Spotlight – Tara Conley

by Graham Edwards

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

Tara Conley is a senior visual effects producer at Image Engine. Ask her about her movie career highlights, and she’ll tell you how much she enjoyed working on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Thor: Ragnarok, Game of Thrones, Pacific Rim and Immortals.

Tara Conley

CINEFEX: Tara, how did you get started in the business?

TARA CONLEY: I actually ended up in the visual effects industry completely by accident. I had just finished my diploma in broadcast communications at BCIT, and was working several jobs to make ends meet. One of these jobs was at Rainmaker as a scanner assistant in postproduction. Essentially, my job was to assist during the color transfer of film to tape, by syncing up the audio with the picture. After three months, a position opened up in visual effects. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to jump into a world I knew really nothing about, getting my feet wet as a visual effects coordinator.

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

TARA CONLEY: I love the personal relationships I have built because of this industry. We tend to be a close-knit group since we are deep in the trenches together, at the best and the worst of times. Our crew becomes like a second family, and the camaraderie I have seen over the years is truly outstanding.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

TARA CONLEY: I always make it my personal mission to protect my crew to maintain a work-life balance. I feel the best work comes out of a crew that is happy, and happiness stems from having time for all facets of our lives. When forces beyond my control impede that, it makes me feel like I have failed.

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

TARA CONLEY: One of the biggest challenges of my career was being part of the Rodeo FX expansion. When I started with them in 2009, we were about 15 people working in the basement of a building in Montreal. By the time I left to head out west, we had become a global operation, working alongside what was once our bread-and-butter client Industrial Light & Magic on Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, as a competing vendor. Where I was once the sole producer, by the time of my departure I was one of six producers supporting a team of over 200 artists in Montreal, 30 in Quebec City, and 15 in Los Angeles.

CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?

TARA CONLEY: I don’t know if this is the weirdest, but at the time it happened it was unique! While I was working at Rainmaker, we had taken on the daunting task of making Will Ferrell and Jon Heder into professional figure skaters. Back in 2007, CG face replacement was definitely a tricky order. It was pretty hilarious seeing these shots become a reality, and to this day many people ask me, “What were the visual effects in Blades of Glory?”

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

TARA CONLEY: The main changes in my mind would be technology. Visual effects that were once so complicated can now be achieved with great ease. I find it incredible that with the advancement of technology, and of course the talent behind it, we can create stunning photorealistic work.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

TARA CONLEY: I feel visual effects is still very much a male-dominated industry. I would love to see more powerful women dive in and embrace key roles.

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

TARA CONLEY: Roll your sleeves up and prepare to pay your dues. We all started at the bottom and worked a lot of not-so-glamourous hours to get to where we are now. Patience, perseverance, and a passion for the craft will get you there.

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

TARA CONLEY: Okay so here we go! First things first, I would say Star Wars. I think this movie really started it all. Second up is none other than The Matrix. I think we all remember ‘bullet time,’ where Keanu Reeves dodges bullets fired at him by an agent while the camera circles around him. My third pick would be Jurassic Park. I might be biased as we are currently wrapping out of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, however in terms of creature work, I feel it was really the beginning of putting fully animated creatures into a live action environment.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

TARA CONLEY: My guilty pleasure is nachos with processed cheese sauce!

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Tara!