VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


April 15
2024

ISSUE

Spring 2024

MARIANNE SPEIGHT: ACHIEVING THE FILMMAKER’S VISION BY EMBRACING VFX

By OLIVER WEBB

Marianne Speight, Chief Business Development Officer and Executive Producer, Milk VFX. (Photo: Simon Wicker)

Marianne Speight, Chief Business Development Officer and Executive Producer, Milk VFX. (Photo: Simon Wicker)

Marianne Speight was born in Stockton-on-Tees in the North East of England but lived in New Zealand for a few years. Besides studying specific university courses, Speight didn’t receive any formal VFX training. “I wasn’t aware of any training availability when I started,” Speight says. “Mainly, it was on the job with artists/supervisors and producers passing on their knowledge to me on a daily basis. The only course I did take was compositing basics at Escape Studios as I wanted to learn what the compers were talking about with regard to various lighting and comp passes they needed when I was a coordinator.”

Speight broke into the visual effects industry after joining Peerless Camera Company. “Terry Gilliam had just started his film The Brothers Grimm at that time, so it was an exciting time to start my VFX journey – and a steep learning curve! I loved visual effects in Star Wars but had little concept of how VFX effects were actually made,” Speight notes. “It was really exciting having direct access to the filmmaker and learning how creative feedback would affect asset builds or shot composition and in turn what the impact on the schedule would be. Mostly, though, it felt like we were very connected to the creative process and the director’s vision, which was inspiring. It was also intriguing to work with a lot of very experienced artists who were happy to share their knowledge and also some amazing stories from the days of optical printers.”

Speight was very interested in the production budget/scheduling side of the effects from the beginning, and Peerless owner Kent Houston encouraged her to go in that direction. Speight served as Visual Effects Coordinator on the 2005 film Racing Stripes. “Racing Stripes was fascinating to me as a new coordinator because it had so many parts of the VFX process involved. So, it was a good learning experience to get me used to many parts of the process for muzzle replacements and full CG animals,” she explains. “I learned a lot about dependencies on different areas such as prep animation lighting and comp. I especially enjoyed watching the animators pull faces into a mirror and recreate those on the zebra! It gave me a good grounding to know how long different parts take and what can speed up or slow down the schedule.”

Speight was looking to expandher experience on challenging projects in terms of volume and complexity, and found both working on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2011). (Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Walden Media, LLC)

Speight was looking to expand her experience on challenging projects in terms of volume and complexity, and found both working on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2011). (Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox and Walden Media, LLC)

When Speight first joined MPC in 2009, she was already established as a visual effects producer, but was looking to take her career in a new direction. “I was looking to expand my experience on challenging projects in terms of volume and complexity, and I enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which had both. It was a fun and technically challenging show. It was my first experience working with CG water simulation and rendering. Back then, Flowline was the software of choice, and that presented its own set of challenges since simulation and render times were evolving during production. It was also a heavy creature and animation show, and I loved being involved in the development process of the creatures from initial concept to final shots. The show itself was quite an eclectic mix of challenges, but it was a really fun film to work on as there was a great team across the board and a collaborative client.”

Among Speight’s other credits as a Visual Effects Producer is X-Men: First Class. “I loved working on X-Men: First Class. It wasn’t a huge volume of shots, 200 max, but it was complex work with a host of separate technical and artistic problems to solve,” Speight remarks. “I particularly liked the Hank [McCoy] beast transformations involving muscle deformations and fur appearance/disappearance. It was a real challenge for rigging and groom, and it felt like we were learning a lot throughout the process in terms of how we developed our approach to using software. It was fun working with the creative team led by [MPC Visual Effects Supervisor] Nicolas Aithadi on this one as everyone loved the franchise. I also got to work with [Visual Effects Designer] John Dykstra. That was a huge honor to work with a VFX legend.”

As a new coordinator on Racing Stripes, Speight was introduced to many parts of the VFX process, including muzzle replacements and full CG animals, as well as to factors that impact a production schedule.(Photo: Alsbirk, Blid. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

As a new coordinator on Racing Stripes, Speight was introduced to many parts of the VFX process, including muzzle replacements and full CG animals, as well as to factors that impact a production schedule.
(Photo: Alsbirk, Blid. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Speight began her visual effects career on Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (2005). (Image courtesy of Dimension Films and MGM)

Speight began her visual effects career on Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (2005). (Image courtesy of Dimension Films and MGM)

X-Men: First Class didn’t involve a large volume of shots, but Speight found it was complex work with a host of separate technical and artistic problems to solve.(Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

X-Men: First Class didn’t involve a large volume of shots, but Speight found it was complex work with a host of separate technical and artistic problems to solve.
(Image courtesy of Marvel Studios)

Speight currently serves as Chief Business Development Officer and Executive Producer for Milk VFX. “I always admired Milk while working at other companies. They always had a talented team, and I was a fan of their creature work and their ability to be involved in a wide range of projects. Milk has always had a strong client base for repeat business, and when I came in, my goal was to expand that client base and reinforce our connections in the industry and with filmmakers and showrunners. I enjoy working with clients to break down scripts and work out methodologies that are going to give the look they want but also within their budget. We always want to be with clients, working to help them develop their ideas and inform their creative process. We are working to expand our client base to a more global reach while still offering a very personal interaction with our clients. As part of this, Milk now has studios in Bordeaux, Barcelona and Dublin, and it’s great to be able to access the range of talented artists in those areas. We are a full-service VFX house with very strong FX and environment teams, but our continuing specialization is creatures, so we are looking to develop that even further. In my role as Executive Producer, I also oversee projects from the bid stage through award through shot delivery. It’s great to have that continuity and to see how the ideas, assets and shots have evolved and all the various creative twists and turns it may have taken. It’s always very satisfying to see your work on the big screen!”

It was a career highlight for Speight to work with Ridley Scott on Prometheus (2012). (Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

It was a career highlight for Speight to work with Ridley Scott on Prometheus (2012). (Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Speight’s favorite shot from her career was the sequence of the Juggernaut crash from Prometheus as it was quite an epic build and a landmark part of the film. (Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

Speight’s favorite shot from her career was the sequence of the Juggernaut crash from Prometheus as it was quite an epic build and a landmark part of the film. (Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

When it comes to selecting a favorite visual effect shot from her career, Speight is quick to point to one shot in particular. “My favorite shot from my career is probably actually a group of shots, which I guess is cheating, but it was the sequence of the juggernaut crash from Prometheus as it was quite an epic build of the asset and a landmark part of the film,” Speight says. “It was a huge asset, and the textures needed to be very high-res as they were coming very close to the camera. The animation and FX also had to be spot on to make the weight of the ships and crash believable so the audience felt how vast it was. It was a great sequence to develop as I’m a big fan of Ridley Scott. It was pleasing to develop that with him and see how happy he was with it.”

Choosing an overall project that she is most proud of is more of a daunting task for Speight. “It’s a tough choice on which project I’m the most proud of,” Speight notes. “I think in terms of my early career I was most proud of Casino Royale because I always wanted to work on a Bond film. I also was just very proud of getting that one delivered in a short space of time, comparatively speaking. It involved a range of visual effects from environment extensions to face replacements. It was a great project to work on. I particularly liked the crane sequence we did with Daniel Craig.”

“However, I think my favorite project they worked on was Guardians of the Galaxy because it was just such a big film with just so many different sequences requiring different elements, different characters that we needed to do,” Speight continues. “MPC and Framestore were building their own assets for Rocket and Groot, and they had to match exactly. Both used some proprietary software, so it was kind of ‘how do we make assets match while we are both building at the same time with our own setups?’ But I think everyone worked together really well. It was a good example of studios working together to get the best outcome for the film. I loved the process of building Groot as that was complicated from a rigging perspective, and groom was a challenge for Rocket, but the biggest one was making both characters ‘real,’ and I think the animators did a fantastic job. The spaceship fights were cool to work on both in terms of animation and in terms of having massive ships with an immense polygon count to render. There were just so many different stand-alone sequences over the project; it wasn’t like there was much repeating in terms of effects requirements, so that’s really challenging but satisfying to do. A lot of that fun came down to the team – they were brilliant, and I loved how well everyone worked together.”

Casino Royale involved a range of visual effects from environment extensions to face replacements, and Speight was proud of delivering a complex project in a comparatively short period of time. (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Sony)

Casino Royale involved a range of visual effects from environment extensions to face replacements, and Speight was proud of delivering a complex project in a comparatively short period of time. (Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Sony)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a “big film” in Speight’s career for its vast scope of demands because it was filled with many different sequences requiring different elements and different characters that needed to be realized. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a “big film” in Speight’s career for its vast scope of demands because it was filled with many different sequences requiring different elements and different characters that needed to be realized. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios)

Speight cites Guardians of the Galaxy as a good example of studios working together to get the best outcome for the film. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios)

Speight cites Guardians of the Galaxy as a good example of studios working together to get the best outcome for the film. (Image courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios)

Technology-wise, the VFX industry is ever-evolving and has developed since the beginning of Speight’s career. “Certainly, when I first started my career it felt as though there was a new development monthly in terms of software, pipeline and hardware that could be used,” Speight details. “It has always been a very fascinating industry to be in. When faced with technical and creative challenges that haven’t been solved before, it is always incredible to see technical and artistic talent within our industry take on those challenges so readily and design and build something that works. During my career, we went from shooting on film to digital to LED walls, virtual production and virtual scouting, and I think those technical technological updates have been great for showrunners and filmmakers to give them all the tools they need to achieve their vision in a way that embraces VFX and how it can work for them. Having a facility that can consult early on to get the best possible outcome for their project is crucial, and I think we want to always try and advise on what tools could help them.”

In terms of inclusivity within the industry, Speight explains that it is an area that can always be improved, but the industry is heading in the right direction. “There is a lot more to be done to achieve a more diverse workplace through targeted recruiting and outreach to individuals and groups that wouldn’t necessarily have considered VFX as an option open to them due to its previously atypical demographic. For me, flexibility has led to inclusivity as a Mum, and it’s been great to be able to carry on with my career progression and have a family. It’s crucial for me to have a level of flexibility to be able to perform at the highest level, and there’s been a move towards flex and hybrid working in recent years, so I can juggle the needs of my family and the needs of the company. I feel that the industry is now more and more recognizing the benefits of that as it is retaining very experienced and talented crew who also want to have balance in their lives while working on some cool projects!”



Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALLOUT
15 April 2024
Profile
THE CONSEQUENCES OF FALLOUT
Westworld team brings Megaton Power to game adaption.
SINGING PRAISES FOR UNSUNG HEROES
15 April 2024
Profile
SINGING PRAISES FOR UNSUNG HEROES
Recognizing ‘hidden’ talent pivotal to making final shots a reality.
AGING PHILADELPHIA FOR THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE
03 April 2024
Profile
AGING PHILADELPHIA FOR THE WALKING DEAD: THE ONES WHO LIVE
The final season of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live follows Rick Grimes and Michonne Hawthorne.
LAS VEGAS’ SPHERE: WORLD’S LARGEST HIGH-RES LED SCREEN FOR LIVE ACTION AND VFX
15 April 2024
Profile
LAS VEGAS’ SPHERE: WORLD’S LARGEST HIGH-RES LED SCREEN FOR LIVE ACTION AND VFX
World’s largest high-resolution LED screen immerses audiences.
NAVIGATING LONDON UNDERWATER FOR THE END WE START FROM
05 March 2024
Profile
NAVIGATING LONDON UNDERWATER FOR THE END WE START FROM
Mahalia Belo’s remarkable feature directorial debut The End We Start From follows a woman (Jodie Comer) and her newborn child as she embarks on a treacherous journey to find safe refuge after a devastating flood.