Part human, part robot - Corey Ryan has been working behind the scenes in visual effects and motion graphics for the last few years. He talks to us about how it was working on and off set as the VFX supervisor for Dear Lucas.
Dear Lucas was a great learning experience for everybody on set. What did you learn about what it takes to be an effective visual effects supervisor? What kind of challenges did you face?
Everyone on Dear Lucas was a most professional, hard working, and respectful crew! For someone who is not frequently on set, it’s more daunting to speak out in fear of interjecting improperly in a fast-paced production environment. If it takes 5 minutes to fix a prop or chroma screen that would take you hours later to clean up in post, it makes sense to speak up about it! But those details can add up and you have to pick your battles. A few times that I asked to reposition some set details, I was met with immediate help from the crew and never felt like I was disturbing the flow. Effective supervisor? Thats still up for debate.
What is one thing in visual effects that you’d work very meticulously on, but often overlooked by the audience?
The process of manipulating a moving image is a craft that only the most patient dare divulge. Depending on the technique (VFX/compositing vs. motion design/animation) every frame of the image is tended to in detail. Keying, tracking, and rotoscoping are some of the many processes that can run the gamut of a time and labor intensive scale and are usually all done in tandem for a final composited result. With a vision established, its beneficial to have a post-production brain involved even in early stages of pre-production. The foresight could help manage some pitfalls of shooting VFX footage and someone who counts up how many times “We’ll fix it in post” is said on set.
Ultimately, as technology expands, the possibilities do as well. Its like finding the right balance between looking at the big picture and investing time in more detailed elements. The ultimate goal is providing a consistent result that does not distract the viewer from the experience. Creating alterations invisible to the eye can be a challenge as the more modern viewer is more acute and aware of its presence.
You have a lot of experience in both the creative and technical aspects in visual effects. What kind of education and training have you had up to this point?
I’m a graduate of RIT’s film and animation program of ‘09. They provided excellent tools and thrust us in to the creative process straight away making films our first weeks in the program. We had a lot of opportunity to explore the medium, experiment, and learn from our successes/failures.
I found my place bridging a gap between the more separate worlds of (at least in our lesson structure) live-action and animation techniques for filmmaking and pushed myself to learn as much about both sides as I could. Most of the technical knowledge of the tools and software I use comes from self-taught exploration, trial and error, and sometimes figuring out HOW to solve something after confiding in a client that their vision is possible. The internet is a wealth of knowledge, art, and inspiration and has been an invaluable resource in approaching and deconstructing new problems and ideas. The technical stuff comes easy for me. I really enjoy being able to take an idea, footage, designs, sounds, and combine them to make something completely different.
Check out Corey’s work on Google’s Science Fair Experiment commercial. Can you spot what is real and what isn’t?
Your company Robot Party has had a lot of success in building motion graphics for companies like Google, GE and StateFarm. Dear Lucas was obviously a passion project for everyone involved. How do you decide on which projects are worth pursuing?
I really just enjoy working hard towards helping bring someone’s vision to life. I am fueled by the passion behind a director’s ideas and it takes every member of a production at their best, down the line, to create truly ground-breaking work. I’ve been lucky to find myself at the end of some incredible productions and I have had the endless pleasure of working with mind-blowing talent and extremely creative people. I always push myself to go beyond expectations because of the hard work in the stages that come before must be followed through to the end. Its hard for me to turn down any project, and I find myself awake for more continuous stretches of time than I would like to ever admit wrapped in to one too many things. The rewards beyond that are lifelong and priceless in the form of new friends, experiences, and a growing body of work that has inspired me to explore my own artistic integrity and expand into some creative directions of my own.
Any advice for anyone looking to get into visual effects?
The possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid of failure. Try not to pigeon-hole yourself into one technique or aspect of the process, unless you really find something you love. There is a saying, “Be the best at one thing and people will always come to you for that thing”, but I really enjoy the variety of work I have been able to be a part of. Freelancing for a variety of clients requires flexibility and compromise. I have found most success selling myself as a problem solver. Its important to explore ways to dissect a shot or sequence, breaking down the details and re-imagining a process to capture each necessary element in a way that will work together for a seamless end result.
How do robots party?
Robots are the most party fun after a little foreplay. You just have to turn them on.
To check out more of Corey’s work, visit Robot Party!
A young man who’s lived his whole life in the shadow of his famous scientist father falls in love with a fan who tracks the professor down. Just as the two are getting to know each other, one of the professor’s failed experiments roars to life and presents a message from the future.
CD: Tell us about your project and why you wanted to share it on Creative District.
Dear Lucas is about an elderly man who sends a letter back in time, warning his younger self about his biggest regret in life. It ultimately forces the audience to confront their own insecurities with the future’s uncertainty. It’s a great story and a passion project for the whole cast and crew involved. We are so proud with how it came out, considering our very limited schedule and budget.
We really want to share the film and our production experience with the filmmaking community. Creative District’s network is a great mix of projects and filmmakers. We posted Dear Lucas to chronicle our experience thus far, and be inspired by those who are currently in production.
CD: Now that Dear Lucas is complete and premiering in June, what were some lessons learned during production or beyond that will help you in future projects?Winnie: For directors, especially for those working on indie films - you can never spend too much time in pre-pro. Rehearse every scene if possible.We were able to rehearse about 90% of the script. It helped us tremendously in staying on schedule. And of course, the one scene we did not rehearse took the longest time to nail.
Leslie: My advice for producers working on a shoestring budget is: Don’t be afraid to ask for favors early on. I was extremely surprised and humbled by all the support we had from our friends who were willing to help out. We had professional stuntmen who we never worked with giving us free consultations, friends in the industry who worked for free to help the vision come to life, friends and strangers who never worked on film before pulling their weight, talent who rehearsed with us tirelessly - the list goes on and on. I have so much respect for each and every single person who worked on Dear Lucas as it was definitely not easy. I only hope to return the favor in the future.
CD: Write your best 140 character or less tweet that will inspire other filmmakers to #CreateMore, and complete more projects.
Winnie: Never wait for perfection to start your next project. The more you create, the closer you’ll get!
Leslie: Have a vision. Trust your instincts, but be flexible when shit hits the fan. Take the leap or you’ll regret it.
Dear Lucas Trailer
As part of our #CreateMore Q&A series, we’re reaching out to our CD Featured Projects to pick their collaborators’ brains, learn about their projects and collaborators, and share tips to help us all #CreateMore. Have a project you’d like to see featured on CD? Get in touch.
When he’s not busy on set, you can find DP Clint Byrne competing in jujitsu competitions up and down the East Coast. Hear what he has to say about working on Dear Lucas with our Q&A below.
Why shoot 2:1?
We talked a lot about aspect ratio. Both Winnie and I love 2.35:1, not only for the cinematic look that we have grown to love but we knew we had this great Art Director Hillary Anduljar, who was building fantastic sets. We wanted to showcase them, but we had another factor knowing that we wanted to do this handheld -to give a more intimate feel. I thought that 2.35:1 might not feel right, so I proposed 2:1 so we could kind of have a little of both, I think it works well. I also heard that Fellini said all films should be shot 2:1 but I can’t find that quote anyway to confirm! Probably Univision propaganda.
Any Inspirations or References used when shooting?
Winnie and I have a dropbox that we have been filling with screenshots of movies we love for the past couple of years, so some of that was used. One of the biggest influences for the film’s look was the Before Sunrise series. We both loved the simplicity of it. The handheld and camera movement were a big thing Winnie talked about in pre production.
Color is always such a huge focus for me. I was inspired by the color in the newest Skyfall, and the reoccurring motifs/color palette. Because we were jumping through time, flashbacks and emotions, I wanted the audience to be able to follow the film and know what was going on even without the sound, so we used colors on set, wardrobe, and lighting to help convey the emotions as well as time. So while the story is almost a collection of repeats, the colors mirror that.
Personally I loved the intimacy and colors in Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights and we referenced from that as well, with color saturation and keeping shots dirty at times which gives the audience an almost voyeuristic feel, like they are seeing something we shouldn’t.
So Winnie brought the Before Sunrise reference -which was perfect- and I brought some Blueberry Nights, and we mashed it up. I think this was a love story before a sci fi film.
What was your favorite scene to shoot on Dear Lucas?
I loved every scene honestly but I loved the ability to control lighting. I felt I accomplished that the best in the bedroom scenes. The love and intimacy really comes through and works so well with the actor’s performances. I think by that day, the actors saw the other work I shot and trusted that I was getting the best out of them and in turn they gave us the best they had.
It is also such a perfect juxtaposition to the end scene, from handheld and flowing to rigid, dolly, lock off shots.
What was the most difficult thing about working with such a small crew?
Shooting handheld takes a toll on the body but adding a small crew makes things, interesting. Luckily, I am used to that from documentaries,and other indies and I like teaching people how to work a light, a cstand, setup the camera, run cables, DIT. But again because it is handheld I couldn’t just watch a monitor when I adjusted a light personally the camera had to be set down so I really had to know what I wanted and where I wanted it.
On the biggest shooting days I was able to pull favors and at least get a Gaffer or Grip/AC to help, but Winnie and Leslie planned a good shooting schedule with open slots for weather and plenty of time, which goes back to the old adage time or money. Winnie and Leslie really gave us a good shooting schedule, times were tight but really it was pretty relaxed as far as indie movies go.
If I was producing, less people to feed! Seriously though, I learned early that a “thank you” goes a long way. I like to thank my crew when they get something magical done and with such a small crew, that is really easy to personally go around and thank them. We couldn’t have gotten it done otherwise; from our DIT Stephanie Szerlip (aka Slip) who made me feel confident that the footage was secure, Nat Aguilar as lead Gaffer, Afrim Gjonbalaj who stepped up to Grip and learn lighting plus made a cameo in the film, and Will Atherton a DP friend who came out to help gaff/AC and provide moral support. The team was great.
Wait probably smashing a car with a sledgehammer myself haha! That was memorable and fun, and I might have accidentally scared the rest of the crew! But it was a good bonding experience. I really loved the cast and crew.
Shooting wise would be the beach scene though the night before we were rained out and morale might have been a tad low like how can we get this film done but we ran out with a bare bones crew to the beach and shot this beautiful sunset scene and got way more shots then should have been possible. The actors killed it, Winnie gave such precise direction. After that we all felt great and when we watched dailies everyone knew we were making something special.
You can check out the rest of Clint’s work at clintbyrne.com