MEET GREG MASSIE
SENIOR EFFECTS ARTIST
Greg brings over 10 years of industry experience to the effects department of Image Engine. He has previously served at several
leading facilities including MPC, in the UK, The Mill and Framestore - both in London and New York.
Greg’s notable film credits include Kingdom of Heaven, Batman Begins, The Incredible Hulk and District 9.
You've been at Image Engine since 2007, can you tell us a bit about your experience of working here?
It's been great so far. When I got here the pitch team for Hulk fitted in 3x4 metre room, now there is around 120 staff. The core staff has mostly remained the same since I joined and it makes for a good vibe.
You moved a long way from the UK to work here at Image Engine, what inspired that move?
Honestly? Snowboarding! I came over for a vacation 4 years ago and never left. I was very tired of London and had worked in New York for a while but both cities had exhausted me, it was time for a change. When I arrived in Vancouver I'd never felt as welcome and at home anywhere before. Several of us came here to get away from it all, next thing we knew visual effects exploded in Vancouver! We've been pretty busy the last few years.
How has working in Vancouver been for you? How does it differ from working elsewhere in your experience?
I think generally the vibe in Vancouver is more sustainable. In other cities people burn out, here there is a flow to work and life that is healthier and family oriented, whilst still having some of the nightlife of a big city. It's made working here a lot of fun.
Many people here climb, surf, run, hike, do photography, play instruments, brew their own beer and wine, chill on the beach, play volleyball or ice hockey, do yoga.. and of course, ski or snowboard in the winter. This really reflects in peoples' approach to their work and they have inspiration from all sorts of different areas. In other places I've worked we all went to work then to the pub, went to work then to the pub, went to work then to the pub, went to work then to the pub, went to work then to the pub! Now we go to the pub after we've done something more constructive first.
Can you explain a little bit about your role (or the role of an FX artist)? Effects artists are often considered the glue that holds various departments in a visual effects pipeline together - how does that role affect the way you approach your work?
Generally an FX artist needs to be able to do a bit of everything. At Image Engine the FX role is really about filling in the gaps and adding the 10% that completes a shot. Most of our work has been creature based in the last few years so this drives the FX requirements.
Some examples of the effects that we've done in the last few years include cloth, hair, particles, muscles, dribble, blood, pee, explosions, character fixes, sand etc. Some of these elements FX artists are required to animate or simulate and many need to be lit and rendered. Some of these elements are delivered directly to the comp team, others have to be carefully siphoned back into the pipeline for the rest of the artists to pick up.
Generally it means that a wide knowledge of both the software and the pipeline is required. I've spent a lot of time over the last 4 years working with the R&D team to fit the FX work in to our pipeline and as we expand our pipeline and introduce more software packages this job can become quite challenging.
Can you explain how you started out in the industry – what is your background?
After completing my undergrad in Computer Communications I was offered a job at Silicon Graphics working on very high-end virtual reality systems and worked both as a engineer and in technical marketing. It was an
amazing 3 years but the more cool stuff I saw the more I realized it wasn't creative enough.
I left that in 2000 and went to do my MSc in Computer Animation at Bournemouth University and promptly got a job working at MPC in the TV and commercials department. Actually, my first day at MPC I sat in a room with John Haddon and Peter Muyzers. That was over 9 years ago and I'm pretty much still sitting next to them now!
I worked at MPC Commercials for 3 years, then moved over to film for a year to work on Kingdom of Heaven then Batman Begins. After that I went freelance for a couple of years working at the Mill in London and New York and Framestore in New York primarily working on a wide range of commercials. I finished my last London based job at MPC again back in 2006 and after traveling for a few months ended up here by happy accident.
You've worked on about as many commercials as feature films over the years - how do the two compare to an FX TD? Are they becoming more similar?
I'm a big fan of working on commercials and I enjoy the approach that is required to achieve them within the often ludicrous time and budget constraints.
From my experience the best commercials are achieved in studios where there is a crossover between the film and commercial work. Commercials directors want Hollywood effects on their budget. This is an excellent challenge for effects artist as it really makes you examine what was required for the money shots of big films and extract the techniques that gave the essence to those shots. Having an established film toolset that can be used in this process gives both the artists and the director what they want. Also, there is a much closer dialogue between the artists and the director/production team. This helps get the best out of everyone
I love it and I hope Image Engine continues to do more!
What work are you most proud of that you completed prior to working at Image Engine?
For complexity of work, Kingdom of Heaven was an exceptional show to work on and I learnt a huge amount but for cool factor, Batman Begins will always be a favourite.
…and what work are you most proud of that you've completed at Image Engine?
Without doubt, District 9 stands at the top of the list. Despite the hard work involved, everyone on the team knew we were part of something different and special. Especially when James McPhail and I were asked to do a peeing alien!
For "District 9" we consciously tried to avoid aspects of the creature design that would require complex simulation, but as a result of various creative decisions Neill Blomkamp made along the way, we ended up completing a large number of simulations, especially for the lead character - Christopher Johnson.
Can you describe how that work was executed and managed?
Haha, yes. “There will definitely not be any cloth simulation” was a phrase I heard often in the first few months of preproduction but as with every sh
ow the requirements changed and we adapted. In the end the FX team
touched 250 of the 300+ shots to do everything from dribble, blood, ground interaction and cloth simulation.
There were two parts to the cloth simulation requirements. First we wanted to add a lot of torn shreds of clothing attached to the creatures, these were fondly referred to as “dangly bits” and included mostly loin cloths and foot-long strips of cloth tied to arms and legs. This was all set up using our in house RBD simulator as joint chains. Most of this work was designed to run automatically on the farm and maybe 1 in 20 shots required manual tweaking.
The second part was more a more standard nCloth solution for the clothes worn by the hero prawn. His red jacket need simulating in a very large number of shots which wasn't defined until nearer the end of the show.
In the end we had a crack squad of fx artists churning out simulations. Two particularly stick out as being super slick; the one when the dropship is taking off and there is a large amount of wind blowing in CJ's face, and then one in the hut where he is angry and punches the door frame. Both sims were done by Jakob Schmidt and looked great.
After 9 years in the industry, what still excites you about FX?
There's nothing more satisfying than finding the elegant solution to a problem. Whether it's doing something as simple as a blood spurt with an efficient technique or doing a very complex effect in the most adaptable, directable and seamless way possible.
Where do you look for inspiration for your work?
Travel. Volcanoes. The sea. Mountains. Snowboarding. My fish tank. Vodka.... mainly vodka.
Looking into the future a little bit, what would you say excites you most creatively or technically that's on the horizon in film FX?
Creatively what I look forward to most is work with directors who have a vision. Neill Blomkamp is a great example but the production team are speaking to others who are equally as exciting. Even when they are working you hard, those types of directors inspire me.
Technically, the future is pretty frightening for FX artists! The level of visual complexity has increased so much in the past 5 years that directors are asking for some pretty crazy things these days. Effects-wise the best is still to come at Image Engine. We have spent the last few months adding Houdini to our pipeline and the opportunity to do much larger, more complex effects shots is very exciting for the expanding FX team. Having access to the
right tools to do the job makes a huge difference to productivity and the level of visual complexity we can achieve.
I'm pretty sure The Thing and next couple of projects will show what we can really do with effects here.
Lastly, what advice would you have for someone starting out in the industry?
Work in commercials first. Get a broad experience of 3D and 2D before you commit to any one particular part of the pipeline. Some of the most valuable artists in the industry come from that background and it's stood me in good stead.