Interview with -Richard Greenwood VFX Supervisor – FuseFX

can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit about how you started in visual effects?
Like many of us in the industry, I have a love of visual media and the power it can lend to storytelling. The creative side of image-making was what first drew me to art and film. The film specifically is a potent melting pot of image, music, and narrative that’s so exciting. That excitement was how I started.

how was your beginning? Challenges you faced
Entering the industry was challenging, and I think it’s a common experience. I didn’t know much about the industry, least of all how to get a job in it. I had an art degree but no specific software training. I tried in the UK to get a runner position and had an early experience helping onset but nothing really stuck.

When I returned to Vancouver it took me a year networking to land a gig in a data IO position. I was lucky to find a local VFX supervisor, John Gajdecki, open to bringing on people to train. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about software, pipeline, and IT on the job. I’m happy to say that many of those I met on that first gig, I’m still friends with today. It’s been wonderful to watch everyone’s progress over the years.

Any memorable shows you wish to share your experiences with?
My first VFX Supervisor role was on The Magicians here at FuseFX. I had Comp Suped the previous season, so many of the world-building creative challenges had been solved already.

But there were still new effects to design. One large VFX story piece failed to gain client approval through numerous iterations. One of the main functions of a supervisor isn’t simply to lead the vision for the crew, they must filter and lessen the pressure for those around them. I was succeeding less and less at both these tasks.

With rising stress levels all around, it was my first test in client management under pressure and in the driver’s seat.

The Vancouver studio was still small then. I remember giving the owner in LA, Dave Altenau, a phone call to ask for help. We chatted through strategies to guide the process for our artists and for the client. Eventually, we found a way through.

That experience gave me a stronger belief in the creative process. We can use our trust in decision making to help us through uncomfortable conversations. I can use the memory of that hardship to strengthen my trust in times when similar pressure is building.

Explain the design behind the spaceship and what all went into it.

The design principles behind the spaceship are based on hexagons, precision and mystery.

In detail, the hexagon is a motif that shows up in almost every Debris piece we see. Its appearance mimics the self-similarity of fractal patterns. We see it on a macro level in the wide angles of the ship reconstruction, at the micro level in the texture on the surface of the ship and additionally as a component structure.

The hexagons in the ship needed to be combined with a supernatural level of precision. We looked at how best to avoid an impression that the structure was human-made.

Lastly, we purposefully omitted sections of the ship and of Debris wreckage in order to hide what the complete ship looks like. This is a story in which our protagonists need to be confronted with the unknown and we can mimic that sense of mystery in the reveal of the alien tech.

What sort of research did you do when designing the spaceship and other supernatural elements for the show?

For the ship, we mainly looked at metal texture references and concept art. Initially, there were some great references of plane reconstruction efforts but we deviated quickly from those as it became clear that whatever alien technology created the ship was well beyond mechanical understanding.

The other supernatural elements in the show made for a diverse research assignment as well. We researched everything from tornadoes to practical photography of frosted glass. These specific references acted as our guides when designing the dust devil in the pilot episode and the dimensional window in episode 3.

What are some other key VFX elements in the show?

Like the hexagon motif, we have some other visual motifs that appear throughout the episodes that provide a sense of continuity.

The Debris wreckage pieces that we meet typically have some power or energy that we represent with an animated chromatic aberration. We achieve this effect by fluctuating the red and blue channels in combination with a motion blur effect. This signifies that the piece is out of phase with reality.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while working on this project?

Timeline was one of our biggest challenges. Each episode has about a 2-week schedule, and episodes often stack on top of each other. Luckily, we have an amazing team helping us to plan, resource and push through some exciting work in a short amount of time.

Developing a look that is not-human is also a big challenge. It’s hard to concept in new ways because so much of our natural visual language is learned through exposure. No one has seen a Debris ship before!

How do the key VFX elements aid the storytelling in the show?

The VFX services the storytelling in specific ways. We often discuss how much needs to be seen to give us the right amount of ambiguity.

One example of this interplay between VFX and storytelling is with the dimensional window in episode 3. The story called for the characters trapped in the window to appear both humanoid and otherworldly. We iterated a few times in an attempt to compensate for both the alien look (bald heads and hidden ears) and the human look by emphasizing the hands more.

Anything else to add?

Debris is a unique project for us because it started pre-pandemic and has been going for over a year now. Working remotely is unusual in the VFX world, and it has been a learning curve for us. Though it has also been a wonderful opportunity to strengthen and build new friendships.

what do you expect from artists?
I love this question. I think I have different expectations for different artists but there are some commonalities. Dependability is a core requirement of any team member, including myself.

For artists, I hope to foster an engagement based on their own autonomy. I believe that a self-directed team is smarter than any other. So, I expect a level of independence. I also expect artists to want to improve. We can find areas and pathways that are of interest to them. Lastly, I expect artists to bring their own purpose to the table. They need an answer to the question, “Why am I here?” And their answer should plug in to the purpose of the studio.

How can one apply to your company?
Reach out via the job section on our site: https://fusefx.com/jobs-at-fusefx/

Any advice for artists and production?
Undoubtedly, COVID has changed the landscape of our world. It has highlighted the struggle of social isolation and cleared the way for us to share our internal challenges more freely. Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.

So, my advice to artists and production is to build on what the pandemic has offered us. Continue to support a dialogue around mental health and work-life balance. Set boundaries when you need to. Excellence and compassion don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

vfxexpress- prabu – Thank you Richard Greenwood for sharing with us

Richard Greenwood – Thank you Ritto

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