We’ve widened the net this month and returned with more stories from deep within the VFX Legion – introducing in-house production manager Andrew Turner. This man is part of the glue that binds our ranks together. He keeps the lights on and the walls from crumbling here at Burbank HQ. Andrew, let’s hear it.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m California born and bred and I’ve been in entertainment my entire life. I’m third generation, I grew up around it, and thanks to a little bit of nepotism I got my first few gigs, proved myself and grew from there. One of my aunt’s is a VFX producer, so she hooked me up with a few people who were looking for a few fresh faces.
Originally, I started wanting to be a modeller, not in a 3D artist sense, but as in a physical modeller. I did a small stint at Imaginarium, cutting my teeth on that. All the old school modellers were warning me that everything was going digital and urged me to learn that side of things too, because that was what would actually get me a living. From there, I went to Gnomon and learnt how to do a lot of things, and that’s where I realised I was better at keeping track and managing things, than actually doing them. So, pursued that side of things.
What films and television really got you interested in the industry?
Definitely Jurassic Park, that was the first time you could really see practical FX, models, and miniatures, done really well alongside CG. As a young kid, it was just mindblowing.
What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on during your career?
The biggest film I’ve done is Avatar. I worked on the last two years, on the production side. I got to work with James Cameron’s team directly, co-ordinating and managing all the vendors. I was brought in as we started building out the database to keep track of the show, I remember on my first day I was taken into the producer’s office and the back wall was just a huge spreadsheet they printed out as a tracking system. So, we sat down and started building a database from scratch on Filemaker and started tracking all the shots from there. Luckily, when I came on board the shots were just starting to be in progress, the photography had wrapped up and they were packaging up the last turnovers, so we had a little time to make sure everything was working before the flood gates opened.
Working on a huge production like that actually compares a lot to working with Legion, they’re very similar. The people are different, the work is a little different, but there are many similarities. We’re getting crazy work, crazy deadlines and are always finding ways to manage it and get it out of the door, so we can get it ultimately out there as efficiently as possible and on some sort of screen for the public.
What drew you towards working with VFX Legion?
Primarily, because they were more focussed on the artistry of it all, I had previously just come from working with Sony and it was a very structured, business oriented-model instead of ‘we’re making something really cool’, which is exactly what Legion was. It was focussed on the creativity rather than the bottom line.
The other awesome thing is the openness in terms of new ideas and new ways of doing things, instead of being stuck in a facility, where there’s rigid protocols that can’t be changed because that’s how they’ve always done it. At Legion, the pipeline is always changing and evolving from show to show, and even episode to episode.
What’s good about the location in which you live/work?
I live in the north end of the San Fernando Valley, I love the fact that you’re just far enough out of LA, that you don’t have to deal with LA. There’s affordable housing and good schools, still central to everything, it doesn’t matter if i’m working in Burbank or Culver City.
What would you say are the core skills that you bring to the VFX Legion team?
I’m one of the few production people that know the artistry side on how to create a shot either CG or in 2D. So, it brings more accuracy in terms of scheduling and bidding, back and forths with the artists and also doing the critical translations of client speak to artist speak. It makes things easier for all parties.
What projects have been particularly proud to work on at VFX Legion, and why?
Definitely the first few episodes of Scandal – when we picked it up, we didn’t have a television pipeline set up at all. We built it up from scratch, we got together a good group of people and we took the bar the client had and raised it substantially in terms of the quality of work. And we managed to do all of that in a very short period of time.
Have you ever faced any challenges as an artist?
At Legion, everything is different episode to episode or project to project, I don’t think there’s been one single challenge, because every project we hit with a blank slate, using the knowledge and experience of our previous work.
In the industry, a lot of challenges centre around having to chase the tax credits of where that work can be done. I left Sony because during my last show, I had 90% of my team up in Vancouver, and we ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the Vancouver talent and that was not great. Since it was such a whole new thing for everybody, communication was also a big challenge.
I mean, despite the fact that Legion is built on a remote model, it really feels like all of the artists are just a walking distance away because the communication is so strong. Everybody is using software that is easy to communicate with or they’tre so senior that communication is a given.
Is there a future in a remote model?
I hope it will be more common, I see it being super beneficial because we’re not beholding to the state regulating their tax incentives or other countries regulating their tax incentives, we can crew up people in those areas as that stuff comes up.
What are your hobbies/passions outside of work?
Well, I have a three year old daughter with my wife, so entertaining her takes up most of my time, lots of Disneyland trips and lots of just experiencing her grow up. I still build and paint miniatures in my spare time, it helps me stay grounded and lets me just zone out of everything for a few hours.
Nice one, thanks Andrew! And thanks, you, for reading. Check back around this time next month for another artist tête-à-tête, and take a look at this in the meantime.