FX supervisor Denys Shchukin delves into how he got into visual effects, where his career has taken him thus far, and where FX is headed to next.
How did you become interested in visual effects?
I grew up in Ukraine, and during my whole childhood, I was looking for a way to find myself through any form of art. I was very interested in drawing, painting, clay sculpture, constructing toys, singing, and dancing. At that time of my life, I had only seen Soviet movies or Indian films (which were very popular back then).
One day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, my family was visiting our good friends, and at their house was the first time I had ever seen a computer – it was the ZX Spectrum with programs loaded from Audio Cassettes. I was so impressed with the imaginative power of this machine – there was no question that I needed to have one and that my whole life would be connected to them.
The next summer – on a family summer camping trip I saw three Hollywood movies in one day – The Terminator, Jurassic Park, and the horror film Silver Bullet. On that day I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life; work in visual effects.
Tell us about how your career started.
While I was dreaming about a career in visual effects, I was also looking for other ways to express myself. During this time I discovered dance! Michael Jackson, Madonna, Hip Hop music – all had a significant influence on my life. After a year or two of practicing at home – I joined the New Wave Dance studio, at the beginning as a regular dancer and later on as a technical instructor/choreographer.
After a year or two, the owner of “Prestige” music recording company and music producer Vitaliy Mironenko walked into our dance studio and said that he was looking for dancers for live concerts. After an extended casting period, my group of the dancers was selected, and we started touring. During one of the tours, we had a friendly chat where Vitalii mentioned that he was opening a post-production company to make music videos, commercials, and tv shows. Soon enough I started at this company, and that was my first few years in the industry. I’m still very grateful to Vitaliy Mironenko for the given opportunity.
Take us through your career. Which studios did you work at, in what roles, and in what projects?
My career has taken me to a few different countries, companies and roles.
After almost two years at Channel One Russia in Moscow working with Anton Nenashev, I moved to Animal Logic in Sydney, Australia in 2009 to work on “Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole” as FX TD.
The year 2011 for me began with an FX TD contract with Rising Sun Pictures in Adelaide, Australia for “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”.
After finishing with RSP, I started as FX Supervisor with the Swedish company Chimney, in their Ukrainian division in Kiev for the film “An Enemy to Die For.” I then moved to Framestore in London as FX TD for “47 Ronin” before coming back to Chimney as a VFX Supervisor/Head of FX for the “Viy” project.
At this time I started thinking more about moving to Canada and six months later at the beginning of August 2013 – I moved to Framestore Montreal as an FX TD to work on “Paddington,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” and “Jupiter Ascending.”
After a beautiful summer in Montreal, I accepted a job offer from Image Engine to start as a Senior FX TD on “Chappie.” Image Engine recognized my experience and leadership skills – and gave me the opportunity to start work as FX Lead on “Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” and move up to finish the project as FX Supervisor. I’ve been working as FX Supervisor on various projects at Image Engine ever since.
What brought you to Image Engine?
In 2009 I started thinking about what kind of company would be the most suitable place for me. I dreamed of a company that had everything I was looking for – country, city, culture, pipeline, projects, team.
Around this time I started to hear more and more about Image Engine, and what a great place it is to work. I emailed the HR department with my resume, and they got back to me right away saying that although I was a great candidate, at that time they were not hiring. Time passed, and they emailed me to check if I was available but I was then in the middle of my contract with another company. We emailed back and forth like that for years until finally in the summer of 2014 everything lined up, and I happily signed a contract with Image Engine.
It has now been three and a half years, and my only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to start earlier at this company.
Image Engine has a robust Pipeline. Why is that important?
Image Engine is larger than a boutique studio but smaller than a big corporation. It competes well with both in part because of its pipeline. Over the years Image Engine has developed a reliable, flexible, and powerful pipeline that allows for fewer people to produce more complex work.
Templatization of the pipeline parts from shot task to the whole project, automation in workflows, a transparent, streamlined path between departments, control and tracking of versions; all of that and many other internal developments allow us to produce huge chunks of the top level projects in a reasonable amount of time with excellent quality.
What are your favorite projects that you’ve worked on and why?
“Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga’Hoole” – This was the first feature animation project that I worked on, and now almost ten years later I am still excited about the overall quality of the Show. There is a balanced mix between realism and animation, and it’s also a lovely story itself.
“Edge Of Tomorrow” – I like this movie so much because it’s a rare combination of great story, smart humor, and exciting Science Fiction.
“Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV” – Heaviest so far project by the amount of CG per square pixel. The whole team worked all together as one massive machine. Very happy about the final result
What does your role as FX Supervisor entail?
As FX Supervisor I am involved in various processes from the very preliminary stages of the project all the way to delivery.
I am part of the bidding process. Looking at early concepts, raw scripts, or previses and working closely with the visual effects supervisor and show producer helps us balance the time allocation and resources assignment per task/shot/sequence.
Once I know what kinds of FX are required on a given project I start the essential development and planning of every possible scenario – so then later when we are already in the show production phase, 95% of potential issues will be more or less resolved.
Finally, once we get going on the project, I manage the FX team on a daily basis and make sure that we are on the right path and everyone has their input data, tools, and tasks.
What’s required to be successful in your role?
To be successful, we should first never forget that we are producing film magic, not a scientific documentary. So a critical thing to do is continuously observe the world around you. How the rain is falling. How the clouds look every day. What the river surface looks like. And it is imperative to understand that it is not always looking perfect. So later when you’ll reproduce something in FX, and you’ll consider all of your observations, your effect will look way more realistic as opposed to a perfect synthetic picture.
The second part comes with experience. Just while looking at early concept work, raw script, or previs, you should be able to strategize all joints and blocks of future massive work. Connect in your brain the whole logical chain of commands, and foresee any possible issue on the project while trying to prevent them way before they potentially appear on the horizon.
What’s the future of FX?
In my personal opinion, we are moving more into automation and templatization of the FX elements, presets, and setups in ever-evolving libraries. It is already working like that in games and VR industry, and I think we are heading in the same direction in VFX.
It might look a bit scary for some FX artists – because now “machines” may have the potential to replace them. But on another hand, someone should create those setups and presets and also control output and artistic comments.
It might give artists way more time to develop a much higher level of FX instead of running bunch of similar shots every day.