Visual Effects Masters Hunt New Worlds To Conquer

Fresh challenges, unfulfilled dreams keep movie magicians jazzed about their work


Visual effects masters are called “magicians” for a reason: They really do seem like conjurers. The only limits on what they can put on the screen seem to be time, budget and imagination.

But when anything and everything is within your grasp, what’s left to accomplish? What excites top vfx supervisors about their work, and what do they still dream of doing?

“You’re striving to challenge yourself,” says “Star Trek Into Darkness” vfx supervisor Roger Guyett. A sci-fi fan, he says, “For a visual-effects artist, lighting ships in space is pretty hard to beat.” It was a special thrill when a vfx image of the Enterprise in warp became the poster for the “Star Trek” reboot. “You feel like you’re creating a memorable image when that happens,” he says.

Visual effects are labeled post-production but vfx supes are on a picture from pre-production through the end of post. Voker Engel, most famous for “Independence Day” and the vfx supervisor on this summer’s “White House Down,” says, “My favorite time is pre-production. To come up with the best ways of tackling all of this and work closely with the director, get his vision on the screen and also have a say on where this will all go.”

Marc Weigert, who teamed with Engel to supervise White House Down agrees: “I love pre-production the most is because that’s the most creative time. You pre-visualize the scenes which means you are 100% creative. You can try any camera move you want.” “After Earth” vfx supervisor Jonathan Rothbart enjoys all three phases, but in different ways. After the planning in pre-production, he says, “There’s so much problem-solving on set, it really challenges you on a day-to-day basis,” he says. That meant putting stunt men into gray suits and having them chase Jaden Smith while shooting a scene where he flees angry baboons. “It changed the whole feel of that sequence,” Rothbart says. Replacing the stunt men with computer-generated baboons paid off the effort.

Rothbart also has unfulfilled f/x dreams. “I’d always love to work on a “Spider-Man” film because I’m a huge Spider-Man geek.” But his favorite thing to do, he says, would be “a film where nobody knows it has any visual effects in it at all.”

Dan Kaufman, vfx supe of “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” says he’d love to try a fully CG character. “That would be a great challenge, to do that,” he says. “Avatar did a lot of great work with really main characters but it would be harder to do it in a completely realistic environment.”

Guyett would love to do a picture combining stop-motion, miniatures and digital vfx. “Some sort of mash-up with some sort of crazy Ray Harryhausen thing would be amazingly appealing to me,” he says. But he concedes it’s hard to imagine what such a project could actually be.

And sometimes vfx supervisors long for very simple things. Volker Engel says with a laugh the project he’d like to tackle is “The sequel to ‘Independence Day.’” Does he think that will ever happen? “Well, there’s something I can’t tell you right now.”