Insights

Becoming a VFX Supervisor: An Interview with Hannes Poser

Fresh off his second project as VFX Supervisor, Hannes Poser gives us his perspectives on how to transition successfully into the role, aspects of the job that took him by surprise, and the one quality he believes every VFX Supervisor should have.

March 30, 2021

You began your career at Image Engine as a CG Supervisor then moved quickly into VFX Supervisor. What has transition been like for you? 

I was a CG supervisor for a couple of years before becoming a VFX supervisor. Being a CG supervisor helped me to oversee and understand the full process of asset and shot development from the early stages to the final image. I also worked as a freelance generalist for almost 10 years which gave me the chance to work in many different disciplines, from modeling to lookdev, lighting and FX. This helped me to understand the unique challenges of every department better and allowed me to give more detailed feedback and talk in the same language as many of my artists.

The structure of previous companies I worked at gave me the opportunity to be the point person for the majority of the team, as the VFX supervisors were often at a different locations and would mostly only be present for dailies. So I got used to managing a large crew early on.

Once I joined Image Engine, that changed, and I got the chance to work really closely with my VFX Supervisor on a daily basis and basically become their right hand and got more insight in their day to day.

Hannes began his tenure at Image Engine as CG Supervisor for the final season of Game of Thrones.

In what ways did Image Engine set you up to have a smooth transition? 

It all started with me having an open discussion about my career plans with Image Engine when I was hired and then having follow up discussions regularly. They created a clear path for me when they thought I was ready and slowly introduced me to new challenges.

I started by getting involved in projects that were in early development, when potential clients inquired about upcoming projects and shoots, and asked for advice. At the same time I got introduced to the bidding process. I would run first passes on bids based on scripts or breakdowns and then review and discuss them with our executive producers. Over time there was less and less hand holding and it became a regular task. Once a project was awarded that was the right size and a good fit for me I got my chance. At first with more oversight but then senior management removed themselves quickly and gave me full control and responsibility. But they were always available when I needed advice. I really appreciated this mixed approach of getting eased in but also thrown into the cold water to take the next step.

The VFX business, in my opinion, often suffers from over promotion. People getting placed into lead and supervisory roles because of their artistic or technical skills or at some places just out of loyalty and seniority or lack of alternatives. This is dangerous for both sides, as the new leader is not set up for success and the team will suffer from bad choices.

Good leaders figure things out over time, but often certain practices and habits manifest themselves as they never really learned what to look out for. Image Engine considers all those things and it shows in our reputations as one of the more artist focussed facilities.

Another aspect that helped me to be prepared is that based on topic and comfort level on the client side, cinesyncs are not as much of a “behind closed doors” affair at Image Engine. We always try to have supervisors and leads attend to receive first hand information. So as CG Supervisor, I got a lot of insight on how client relationships are managed. On top of that I learned a lot when preparing for a call or discussing decisions afterwards with my VFX Supervisor. They explained their thought process and reasoning. That helped me a lot to connect the dots between specific requests and decisions.

During my transition period I worked with most of the senior VFX Supervisors at Image Engine, and they were all very open and honest. Everybody has their own unique personality and methods. No one tried to enforce certain approaches as “this is how you do it”. It was always more of an “this is how I do it”. Over time you see certain patterns that apply to all of them and you understand why it is that way. But I was always encouraged to try things differently to find my own way and comfort based on my unique background and experience.

You mentioned earlier that working with your VFX Supervisor before you moved into the role yourself gave you a lot of visibility on the job. Was there anything that caught you by surprise when you did take the helm of a project?

One of the things you very quickly realize as a VFX supervisor, is how many things happen behind the curtain that are usually invisible to most of the crew. 

For many artists the job can feel like a one way street, there is the “task” that you execute and then you do changes based on feedback. This can be rewarding or frustrating.

But any show, from big blockbusters to smaller productions is a collaboration of many different people that are all trying their best. There is more than just “the client”. There is a writer trying to tell a great story, a director trying to bring that story to life, there are showrunners who care about the big picture in a wider context, editors who control the pacing and viewers engagement and of course the client side supervisors and producers who want to make sure that the VFX that are needed to make this happen look right and support all these goals.

Seeing the client side in a different light makes it easier to understand the process and struggles. It allows you to better understand the history and context of creative decisions. In return,  the better you understand their side, the more you can support them. Because of that, I involve my team a lot more and encourage open discussion. I try to be more transparent than what I often experienced in the past as an artist myself. If the crew feels involved and can even propose solutions instead of just executing what I think is the right way, it becomes a more rewarding experience for all.

Hannes’s first project as VFX Supervisor was The Old Guard for Netflix.

What is the one thing that in your opinion is crucial to have as a VFX supervisor? 

As VFX Supervisor I’ve learned to acknowledge and realize very quickly, that every person on my team is better at their discipline than I am. No matter how good I once was back in my day as an artist, I don’t hold on to that comfort. I listen to what they tell me, they know more about their tools and methodologies than I ever will and have more skill and expertise in their subject-matter than me. So I use that knowledge and tap into that expertise to make the right choices. It helps to be familiar with the actual work of every department but I don’t ever assume I know more than them.

I’ve learned that my role and responsibility is to interpret, communicate and guide. To see the big picture. I work for the team to succeed and not the other way around. If I do not enable them to do their best work I will fail and feel the consequences when facing the client or my producer. The philosophy I try to pursue is to put the team first, and the rest will fall in place. When they are briefed correctly, know what the goal is and how we plan to get there they will more likely create good work for the client. They will also more likely stay within the time and budget, what producers care about.

Ultimately I am responsible for a project and asked to create fantastic looking work, but my actual day to day job is to manage people. Once that’s understood, any new VFX Supervisor will have a way higher chance of succeeding.

You now have a partner in crime in the form of a VFX Producer. What has that been like?

I was really lucky that my Producers were actually the people most supportive of my promotion and pushed for it to happen. Once you actually work on a show it is very important to discuss every aspect of the production. There should be a natural conflict of you wanting to do the best work, that usually requires almost infinite time and resources and the producers wanting to get the work done as fast and cost efficiently as possible. If you never argue, one of you is not doing your job.

But at the same point you have to compromise and find a balance. You can’t have a singular focus just doing everything in the most spectacular way possible.

Consider the budget, the time and find out what is most important to the client and the specific project but also what matters to you and what the team cares about. You need to manage and feed the passion that drives everyone. If you are not excited about the work, then no one will care. If you communicate that with your producers they are always willing to find a way to give you what you need.

Final thoughts?

Over the years, getting older, I realized VFX is one of the very few businesses that no one ends up in by accident or “to get by” temporarily. It sometimes feels like half the world is studying economics/business or learning a craft and ends up working in a company on something partially related to what they learned.

In VFX, every artist works in a role that they chose and want to do. The initial hurdles and learning curve is too high to just randomly stumble into it and give it a shot. If you taught yourself at home or actually studied VFX, you will never be good enough to find work as a modeler, lighter or compositor unless you keep on doing it because you want to and have a passion that you follow.

To be able to come into work every morning and realize that you are surrounded by dozens or sometimes hundreds of people that all want to do what they are doing right now is absolutely amazing. Talk to any person you know, from retail workers to CEOs and ask them if they would say their current job is what they always wanted to do and they feel confident the same is true for every one of their coworkers. I think outside of VFX, that is very rare. That is why I love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.