Artist of the Month is back! Once a month, every month, we talk with the people that make up our global crack-team of visual effects specialists in an effort to understand their genius and to demystify our industry. March is for champion of compositing Daniel Short. Let’s go, Dan!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I don’t really know what to say, to me, I’m completely normal. I just go around assuming that everyone else on the planet was also raised on a farm by hippies, never matches their socks, and spends far too much of their time staring at a glowing screen. My life events up to this point have led me to believe that a good mix of whimsy and sarcasm can get you through almost anything. I am the poster child of faking it until I make it.
What films and television really got you interested in the industry?
I’d love to be able to jump in and join the crowd screaming “The Matrix!!!”, but the things that always stood out to me were films like Goodbye Lenin and Children of Men. These are films that used Visual Effects to tell a story instead of have a story that hides behind the effects. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching giant robots fighting each other on top of an erupting volcano while travelling through a black hole, but I’ve always figured that if you’re planning on spending $180 million dollars on a movie, you should spend some of that on the story. So I’ve always loved VFX as a storytelling tool more than a spectacle or gimmick.
What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on during your career?
It’s not the biggest thing I’ve ever worked on, but I am most proud of my work at the Museum Of Natural History in New York City. I was the sole compositor on their planetarium show and got to walk through the museum after hours each day, have daily reviews in the planetarium dome and be surrounded by people talking about space exploration all day. It was a dream to work there and it felt wonderful to know that I was spreading knowledge and teaching people as opposed to just selling popcorn and movie tickets.
What drew you towards working with VFX Legion?
I’ve been freelancing for the past 10 years and I’ve always maintained a half-decent workspace at home for personal projects and the occasional remote job, but after my daughter was born, the prospect of being home for every dinner got more and more appealing. It helped to have had experience on a variety of remote work in the past to know that I could also handle working at home for long stretches of time. It’s not for everyone, but it works pretty well for me!
Where are you based in the world?
I live in the tree lined streets and hipster dystopia of Portland, Oregon. I ride my unicycle every day to my ukulele classes under the corner coffee shop and interpretive dance studio.
What is your favorite thing about working with VFX Legion?
I was a little tentative at first to work with a company that is almost 100% remote, but my fears were laid to rest when I realized that the team at Legion are better at communicating than most companies I have been in the same office with. Of course, it’s an essential skill to have when you are managing artists and projects spread out across the globe, but I have never felt out of the loop on any of the projects I’ve participated in.
It’s nice to know that most of the artists I’m working with are all incredibly senior and well experienced in their field, so any advice, assets, or renders that are shared are dependable.
What do you like most about the location in which you live/work?
I lived in New York City for seven years and although it wasn’t the post-apocalyptic hellscape the movies that I grew up on that led me to believe, it was a bit much for me. There is great work and fantastic people around but very little time to live your life. I moved West get a little more time for living. I fell in love with Portland after a bicycle trip from Canada to Mexico and am so glad to be here. That being said, there isn’t much work here, so it makes me even more grateful for VFX Legion allowing me to stay here in a city I chose.
What would you say are the core skills that you bring to the VFX Legion team?
I like to think that my experience in commercials, television, and film gives me the experience to deliver for any market, and has taught me how to deliver high-quality work in a shortened timeframe. The way I figure it, if I can do a job under budget, then the company I work for can stick around for longer (or maybe give me a raise).
Which projects have you been most proud to work on at VFX Legion, and why?
I’ve been really impressed on the various things we’ve done on Scandal. When I first read about VFX Legion, I thought we’d only be working on monitor composites and beauty fixes. I never realized that they had an entire 3D pipeline that was working functionally in a remote environment. We’ve been doing a huge variety of work from CG set extensions, a variety of green and blue screen keying, and lots of bullet hits (I mean, have you seen the show? No one is safe!)
What projects have been particularly challenging or exciting?
The most exciting projects for me are ones where the whole team is involved. I can work on my key while I wait for updated CG renders and keep moving forward with my work, just as if I was at a traditional studio. We all communicate on each aspect of the shots and collaborate to find elegant solutions which leads to better and faster final versions.
The most challenging shot I had was a green screen key… of a green tree. Blergh! But no VFX supervisor can be everywhere all the time. It worked out fine anyway after I threw 5 different keyers at it. What’s great about VFX Legion is that if I am having trouble on a shot and I need more help, the producers are always responsive in getting me what I need. It’s a great team.
What are the challenges facing artists today, and how do you overcome them?
Challenges today for artists are different in every industry. Film artists have to move often, or spend months and years away from their families, commercial artists need to live in dense cities and work incredibly long hours (often without overtime), and artists in television often don’t have the time to make something look really nice because the budgets aren’t there to put the extra work in.
But every worker in the VFX industry feels at risk either by outsourcing, poor pay, moving tax-subsidies, unpaid overtime, or an extremely unhealthy work-life balance. It’s hard to find a place where you can live a good life and still make a decent living. I feel that I’ve been lucky and am glad to be able to work remotely now in the city I choose and still get to see my family.
Why do you think remote working is so important for today’s VFX industry?
Oh come on, we live in the future! Internet speeds are faster every few years and personal computers get faster all the time, so there’s no reason being remote can’t work now. VFX has actually been remote for years, but it’s been mainly focused in rotoscoping and rig removal in companies in India and China. Now that bandwidth speeds and more senior artists are more globally abundant, they are a resource that can work on and finish almost any aspect of VFX work.
What are your hobbies and passions outside of work?
I grew up as an outdoor kid in the wilds of Pennsylvania, so I always want more fresh air. I love hiking the mountains and valleys of the Pacific Northwest with my wife and daughter and I’ve got a little workshop in my basement where I practice transitioning from a lumberjack to a carpenter (I love any excuse to make sawdust). When we can get a sitter, my wife and I like to go swing dancing and on the occasional cross-country bicycle tour together. Time away from the computer is important. We should all have a little more of it.
Thanks for reading, check back next month for another! In the meantime, why not look at something cool?