May 7, 2013
Gravity was a big film for me. Likely the same could be said for any artists who worked on it?
The road to gravity, and working at Framestore, started a year or so before post production began. My friend Kyle McColloch tried to poach me away from Curious Pictures to work on one of the Harry Potter films. So, when Gravity came around, we talked again. On the phone they told me some details about the project, and I was hooked. Full Stereoscopic production. 80% digital set-extensions (I think the latest Starwars movie had about 20% or something). 15min long shots. My mind was blown. Who would even attempt such a feat for a Hollywood film!? There seemed an equal amount of risk and excitement. About 5 months later I found myself in London working on Wrath of the Titians! What? But once that show delivered, I was promptly placed back on Gravity:)
Before and after images of Sandra Bullock’s underwater performane photography and it’s transition into the final shot. Between takes a scuba diver who was just off camera would come over to give her air! What an amazing actress!
Since Gravity was my first feature film project, there are many anecdotal stories that went along with the transition from TV into Film. Like not understanding the hierarchy or who my boss was. Or not being told (or understanding?) that I was a sequence lead till nearly the end of the production. How drinking at pubs after work was about to become my way of life. Or how different it was to work in such large teams of artists. For example, just the Framestore compositing department was more people than all the artists combined in my last studio!
While TV->Film movie was exciting, the transition was hard for me. There were exacting standards to uphold and relatively little room for creativity. There existed a legacy of excellence, best practices and procedures to study. This induction period was planned of course. The studio recruited me knowing there would be some transition training. Still though. It was rough. Feeling like you are on the top of your game, then being thrust into a new studio, knowing no one, with new bosses, in a new country, full of people who everyday remind you of how they dislike the USA and all the people in it……sigh. It felt like there was an endless succession of new mistakes waiting to be discovered. Out of habit I would do things like, submit work too soon for feedback, or push the lower limit of quality in a self fabricated urgency that my bosses would try to talk me down from. The soul crushing defeat of a day’s worth of work being dismissed with a comment like: “Was this a mistake or did you mean to submit this for review?” It was discouraging to be sure.
All my work before film suddenly felt, immature or less valid somehow. Was it the people? Was it me being insecure? Was it English culture? Was I simply missing the smells and flavors of home, my family in NY, or the studio and friends back home it took me so long to find? Was it some form of culture shock? The constant underlying insecurity and anxiety was tough to nail down or treat.
But there was something that made all the risk and fear worthwhile. There was an unspoken feeling that everybody wanted the images to be perfect. That each artist would be given the time to complete their work before presenting it. At Framestore, finally I was allowed to push the pictures to the OCD level of perfection I’d always dreamed of. There was an air in the studio that this Film, Gravity, was going to be something we would speak about for years to come. Basically, I tasted blood and wanted more!
It’s funny how many of these jobs wind up being more about the experience and the people than the work itself in my memory. It seems that it’s the friends and situations one recalls not the details. Who cares about which button you push in a software, or the tools/workflows one creates? Who can relate to such specifics? The new skills simply get absorbed and what remains are the novel experiences of new friends and fun situations. I will take note of that and try to make sure that every project I work on is the best experience for me any of colleagues! As my dad always says: “If we can’t entertain ourselves, how can we entertain anyone else?!”
In the end, I was able to do everything I dreamed of on the show. Got to live in London for a year and a half. Was able to dimensionalize a human for the first time (something I’d wanted to try for ages!) continuing my studies in stereoscopy. Finally managed to composite in a node based software package (something we never managed to do at Curious Pictures). The list goes on and on.