To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Miles Green works as effects department supervisor at Animal Logic. His career highlights include The Lego Movie, Happy Feet, Walking with Dinosaurs, Australia and The Golden Compass.
CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Miles?
MILES GREEN: It might surprise you that I was never into film, visual effects or games as a kid. I don’t think my parents ever rented a video, and they were certainly not going to buy me a games console. After leaving school and attending art college, I was keen to get into something creative like sculpture, photography or drawing, but most of the art higher education courses did not appeal to me. Luckily, I stumbled upon a course at Bournemouth in the UK – a BA in computer animation and visualization. Everyone seemed to be getting a job out of it and it was still creative, I also learned the math behind it and how to program too!
After the course, I progressed to teaching Houdini and Maya. I had been offered jobs in London but Bournemouth was laid-back and had a beach and, well, London, was grey. It had a tube of a different sort, one I didn’t want to ride no matter how long it ran for. As luck would have it, a visiting lecturer from Industrial Light & Magic visited Bournemouth one year, we got on well and after I pestered him to employ me and my fellow junior lecturers in San Francisco, he contacted us a year later with the prospect of a job in effects in sunny Sydney. That was for the film Happy Feet at Animal Logic.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
MILES GREEN: I love the amount of creative involvement you can have in effects. If you’re technical, you can build your pipeline and your tools. If you’re also creative, then you can use all those things to run your shots. You can look at the end result and say that you had a part in every step. That’s a good feeling! I like directors and designers who know what they want, who have something in mind and can tell you how best to achieve it, or paint a good-looking frame. Life in Sydney is also amazing. The sun’s always shining, it’s a short ride to work through beautiful suburbs and parks – never a bad start to the day!
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
MILES GREEN: Directors and designers who don’t know what they want. Sometimes they don’t know what they want until they have seen it – it might be that after 99 versions they pick the first version you presented them! Also the words: “Show me something unimaginable.”
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
MILES GREEN: My first supervisor role was challenging, not so much from a technical perspective but for the sheer scale of the project and managing so many crew. It was stressful and I nearly quit effects. The best lesson I learned was that you can’t do everything. But if you try your best and tackle things in small steps you can achieve most things.
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
MILES GREEN: Trying to convince people to move to Australia for work. It’s sunny, has free healthcare, beautiful scenery, a population that generally understands sarcasm, and great beaches.
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
MILES GREEN: Previously, talented students came from animation universities and courses. But with the advance of online learning and resources, we now pick up many self-taught students who are really good! Open source is going great guns. All these open formats like VDB, USD and alembic are taking over and custom formats are falling out of favor. Houdini has changed too. When I started, it was only available in black and white – joke! – but really not many people used it for effects. Now it’s everywhere and it’s getting stronger and stronger, as it should. SideFX is a great team that listens to the industry and cares about it.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
MILES GREEN: Film royalties would be great!
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
MILES GREEN: If you’re producing your first showreel, make it concise and show only your very best work. Three to six short clips of high quality effects is fine. If you can be technical as well as creative it is a real advantage, as few people are good at both. If you are, you can join the other technical directors setting up shows and pipelines, which means you might be employed for longer than just the shot-producing part of a project. Or try to focus on just the creative aspects and have a few specialisms that you know inside out. Effects teams often like to have specialists in a few disciplines like water, rigid bodies, smoke and fire, or particles.
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
MILES GREEN: I generally prefer films without effects, because I can relax and not wonder “Is that CG?” or “How did they do that?” My top would be Trainspotting, because it reminds me of the UK. Porco Rosso, because it’s weird, and The Iron Giant, just because it’s nice.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
MILES GREEN: I like popcorn with sugar on it but they don’t sell it over here in Sydney. They just have salted or butter!
CINEFEX: Miles, thanks for your time!