You’re based out of Boston, a town not traditionally associated with VFX. What’s the industry there like and how did you get started?
Boston is a tricky place to work in VFX because there aren’t many VFX companies based here. But there are a lot of films being shot in Boston so in many ways, who better to work on a Boston film than a Boston based VFX company? I started out interning for a company here in Boston called Brickyard VFX. They do a lot of commercials and have done some great spots for Cheetos, Dunkin’ Donuts, Progressive Insurance, etc.
After I finished my internship, I was brought on full time. It was a great learning experience. The turnover on commercials is faster than on features so you get more of a chance to do a wider variety of work just because you’re working on more projects. After I worked at Brickyard for about five years, I left to start working at Zero VFX. Zero has done some tremendous work on some feature films like American Hustle, Black Mass, and The Equalizer. It’s been a transition for me because I’ve never worked on features before, but I’m really enjoying the change of pace.
In addition to big feature films like “Ghostbusters”, you’ve also been working on a web series called “We Have a Dinosaur.” Tell us about how the series came about.
I consider myself a filmmaker first and a VFX artist second, so I’m constantly jotting down film ideas in a notebook and trying to write/direct my own films in addition to my day job. I’d had an idea a long time ago for a series of short films about a guy and a girl who own a pet dinosaur. The guy hates the dinosaur and the dinosaur hates the guy but loves the girl. The dinosaur is constantly trying to undermine the guy and drive a wedge between them. Kind of like “What about Bob?” if the Bill Murray role were played by a dinosaur.
We made the first episode happen with a cast and crew of three. My friend Quinton Kappel who is a very talented actor and voice-over was my actor and my friend Joanna Lee whom I met at Brickyard animated the dinosaur. I shot it and did all the editing, rendering, compositing, etc. The idea was to make a VFX based series with each episode being between 1-3 minutes long.
Obviously the budgets for web series aren’t quite the same as feature film. How do you manage to create a convincing creature like the velociraptor with limited budgets?
Money is always a problem and on “We Have a Dinosaur” it’s been tricky. I basically just had to put down money up front to have the dinosaur modeled and rigged. The good thing is, once you have that asset you can make as many films as you want with it. So it’s pricey up front, but it’s a one time fee. I’ve tested out some render farms but found them all a little too expensive for my very limited budgets so I’ve ended up just rendering on my home computer. It isn’t quick, but it gets the job done. Finding good animators is also tricky. Most animators who are skilled have day jobs and it isn’t easy to get talented people who have the time to work on other projects on the side.
Where do you see “We Have a Dinosaur” going? How are you balancing it with your studio-based gigs?
I work during the days at Zero VFX but in the evenings and weekends I make time to work on my personal projects. In some ways it was a poor decision to undertake “We Have a Dinosaur” as a personal project. I’m not an animator so anytime the dinosaur appears in the scene, I have to hire someone to do that work. This makes it an expensive project. but it forces me to be more creative and try plan my shots so that you see as little of the dinosaur as possible, like Spielberg ended up doing with the shark in Jaws. I’ve got 4 more episodes on the way though. They’ve already been shot and I’m in the process of editing and getting the animation finished. After these four episodes are released, who knows if there’ll be enough money to make more.