Magazine article Variety

Visuals for Hire

Magazine article Variety

Visuals for Hire

Article excerpt

FOR AUDIENCES WATCHING the end credits of major movies, one of the most impressive lists has to be the huge number of visual-effects contributors. "It takes an army," says Kyle McCulloch, vfx supervisor on Disney blockbuster "Beauty and the Beast." "Our team spanned the globe, working on thousands of visual effects shots."

McCulloch, a VES award winner for "Gravity," credits expert collaborators such as Kelly Port ("Maleficent") at Digital Domain in Vancouver and Richard Hoover ("Blade Runner 2049") at Framestore in Montreal. "Because of the distributed nature of the industry, visual-effects vendors have to do work that's transmittable and shareable. Framestore and DD shared shots, and complex interactions went back and forth. The role of the vfx supervisor has evolved as technology has expanded."

It's a role that can vary, notably on Marvel films, which has in-house supervisors. "I've just finished 'Thor: Ragnarok,'" McCulloch says. "Marvel has five effects films in their pipeline at any one time, and can have 20 vendors on a film. That's why they've developed their centralized model."

Talent wrangling is a key part of the supervisor's job, says John Nelson, who oversaw "Blade Runner 2049." "You need to have an economy of scale, and have enough shots at one place to make the budget work. It's a bit like casting, but on strengths and weaknesses."

Nelson, who won the visual effects Oscar for "Gladiator," employed eight vendors on "Blade Runner 2049," including Double Negative and MPC. "DNeg did the film's ménage a trois - the merging of two women to get a third woman's performance, which I'm very proud of." MPC, meanwhile, handled the re-creation of actress Sean Young from the original "Blade Runner." "They did a CG head replacement on a body double. We've seen realistic human-looking humans before, but now they have to act too."

While Nelson filmed in Hungary, Weta Workshop built miniatures in New Zealand and that required 5 a.m. phone calls to review work. "We wanted to photograph physical models as much as we could," says Nelson. "Still, every wide shot is an effects shot. We partially built cities on stages and extended them digitally. When you build worlds you have to create countless details - like air conditioning ducts - or it won't look like there's enough stuff there. …

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