James Rogers ︎ VFX Supervisor & Creative Director

New Catalysts in Creative Work Culture

Redesigning studios and collaboration

sketches by James Rogers

The biggest surprise after our studio dispersed about a year ago was how quickly we were up and running remotely. After months of being out of the office, the discussion pivoted from when do we come back, to do we really need so much office space?

It was no doubt a relief to many that productivity didn’t nose-dive as much as anyone had presumed it could. With this outcome, there was a clear inflection in both client and vendor strategies — presumably because everyone realised that workers were demonstrably just as responsible outside the office as they were inside.

I’m sure many offices have had surveys, which run somewhat along the lines of, “Do you want to come back”, and, “If so, in what form”. Overwhelmingly, our responses indicated that people are opting for some amount of their week to be spent remotely working. Indeed some indicated that they never want to come into an office full-time.

The unplanned benefit to businesses is clear. Office space is a major cost, finding employees, relocating them, and paying them local rates all adds up. In a globalised creative industry such as visual effects, the potential competitive benefit this could bring would be significant to businesses that sit on either side of the coin: those with the location advantage or those who have cost competitiveness. You can read all the positives and negatives into that as you like, but I would add that just like water, the economics will find their own level.

So to that end, is dispersed working the new normal? Is being remote just as efficient as being together, especially in a creative industry?

Well, yes and no.


In creative work there are complexities and nuances that go beyond the pre-pandemic model, which is one often based on physical proximity to clients; and the inverse, post-pandemic model, based on a dispersed workforce. At the crux of these is the assumption that the workforce is just as productive when together, as it is remote.

On the surface, this would seem logical. With a few tweaks to our systems and processes, things should logically be the same. Some boutique businesses adopted this as a model eons before the pandemic and have been very successful at it. However, at scale, our human quirks bring a complexity that technology, equipment and telecommunications can’t readily solve. While it may seem everything is good in the short term (for example, this past year), there are difficulties that creative teams in any industry will need to surmount.

The primary and most difficult to quantify quandary is how effectively a single creative is working remotely. I have the advantage of overseeing a number of different teams at the same time, and have observed that some people thrive in a remote setting, and some—it has to be said—just can’t be productive. That in itself could be for any number of detailed reasons — which I am not going to solve here—but my point is that remote working is a major change in work discipline.

Some can do it, some can’t. For many, it is an aspect of their work personality that nobody paid attention to. It simply wasn’t a factor.

Suddenly, sustaining remote work is a large slice of your effectiveness as an employee.

Curds and whey

If you make cheese, you start with milk, add a catalyst, and end up with curds and whey. Both the curd and the whey have usefulness in of themselves and can be turned into a number of value-added products, cheese and protein notwithstanding. However, there is no going back to milk. The change is irrevocable.

Even though the main ingredient is the same, we regard milk and cheese in quite different ways. Each variety might have a complexity or characteristic that is unique.

It’s not right or wrong, they are just different. Before and after.

The last working year has seen a quiet but seismic disruption to the industry, the kind that is usually wrought by new technology. It’s been overshadowed by the health crisis, which was the catalyst of the change. We are used to technological disruption, to the extent that we look out for it, anticipate it. But this is different.

As a tech-reliant creatives, this change disrupts the way we think, process, cajole and communicate. It is interpersonal disruption. While training and adaption will no doubt make a difference over time, I think it is clearly obvious that the way we work, and our productivity, will be subject to different metrics going forward. It’s unlikely we will be going back to how things were.

I hope you like cheese.

Ambient learning

For people new to the industry, and new to a creative workplace, the learning curve can be steep. Sometimes it is softened by workplace training programs, but generally, a significant amount of learning is done on the job. It is unlikely to be a totally structured course, and in fact, is more accurately thought of as ambient learning. But it is this very learning that creates company culture, infuses and distributes ideas and approaches, and reinforces systems and workflows.

It not something you can necessarily import or recruit. It is born of the workplace.

In a studio environment you are just as likely to learn from someone talking about a project, or by sitting where you can lean over and see how something is done. You might hear someone complaining that they can’t nail some aspect of a brief; or someone else might be evangelising about a new technique or technology.

Whichever way, it isn’t knowledge you have been invited specifically to learn, it is knowledge that you absorb just by being surrounded by people in a studio. This is something that is incredibly hard to do remotely; if in fact it can be done at all.

The current remote version of this is somewhat clunky. Contrived. I can log in to a teammate’s computer and observe or comment on what they are working on, but that needs to be done via request or invitation. It is an organised and specific event, usually with very specific aims or solves. I can use the internal chat system or video call someone too, but again, it isn’t an ambient occurrence. It requires both parties to be engaged.

Happenstance hardly gets a cameo these days.

If there was one thing that causes me most concern at the moment, it is how to informally bring new knowledge and training into the remote workplace. It doesn’t matter if it is a big or small studio. Ambient learning generally gave larger companies some advantage. The bigger the population, the more knowledge there is to distribute or draw on. On the other hand, smaller companies could be more selective and deft due to their size. It evened out the differences. Now both face the same problem, and it is going to change how a whole spectrum of people are valued, recruited, and most significantly, retained.

Evolution or reinvention

In many ways, the pandemic brought a war effort mindset to many industries. We just have to get through this. Bulldozing through and making do was the right approach to what we had initially thought would be a few weeks, maybe months, but definitely not a year.

If studios are thinking of implementing a more remote workforce, there are challenges in both balancing the makeup of our crews, as well as the way our teams work together.

Fully-remote, or semi-remote—there has to be a change to the technique and approach we have to creative work, to an extent that isn’t currently accommodated in our traditional studio work/learning model. There needs to be an understanding that some people work well in isolation, and others do not. It doesn’t make them a less valuable worker either way, they are just different.

We need to work out how to accomodate that, identify and teach appropriate skills, especially in the short term.

Each one of us in the collaborative arts must embrace this as an aspect of what we do. The way we operate, how we assess ourselves, our internal lists of strengths, weaknesses, patience and commitment. These should all be adapted to a different mode or track of working.

I don’t think it is impossible for us to work fully remotely or part-time remote—if the last year has taught us anything, is that we can make it work, and it can be incredibly effective. By force of nature, covid has changed our approach and practically demonstrated a way to envisage our future studios.

I do believe that work from home has a natural flexibility and a more mature approach to work, especially creative work, as opposed to rigid work hours. However going into an office/shared space based on project-phase or needs, should also be a part of that. Contact time is also a chance to be intensely productive.

Now is the time to plan, promote and develop those pathways. The pandemic gave us the dress rehearsal. The catalyst has already been dropped into the milk, as it were. It’s up to us to actively cultivate and develop our curds and whey… or non-dairy alternative.

Originally published on Medium
Photos and sketches actually by James Rogers, not a machine

Creative or Not, Machines are Learning Your Job

Don’t ever think that your creativity can’t be replaced by an algorithm

In early 2021, I noticed a particular sort of Linked In post had started to appear. Some were just copy-paste memes, others were full blown screeds — but they all aimed to communicate the same thing:

“Machines can’t replace me, because I am creative. Can a machine handle a client changing their mind every 5 minutes? I’d like to see that.”

I probably should have ignored it. Social media in the professional domain can often just be grandstanding news posts; or commonly devolves into “connecting” with thousands of people you will never know, let alone meet or work with. Regardless, all my info is up there. Look at me. Measure my resume.

Without doubt, our relevance, real or perceived, is there for quantifying. But these sites also provide a sort of immediate temperature check. Something that you could get from a workplace, but now—given these work from home times—it is something I miss. So when there is a recurring theme to some posts, it seems like we should pay attention.

I have noticed that machine learning has started to move from buzzword to an actual day-to-day interaction for all of us. Mostly, it is almost transparent to our functioning. It might just be on our smart phone, or the way our email is organised, or categorising every photo on our computer. Sometimes it may be more obviously showing up in the software we use. Generally, however, it’s a tool-like implementation — like Adobe’s content-aware fill in Photoshop. It’s clever, simple to use, it mostly works, it can be super-handy — it’s a nice tool. In fact, I think I first read about it on Linked In.

Anyway, I flicked past these can’t replace me posts and closed the app. Unusually, however, I found myself still thinking about these posts much later on. They had stuck with me. And it really annoyed me.

I realised that they irked me because I just found them so incredibly naive.

If there is anything I have learned about keeping up a career, it is the need for constant maintenance. It’s best to regard yourself as never a complete expert, you are always accruing (and forgetting) knowledge, experience and history. Remain hungry to learn or find something else to do.

Sometimes we can be bluffed, but most people can spot someone who knows what they are talking about. Careers can be built on a solid foundation, or a house of cards. We all make our own choices there. Smug confidence will only get you so far, usually. Assuming you can’t be replaced is probably not a great foundation for a career.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that people do not possess expertise, or shouldn’t have pride in their work. A long career in anything comes of listening and comprehending. Especially to people who know their shit. You can still be that expert and keep learning.

But does possessing expertise and a hunger to learn make us impervious to disruption? Has it ever in history? No. Unfortunately for all of us, even creatives, it has not.

Not long ago, if you called a utility company you would be instantly connected to a human, flesh and blood, who would direct your call. Then there came the number menus (press two for…), and now there are voice assistants, “Hello Mr Rogers, tell me how I can help you today”. People used to be adamant that they wanted to talk to a real human, and these automated systems would never take off. Instead, technology moved inexorably ahead, and perhaps all the while we should have been modelling how our futures were bound to change.

Machine learning offers much potential in terms of tools. It can make tedious elements of our jobs faster, like content-aware fill does. Maybe in the near future, an investigative journalist can employ software to make solid leads out of tenuous connections in minutes instead of months; a doctor could diagnose a condition before more obvious symptoms appear, potentially saving a life; an incapacitated person could “speak” fluently without having to slowly type out all the words; or it’s just going to make your video games run faster. Whichever way, these are all tools that positively help our endeavours. There are dark sides to the technology too, but what I am getting at here is change will happen — good and bad.

Now while we may be employed in a creative field we probably don’t appreciate the perceived roadblocks we can present clients. Who is to say that dealing with creatives isn’t a chore some clients would prefer to do without? Would they use a tool that helped them achieve what they wanted? A kind of content-aware fill for the client? Considering we wouldn’t think twice about using tools that eliminate mundane aspects of our job… well, hell yes, of course a client would.

“Why do I have to keep telling this creative what I want every 5 minutes! It’s so tedious…

If creative services people think that dealing with clients can be difficult, then it follows that those clients would feel the same way. A computer interface rarely argues, and doesn’t complain revision after revision. The issue has always been interpretation. The understanding of the creative brief, and the understanding of how to use skill and tools to help produce that result. But if interpretation is less of a barrier, as so much of machine learning seems to promise, then our process simply becomes intent. Accuracy and skilful interpretation gives way to thousands of effortless, but consistently honed attempts.

There is a clear acceleration in the power and application of machine learning, especially those software tools that that take fuzzy inputs. And by fuzzy inputs, I mean the non-expert vernacular of clients.

Those tools exist for writing (no, this wasn’t written by a machine); they are starting to appear for imagery, from colour grading, to photo manipulation, to industrial 3D modelling, to scene building, and beyond; in fact, it doesn’t take a futurist to see that AI will play a part in all aspects of our creative careers.

Imagine the client that wants their ad to have the same colour as their favourite movie? Or their script to be written like Hemingway? Simple tools for that already exist. And they are so simple, even clients can use them. They just might not realise they are driven by AI.

Machines won’t replace humans anytime soon, but they will replace or significantly change some tasks. I really don’t think it is hyperbole to say that in some cases, those tasks may be everything you currently do at work.

There is no safe harbour. No resting on your laurels. We always need to adapt, regardless. Sometimes, that requires a big leap. And the only way to be ready is to take a long view and be prepared. The good news is that this is not the here and now. There is time. We can change, adapt and carefully retrain in anticipation.

But just because you are creative, never think a machine can’t do your job.

Originally published on Medium

Madonna and Me

A tale for the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

“The dream was always the same…” © 2001 Square Pictures
It must have been mid-2001. I was in Los Angeles to help oversee the colour grade of Square USA’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I was the compositing supervisor on that show, and while that production was pretty unconventional in terms of roles and assignments, the positive side of that was that I was given a lot of latitudes to do things which would otherwise be apportioned to others.

Shot by painstaking shot, I graded the whole movie in Avid’s Illusion compositing software. Twelve hundred or so unique setup files, each with their own adjustments, masks and keys. This was not the digital grading of today. (As an aside, the credit roll of the movie was rendered in After Effects on my brand new white iBook in my extended stay lodging in Los Angeles, which took about 12 hours every revision. As I said it was an unconventional production).

Because distribution was still leg-roped to tried-and-true celluloid as the dominant medium, the co-director Moto Sakakibara, editor Chris Capp, production coordinator and all round good guy Hiroshi Tanaka, and I went to Los Angeles to do two grades: a digital one for DVD release at Sony in Culver City, and an analog one for theatrical showing at Deluxe in Hollywood. Ideally we would have just done one grade and a full digital output to film, but for whatever reason, Columbia, the distributor, didn’t want to go that way.

So we spent most of the time pulling a variety of film-outs and short ends back to the look and feel we had spent the last five years intimately getting to know. Every pixel was familiar to us, and each pixel frustrated us. I pity those who had to accomodate our fastidiousness.

You should have seen the other options… © 2001 Square Pictures

There was other business at that time to attend to as well, such as marketing. Traditionally, I would have no voice in such a meeting, but for Moto, I was his native English-speaking eyes and ears.

After each rapid-fire meeting filled with studio hype and passively coercive shenanigans, we would regroup somewhere quiet. Moto would drill me about what I thought or what I felt was really being said. I had a very dormant degree in Communication, but at those times, it bubbled up and helped frame the subtext of those discussions. Moto and I rarely disagreed. Despite this, the marketing remained woefully off mark. Our hesitations, we were studio executive ‘splained, were because we were too close to the material.

Hype was beginning to build around the movie. Ain’t it Cool News, a dominant movie fan site at that time, received some very carefully leaked stills by the studio. There was a buzz on the internet channels, at least the few that existed 20 years ago.

Part of that hype was the cover of Maxim, a men’s lifestyle magazine, which each month featured a female model of some sort on the front cover. The lead of Final Fantasy, a fully digital character called Dr Aki Ross (voiced by Ming Na-Wen), was chosen to “pose” for the cover. This put our digital character team into raptures, and Steven Geisler, Andrea Maiolo, and Francis Cortina spent an inordinate amount of time infusing detail—both seen and unseen—into a bikini-clad magazine-ready version of Dr Ross. It was so high-res, that they made it a centrefold (I think euphemistically referred to as a “poster”).

The infamous poster

The hype had been noticed by wunderkind music video director Mark Romanek and his producer, Steve Reiss. The iconic videos Romanek had made really were the definition of MTV in the 90s. I’m not sure who had hatched the idea, but I was dispatched to talk with Romanek, who was editing his first feature One Hour Photo. He had cast Robin Williams in a non-comedic, deeply sinister role. That was a first, and there was much consternation as to whether Williams could pull off such a character. I’m sure I had read all about it on Ain’t it Cool News.

My lasting memory of that meeting was Romanek doing double duty with the editor on his film and with me, flipping through Surface and Wallpaper magazine, tearing out architectural inspiration and pitching the idea of his video. Effectively, it was this: Madonna has a new record; she hates making videos; I want to make a digital version of her; kinda like what you have done in Final Fantasy, but better; and maybe that digital version can be used from here on. He played me a track from her Music album: Nobody’s Perfect.

My other memory was that Kubrick had died a few years earlier, and I mentioned how the single point perspective shot the editor had up on screen looked like a Kubrick shot. Romanek took a beat. I’m not sure he teared up. In my memory he did, but maybe that’s only because he spoke of his affection for Kubrick, and what a man the world had lost. If you haven’t, go and watch One Hour Photo.

With that in mind, and a few of those torn inspiration pages, I tried to remotely get conceptual 3D set builds quickly turned around by the Square USA studio in Honolulu. It didn’t go very well. I simply didn’t have the experience or supervision prowess to explain what was needed, nor was the Honolulu studio geared to produce anything like this. Romanek and I quickly abandoned that approach.

Photo by Dionisio Weiland Madonna sings on the Drowned World Tour, 2001

An opportunity to pitch the idea to Madonna in person came up. She was about to launch her Drowned World Tour, and was doing a full dress rehearsal at the Forum in Inglewood. Considering she was about to launch a tour, the meeting became a little more critical—while on tour, Madonna would be unavailable to shoot a music video, get reference photography or 3D scans of, and generally wouldn’t be around to be pitched ideas.

This was the one and only window.

What followed was seemingly days of random calls, which simply amounted to, don’t fuck this up. I got calls from the production company, Madonna’s reps, and concerned people related to Square USA. If I did fuck it up, Madonna would walk, and the window would close, lots was riding on this, so don’t fuck this up. Executive Producer Chris Lee was sent to also represent the Honolulu studio and the effort, or to watch me. Likely it was more to watch me. I would probably have done the same, I was only 29 and looked about 19.

We had organised a photographer to take reference stills and a bus equipped with a 3D scanner to capture Madonna’s head. We would have a chance to run her through things and capture all the reference we could minutes after she had finished the dress rehearsal. It seemed like a solid plan.

In-car GPS just wasn’t a thing back then, and I inevitably got lost on the way to the Forum. I started to sweat through my newly purchased Ben Sherman shirt, which still smelled of the plastic envelope I had bought it in, and was similarly creased. I stopped in a thoroughly foreign neighbourhood and asked for directions. I only asked one guy, but a whole community came to my aid. I had seriously overshot my destination and was in Walnut Park. I was deeply lost, and the place name didn’t really help me regain my sense of direction. I got verbal instructions, a hand drawn map, and finally a car to follow. They were going to get me there come hell or high water. These people were the best of America, both then and now, even recalling this 20 years later. As promised, I arrived well within time.

The endless tarmac surrounding the Forum was empty, save for a smattering of cars and the Airstream bus that housed the head scanning equipment. I parked, and estimated about 100 cars in the carpark made for tens of thousands. I checked in, saw the scanning booth, gave some lighting notes to the photographer for our specific CGI needs, and was invited to go and see the dress rehearsal, which by now was in full swing.

It was pitch black in the stalls. The stage gave the only illumination, and I had entered during an intimate lighting setup. I just couldn’t see anything except shadows. I shuffled to the nearest empty row while my eyes adjusted.

The stage lights rose, and suddenly I was able to take in my surrounds. Upstairs around me was a smattering of crew, production people, and then a few who wore the disaffected expressions that only seen-it-all music biz pros can maintain. In the audience pit below, there were 100 special friends, who I am probably inaccurately recalling were disadvantaged youth. Whichever way, there was a charitable aspect to their attendance, which impressed me.

I realised the tall guy next to me was holding a baby wearing ear muffs. In between songs he asked me what I thought of the show. I’m sure I said something positive and encouraging. He seemed unimpressed by my polite murmurings and particularly by the show, and he clearly told me that. Being an Australian in America, I was acutely aware of non-American accents. This guy was British. And then the penny dropped. This wasn’t just a guy, it was the Guy. Guy Ritchie.

It didn’t take Guy long to have seen enough of the show, and shuffle past me, exiting with cute baby and all. The concert carried on. The physicality of it was impressive. It was a workout for everyone on stage, but none more so than Madonna.

In those days, Madonna had been crowned Madge by the British press, as she had taken up residence in England. Whether that was an attempt to belittle, or adopt her, I realised that regardless of what you called her, Madge worked bloody hard.

The show came to a rousing end. The special guests were appropriately rapturous. It was fun. I wouldn’t have thought to go to a show like that previously. The last live show I had seen was Nick Cave, in a considerably different environment. Madonna’s show was better than I had expected, not that I had spent any time thinking about what to expect—I had only thought about the scanning, photography, pitch, and most of all, not fucking it up.

We started in the scanning bus. It wasn’t very glamorous on the inside, and the head scanner, which was on a rotating arm, looked like a torture device Kubrick would have used in a Clockwork Orange. It was run by a husband and wife team, who had clearly been given the same don’t fuck this up speech as me. Only they were outwardly nervous… and bickering. Somehow, I ended up being the person nominated to tell Madonna what to do. Which wasn’t to be told directly to her, but to someone who was assisting her.

When Madge made an entrance, she wasn’t happy. Something was up. A head scan requires the subject to stay perfectly still. At that time, the scanners used ear plugs to help stabilise the head. Madonna’s manager made it clear we weren’t going to be using those.

Fair enough.

Madonna had a two-way pager in her hand. She was furiously typing—someone clearly was copping a screenful of frustration. Try as we might, we couldn’t get her to stay as still as the scanning company wanted her to be. The husband and wife scanning team started bickering again. Madonna was talking to her manager in outrage—and I learned she was in the middle of a two way pager argument with Ritchie. The energy in the bus was going down the toilet. Don’t fuck this up. We quickly pulled the plug on the scanner, and went to option B. The photographer. Don’t fuck this up.

The entourage decamped and we made our way upstairs. The photographer, thankfully, was ready to go, calm, and sprang into action with professional efficiency. Again, I was the assigned speaker—asking for particular poses to help our character modeling and texturing team. Even though we were just a handful of feet apart from one another, there was no direct dialog between Madonna and I. It went via the closest trusted person, in this case, a hair and makeup artist. I did and still do have sympathy and understanding for artists needing these protections; at times it is easy to see how things end up operating like this.

There were about twenty other people in the room. Romanek, Reiss, Lee and Madonna’s entourage. There was a quiet hubub. People kept tapping me on the shoulder and whispering things along the lines of, “you said you were going to get this pose”. It is true, I did have a shopping list of poses to get, but I was also sensitive to the rather unhappy state of our key talent. Don’t fuck this up. I had prioritised what we needed from the photos, and was looking to get that top line of wants.

Being tapped on the shoulder and whispered at constantly was really making it harder to concentrate on the job at hand, and also appear like I knew what the fuck I was doing in front of this musical megastar; a star who was really not digging having to pose. Madonna relayed that she wouldn’t take her headband off—I didn’t ask for that; or her sweats—nope, no need; or put down her water bottle… Another tap on the shoulder and another whisper. Don’t fuck this up. My blood pressure was rising.

Funny thing used to happen to me back then. I’d been living in America for about five years, and I desperately wanted to be both clearly understood and not to stand out. Like so many of us at the time, I altered my accent and my syntax to be clearer. These days with the infiltration of the internet, I find most Americans are more familiar with foreign accents.

Certainly back then, American TV wasn’t as cosmopolitan. Australian films, for example, were often subtitled, if not dubbed. So my altered accent allowed me to pass under the radar for most people, with just the odd word standing out with distinctive Australian twang. However, the peculiar thing is that when I got angry, annoyed or nervous, I would pretty much revert to talking like a boy from Brisbane. Full Queenslander. Don’t fuck this up.

So it was when Madonna told her hair and makeup artist to tell me that she wasn’t going to take the cold compress off her arm for me—which I hadn’t asked her to—I kinda snapped. Like a person possessed, talking in tongues, I became a kid from Brisbane.

A stream of Aussie accent tumbled out of me as I addressed her directly:


Her eyes snapped to meet mine.

Darnt worry about the col’ compress. Wull jus’ cutch-ya arm awff one side and stick it awn the uther.

Time stopped right there and then. Madge stared holes in me.

Shit, shit, shit. Don’t fuck this up. Shit. I may have been more surprised than her.

I fucked it up.

The silence went on. The whole room was pin quiet. In the film of my life, this is where the Hitchcock dolly-zoom would be deployed (perhaps also with a montage of pecking birds crowing you fucked it up!).

I’d like to think she was weighing walking out, or maybe punching me in the face. But it occurs to me now, she merely might have been just trying to translate whatever the hell had just fallen out of my mouth. It sounded like English, but at the same time it wasn’t. Whichever way, a curious thing happened.

She laughed and spoke all at the same time:

Cut ya arm off and stick it on the other side.

She aped a rough approximation of the boy from Brisbane.

That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day.

The rest of the room, right on cue, laughed too. They stopped tapping me on the shoulder and whispering. My suppressed Aussie co-personality made us a friend. For a few minutes, she acknowledged the Australian.

The shoot finished quickly and we spoke briefly about 3D characters and what it all means. Could they be realistic? Not yet. How long would it take? Will the technology get better? And with that, camaraderie came to an end. Chris Lee emerged from the background to try and give the mercurial Madge a copy of the Maxim poster, but was intercepted and turned down before he could even get close. Romanek snatched a few more words with her in a private pitch.

And then that was it. Meeting done.

For the curious or music fans, don’t bother looking the project up, it didn’t happen. It died in the budget stage. Square USA wasn’t made to deal with projects like these, nor did it need to. If I recall correctly, the budget for the digital Madonna was reasonable, at least we had thought it was. It was a heavily Square-subsidised number, but nowhere near low enough for a video clip. I am pretty sure our turnaround time would have been considered glacial, as well. The bottom line was however, that Madonna simply didn’t think it was a single. Given the cost of the asset, she’d go on doing her own video clips, even if we could upgrade to a pixel-perfect doppelgänger over the years.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, despite many technical achievements, went on to be considered a box office bomb. The Square USA Honolulu studio closed shortly after completing a Matrix-related side project for Warner Bros. called the Animatrix. The closing also turned the lights off on a rapidly expanding cast of digital actors. In the early 2000s, I believed that digital humans would be commoditised over the 20 years to now. Great advances have been made, but as we all know now—like personal jetpacks and flying cars—we’ll be waiting a little while longer to see a convincing digital dancing Madonna.

For the record, I don’t suppress my accent anymore.

Originally published on Medium

The not-so humblebragging corner


2013    Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Awards (AACTA)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects “The Sapphires”

2012    Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Awards (AACTA)

Nominated for Best Visual Effects “The Hunter”

2010    Australian Film Institute Awards (AFI)

Winner for Best Visual Effects “Daybreakers”

2008    Australian Film Institute Awards (AFI)

Nomination for Best Visual Effects “Death Defying Acts”

2006    New York Festivals

Bronze for VFX “Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Level Two” (Commercial)

1998    Emmy Nomination

for Best Visual Effects in Telemovie, “Moby Dick”

1993     Gold Australian Cinematographers Society Award

for Deus Ex Machina; Telefeatures and Short Films, Queensland Film & Video Awards (Cinematographer/Director)

1992     Queensland New Filmmakers Awards, Winner of Most Creative Film

for Pandemanic (Cinematographer/Director)

1992     Highly Commended Australian Cinematographers Society Awards

for Living Life (Short), New Filmmakers Category

2021     Visual Effects Society (USA) Panel VFX in 2021: What Works, Who Works & What's Changing Forever [link]

2017     Method Studios Guardians of the Galaxy VFX - Chair of discussion panel

2015     University of Technology Sydney The changing visual language of VFX-influenced filmmaking

2014    Screen Producers Association of Australia Conference Visual effects for independent feature films

2014    University of Technology Sydney Visual Effects in the deconstruction of the production process

2013    University of Technology Sydney Architecture and Visual Effects language

2013    Sydney University The Role of a Visual Effects Supervisor/Production Approaches

2013    University of Technology Sydney Historical contexts for visual effects in movies (2 lecture series)

2010    Australian Film & Television School Sydney Daybreakers: VFX & Design Presentation

2006    Australian Animation & Effects Festival Sydney  Future of Visual Effects Panel (Chair)

2006     Australian Animation & Effects Festival Sydney Postmodern Sydney – Techniques and Style in Commercial VFX

2003    Australian Animation & Effects Festival Final Flight: Square & the Animatrix

2001     Tokyo SIGGRAPH/Tokyo Computer Show Keynote Presentation “Making Final Fantasy”

2001    Australian Animation & Effects Festival Sydney Pipelines for Digital Production


2016 Gods of Egypt (Alex Proyas) (AACTA Nominated)
Visual Effects Supervisor 4 Sequences, 325 shots.

2015 Truth (Jamie Vanderbuilt)
Visual Effects Supervisor/On-set (400 shots) and 2 sequences, 105 shots

2014 Strangerland (Kim Farrant)
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 50 shots

2014 LIFE (Anton Corbijn)
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 250 shots

2014 Backtrack
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 330 shots

2014 Walk of Shame
Visual Effect Supervisor 4 sequences, 80 shots

2013 Tracks
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 180 shots

2013 Felony
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 80 shots

2013 The Wolverine
Visual Effects Supervisor 5 sequences, 310 shots

2013 I, Frankenstein
Visual Effects Supervisor 7 sequences, 290 shots

2013 The Railway Man
Visual Effects Supervisor & VFX Cinematographer/Production supervisor, 240 shots

2013 The Darkside
Visual Effects Supervisor Various elements, 10 shots

2012 Seven Psychopaths
Digital Effects Supervisor 1 sequence, 10 shots

2012 Argo
Visual Effects Supervisor Various, 10 shots

2012 Words with Gods - “True Gods”
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 20 shots

2012 The Sapphires (AACTA Nominated for VFX)
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 309 shots

2011 Bait
Visual Effects Supervisor, 330 shots

2011 A Few Best Men
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 110 shots

2011 The Hunter (AFI Nominated for VFX)
Visual Effects Supervisor 75 shots

2010 Sleeping Beauty
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 60 shots

2010 Oranges and Sunshine
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production supervisor, 80 shots

2008-09 Knowing
Visual Effects Supervisor (Postmodern) 250 shots

2008 Australia
Visual Effects Supervisor (Postmodern) 360 shots

2008 Daybreakers (AFI Winner for VFX)Visual Effects Supervisor (production)/Production Supervisor, 630 shots

2006-07 Death Defying Acts (AFI Nom for VFX)
Visual Effects Supervisor (production)/Production Supervisor, 250 shots

2004 Honokio
Compositing Director (production)

2003 Return of the King (LOTR III)
Compositor/Consultant (Rising Sun Pictures)

2003 Love’s Brother
Compositor (Fuel International)

2003 IGL (Feature/Pilot)
Visual Effects Supervisor/Production Development (production)

2002 Ghost Ship
Senior Digital Effects Supervisor (Photon)

2003 Animatrix: Final Flight of the Osiris (Film)
Visual Effects Supervisor (production)

2002 Astroboy (Internal Tests, Feature)

2002 Final Fantasy II
(Internal Project Lead Development Group (production)

2002 Matrix Revolutions
Visual Effects Supervisor (Square USA)

2001 Spirit Dreams Inside
Music Video Visual Effects Supervisor

2001 Final Fantasy – DVD Special Extra (TV)
Visual Effects Supervisor

1997-01 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Compositing Supervisor (production)

1998 Final Fantasy VIII (Video Game)
Senior Compositor

1997 Moby Dick (TV) (Emmy Nominated)
Compositioning Editor

1997 Return to Jupiter (TV)
Digital Effects Supervisor

1997 Doom Runners
Digital Effects Supervisor

1996 Love in Ambush
Digital Effects Supervisor

1996 Welcome to Woop Woop
Compositing Supervisor

1996 Paradise Road
Digital Effects Supervisor

1995 Acri
Senior Digital Compositor

1995 Joey
Compositing Supervisor

1994 Thorn Birds: The Missing Years (TV)
Digital Compositor

1994 The New Adventures of Flipper (TV)
Digital Compositor

1993 Space: Above and Beyond (TV)
Technical Director

1993 Street Fighter: The Movie
Digital Artist

Visual Effects Supervisor & Creative Director

︎︎︎ Email

︎︎︎ IMDB

︎︎︎ LinkedIn

︎︎︎ Medium
What I do

A visual effects supervisor is basically a visual problem solver. I try and recruit ideas from a variety of sources—new, old, borrowed or transposed from other disciplines and industries; curiosity drives me. But ultimately, I am an creative image-maker first and foremost.

I closely collaborate with others and keep a holistic view of the process—delivering creatively, on time, on budget. I excel at logistically complicated projects and team building.