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netribution > features > interview with paddy eason > page two

You can do wonderful things with digital effects. Supposing I want to recreate one of those Brownshirt rallies at Nuremburg. How could you help me do it and would it really be cheap, or just cheaper than doing it for real!
Depending on the kinds of shots you wanted (give us storyboards!), you could probably shoot your foreground characters on bluescreen, and then do all that monumental architecture in CG. The crowds could be CG too. Actually, because the whole setup is so regimented and sterile, it’s not such a tough one.

On TV years ago there was Chroma key, on film we got Bluescreen, now we hear about Greenscreen. I feel I am going colour blind, or at least colour saturated. Can you enlighten me?
Urg. The old blue vs. green debate. OK – blue is good because it is the colour "most different" from skin tones (any race). In the days of photochemical effects, it really had to be blue. However, blue is slightly problematic because the blue layer of film emulsion is by far the grainiest. Also it’s not so easy to light. So now that we have digital compositing, which is less fussy about pure colours than the older methods, sometimes people chose to use green, which is different ENOUGH from skin, and which is a lot sharper and less grainy than blue. But if you are not using fast film stock, then blue is still possibly the best choice. At the end of the day it is less to do with your choice of blue or green than it is about the quality of the lighting. The production shouldn’t be the ones having to make the choice of blue or greensceen – it should be down to the effects supervisor of the effects facility.

Most of your work is with features with generous budgets. What about the low budget end of the business. Do you have much contact with short film makers for example, apart from having to tell them they probably could not afford you!
I’ve done a range of stuff. You can do good work on any kind of budget, as long as people have a sensible approach. On big movies a lot of money is wasted through indecisiveness or other inefficiencies. Small can be beautiful – even in effects. It is good to be forced into lateral thinking.

I think you’d be surprised how open visual effects facilities can be to short films and low budgets. If you are willing to meet them halfway by allowing long time scales (so that downtime can be used), will give nice credits, and are prepared to be clear about what you want to achieve, then you can certainly get work done on a smaller budget.

You and the company are keen to build relationships with short film makers then?
Yes – you never know which film is going to be the next Blair Witch, or who is going to be the new Tarantino.

Supposing I’m directing a short and I was using a prop on a wire. It seemed to have worked on the monitor, but then again, when it is blown up for 35mm to full screen size, it might look really awful. Can we fix it…remove the wire….paint out that shadow, perhaps. What sort of costs could we incur?
Wire removal is very do-able. It totally depends on the shot in hand. Does the wire just pass in front of sky, or is it over someone’s face? Is it fast moving, or does it linger in one spot? Is it large in frame, or tucked up in a corner? Cost-wise, it could be anywhere from a couple of hundred quid up to £50,000 or more.

So you could be the filmmaker’s knight in shining armour then!
What’s the trickiest rescue job you have ever had to do?
Big scratch throughout very long shot that went over both Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s faces. That was an all-nighter.

You win feature work by going through a process of bidding on the basis of the script. What exactly does that mean? What happens in the bidding process?
Looking at shots, working out roughly how to do them (or a few choices of approach), estimating how long the various tasks will take, and therefore how much the project is likely to cost.

Then some other factors might come into play, like how much you want to do the job, who else is bidding on it, whether the prospective client has other nice projects in the pipeline, whether they have been nice clients or a nightmare in the past, how busy one is etc etc.

You were telling me, your then employer CFC, bid successfully for the digital effects for Chicken Run, but the script proved to be a little tricky to handle, why was that?
Well, we got involved very early on, which was great. We did some shots on A Close Shave and so had a working relationship with Aardman already. They sent us some material to test on Chicken Run back in 1997. Then the storyboards came in – all of them. The whole movie existed in storyboard form very early on – and in fact after they had recorded the actors, and put the storyboards on video with the voices, the whole movie was quite watchable just as still hand-drawings! We had these huge piles of printed storyboards in boxes, and we had to go through them all over and over again with each revision of the boards doing rough bids on how long the shots were likely to take. We ended up with a rough system where we categorised the shots – A for easy, B for medium and C for hard, and then A, B and C versions of each kind of effects shot – A, B or C bluescreen shots, A, B or C rig removals, A, B or C CG animation and so on.

If Ginger had piled all those story boards up against the fence they could probably all have escaped by the end if the first reel! It must have been professionally very rewarding to have been so fundamentally involved in Chicken Run.
Definitely – and wonderful to be involved with people as talented as Aardman. All the crew at the Computer Film Company did a superb job, they worked so hard, and I should say that as well as 350 effects shots, the whole movie was digitised, colour-graded and assembled digitally, which is a very new and exciting thing for 35mm features.

Lets go back to looking at the technology you are using.
It changes quite rapidly, we just need look back ten years to see that, but are we near the limit of what might be possible. What do you see when you gaze into your digital crystal ball?
We are nowhere near any limit. I think things are still in their infancy. The software is still ridiculously complicated and hard to use, and the machines and various effects techniques don’t really communicate that elegantly. The trouble is that the film market is a tiny one for any of the major computer hardware and software manufactures, and not really worth them bothering with. They can make far more money out of, say, medical simulation, or military applications. Film they can’t be bothered with. Even games are bigger now. But, on the positive side, all computers are getting faster, and more and more people are learning about basic effects techniques, so the talent pool is wider.

Do you think that I might be doing CGI for myself on my PC in a few years, or will it always demand higher than desktop PC-at-home specification?
You can do it now. Big effects houses all have a department using Macs or PCs, and there’s a lot of professional work you can do on them. I think that more and more it’s going to be about the talent of the people driving the machines. But there’s always going to be a need for big number crunching – whether it’s one big monster of a machine, or 500 small machines networked together. And audiences’ and film-makers’ expectations will continue to rise, so there will always be a demand for cutting-edge stuff.

You work on both commercials, and on features, but also on some much smaller budget stuff where you have to do a lot with just a little – the complete range if you like. Have you a preference? What areas of the job within that range give you most personal satisfaction and why?
It’s all good. The best jobs are where the director of the film (or commercial) either knows exactly what he/she wants, or else is willing to go along with the creative ideas coming out of the effects team. It’s not so nice when they DON’T know what they want, but they’re still not willing to really open up and collaborate

We have lots of film wannabes out there, growing in number as film education and awareness grows in Britain. Supposing I am at school still, and I have this burning ambition to work on effects for film, traditional or digital, I’m not sure, maybe both.
What is the best advice someone like you, successful in their profession, can give to a wannabe like me?
Get hold of a second-hand Mac, some software, a digital camera, and do some work. You should be able to get together a perfectly workable system for under a grand, and you don’t need the latest gear. The kind of computing power that was used on an Oscar winning movie five years ago can probably be found at a yard sale right now. What’s holding you back?

Only my lack of talent! Paddy thank you.

Paddy Eason is currently employed as visual effects supervisor for The Moving Picture Company, 127 Wardour St, London W1V 4NL

Further Information about some of the Visual FX images mentioned by Paddy can be found at: 

Still images from the Guinness Surfer campaign, Sleepy Hollow, Paulie and Chicken Run are reproduced with kind permission of The Computer Film Company

Still images from Snatch and from The Golden Bowl are reproduced with kind permission from The Moving Picture Company where they were digitally post-produced.

Filmmaker downloads, including tape to film transfer guidelines and aspect ratio grids can be found at on their film-tel and digital film pages.

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