Hi ALL...I am walking away from this forum for now, but I will be back next Saturday morning to continue, and maybe get to questions that I missed. I'll be sitting down for several hours next time.

I'm a small town Texan who moved to Hollywood to make movies. I spent the past 16 years producing high-end visual effects, most recently the Academy Award nominated effects for Snow White and the Huntsman. In the wake of my company's win for Life of Pi, they filed for bankruptcy, and I was laid off along with about 300 of my coworkers. But, I am now taking control and making my own film called PRETERNATURAL, an unreliable documentary about fairies (and other monsters) living amongst us in plain sight.

You can find out more about the project here: http://igg.me/p/391703/x/3071200

Here's my proof: https://twitter.com/GoatMansHill/status/378876448649404417

And you can find out more about me here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0192466/

Comments: 531 • Responses: 53  • Date: 

lube_thighwalker116 karma

Life of pi was one of the best 3D movies i have ever seen. I was disappointed to hear that your company went under after its huge success.

Timcunningham110 karma

Yes, it was an amazing use of the technology, and the work R&H did was breath taking. Very sad that the oldest CG company next to Pixar wasn't able to make it work in the wake of such success. They had another project nominated for the Oscar at the same time, Snow White and the Huntsman.

rekiz69 karma

Hi Tim, can you tell us a little bit about the tools you use? What are the most common software programs you use, and for what purposes?

Timcunningham6 karma

Hi, yes my day job was a VFX producer, but I also taught myself to comp and matte paint. If I could go back and take a different path it would be as a matte painter. I use After Effects for comp and motion graphics, because it's what I had at the time, and I still like it. I use Photo Shop for painting. But I'm also a filmmaker, so I use Final Cut for editing...Final Draft for writing...Movie Magig for budgeting and scheduling live action. As a VFX Producer, yes it was a lot of spreadsheets.

Haha_MadeYouLook58 karma

Can you give an example of VFX that's so good no one knows it's actually VFX?

Timcunningham69 karma

Well, I would wager a guess that many people who saw Life of Pi have no idea that the tiger is CG most of the time, or that the ocean isn't actually there. Let me think on this a little, though, and get back to you. i like this question.

Aenar_Targaryen130 karma

Buddy, everybody knew that fuckin' tiger was CG.

Timcunningham24 karma

Buddy, no they didn't. I'm not talking about the CG geeks. I'm talking about the average movie goer.

deRPling4264 karma

Im not OP but almost everyone I've talked to didn't know that the entirity of New York was digitally reconstructed in The Avengers for the outside battle. It would be hard to find a part of the city thats not CGI.

Edit: For those of you who doubt me, here is a video outlining the process they took to reconstruct New York.

Timcunningham25 karma

Yes, similar work for the Transformers. Everyone can point out and say they can totally tell that the robots are CG, but they don't realize the city is, too.

deRPling4212 karma

I'm curious, is the technique for reconstructing the scenery behind the obvious cgi used because it helps create the realism for the main subject in the shot? I know 5-10 years ago it was blatantly obvious that there was CGI on top of a live action shot. Was it easier to make the live action shot look less 'live' so that it created a better backdrop for the heavy action in the foreground?

Timcunningham8 karma

No, aerial photography is expensive and you can't always get exactly the shot you want. If you build the plate in post, then you can get exactly the shot you want and make sure your framing is exactly right for the action.

Timcunningham6 karma

Otherwise, you're just shooting a bunch of stuff that may or may not work in the end.

SonOfKrampus51 karma

What's the dumbest effect a producer/director ever asked you to create?

Timcunningham93 karma

We were asked to reproduce a practical effect for a trailer for Snow White. They loved the practical effect, and so I said just recreate that, it would be cheaper, but they didn't want to. They wanted to do it CG. So we tried, and they didn't like it as much, so we eventually recreated our own version of the same practical effect, but they ended up just going with the original. Huge waste of time and money.

Timcunningham29 karma

It was a melting apple only seen in the trailer. They loved a shot from the director's original tone poem, and wanted us to reproduce it. I said just use the one from the tome poem if you love it so much, because we'll never match it exactly. "Oh no, we can't do that," they said...Well, the one in the trailer is from the original tone poem.

4velinux36 karma

Can you point us a time frame where your job can be seen in Narnia or in X-Men with some details of what was your part and how did you performerd?

Timcunningham66 karma

I was a VFX producer on Narnia, and X-Men: First Class...I was a VFX coordinator on X-Men: X-Men United, so I was involved in the project management. For Narnia, the company I worked for did some matte paintings and simple comps scattered throughout. For First Class, we did Emma Frost, Angel's wings, and Mystique's transformations, among other things. On United, our major sequences were the opening Night Crawler bamf sequence, and the interior of Cerebro.

CigarettesAndCyanide31 karma

I'm currently learning Houdini and want to eventually do VFX for film. What do you suggest should be on a solid VFX demo reel?

Greystoke133756 karma

Not the OP, sorry, but I work for a major VFX company (Framestore), and what we want to see in a demoreel, is simple but extremely well done work. We never ask juniors to do crazy shit, seniors are there for that, but if you can do a small task very well, with a good attention to details, that should do the trick.

Timcunningham43 karma

Yeah, just focus on showing the best of your talents. Don't try to do too much.

invoidzero22 karma

Coming from an vfx artist's perspective, the producer's are the ones to blame for most of our industries troubles at the moment. You guys are constants underbidding, underpaying and taking advantage at every opportunity. I know it's mostly on the studio side, but surely you've had instances where you know a sequence is going to take a certain amount of time and resources and have bid low in order to get it. What's your take on all this race to the bottom? I can't tell you how many times I've advised a producer on what kind of time and effort will be needed in order to accomplish a task, then get half of that time.

Timcunningham15 karma

Anyone who blames the facility producers is looking at the situation with a very miopic view. When I was producing, I would tell my superiors no all the time, but with a place the size of R&H or DD...let me rephrase, with a vendor the size of DD or R&H, you have to be very careful what you say to your clients. Remember that there are really only 6 clients out there making movies with the budgets to sustain a machine the size of a VFX facility that churn out 700, 800 shots at a time. And of those 6 clients, one of them has their own VFX shop...two now...So if you aren't one of those guys, now you've only got 4 clients to work with. But you might not be the darling of one or more of them, now you're left with 2, maybe 3 clients who will send significant work your way...if you're lucky. It's not as simple as telling them no, because someone else will say yes. As far as wasted time, always was an issue and very frustrating for the producers as well, but again, the schedules were tied to getting paid, so if we wanted to get paid, we had to agree to a schedule that was being decided by a line producer on the studio side. They didn't care what we thought about it or what was idea for us. The studios do not care. That's the problem. As long as VFX facilities act like vendors, they will be treated like vendors, and that is why R&H, and DD, and a host of other facilities have had so many problems. Not because of the facility producers.

CleanBeans19 karma

Are you hiring???

Timcunningham29 karma

If we get our film funded, maybe. :-)

rythaman9417 karma

I'm looking to get into the film industry after art school. What advice can you give me?

Timcunningham62 karma

Well, it depends on what you want to do. My general advice would be to have very specific goals. If you want to be a filmmaker, then you need to make films. If you want to be an animator, then always be animating. The doers are the ones who make, not the ones who wait for someone to pay them to do.

Sweeptheleg5-18 karma

Drop out. Start learning about vfx process. Dont ask producers like the OP for advice. They will steer you to mediocraty, and pigeon hole. Any one calling themselves a vfx pro is a producer. I dont know anyone talented out here who isnt humble.

Producers take credit for other peoples work then act like they have done something more than work a spreadsheet and chat most their days away. His company went under because the producers didnt manage time efficiently. Or they didnt say no when they should have.

Timcunningham26 karma

You have no idea what you're talking about.

Polarfuchs9 karma

What are the current plans for a VFX Union?

Timcunningham3 karma

That's a difficult question to answer. I don't think a union solves everything. The facilities have to get together, too.

samuel-jackson4 karma

how long was the education for your path? i wish i could just move to california and become succesful

Timcunningham12 karma

My education was actually in Architecture. My filmmaking education was the muti-plex and video store.

rworsl8 karma

As a british VFX artist, I can fully understand any pains and disillusionment with the state of the industry. You have my sympathies with what happened to Rhythm and Hues

Timcunningham4 karma

Thanks. None of us are immune in this day and age, no matter what side of the pond we reside.

ShitsAndGigglesSake8 karma

Which 90s or early 2000 movie do you think was far ahead of it's time as far as VFX goes? Best movie ever as far as VFX goes (relative to it's time)?

Timcunningham18 karma

Hm...Well, T2 is probably the most ground breaking film from the 90s...My favorite VFX film of all time is Blade Runner. The stuff Trumball and his team did in that film still holds up.

SimpleDan119 karma

I'd argue Jurassic Park was the most groundbreaking

Timcunningham18 karma

Yeah, JP was, but T2 was the first film to have completely digital comps.

PancakeSpoon8 karma

Hey! I love vfx and hope to get into the industry one day.
Here are my questions:

What was the first job you had in the vfx world? How was it?

What was the most challenging shot you worked on and why?

How do you feel about the vfx schools pouring out quite a lot of students hoping to get a chance in the industry?

Good luck with your project, I really like the idea, and hope to see it turn into reality!

Timcunningham11 karma

I'm gonna come back to this one...I promise.

SheeEttin10 karma

It's been two hours, Tim. Please come back.

Timcunningham7 karma

Sorry, I had a kid issue...Resolved, and all is good.

My first job in VFX was as a Production Assistant at Cinesite Hollywood...I dug it. From that position you get to see a lot of what's going on. I could have gone the artist route, but my older brother was an artist and I wanted to blaze my own trail, so I stuck with the production path. It taught me a lot about the business side of things that helped me way more when I decided to make my own movies than sitting at the box would have.

Well, my VFX artist experience is all lower end, because I would do it on the side, but I comped a green screen shot for a biopic on Billy Graham that was something like 6000+ frames. Armie Hammer played the young Billy Graham, and the shot was this long speech with him walking around in front of a baddly lit GS. For a quick shot it would have been fine, but 6000 frames is a long time for your edges to have to hold up. It turned out...sort of eh.

HelloParamedics8 karma

What was your favorite part about working on X-Men?

Timcunningham16 karma

Just being a part of such a cool franchise with such diehard fans.

daraand5 karma

Why did you decide to make your own movie?

Timcunningham10 karma

I've always wanted to make my own films, because I genuinely love the medium and the craft. VFX was my way in. I love VFX, but love everything else about filmmaking, too. It's my favorite thing in the world...next to my wife and two beautiful kids.

CameronMcCasland5 karma

Hey Tim, I've been following your indigo go campaign for a few days now. How has your experience with crowdfunding been so far? is this the first one you have done? Outside of reposts on social media sites and this AMA, what have you been doing to get the word out? I'm a fellow small town Texan who moved away and is making movies. Best wishes on the film.

Timcunningham5 karma

Well, I'll know more once the campaign is over, but I made another small horror film a couple years ago called Sick Boy, so I've also been able to get several horror sites and blogs to give us some publicity. It's tough, though. If you don't have a big, marquee celebrity attached, then you need to have exactly the right combination of elements to make it work. Getting a project funded through crowd funding is starting to look a lot like getting one funded through a studio. All anyone cares about is who's in it, not whether you have a good story to tell. Good luck to you, too.

Zenmaster44 karma

Many times when VFX guys make a film, there's a lot of emphasis on, of course, the VFX. Is this movie sort of a showcase for your talent? Also how did you get started in VFX? Where would you suggest someone get started today, with so much different software?

Timcunningham4 karma

Well, my last feature had very little VFX, because I didn't want to be labeled just a visual guy...I wanted to prove I could tell a story with relying on visual gimmicks. It's called Sick Boy, check it out if you like indie stuff. With this one, though we need to pull out some bigger visuals, so yeah it will hopefully showcase those tents, but we also want to showcase our filmmaking and story telling skills and show the VFX guys can do more than make pretty pictures. As far as getting into the industry, things are different now. There is a lot more recruiting right out of school, schools that weren't around 10 years ago. The key is to get in somewhere and make yourself invaluable, have a good attitude, and never stop learning. Even I you get in as a PA, just get in. Oh, and you should be prepared to have to chase jobs outside the US.

enggie4 karma

What do you think is the role if vfx in future cinema? Say 30 years from now?

Timcunningham5 karma

It will continue to be a major tool. I mean, there isn't a film made now that doesn't have some sort of visual effects element to it. That wasn't the case even 15 years ago. A big VFX show then was 100 shots. It's an amazing tool, but unfortunately, it's bred a crop of lazy filmmakers who don't feel the urgency to figure things out ahead of time...and just sort of shop around in post to figure things out.

Insany923 karma

Hi Tim, I just want to say AWESOME job making special effects of the creatures for Cabin in the woods (alll oof theem!!) and snow white and the huntsman, especially the trolls. Hands down some of the best effects I've ever seen!

Timcunningham2 karma

Thanks, but all I did was keep the ship from sinking. I've always had an amazing team. The artists that were at R&H were top notch even if they weren't always getting to work on the sexiest movies.

aloranor3 karma

What is the best thing aspiring filmmakers can do to better themselves?

Timcunningham13 karma

Watch lots of films...not just films you like. And make films, don't just talk about making films. Get out there and do it.

bencordoza3 karma

Do you think this new project will do the same thing as the mermaid mockumentary?

Timcunningham6 karma

No...Mainly for the simple fact that we're not making a mockumentary. We wanna make something that takes the subject matter very seriously. That's one of the biggest differences with our film versus some of the other faux docs out there that deal with monsters, like Troll Hunter. We want to make a scary movie, so there will be very little humor or tongue and cheek stuff.

JDazzleGM3 karma

What is the one effect that you worked on that you are the most proud of?

What is the most ridiculous shot/effect you have ever done?

What will be the most incredible effect in your new movie, the one people will be talking about?

Timcunningham5 karma

Actually, this may sound silly, but I am most proid of the work we did for the first Alvin and the Chipmunks. Our client was not the most easy to deal with, and they made things very difficult for us at every step of the way. We produced 45 minutes of amazing animation for that film even though they recast the voices 12 weeks from delivery, and then forced us to change our head models 9 weeks from delivery...which f'd our rigs and forced us to re-animate a lot of facial stuff...but we did it. My team was awesome. The crap part of a deal like that is, we designed the characters, the animators brought them to life, the movie makes $600+ million, and the facility that did all the work gets nothing as far as royalties. Justin long still gets a check for the three days he showed up on that one. That's what's wrong with this industry and our side of it.

The most ridiculous effect was adding hair to Mel Gibson's balding dome in What Women Want...Apparently women didn't want a Mel Gibson with thin hair.

I think the most incredible effect we are planning for PRETERNATURAL is a creature transformation to rival the transformation in American Werewolf in London, which in my opinion hasn't yet been topped.

wolfkin3 karma

on a scale of one to Skyline how bad will the film be?

nah I'm just messing with ya. good luck.

Timcunningham3 karma

With skyline being really bad? Hopefully not nearly that bad.

filkinsteez2 karma

Can you elaborate a little on the day to day tasks of a VFX producer?

Timcunningham3 karma

Eating crap and having to pretend like you like it. Wanting to say no, but being told I can't. Feeling horrible that people are working so hard and being powerless to really do anything about it.



Timcunningham3 karma

Lots of...hm...

diesol2 karma

Do you have any upcoming projects you could tell us?

Timcunningham2 karma

I have 5, including a low budget horror film we'll just be doing the VFX for, but the project I'm hoping I'll direct next is this one - http://igg.me/p/391703/x/3071200

We're also in post now on a proof of concept for a sci-fi western called THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE ET - https://www.facebook.com/TheGoodTheBadAndTheET

inspireddev2 karma

As someone who is majoring in film but doesn't know what aspect to really focus on, how did you know you wanted to do VFX?

Timcunningham5 karma

Well, I didn't. I wanted to tell stories by way of moving pictures...I wanted to make movies, so I was a fan of everything that went into making movies. I always had a love and respect for effects, so when the opportunity came up to get in that way, I took it. The problem is, it can be hard to move around within the industry once you're in, and I didn't know that people who worked in post weren't though of the same as people who worked on set.

monkeyshlong2 karma


Timcunningham4 karma

I think Blender is a great tool, and that more people should be using it.

Gameboybob1 karma

Is there any place that I could go to to find some tricks of the trade? What do you suggest is the best learning source to become a better VFX artist? I dig through a lot of YouTube tutorials but a vast majority of them are done by people who have just learned it themselves and aren't very experienced. Any suggestions?

Timcunningham2 karma

Just keep doing it. That's the best way to learn. The biggest difference between a seasoned pro and a newbie (assuming they have the same artistic talent) is technique. The only way you will hone your technique is by doing it.

Gameboybob1 karma

What do you think about VFX artists like freddiew and CorridorDigital who use YouTube to make a living doing VFX skits. Do you think that's a viable avenue for filmmakers and VFX artists?

Timcunningham2 karma

I think it is if that's what you want to be doing. Once you start making money with something like that, you can get yourself stuck doing stuff like that.

MagnumPunk1 karma

What lead you into this line of work?

Timcunningham2 karma

Love of movies and wanting to tell stories.

Willravel1 karma

What can we, the audience, do to ensure that visual effects artists are fairly treated and paid for their work? We're constantly hearing about how under appreciated and underpaid and overworked vfx artists are. Considering your trade has become so vital in the industry, it's unfair that you don't often get the same respect as others who contribute to films like actors, directors, screen writers, and composers.

BTW, R&H did a fantastic job on X-Men: First Class.

Timcunningham2 karma

I don't think the audience can do much...But by and large, VFX artists who are working are paid decently. They don't get paid as much as they used to, but that's more a result of the fact that it's not as rare a skill anymore. Under appreciated, though by the folks that make money off those skills...the big movie studios, that is something that should change. There needs to be profit sharing with major contributing facilities to VFX driven films...period.

4velinux1 karma


It's always good to have such info from different job roles.

How was your beginning in the carrier, for me, jobs that are that specialized are hard to get, e.g. game industry?

How was the process of learning your skills: Your own, a tutor, tutorials or a plain course in some VFX industry school?

Thanks and keep up with the awesome work;

Hope to see you next movie soon.

Timcunningham3 karma

Always be learning. That's the key. There are schools now for VFX that didn't exist10-15 years ago. You can't go wrong there, but this is an art form just like any other. If it's in you, it will come out. If it's not in you, no amount of schooling will make you a good artist.

Pyro_Cat1 karma

As a special effects technician (mostly in live theatre) I am curious what the relationships are like between your department and say the makeup crew or the effects or set dec crew? To what extent do you divi up the work and/or what animosity exists between you? Some would think you would make perfect enemies, the effects guys of course wanting to blow up something for real, or get the shot by creativity vs 'doing it in post'. Or do you think you should work together to get the best of both? How

Timcunningham2 karma

I think they should work together, or more specifically, that the filmmakers should have a clear vision of what they are looking to get out of a specific shot. But that is rarely the case anymore. Because you can do so much after the fact these days, more and more filmmakers are pushing off decisions that are necessary to make adequate use of a practical solution. Which pushes more to the post guys, but it's not the decision of the VFX guys to do that. We're always saying, "Man, why didn't they just shoot this. It would have been so much better." But the practical guys get upset because stuff that traditionally fell on them is now gone.

CG should pick up where traditional photographic techniques can't go. I think Guillermo del Toro said that. And I agree.

Sarahmint1 karma

What is your best guess for the future of the industry? We all know entertainment is being taken over by personal computers, but why doesn't that make a wider variety of vfx software? AVID is also in financial turmoil. As you mentioned, success does not guarantee keeping your job in this quickly changing world.

Timcunningham2 karma

I have no idea, but is never going to be something that isn't always evolving.

goodguys91 karma

1) How did the company go bankrupt? Life of Pi was awesome!

2) Are you more scared or excited striking out like this and making your own movie?

3) I love the movies you worked on and this new one sounds really cool. Keep up the good work.

Timcunningham3 karma

1) The reason for R&H's bankruptcy is very complicated, but shrinking price points for the work they did, along with increased international competition, and the fact that they were the largest privately owned facility of their kind that didn't have huge government incentives backing them up are the major reasons. They just didn't have deep enough pockets to weather the down time. 2) Excited for sure. 3) Thanks!

dr_revenge_md1 karma

According the IMDB, you were only involved in the x-men movies i liked and not the ones i didn't like. Will you please be involved in the next X-men film?

Timcunningham2 karma

We'll see...

MoFacka1 karma

Hey Tim, I'm a guy going to school for a random computer science degree but recently decided I'm going to pursue more education in the VFX field after I get my current degree. What if any is your opinion of Gnomon, and do you think its worth the money to go there? Thanks!

Timcunningham2 karma

I've answered similar questions, but my opinion is that if the talent is in you, it doesn't matter where you go to school.

thylacine_pouch1 karma

Former Digital Domain guy here. What are your thoughts on so many studios packing up and moving to Vancouver? Are you freelancing now? Are smaller houses the way to go in the future, rather than big studios like Rhythm, DD, ILM, or Weta? It seems like Method is doing the lion's share of the work in LA these days and they used to be small potatoes!

Timcunningham3 karma

I dunno. It's going to be interesting. There used to be a lot of medium sized studios, but they got killed 'cause they couldn't do the big stuff, now they can and it's killing the big guys. It could be that every major studio ends up just owning a VFX facility of their own in the next ten years. I don't see it actually ever settling down and being any one thing for very long. Make sure your passport is always in order.

ThisFrickinSite1 karma

How do you feel about 3D movies.

Personally, I find them to be outrageous. Ticket prices doubled, annoying glasses that you have to wear, everything looks funny if you look at it the wrong way, the 3D isn't even very noticeable 80% of the time, but most people seem to think differently than me.

Timcunningham2 karma

I generally hate 3d movies, unless they are sort of special venue, which are generally short. I never feel more emersed in the story, but distracted.

Diffeomorph1 karma

Hello Tim. Have you ever seen a ghost?

Timcunningham2 karma

No, but I wish I had.

Rushy20101 karma

I am currently studying animation and vfx and want to (hopefully) go into the industry but have heard it can be horrible and not enough pay to live on. What is your view on it all and any tips or comments would be massively appreciated!

Timcunningham2 karma

No, if you get a job, you can live fine on the pay...while you have the job. The new thing is that you might have to travel the world chasing the work.

neoballoon1 karma

How is it?

Timcunningham2 karma

It's fair to middling...