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VFX Eye for the Budget Guy

A visual effects supervisor is like post insurance for your shoot..

Sometimes my work takes me to interesting places, like movie sets. I work on set as a consultant, specifically a “VFX supervisor.” My job is to make sure that mistakes aren't made that would result in additional VFX work in post-production.  

Practically speaking, I’m an insurance policy. The director and director of photography (DP) rely on me to assure the shooting team that they aren't inadvertently creating expensive work in post. To do this, I'll have conversations with the director and the DP about the script and how to plan some of the shots as well as other helpful conversations each day on-set with the shooting crew.

Once in post, it’s necessary for VFX artists to know where all the lights were placed, and their angles in relation to the camera, for a given shot. In addition to acting as consultants on set, VFX supervisors take a lot of photographs, measurements, record lens data, and sketches that depict where the camera and lighting were placed.

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Right now I'm consulting on a feature that shoots 27 days on location. For this project, I’m only on set for about half of those shooting days because a lot of the scenes that require VFX will be filmed on the same day. On the days that I am on set, the production department will do their best to combine shooting schedules for VFX scenes on the same days. For this project, the script calls for snow in the backgrounds of all outdoor scenes. Fake snow on the ground is relatively easy to do with practical effects like ice machines and snow blankets or blowing potato flakes / soap foam if it’s falling close to the camera. Snow falling and covering the ground in the distance would require lots of additional materials and equipment, so it’s typically achieved with digital VFX. Often shots are a mix of both, with actors close to the camera; practical falling snow in the foreground; and all digital in the background.  

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The popular notion is that 10,000 hours of practice are required to become an expert at most things. It's only after a lot of years working with visual effects on the computer that you really begin to visualize why something would be more expensive in post if it is shot a certain way. Hiring an outside VFX Sup is a good solution to help keep the cost of the entire film down, but our favorite projects are the ones our team shepherds from pre-production all the way through post — but the reality is that many productions don’t even talk with the VFX team until well after principal photography is finished. And that’s ok.

Originally published: 04/19/2022

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