From fighting fires in the suburbs of London to creating visual effects for some of the biggest movies to date, Marc Jones has had a varied career indeed. Having to retire from his firefighting job following an accident, Marc’s creative side was given a chance to shine. His dedication to learning the intricacies of visual effects led him to jobs at both Framestore and MPC, after which he crossed the Atlantic to take on a Lead Matchmove Artist position at Image Engine.
Read on to learn about Marc’s diverse career, which has seen him work on everything from Superman and Harry Potter to Jurassic World, Chappie and Independence Day Resurgence.
Can you tell us a little about your career path and what led you to your role at Image Engine?
I grew up in the UK and from a very early age I wanted to be a London firefighter, so straight out of college I signed up. I was accepted and started in 2000. Unfortunately a hit-and-run motorcycle accident resulted in me being medically retired in 2002. I was then in need of a serious rethink with regards to a career.
A natural ability with computers saw me retrain in computer-aided design. I ended up working for engineering companies designing and drafting drainage systems for large building projects. I would find myself regularly converting my 2D drawings into 3D representations and creating simple fly-through cameras.
This led me to start looking into 3D courses. I had always been passionate about film so a logical progression for me was into visual effects. I enrolled in a Maya/visual effects course. Once I had completed this intensive course I was invited to an interview for a Data Control job at Framestore. Once we got talking it became apparent that the job would be very Linux based and I had very little experience of Linux. However, they mentioned that they might have a Junior Matchmove artist position available and asked if I would be interested. After hearing that I might be working on Superman Returns and Children of Men I obviously jumped at the chance. Right place, right time!
I started the week after. It was pretty intense as I was not only trying to learn the Framestore pipeline but also the matchmove software that I had not touched before. Soon I was being given shots on Superman Returns, Children of Men, and Primeval. I had my first lead opportunity on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I was leading several matchmove artists and really enjoyed helping junior artists to solve problems and get the most from the software. After a year of working at Framestore I decided a change was in order and applied at MPC. I started at MPC in 2006. I was there for seven years, in which time I got to work on some fantastic projects and was even fortunate enough to be on set for several films.
I was then contacted by Image Engine about a job opportunity, with the news of an upcoming Neill Blomkamp project about a certain robot, and everything started to fall into place. In November 2013 I found myself sat on an Air Canada flight to Vancouver to become an Image Engine Matchmover.
What does you role as Matchmove Supervisor entail at Image Engine?
Due to the fact that Matchmove is more often than not the beginning of a studio pipeline, I need to ensure that we have a consistent and reliable Matchmove pipeline. At the beginning and throughout a project we constantly receive shot related data such lens grids and geometry. It’s the supervisor’s responsibility to have these available for the other artists.
Troubleshooting takes up much of the time of a supervisor. This could include solving publish errors or deciding on camera positions within a 3D world. I also need to attend bidding meetings to bid days to individual shots in order to properly schedule work for the project.
What projects have you worked on at Image Engine that really excited or challenged you?
When I started here in 2013 I was the lead on Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie. I was a huge fan of his previous films so to get to work on Chappie was extremely exciting.
The initial challenge was the lack of on set LIDAR or survey information. For a show like Chappie where the the hero character needs to be a consistent size throughout, it was important for us to have reliable sets or reference material to get Chappie lined up to. Thankfully the on-set wranglers had taken a load of set photography so we had photos of many different angles of the set to work with. We managed to build workable set geometry using this material and that helped us to ensure our scale remained the same throughout each sequence.
Chappie was shot using anamorphic lenses. This presents many challenges when matchmoving shots, the biggest being the presence of lens breathing. This causes the distortion of the plate to alter as focus is changed. We didn’t receive many lens grids for the show, so this presented challenges on shots where the focus was constantly changing.
Overall the experience of working on Chappie was amazing. The team felt like a family and I loved coming to work every single day.
What shots are you most proud of working on at Image Engine?
I saw the original Jurassic Park at the cinema back in 1993, so when I learned we were getting shots on Jurassic World I was very excited. Image Engine was tasked with many of the raptor arena and motorcycle chase shots. The shots within the arena were very enjoyable to work on and the final result is very impressive indeed.
What’s it like working in Vancouver? How does it differ to other places that you’ve worked?
There’s so much to do in the city and it’s all within a 30-minute drive. Whether it be snowboarding in the winter, mountain biking in the summer, or just pushing the kids on the swings in the many parks throughout the city, there’s something for everyone in Vancouver.
What do you love most about working at Image Engine? What is the culture like at the studio?
Coming from a larger studio to Image Engine initially made me nervous, but I very quickly realised it’s like a family here. Events are always being organised – anything from ‘Beer Fridays’ to huge summer parties with bouncy castles and beaches; there’s always something to look forward to.
As for the working environment, it’s extremely open and creative, and everyone’s ideas and input are always encouraged. You never feel that you can’t suggest a different way of doing things.
What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any other hobbies or interests?
My family moved over in September 2014 so I spend much of my free time with them. We drive out to lakes or hiking trails, and the kids love the parks so we spend a lot of time at them. I also like to visit the many beaches with friends and colleagues. Living in Vancouver means there is never a shortage of things to do!
Lastly, what advice would you give to those looking for a career in the visual effects industry? What about those looking to start work at Image Engine specifically?
Be humble. You’ll always be learning from show to show. I find asking for help when you need it garners far more respect than just battling through and getting it wrong.