From stumbling upon a hidden door into the filmmaking world to working on some of the biggest feature films and winning awards, NERD’s director Peter S uncovers the secrets behind his remarkable journey. Join us for an enlightening Q&A as Peter shares intriguing insights about his craft, granting us a glimpse into the enchanting realm of VFX.
VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where and why did you learn your craft?
Similar to cinematography, VFX is one of those disciplines that requires the encyclopaedic accumulation of knowledge and techniques. You never stop learning, but working at big shops like Weta, with the best in the business, really inspired me to dream big. Initially, I went into VFX because it was a sort of secret door into the filmmaking world. I just happen to have the right skill set, at the right time, and in no time at all, I was sitting beside the world’s biggest directors, studying their approach to storytelling.
There are two ends to the VFX spectrum – the invisible post and the big, glossy ‘VFX heavy’ shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those as a director?
The invisible shots require a good deal of humility and restraint. Every artist wants to be noticed for their work, but there are better ways to approach those shots. Instead, you have to just stick with the reference, and keep the overall purpose of the shot in mind. It’s a thankless job. The flashy stuff is really fun, but now ALL EYES are on your work so you better not drop the ball! Those are the shots that give you stomach ulcers in dailies. The potential to fail spectacularly is very real.
We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?
With commercials, usually, it’s done when the clock runs out, but on some projects, you are given a lot of time to nail it. And yes, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, tinkering well past the apex of its potential. I just think that walking away from your work for a little while is the best way to get perspective. Go snowboarding, race go-karts, hike with your kids, anything works. As long as you earnestly disconnect for a little while, and then can return with a fresh pair of eyes.
Is there a piece of technology or software that’s particularly exciting to you in VFX? Why?
At first, I was a little spooked by the AI software that was coming out, but then I leaned into it on a few projects and realised that it can be a useful tool. Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with AI knows you still need an operator guiding the creative process. It brings a few types of tasks, that have only really been available to the top-tier VFX studios, to everyone else. I’m excited because it levels the playing field a bit, and I can go toe-to-toe with the Titans of VFX!
How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?
I had a terrifically lucky break when I applied to a little-known studio, called JAK Films, in Northern California. It turned out to be the secret art department that George Lucas was running out of Skywalker Ranch during the making of his Star Wars prequels. It wasn’t until years later that I fully appreciated what a mythic cathedral of storytelling that place was. George had a team of the top concepts in each field – Costume Design, Industrial Design, Creature Design, etc. I got to sit in a room with them every day and see first-hand how much magic you can create when you put egos aside and work to inspire the people around you.
What was your most recent exciting milestone in the industry, you were super proud of?
While I have won a few awards for some of my commercial work in the past, the award I received last year from the British Animation Awards for AirWick was a really special one. The film was such a simple, clever script that called for a poetic, zen-like approach. Everyone involved respected that calm approach to the crafting of it, and I believe it really shows in the final product. I think that little film will stand the test of time.
What is your favourite commercial/film of all time?
The work that blows me away year after year, is the stuff that I truly have no idea how they pulled off. Apocalypse Now, (based on one of my favourite books) still makes my head explode. It’s spellbinding in its ability to be a huge spectacle, and deep meditation, at the same time. A film like that will never be made again. Like all great art, it demanded the creator’s journey into madness in order to bring back something so special.