This past December and January, a Media Literacy and Production class I teach was uniquely lucky to enjoy two visits with VFX supervisor Greg Butler, who currently works in an administrative position with MPC. Mr. Butler was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, while his most recent vfx supervisory credit is for Jack and the Giant Slayer; his generosity in leading in-depth, enlightening discussions of the art and industry of contemporary vfx with our class is greatly appreciated. Here is an excellent Visual Effects Master Class interview with Greg Butler created at the time of his BAFTA Award for Harry Potter.
During these visits, we were able to discuss many topics and observed in-depth CG process breakdowns from the movies mentioned above and other work by MPC, including Prometheus and The Life of Pi. Interestingly, one theme that Greg returned to many times during our talks was the balance between creative expression and business acumen that is necessary in motion picture fields. Early on in the discussion, he spoke to the students about the ways in which a variety of coursework can help greatly when working in motion picture fields and the need to take advantage of a wide range of studies, including “business, and economics, and the ‘boring’ stuff you think has nothing to do with filmmaking,” and he cited diverse examples from his work as an administrator in vfx fields. One specific case Greg described was how when he heads production teams, his company will often have to hire accountants for creating complex excel spreadsheets and other business-oriented work that is needed, and what will typically happen is that the accountants will quit after a short time because they have a hard time dealing with the chaotic, unpredictable needs of moviemaking.
Greg Butler also spoke at length about current economic difficulties being felt throughout the world of visual effects and used examples from a variety of projects, including his most recent, Jack and the Giant Slayer. This topic hit major news coverage many weeks later when the Academy Awards ceremony experienced the rather ignominious moment of visual effects Oscar winner Bill Westenhofer being played off the stage (to the Jaws theme – is that supposed to be funny??) and then having his mic turned off when he started talking about visual effects house Rhythm & Hues, which was one of the companies that worked on The Life of Pi but has since gone bankrupt. Here is an excellent article that discusses the VFX crisis and can provide interesting perspectives on how the economics of the business of creating and selling moving images can be such a complex and daunting task, even for a field that one would think is at the heart of drawing viewers and making money these days in movies — visual effects.