I come to the world of Visual Effects from a different angle than most artists in the industry. Although I enjoyed Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and other pioneering VFX films of the time, it was never the “effects” in particular that enticed me more than, let’s say, the story, or a chance to stuff my face with Ju-jubes.
I had no interest in computers or video games and vividly recall arguing with a professor in first year University circa 1984 that the “only use for computers is storing recipes.” The following year, 1985 brought us Dire Strait’s Money for Nothing and its groundbreaking video, and my first twinges of interest in computer animation. Unfortunately, the next few years of my life resembled more the blue-collar workers featured in this short, not the rock stars.
After graduating university, I spent many a year wandering the job moonscape, not sure what I wanted to do. This included stints as a brakeman for the Canadian National Railway, a vacuum cleaner salesman, a duty-free shop cashier, and an English teacher in Japan. And no, these jobs are not made up for comedy effect.
It wasn’t until I finally broke down and got my first computer in about 1994 at age 29 that computers began to vaguely interest me. I then happened to discover via a newspaper article that people were creating visual effects, actually making images, using computers, and being well paid for it.
I enrolled in an early and primitive 6-week computer graphics course in Vancouver, and after graduating with a reel so ugly it actually caused brain damage, I sprayed North America with about 100 VHS demo reels. I got some bites, but these were in Japan.
I was offered a job at Satelight in Sapporo so back to Japan I went. Imagine my surprise to be sat in front of my Irix workstation and being told, through the fog of cigarette smoke in the studio, to use Prisms (the precursor to Houdini) NOT Maya. Although all of the manuals were in Japanese, I likened Prisms to an airplane cockpit, but one where the GUI items were shot out onto the dashboard from a shotgun. It was not until about six months later that I realized that yes, there were English versions of the manuals. YouTube tutorials? Forget about it! Not only was there no tutorials, there was no YouTube. Barely any internet, no SideFX forum, only a “listserve.”
I found that I actually loved the ugly duckling Prisms, and found that my mechanically inclined brain really meshed with a procedural workflow. As one of the few English speaking Prisms users in Japan, I was invited to the Houdini alpha and beta programs where my incoherent suggestions must have been blamed on particularly malicious translation errors.
However, I learned a lot and this led to a job offer as a Technical Director for Monster by Mistake in Toronto, which, I gladly accepted. This job turned out to be part FX TD, part pipeline TD and part manager. I self-taught myself hscript, c-shell and tcl/tk and found that again, I was pretty good at it. Maybe there was more to this computer scam than just recipe storage!
This led to a job offer on a little film that many thought would only appeal to the geeks who read such stuff, the Lord of the Rings. So off to New Zealand I went to learn how to do FX for film, where once again, I was using Houdini. This led to an Oscar win for our team and a lot of fondling of surprisingly laxly-guarded Oscars!
From there I went to London UK for six months to work as an FX TD on a film called Mishi the Water Giant. I went on to VFX supervise two films for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, a year as an FX TD at Framestore, then Head of 3D at Rainmaker/CIS. Eight years later I packed up and left for the place it all began, Vancouver, where I joined Rainmaker/CIS/Method as CG Sup on Invictus, DFX Sup on Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter, and many other projects. I went on to Head of 3D, then left Method to join DNEG as CG Sup on The Huntsman.
Then came a move to Montreal, a stint at Cinesite as a CG Sup and finally, here I am at Lost Boys as Lead Instructor for the FX program. I am now back in the artist-seat, and those layers of knowledge and experience are something I am constantly trying to unpack and share with my students. I love my craft, I love the software I am using, and I love teaching it to people with a real thirst for knowledge and burning desire to master this field.
I’ve been lucky and I’ve been in the right place at the right time more times than I can count. I hope you will join us here at Lost Boys and become the beginning of your right place/right time!
Sean brings over 20 years of Visual Effects production experience as an artist, manager, trainer and supervisor. He has an impressive list of credits on films such as Lord of the Rings, X-Men, The Golden Compass, Cloud Atlas, and Transformers to name a few. Sean has long been interested in training and mentoring, building training programs at many of the studios he has worked at including Method Vancouver and Cinesite Montreal.