I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Breakspear, a visual effects supervisor, last week. He was really cooperative and I gained a lot of insight from this experience, not just for the assignment, but also for my personal life. Before interviewing him, I had a list of ten big questions, more specific sub-questions, as well as a couple of big thought provokers that I could use to gain more insight and detail if it came up. During the interview I followed my questions a bit, but for the most part I took the conversation to where I thought it should have been guided, and what would benefit myself the most after already learning some information.
There were many things I took away from this interview that I never would have thought. For starters, I realized that visual effects requires a lot of skills that most people would not think of. While there are definitely a lot of technical skills and knowledge of software required, he told me that there are many other skills to working in visual effects. One of these is communication. No matter how good you are at making visual effects, you will always be working with other people. Mark said that even if you are an amazing artist, you have to be able to explain your work to others so that more can get done. In relation to this, he said you must also have honesty, integrity and a strong work ethic to work in visual effects as there are tight time restraints and everything needs to go smoothly.
Another skill that is important was problem solving. He said that for basically every movie, there is something to do that has never been done before. In “Suicide Squad”, Mark and his team had to come up with a new approach to energy effects that has never been seen before. This was a challenge, but what they were able to deliver was something stunning and breathtaking. Another story is of the time he was on set and they were filming in the Vatican, and they weren’t allowed tripods where they wanted to film. Rather than call it a day and leave, they found out that if you are disabled, you are allowed to bring in a wheelchair. So they quickly fastened a tripod to a wheelchair, pretended that the person in the wheelchair was disabled, and gott the shot they needed. An analogy from Mark is this: if you were trapped in a maze, and told you had 60 seconds to escape, most people would frantically try running around and escaping. A visual effects artist has to come up with a solution no one would ever think of. They could climb out of the maze, burn it or anything other than what was expected.
I totally agree with both of these points, and would have never thought of them if I had not had this interview. This is something I will have to keep in mind when deciding what career to go into later in life.
During the interview, there was a point where Mark explained how as a visual effects artist, you can’t have a nine to five job and need to be completely devoted to your craft; you work life is your home life. He needs to be ready to fly to other countries for shoots and work with new people on the fly. Because of this, I decided to pry further into how much of his work is intertwined with his home life. I asked him what his hobbies were and how he spent the little free time he had. He essentially told me that he has the mindset of being a ‘maker’, and all his hobbies derive from this, including his job. He enjoys woodworking, gardening, and surprisingly making his own hot sauce. All of these reflect off designing and seeing your own works come to fruition. However, he also pointed out how visual effects sort of take over your life. When waiting at airports, Mark said that he would analyze the crowds and the way people walked, in order to design crowds in movies better. His brain is always working to see things as visual effects and how to incorporate them. As well, visual effects is based of reality. Paraphrasing Mark’s words: the best visual effects are those where it is based off of reality. Energy and particles flying everywhere is not a good thing unless we can relate that to something in the real world that everyone is familiar with.
The interview also brought my attention to the process of entering the visual effects industry. Mark said that from Vancouver film school, out of 35 applicants, only around one will be accepted to even be given a chance at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The best way to actually get into the industry he said, was to have connections and work experience before applying for higher level positions at other companies. Mark reviews a lot of the applications for his company, and says that there are a few things that stand out, both negatively and positively. Attention to detail is key. If there is a single grammar mistake in the cover letter, Mark won’t even go through the demo reel or anything else, as if you can’t pay attention to details in your application, what’s to say you won’t pay attention to details when compositing? Visual effects is all about the smallest details in everything, everything has to be perfectly crafted and there can be no room for error. Another key point when applying is the demo reel. Now while quality of the effects is important, creativity is key. If you can bring something new to a team that no one else before can, then that is a niche that can only be filled by yourself and you are more likely to land a job.
This interview has taught me a lot of things that I never would have thought. I was able to gain key insight into an industry that I am considering entering firsthand from a professional. There were a lot of other things Mark and I discussed in this interview that I couldn’t put in this post, but really made me see a more concrete vision for myself and what being a visual effects artist means. I learned about the whole process, from start to finish, and how visual effects is so much more that I previously thought.