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The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures (Focal Press), edited by Susan Zwerman and Jeffrey A. Okun, VES has become a ‘go-to’ staple for professionals as a reference, for students as a guide and lay people to reveal the magic of visual effects. Here is an excerpt from the second edition.
Before meeting with the director and the producer, the VFX Supervisor or VFX Producer should prepare by obtaining as much information about the project as possible. Is a script available?
Who are the key people involved? What were their other projects? What is the project based on?
Has the project been greenlit? A supervisor may be working for a visual effects company or may be freelance. Becoming familiar with past projects and any additional source material will make it easier to discuss the project requirements using these as references. If a script is available, it is best to read through it and make notes and questions in terms of the director’s vision and how the various sequences will be approached. The VFX Supervisor will have to consider some of the techniques required to accomplish what is described in the script.
Before the meeting a demo reel and resume/credit list should be submitted if there is time. The supervisor should bring the same reel and multiple copies of the resume to the meeting. The following information applies to other visual effects artists as well. The demo reel should include only the best work and should be on a DVD that is no longer than 5 minutes (2 to 3 minutes may be a more useful maximum). The DVD case cover should include the artist’s name, position, and phone number. The inside flap of the DVD case should list the scenes or films in order and what the artist did or what their job role was. The DVD itself should also include the name and contact information since it may become separated from the case. A supervisor can usually just include the finished shots. A visual effects artist should include the before and after versions of key shots. Normally, this is done by showing the finished shot, then the original plate, and then the finished shot again. It’s not necessary to show a before and after for every shot. Customize it based on your job type (i.e., an animator may want to show an animation test for a shot). The DVD should include the name (and possibly contact info) on the main menu. Avoid showing running footage in the DVD menu screen so that when the reviewers see the shots, the images are full screen. Consider using movie music as a basic soundtrack, which the reviewers can listen to or not.
Any music that is considered grating should be avoided. Do not take credit for work you did not do and do not falsify anything on your resume. The facts will be uncovered during the project and will make things very difficult moving forward.
“The supervisor needs to be confident and part salesperson, as with any job interview. One of the first questions will likely be how they can do a particular type of effect for a sequence in the film. The exact answer to this may be very dependent on learning other details of the project, but they will want to know the supervisor has answers and can work with them on determining the best solution for their needs. The supervisor will want to determine the scope of the work.”
—Scott Squires, VES
The meeting with the director and producer is both a job interview and, it is hoped, a meeting of the minds. They will want to determine if the VFX Supervisor can provide the creative and technical expertise needed for the project and whether they feel they can work with this person for six months to two years, depending on the scope of the project. Does the director feel that he or she can speak in creative film terms and not be caught up in the technical requirements? Does the producer feel that the supervisor has the experience and organizational skills to oversee other artists and companies? They will also be evaluating how passionate the supervisor is about the project.
The supervisor needs to be confident and part salesperson, as with any job interview. One of the first questions will likely be how they can do a particular type of effect for a sequence in the film. The exact answer to this may be very dependent on learning other details of the project, but they will want to know the supervisor has answers and can work with them on determining the best solution for their needs.
The supervisor will want to determine the scope of the work, the general look and approach the director is planning, and as many details as are reasonable in an hour meeting. The supervisor needs to evaluate the director and producer and the project as a whole to determine whether it is a project that the supervisor wants to commit to for the next year or two. There is no guarantee when the next potential project will be offered to the supervisor, so that will have to be considered as well.
“It is important for the director to look at visual effects as a required art, not something to be feared or ignored. The supervisor should be looked on as a key part of the creative production team, the same as the director of photography. The director’s and producer’s support of the supervisor will go a long way toward making the filming of the visual effects elements easier and more productive.”
—Scott Squires, VES
Once the supervisor is selected, the first issue will be determining the true scope of the work with the director, producer, and VFX Producer. A detailed breakdown will have to be done for budgeting, and this budget will have to be adjusted as storyboards and previs are completed.
These breakdowns may be sent out to multiple visual effects companies to bid. The supervisor should work with production to make use of as much pre-production time as possible. There will never be enough pre-production time, so it is important to schedule storyboards, previs, designs, and tests to be done. The supervisor needs to be able to communicate clearly to both the director and to others what will be required and how they can strike the right balance of creative design, time, and budget to accomplish the visual effects. The supervisor may have to do mock-ups and work with other artists who can produce designs and mock-ups to try to refine the specifics.
If the director has worked with visual effects before, then the supervisor will have to explain any differences from other approaches that were used on the director’s previous projects. If the director has not done visual effects, then the supervisor will have to explain the basics of the process and what the director will need to know (without getting tied up in the technical details).
The supervisor needs to support the director with creative suggestions on shot design, creature design, and other visual effects creative issues. The approach many directors take for their visual effects shots differs from that taken for their other shots, but it is important to design the shots to match as if the objects and scene actually existed during the shoot. The supervisor will work with the director and producer to determine the best approach needed for the visual effects. This includes how to dovetail the visual effects into the design and execution of the film to achieve the best results within the budget. Planning how the elements will need to be filmed during production will be one of many issues the supervisor will have to convey to the director and the key production departments.
When the director and supervisor work together well during preproduction, they develop a shorthand for communication, and the supervisor can use their understanding of the direction to guide decisions in production and post-production.
It is important for the director to look at visual effects as a required art, not some- thing to be feared or ignored. The supervisor should be looked on as a key part of the creative production team, the same as the director of photography. The director’s and producer’s support of the supervisor will go a long way toward making the filming of the visual effects elements easier and more productive. The first assistant director and the production manager will take their cues from the director and producer, and if plate photography is rushed to the point of compromise, then the finished visual effects will be compromised as well.