Visual Effects Supervisor
What does a visual effects supervisor's job involve?
Visual effects encompass everything in a film that cannot be captured on a single piece of film in the camera. It often falls under the umbrella of special effects. But technically special effects concerns live sequences that take place on a film set such as animatronics, pyrotechnics or wire-work.
Visual effects involve everything that is created as more than one element but will finally be put together in a digital environment. It often involves compositing together computer generated effects with live sequences that are filmed using blue/green screen techniques or miniatures.
A visual effects supervisor will usually be called onto a film during pre-production. I'll need to talk to the director and the production designer as concept art is being created and as a story board artist is laying out a movie so we can discuss the scope of what is needed and what effects we can do.
For example, they might want to shoot a scene in a studio of a set piece 15 stories high. But their studio might only be 30ft high and can only fit in a set a few stories high. In order to extend it, I need to know the exact dimensions of the set, and how the camera has moved around it, how it is lit, and what it is constructed of so I can fit the computer generated version on top.
I recently supervised the visual effects for the big budget film Sahara. My biggest sequence was of a solar energy plant in the middle of the desert which, of course, doesn't exist in real life. Little pieces of it were built in the desert so we could shoot close shots with no visual effects enhancement or extension. But the wider shots needed substantial visual effects extensions. My visual effects team and I went to Morocco with the main filming units to see make sure that wide shots were covered in a way that allowed us to extend them, and to take reference footage, stills and measurements.
Back in London, the background shots filmed in the desert were digitized by the post-production visual effects company, Cinesite, and the solar plant that we had designed and built digitally was animated and composted into the shots.
How would you recommend getting into the business?
A lot of people start as assistants at visual effects and post-production companies. They are very good places for getting the basic knowledge of the techniques. There really is no better way to learn than on the job.
It's a good time to get into the business. There is a huge market at the moment as more and more films are being made using digital techniques. In fact, there is more work at the moment than there are artists.
To get into the business, you need a good basic knowledge of camera equipment and techniques, film lab processes, compositing techniques and software. You need a good visual sense and a creative approach to telling a story. The rest is just experience.