Visual effects (VFX) supervisor
Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production)*
*The Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Media Arts and Production) is now known as the Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production).
UTS gave me a wide range of skills, you don’t quite realise it at the time but it is training you to think differently and approach things from a non-conventional angle. Solving visual effects shots is all about that; you need to find the best solution in the most efficient way while working and communicating with a large team of people, often from an international background. The many group projects culminating with my major project in my final year was a great way to get real world experience that has really helped me throughout my career.
Why did you choose to study Media Arts and Production (MAP) at UTS?
The Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production) was one of the most comprehensive courses at the time. I always knew I wanted to study film, and MAP offered the perfect blend of practical and theoretical study. It was the only course to let you shoot on actual 16mm film at the time, which was also a big draw card.
The variety of subjects allowed me to get a good overview of everything and if you wanted to, you could easily specialise in film areas that were of interest you. Being a smaller part of the overall communications degree, MAP had a close community feel so it had a great on-campus social aspect that I loved.
You've worked as a Senior Compositor and VFX Supervisor on major films like Star Wars, Avengers, The Hunger Games and The LEGO Movie. How did UTS prepare you for a career in post-production?
UTS gave me a wide range of skills, you don’t quite realise it at the time but it is training you to think differently and approach things from a non-conventional angle. Solving visual effects shots is all about that; you need to find the best solution in the most efficient way while working and communicating with a large team of people, often from an international background. The many group projects culminating with my major project in my final year was a great way to get real-world experience that has really helped me throughout my career.
Where’s your career path taken you since graduating? Is it what you had expected?
Initially I wanted to be an editor, which I’m pretty sure my mother still thinks I do — but soon found myself interested in motion graphics. At the time there weren’t any courses that directly taught that side of things beyond editing so I decided to teach myself through online tutorials and trial and error.
I took Creative Techniques for Shorts while at UTS and that really opened up my eyes for what was possible as it allowed me to explore my visual effects passions.
While at UTS, I managed to score myself a job as a runner at a post-production house in Northbridge. Being a runner was one of the best ways to get a taste of the industry, and a reminder to never be too good for any job. You may think you are the best editor-slash-motion-designer-slash-model, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to do the hard yards.
I was making coffee, preparing lunches and keeping the office clean — it wasn’t the most glamorous “film industry” position but it allowed me to learn the most about what I wanted to do. After a short while there, it became clear that compositing was the right blend of art and science for me.
The NSW government used to have a great Visual Effects (VFX) placement scheme, which I applied for and received one of the 5 places that put you in a VFX company for 6 months and paid you a real wage. That’s how I got my start at Fuel VFX (now part of Animal Logic). This was the perfect place for me to start, as they very much believed in throwing you in the deep end. They didn’t care if you had one month or one year's experience, they would give you a shot and if you delivered they would happily give you more.
The first major film I worked on was The Avengers and was an awesome introduction to film work. Also being a massive Marvel fan it was cool to see the process that brings a film like that to the big screen! Throughout this time I still worked on projects on the side to accelerate the development of my skills, mostly through people I had met at UTS.
One of the hardest parts is having confidence in your work. You’ve heard it plenty of times before but fake it until you make it. Once you really get into the nitty-gritty of work you realise that everyone doesn’t know exactly what to do all the time. They aren’t the perfect creative geniuses you have built them up to be in your mind. While amazing at their jobs, they question their work just the same, but have learnt to not let that hold them back. So you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. You should seek out opinions, and remember constructive feedback is your best friend.
Animal Logic bought Fuel so I then got to experience the bigger production side of things. Animal Logic was a significantly different experience. Fuel worked on a smaller number of shots across multiple films, whereas Animal Logic often completes the majority of work for a single film. Starting on The LEGO Movie, if judging by my personal collection of Lego is anything to go by, was a super exciting job for me. The sheer volume of shots being finalized each week, often 200+, was a massive feat. And a great lesson of how to work in a far bigger team!
After working on the second The Avengers movie and helping develop the look for the Ultron hologram sequences I have since relocated to London. The amount of work here is far greater than Sydney, getting to experience being on set at Pinewood Studio for Star Wars and the ability for directors to just “drop by” has been very cool, so I look forward to what the rest of my time in London has to offer.
What does a typical day in the life of a Senior Compositor/VFX Supervisor look like?
For anyone not sure what a compositor does, they are responsible for the final stage in the Visual effects process. They bring together all the various film elements such as: Green screen footage, computer models of robots and things like explosions — combining them into one coherent shot.
The best thing about compositing is how varied each day can be. Once you are a few weeks into a show, and after you’ve had your coffee, most days would involve continuing to work on your assigned shots having a review in the afternoon (known as dailies) where you view your shots in the theatre on the big screen with the supervisor and receive feedback. When you are in more of a lead role a lot of your time is spent helping your team with problems, reviewing shots and planning with production. A client can change their mind and deadlines at any time so you have to always be ready to adapt — which keeps the days interesting!
Any advice to students studying Communication and Media Arts and Production?
Work on as many projects and films you can while at UTS. It’s some of the best networking and connections you’ll make (plus you have access to all that awesome free production equipment). Doing free projects is a great way to get experience but also a way to get your name out there. It’s important not to be taken advantage of; there is always a whole host of people that want something for nothing. Choose a project you’re passionate about, and in turn, you’ll produce better work.
For me I did a job that had the possibility of paying but deep down I knew never would, it was doing a graphics package for a documentary series that was interesting to me, however 4 months later that same client called me back and gave me another graphics job this time paying up front a quite generous rate.
You need to be open to opportunity in order for it to lead you somewhere. It’s important to recognise that transition period between when you are doing experience gaining work for free versus when you deserve to be paid for your talents. Eventually, it was very clear that I wanted to be a compositor. So many people think there are no jobs out there; if you think there are no jobs, there won’t be any.
So don’t be limited by what you think is available. When you’re clear about what you want, what you need to make that happen will fall into place.
Learn more about the Bachelor of Communication (Media Arts and Production).