Interview with Matthew Kemper Virtual Production Supervisor

Interview with Matthew Kemper Virtual Production Supervisor

Can you introduce yourself?

*My name is Matthew Kemper. I’m a Visual Effects and Virtual Production Supervisor. Currently managing a feature film called “QUEEN MARY”, with actress Alice Eve and director Gary Shore (Dracula Untold). Recently wrapped  “GOD IS A BULLET”, with actor Jamie Foxx and director Nick Cassavetes (John Q, The Notebook, Alpha Dog), as VFX Supervisor for Riddlemonk Studios, the film’s primary vendor. Previously a Supervisor with Legend and Monolith Virtual Productions.

What inspired you to step into the VFX/ Animation Industry?

*I was pursuing architecture as a career. As I started diving into 3d programs for design, my creativity erupted with a passion for animation and the endless possibilities these programs offered. From there, I went down the rabbit hole of “animation/film geek” and never looked back. 

challenges and experiences in your early years, and would you like to share some of your memories? faced?
* Breaking into the industry can be daunting.  Chasing events, job fairs, or chance encounters to meet a recruiter. Or blind phone calls/emails hoping you get past the pile of resumes and reels for an interview. Nowadays, you have resources like LinkedIn which help significantly but it’s still very tricky. Luckily, it does get easier. The first job leads to the next, leads to the next, and the next thing you know you have a network, and that’s the only way to stay sane in this business. Without a strong network, you’ll always be in the “early stage”. Chasing events,  job fairs, and chance encounters. I was lucky enough to make such an encounter. While in college, I was helping on a commercial shoot (for free) and happened to meet someone from Dreamworks Animation. Being the Animation Nerd I was (I am), I sparked up a conversation with this incredibly kind individual. That conversation led to two and half years of interning at Dreamworks Animation (a Dream job for an Animation student), which then led to my first production job, then my first artist job. I attribute my entire career path to that chance meeting. So the moral of the story is to put yourself out there (even if it’s unpaid), and build that network. I’ll also add, once you’re in a position to be on the other end of that conversation. Pay it forward.

What are your greatest achievements in the VFX Industry? 

*Regarding achievements, I’d say the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing clients such as Marvel, Disney, Fox, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, and Sony to name a few. Having been blessed to contribute to over 80 or so feature films and 30 or so TV episodes. To date, the show I’m most proud of is the one I’m currently managing “Queen Mary”. After Lidar scanning and reference photo bombing a huge portion of the actual Queen Mary (a titanic size boat docked in Long Beach CA). We then digitally built Grand ballrooms, parking lots.. etc throughout the boat to leverage the cost savings and control of the Virtual Production pipeline. Working with the ARRI Stage and their amazing team in London, England. We navigated some of my most difficult VP shots to date, including 360 camera moves and live-in-camera lighting triggers. After about 2 months in London on location, set builds, boat doubles, and the ARRI stage, we then found ourselves on the hero boat back in Long beach. Maintaining the vision, budget, continuity, and beauty/ accuracy of the boat has been an amazing ride. Now in post-production on over 500 VFX shots, and leveraging my amazing teams in India. We’re well underway completing a truly beautiful movie. 

Who is your inspiration in the VFX industry why?
*I’ve been honored to work with many individuals who have taught and mentored me through the years. In general, the VFX industry’s ability and want to help each other rise is inspirational to me. I love meeting people that are passionate about what they do for a living and furthermore if they’re masters of that craft. I know the long hours it takes to get there and it’s inspiring to see that dedication but also to observe it in motion. 

Tell me more about how you got into the Virtual production industry?

*Post VP boom mid-covid…it was all the rage. Suddenly, everyone wanted test shoots, commercials, and VFX breakdowns leveraging this “new big thing”. Frankly, it was adapt or die. The company I was working for at the time, spun off a sister company dedicated to Virtual Production, which led down the rabbit hole of a bunch of shoots, RnDing technology, stages, tracking systems, and on-box training. I haven’t looked back since. 

Can you explain what Virtual production is for those who are new to the VFX/media industry?
*The creative teams that are tasked with shooting a film are constantly chasing more efficient and cost-effective ways to shoot. The standard practice for most shoots would be full set builds, locations, or shooting on green screen. The green screen process would follow a general formula: light the characters or practical set the best you can for what you’re imagining the background will be. Then light the green screen best you can to allow for a clean and quick key of the foreground (those steps often conflict). Then in the post (months after the shoot), a VFX team would create an asset, camera track the scene, and apply that camera in the CG or 2.5d environment to create accurate parallax between CG and real-world assets. The comp team would then merge the 2 worlds, tweaking lighting, integration, lens effects, etc to balance the 2 elements perfectly. Virtual productions are taking the same principles and rearranging the timeline, and making key variables streamlined and frankly better in a lot of ways. The VFX/ VP team would be brought on to create the background assets long before the shoot, as opposed to months later. The backgrounds are then projected onto a large LED screen to be captured in-camera. By capturing it in-camera, you’re inherently solving a lot of the lighting, comp integration, and keying needs, and taking a lot of the guesswork of “what does the background look like”. The “secret sauce” that exploded technology on shows such as “The Mandalorian” and why it’s so in demand now, was the technology of the screens advancing rapidly for the need and requirements of in-camera shooting, and secondly the ability to track the camera live in a volume and drive a digital camera in a CG space. That digital camera then is projected into the LED wall with little to no delay. That means as the real camera moves, the CG camera moves. As the CG camera moves, the image on the LED wall moves. This means what you see in the final camera is a background that moves accurately to every move the camera makes, allowing the illusion of depth and reality. You can then view the near-final product for dailies and know exactly what the shot will look like, as opposed to waiting months. With all that being said, it’s not a fix-all. There are limitations and room to grow, but technology and support for solutions are happening very fast. 

 What VFX Studios Need for Virtual Production?

*The client’s and studios’ needs for virtual production are the continued growth of the technology, innovation, streamlining workflows, affordable and quick artistic solutions, and all the bugs to slowly die out. All things that will naturally work themselves out over time. The future is very bright for this workflow because most of the limitations have solutions that just take time to streamline and push into production. 

What made you get into Virtual production and what were the challenges you faced in the process?

*The company I was employed at created a sister company dedicated to virtual production. A trial by fire, sort of speak. Everything was new but the objective was very clear. Like many, I used the reduced hours forced on me by covid to train up in Unreal and the technology supporting the Virtual production pipeline. Building the company from the ground up required a detailed understanding of every piece in the pipeline. This was difficult but taught me a lot about the process and inevitably left me better prepared to find solutions. After all, that’s the best job description for a VFX/VP supervisor… “first and foremost an effective problem solver”. 

Virtual production, can you share some of your experience or some of the projects you worked on?
*Helped run tech scouts and design the volume for a feature called “Kimi” directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich)

*Managed creative build of assets to the final product on “Queen Mary”

*Managed creative build of assets to the final product on 11 Virtual production commercials. Primary client Pepsi.

*Created scenes/blueprints as artist and supervisor on a few features.
*Ran test, and Rnd scenes/blueprints for internal sales.  

*Organized onsite demos for advertising, commercial, and feature work.

*Worked and Rnd with reps to test out the latest systems and technologies to best educate my clients. 

How are filmmakers benefiting from Virtual production?

*It’s another tool in their belt. For the right shots, this workflow can be very time and cost-effective. It also gives a lot of control (specifically lighting) and “on the day” control over what the final product will look like. 

How is Virtual production different from traditional filmmaking?

*Traditional filmmaking puts the VFX pipeline at the end of the show. The term “fix it in the post” is a common phrase suggesting something went wrong in the shot and to have VFX fix it at the end. While that’s still inevitably a necessity, virtual production forces VFX into the conversation a lot earlier and provides more opportunities for “post” to “fix it” on the day. 

plans for the future?

*Plan to continue working on as many Virtual Production projects as possible, and chasing the most efficient and cost-effective workflows available. 

Any advice for artists and production?
* Learn from everyone you can. Be open to new opportunities, even if it seems like a divergent path to your perceived goal. Keep pushing forward, and never stop learning.

Ritto prabu – Thank you Matthew Kemper for sharing your journey with us our best wishes for success lot

Matthew Kemper – Thank you ritto for inviting me


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