still have some of the most ground-breaking effects of all time. I mean, who doesn’t get goosebumps when the T-1000 melts through the iron bars? Seeing that in theaters for the first time is a memory that will be hard to top, if even. The third one would certainly be Mad Max: Fury Road. Every time I rewatch the sequence where they are racing through the encroaching mega-sandstorm, there are always previously unnoticed details I love discovering.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
KORBINIAN HOPFNER: Movie time is popcorn time. I choose you, salty popcorn!
CINEFEX: Korbinian, thanks for your time!