Can you tell us your role at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and summarize your day-to-day responsibilities?
It depends on the project! Most recently, I have been working as a compositing supervisor on a film using ILM StageCraft. We weren’t just combining visual effects elements in post-production, but for the actual filming, and creating content for the actual shoot. My day would involve a lot of meetings because this sort of production pipeline is relatively new to many, so we want to ensure our approach in creating the content is well communicated in the best collaborative way. Every week there was something new and challenging for us to tackle. This was not a typical show for compositing. It was centered more on creating all of the environments and the content, because that’s what they shoot on the stage. We are dealing with a massive amount of large imagery, 3D geometry, and data, as well as working with R&D for the best optimization. It’s all rather exciting, and I keep nerding out on this new tech!
What’s it like on a typical production?
If I’m working as a compositing supervisor in post on a typical film, commercial or show, generally we have dailies in the mornings and afternoons. For compositing, you’re trying to blend all the elements (cg, green screen, practical, etc.) together to make them look real – so in dailies, in collaboration with the VFX Supervisor, we’re all making comments about what is changing or what can be improved. Then, afterwards to save time, I’ll follow up and reach out to some of my fellow compositors to ensure that they’re ok with the notes given, and if they need any help with anything. For junior compositors, I will generally reach out to and work with them on individual shots.
It’s a bit more challenging now with work-from-home because normally you can go to a colleague’s desk and work through a problem together. Now I’m doing a lot of screen-sharing. We’ll get together on a group chat and walk through a script about color, or an approach to getting a more efficient result in their shot. Part of the color pipeline also falls into the compositing tasks. You have to make sure everything looks seamless and flows well together in a sequence.
On top of all that, I’ve also done some on-set supervision work too. I’m kind of jumping around a lot right now. I’ve worn a lot of different hats in the last year or two.
It sounds like quality assurance is an important part of your role?
It’s kind of like the Q.C. department. Once we’re done compositing, we make sure nothing is sticking out, before shipping to the client. A compositing lead or a supervisor will “tech-check” a shot the end of the day before it gets shipped to the client. You don’t want to send something that’s half-broken and no one looked at it!
Can you summarize your background and how you came to ILM?
I started at ILM on a six-month contract in January, 2003. Before then, I worked at a small fx boutique company called Foundation Imaging, and we did the visual effects for the first three seasons of Babylon 5, several seasons of Star Trek Voyager, Deep Space Nine, as well as some other television and small film work. I had attended Ball State University in Indiana, which is also the alma mater of television host David Letterman. He donated money to our Film and TV Communications department, including scholarships and internships. I actually received a David Letterman on campus internship, where he paid for a semester of my college, which was awesome. I’ve still never met the man to say thank you, but thank you, Dave! In my senior year, a bunch of us wanted to make the migration to California. So, over a few months we all moved out to Los Angeles. In fact, many of my friends are still down there and still working in the industry.
While at Foundation Imaging, I got my foot in the door as a production assistant. I finally showed my demo reel from college and said, “I’d like to do visual effects too.” I started out in After Effects and Photoshop doing monitor graphics for Babylon 5. Finally, there was an opportunity for me to learn compositing, which I started doing on season two and three. I worked on more TV shows, went out on set, and did film work on the side with other companies. I would work almost all night if I could, just to get the experience of moviemaking. Some of that learning and hard work paid off, as I was nominated for 3 Primetime Emmy awards!
A friend of mine was Todd Vaziri, whom I’d met when he was still in college and I was already working in the industry. Then Todd moved to California, worked in LA, and eventually landed at ILM, and one day out of the blue he said, “Send your reel up here.” And I said, “Yeah, like I have a shot.” I did, and got an interview. Next thing you know, I’m up here, and I’m still here and loving it.