Hey there, I've moved on to writing and directing movies now - in fact - my first film is opening in Mexico on Friday, 20 April and in the USA on 1 June (Mexico Title - CRISTIADA; USA Title - FOR GREATER GLORY), and it stars Andy Garcia... but I spent many years helping create visual effects for some of the biggest (and most challenging) films ever made. AMA.

Okay - got some work to do - promise to come back later and answer more for as long as I can! (Wow - curious about the down votes... what do they want?? Can't please everyone! :)

Comments: 759 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

senator_mccarthy314 karma

How many directors in Hollywood do you suspect of being members of the Communist Party?

vfx_dude118 karma

None that I've met!

[deleted]143 karma

What was your favorite part about working with the cast of Lord of the Rings?

Thanks so much for doing this AMA!

vfx_dude337 karma

All the Hobbits were awesome!!! As nice as you think they are. Viggo was so f-ing cool. In one scene, his tooth got knocked out when he got hit in the mouth, and he picked it up, shoved it back in, and said he was ready to go. (They stopped the scene and sent him to the dentist of course).

Andy Serkis (Gollum) became our best friend...

assholeninja122 karma

Best advice for someone with a B.S. in Film wanting to break into the industry, but living in the middle of nowhere? Do you feel that you need to be in a certain place with thriving industry work like California or Louisiana to get started? Also, thank you for doing this!

vfx_dude85 karma

I got my start working on films (and TV movies) in Arizona after film school. I ended up working there for about 3 years making contacts before moving to Los Angeles. I worked really hard trying to make an impression on the LA crew.

Once I got here, I had a number of people I could contact (borderline harass) until I got my first job. After that, one gig led to the next, and so on...

honfred26 karma

I've been throwing around my CV to some of the London studios, but they all want Houdini and Renderman experience...

How does one acquire experience in such specific software, aside from working in a VFX studio?

(Sorry for piggybacking assholeninja)

vfx_dude23 karma

Most of the Digital Artists I know either trained in the software at school or got jobs at VFX facilities in other areas (production, on set support, etc), and then learned on their own time.

Also, some artists start in entry level positions (roto & paint work), then learn compositing, lighting, 3D, etc...

Fuqwon110 karma

How do you feel about the prevalence of 3D?

vfx_dude304 karma

I'm as opposite from Jim Cameron and Peter Jackson as I can be on this. I agree with Chris Nolan's recent comments (check out his interview at the DGA site). Movies are already 3D. When you put the glasses on, all you're doing is putting a barrier between the audience and the film, pushing them further away rather than pulling them in.

I can't say that I'll never be forced to release a film in 3D, but I can't imagine why I'd choose it.

Also - shooting on film is far superior to any digital camera currently being used. I've spent hours (years actually) working with footage from both and there's no comparison. Film has a much wider dynamic range in capturing color and contrast. Projecting digital vs film is less of a concern for me.

deadpxl38 karma

Re: 3D

I just don't get that. I think 3D is as great for movies, when used passively (none of that fly at the screen gimmickry), as surround sound. Yes, the glasses aren't ideal, but the increase in immersion is well worth it. Watching Titanic in 3D just reinforced my feelings on this even though it was a conversion.

vfx_dude129 karma

I have to say that if anyone will do it right - it's Jim (and Peter). I just don't see the need for it in most films. (Avatar being an exception). Just remember - most films aren't directed by those two!!

ElmoOxygen46 karma

Any thoughts on The Hobbit being filmed and projected at 48 fps?

vfx_dude37 karma

That's going to be really interesting to watch. I believe I read somewhere that it was still going to be projected at 24fps - so it'll be fun to see how it all comes out...

ZappyKins9 karma

As someone who appreciates well done 3D (even saw waiting until I could see "Dial M for Murder" in 3D) this makes me sad.

vfx_dude40 karma

It's my own prejudice. The keep saying 3D without glasses isn't far off however...

I think it should be a case by case decision.

xStimorolx99 karma

What was the weirdest thing ever to happen to you at work?

vfx_dude295 karma

Hmmm... Good question.... I'll come back with more - but right off I can mention that I had to paint out all the dust spots on Kate Winslet's breasts on the famous shot where she's posing nearly naked for Jack. Frame by frame....

ShatteredIcon109 karma

Oh that must have been SO terrible lol

vfx_dude204 karma

Again, my first VFX job. I wondered, are they all going to be like this??

KevinJD50 karma

What do you mean by dust spots? Literal dust on her skin?

vfx_dude124 karma

When the film was scanned, dust was picked up and needed to be painted out - or you'd see annoying pops everywhere.

zakyop84 karma

What's been your favourite film to work on? (Besides your own)

vfx_dude236 karma

I have two (sorry - not trying to avoid):

Terminator 2 - was my first BIG feature film and it was awesome working with Jim. It was the beginning of my stumbling onto projects that would somehow always become the most difficult movies ever made (at that time).

Lord of the Rings - what an incredible experience helping make the books I loved so much come to life - plus living in NZ. But the best part - Peter let me be a 2nd Unit Director for him on The Return of the King, mentoring me while he was editing the film.

hoodie923 karma

Is 2nd Unit Director a big role? I think that is currently what Andy Serkis is doing for The Hobbit.

vfx_dude5 karma

Depends on the movie. For Peter - it can be huge because there's so much footage needed.

codybennett83 karma

What exactly did you work on in Titanic or LotR? I'll be sure to check out your new movie!

vfx_dude181 karma

I was the Visual Effects (VFX) Production Manager on Titanic. I was originally hired to help produce the miniature shoot (miniatures of course meaning 200-300 foot sections of the ship that we would crack and smash and sink in a tank we built in Acton, CA). I then moved over to help manage the digital side and had the extreme pleasure to be the person who had to face the execs at 20th Century Fox when we told them we couldn't finish the film in time, pushing the release date from July to December. (it all worked out okay!)

On LOTR, I was the VFX Producer for The Two Towers and Return of the King. I ended up moving over to the Narnia films afterwards ultimately living in New Zealand almost 7 of the last 10 yearsd

PabloEdvardo66 karma

Maybe it's the few years of programming I dabbled in, but does anyone else always notice unclosed parenthesis?

edit: he fixed it

vfx_dude37 karma

I spotted it as soon as I posted it... left it that way to see how many other OCD people like me there were....

vfx_dude31 karma

okay - fixed it now :)

Kloster20 karma

Could you elaborate about the Fox execs?
Was there cursing?
People fired?

vfx_dude38 karma

It was as if a neutron bomb went off in Century City.

Several people lost their jobs due to the overages from the original production shoot in Mexico. By the time we hit them with the VFX bad news - there was a new production team in place and they weren't very happy to hear this.

The film was originally scheduled to be released on the 4th of July and it slipped to December.

I (along with the CEO, lawyers, etc from DD) sat across the table from about 20 Fox execs explaining what happened and why it was going to cost millions more...

In the end, everything came out okay, but at the time - no one (except Jim) knew it was going to be a smash hit.

Calagan14 karma

This raises the question of how much trust did you have in that project during the bad times?

I've heard that the filming of Titanic was quite harsh for the cast or stunt doubles ... But what about the rest of the crew? Did you still enjoy the experience?

Btw, it was screened again yesterday evening on french TV. I couldn't believe it was already 15 years old, it still. looks. stunning. You did an awesome job.

vfx_dude12 karma

It was a great experience, and nearly all of VFX crew knew we were working on something very special. Of course no one could have predicted the success it ultimately enjoyed, but at the time, we were all killing ourselves to make it great.

Part of that came from fighting the strange desire floating through Hollywood that truly wanted the film to fail. Many people were openly hostile to it - really annoyed that Jim would be so bold in making a $200mil movie about the Titanic (the biggest budget for its time). In Daily Variety, there was a column every day called "Titanic Watch", where they printed the latest bad news - all of course signaling the imminent disaster mirroring that which the film depicted.

The film didn't open to huge numbers either. It was solid, but not spectacular, but it just kept going... on and on... until it became a phenomenon. Interestingly, the film just opened up in China over the weekend posting the largest numbers ever for any movie.

I've seen this on many films, we as filmmakers knew what we had, but no one else did or believed in us. Success has many authors...

flagamuffin11 karma

Just wanted to say that I've watches every piece of footage on LotR that exists basically (in fact, I'm assuming you've done interviews and things for the extended cuts behind-the-scenes stuff so I probably saw you) and the magic y'all worked with Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, etc, not to mention the Nazgul, the Eye ... It matches any effects I've ever seen anywhere. You are literally the best in the world at your job, in my opinion at least. Thank you for helping make all of those movies what they were.

vfx_dude5 karma

I'll accept the thanks on behalf of literally hundreds (thousands) of people who made it all happen.

The real heroes on VFX were Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Alex Funke, Randy Cook and all the artists at Weta Digital (and a few other companies) who made it all happen.

vfx_dude71 karma

I have to go offline for a bit - back later to answer more questions!

figboot1168 karma

Why did you use the incorrect star-filled sky on the night the Titanic sunk?

vfx_dude64 karma

It was a shot that the production farmed out when the workload drastically increased. Wasn't produced at DD!

thelovepirate50 karma

How is Pete Jackson like in real life? I bet he is the coolest person on the planet.

vfx_dude113 karma

PJ (as he's known down there) IS the coolest guy on the planet. He loves movies, all the coolest geek stuff (his Laserdisc collection was 10x mine!), appreciates everyone who works for him, and built a state of the art new Hollywood in Wellington, NZ!!

collincampbell45 karma

How many hours a week did you put in for the movies? I've heard people of those occupations can put in over a hundred hours a week

vfx_dude118 karma

My partner, Jim R (who won 3 Oscars for LOTR), and I worked 18-22 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 7 months to complete The Return of the King in order to make the release date!

Vehnn53 karma

Why were you not nominated along with him and the others for the Oscar? Seems a bit unfair given you out the same amount of time as him

vfx_dude39 karma

VFX Producers aren't eligible for the Academy Award (by strict rule). I was very happy to watch my very good friends win theirs - plus I picked up a VFX Society award (which specifically mandated that the VFX Producers must be included).

Ironically, I became a VFX Supervisor on the Narnia films, and was nominated for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but lost to all my friends back at Weta who made this little movie called King Kong!

I love many VFX houses, but I have to say that Weta Digital is the best in the world! - for now! ;)

the_bacon22 karma

Nice work. That must have been very draining.

vfx_dude85 karma

I felt like Sam and Frodo on the side of Mt. Doom, with the entrance always just above us...

CraigChrist67 karma

Do you remember USA, Mr. Wright? It'll be spring soon and the orchards will be in blossom, and the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And the whistle in the summer barley in the Lower fields. And eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?

vfx_dude58 karma

Hahahaha... I'll tell you, when I heard the music for that scene for the first time, it really helped inspire me to make it through (I told Fran and Howard that as well).

Whopper_Jr7 karma

Sorry for the invasive/personal question, feel free to disregard it, but do you have any form of ADD/ADHD or OCD? Just curious because I do and the kind of extreme hyper-focus you described is characteristic of being diagnosed with those.

vfx_dude11 karma

I do have ADHD (as do many creative people). It actually helped me in my role as a VFX Supervisor/Producer as I had literally thousands of shots and details to track on these massively huge productions and I was able to keep my focus in constant movement to deal with everything.

I wasn't diagnosed though until I became a director, as I began to notice my mind wandering when interviewing actors.

I'm much better now... :)

MuffinsandTeacups44 karma


vfx_dude61 karma

This is my first IAmA, not sure if it's permitted to give links - but you can look me up on my film's website:

http://www.cristiadapelicula.com/ http://www.forgreaterglory.com/

Is there something better?

rebelxtnut32 karma

Post a link to the AMA on Twitter, or post a photo of yourself holding up a card that says something to the effect of todays date + your username :D

vfx_dude80 karma

Just posted to my twitter:


Drunken_Economist41 karma

What is one film you would want to do a remake of because you know the effects could be done better?

vfx_dude86 karma

Don't kill me, but remaking a film like Forbidden Planet would be very cool... (it's actually already in development at Fox with Mr. Cameron producing).

Jawek31 karma

How'd you get into Visual Effects? It's an area that's always been fairly interesting to me, as I am a computer science major with a film minor. Took a class on computer graphics that was pretty interesting and would appreciate some tips for getting more involved.

vfx_dude55 karma

I had worked on films with VFX (T2 for example), but hadn't worked in the field until I was hired to be the VFX Production Manager for Digital Domain (Jim Cameron's VFX company at the time) to oversee the miniature shoot - because of my live action experience - as the physical shooting work was a massive effort. Once there, I moved into the digital side and never looked back. What type of computer work interests you?

sinking_beer16 karma

Sorry for highjacking; but I've just finished a degree in multimedia design where I focused on 3D and vfx stuff. I used Maya for a couple years, but went to 3ds Max (with a few other programs / plug-ins; Vue, FumeFX) for a few jobs I've had, and I use After Effects for compositing.

Is there anything else I should know, program wise (I'm sure more I know is handy, but anything detrimental?), or film knowledge wise? I'm not 100% sure where I want to go with it; pure vfx, and compositing, or something else; unfortunately where I am other than mine site visuals, there isn't much 'fun' stuff. How would I best go further?

Is there anything that you recommend for building rapport / anything specific people who hire look for? (Outside of knowing people for a job, what do you look for personally?) Creative styles? Being better (focusing) on a few small talents / or more a jack of all trades kinda thing.

Wish I had something a little more interesting to ask ...

Thank you for the AMA!!

vfx_dude45 karma

I will reply to this - give me a little time - don't want to gloss over the answer

xtatik222k10 karma

An industry-standard package you should look into is Nuke, by the Foundry. It's becoming more and more widely used every day in VFX. It's a much more open and versatile piece of software than AE (Don't get me wrong, I love AE, it's great for motion graphics and simple compositing) because the assets you use are node-based rather than layer based. You know how you can connect nodes in a myriad of different ways using the Hypershade in Maya? The same is true for Nuke, so you can extract and merge different elements in a completely non-destructive workflow. It's a compositor's dream.

edit* For the sake of interest, here is a showreel video of some NUKE-based work:


vfx_dude14 karma

Big Nuke fan - Go DD!

Jumbotron900130 karma

Are there any movies you hope to make in the future (in terms of plot)?

Thanks for doing this AMA.

vfx_dude73 karma

I really want to do a great sci-fi action adventure (that I wrote) that deals with figuring out what exactly this universe we all live in is!!

[deleted]28 karma

Is Eva Longoria as nice as she is attractive?

vfx_dude50 karma

She's very lovely and amazingly supportive (and just as stunning in person). She gives a great performance in my film (surprising some people who didn't realize her range).

BananaStandDinero28 karma

What is the most complicated project you have worked on for any of the movies?

vfx_dude52 karma

Great question - tough answer. The most complicated films are of course the ones I mentioned (Titanic, LOTR & yes - Narnia). They all required creating technologies that didn't exist prior to our efforts to produce the work(Titanic - CG water, Mocap; LOTR - massive armies, CG Gollum; Narnia - tons of CG characters that had to act), all combined multiple disciplines (live action shooting, miniatures, cutting edge CG, animation, etc.), and all had impossible deadlines.

The one connecting thread through them all was the passion from everyone involved to do whatever was necessary to deliver the best work ever seen, for our directors and for the audience.

If I had to pick one - I'd say Lord of the Rings - especially the third one (The Return of the King). We produced nearly 2000 shots in less than a year while PJ was still shooting and editing the film.

RichTea20 karma

When you say VFX on LOTR, did that involve the scenes with scale models of Minas Tirith? What were the main parts you worked on; if it can be narrowed down to that? Will be sure to check out your film too!

vfx_dude32 karma

Yes - my responsibilities as VFX Producer included overseeing the Miniatures team. Richard Taylor's Weta Workshop built most of the Minis, and Alex Funke's team photographed them. We shot many different scales of the models depending on how close we needed to get to them (and the specific shot design). (I'll continue with more details in a bit..)

Crustin12 karma

The matte paintings.... phenomenally done and seamlessly meshed! Would that be your doing, an editors or both?

vfx_dude31 karma

While the Matte paintings were supervised by our VFX Art Department - which was under my wing - I can't take any credit for how great they were. Alan Lee is one of the greatest Tolkien illustrators ever. Peter convinced Alan to be a part of the original conceptual design team, then Alan slid into an Set Decorator role (actually painting the sets), then in post, he moved over to VFX. Alan - with help from Jeremy Bennett - provided all the designs for the environments to everyone (Weta Workshop - to build the minis, Alex F - to shoot them, and Weta Digital - to create the matte paintings), then supervised their weaving together for all the VFX shot work.

Alex and Jeremy also traveled across NZ shooting stills to provide the photographic elements necessary to build the digital cycloramas.

reefer_gladness20 karma

How did you get into the field?

vfx_dude50 karma

Like many, started making movies in grade school (Super 8 camera) and when I turned in a movie instead of an essay and got an A, I was hooked.

I went to the University of Arizona, studied the Fine Arts along with filmmaking. Once out - I started at the bottom, a Production Assistant, and worked my way up for the next 20+ years.

At times I would wonder why some kids would come out of film school and start directing, and yet I was taking this long strange road, but in the end - I'll be a much better director now, having learned so much from great filmmakers and actually doing a lot of the jobs (or overseeing them) that I must rely on to make my own movies.

[deleted]17 karma



Nobody will ever hire you for either directing, seriously.

Those are the two rarest jobs in the whole of industry and nobody I've never met has ever gone into it directing out of school. You basically work your way up to some sort of supervisor position like this guy did then convince somebody to trust an entire multimillion dollar film production to you. Even then, you'll be doing commercials to build up a professional reel before jumping straight into it.

The only exception I've ever met was Shane Acker, director of 9. Even then he worked on Lord of the Rings and Guild Wars and spent 10 years of his life making a single magnificent animation by himself, receiving two MFA degrees. Then he went to Siggraph, won first place in the fucking world for best animated short. Got LUCKY on top of this, convinced Tim Burton to support him, and only THEN did he direct a movie.

So yeah, good luck.

vfx_dude15 karma

I was responsible for budgets of more than $80 mil on four movies before getting my shot at directing a film with a total budget of a fraction of these numbers...

This after working in the biz for over 20 years...

vfx_dude10 karma

I think there are two paths - you continue writing and directing movies you can produce yourself and then show those to people and parley that into a gig. Or you go to work on a production and learn the business from the ground up. You can keep writing and making movies on the side (when you have time), but this way you'll make a living and meet the people that just might ultimately one day give you a shot.

sub_tropic14 karma

do you think there should be a vfx union? do you think vfx artists have a legitimate complaint about being under appreciated and under compensated in the film industry?

[deleted]14 karma

vfx_dude12 karma

I completely disagree with this. I can't even put the proper words together to express my shock when reading this.

pourhouse3 karma

A piece of me died when I learned about this. I really wonder how this is not being investigated by the department of labor.

But I'd like to get Dean's opinion on the state of the VFX industry as it is and his thoughts on unionization. Especially since he has experience from both sides of the fence.

vfx_dude11 karma

I think all crafts have the right to be represented by a union. I was in the industry for years - and at Disney's VFX company when we tried to have the VFX crew covered by IA contracts. It became very controversial (because of issues with the Animation local), and ultimately, Disney shuttered the company, so it became a non-issue.

I'm not sure which houses have union crews and which don't now, and since many companies provide PH&W, I'm sure it's even more complex than before.

Bottom line, the crews need to be compensated fairly and have health insurance and the like. The VFX crews are a huge contributor to the production of the biggest box office hits, and they shouldn't be treated any less than the production and other post-production crews.

[deleted]12 karma


vfx_dude6 karma

These are really tough issues. I've worked all over the world because of the tax rebates. I think California is finally on the right track (yes - Arnold did get this done), but it's not enough. There are many states and countries willing to subsidize the local film industry including visual effects and other post production areas, and pretending like it's not necessary is like sticking your head in the sand.

Sure, in a fair competitive market, it wouldn't be necessary. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in right now, and Producers and Studios will produce the work for the least possible cost as long as they can get the quality the projects demand.

Robotfighter80811 karma

what do you think about james cameron redoing the scene where the titanic sinks.

vfx_dude39 karma

You mean the shot where he corrected the star field because a famous Astronomer called him out on it? I'd be surprised if that was the only thing he really fixed! He would art direct every object in every frame of every shot.

Robotfighter80810 karma

no there was this show on t.v. where he had a bunch of experts discussing how they got it wrong with the whole aft of the ship sticking straight up out of the water. among other things.

vfx_dude25 karma

Yes - that special is airing as I write this! I haven't watched it yet, but I'm sure however he's fixed it - it's 100% as accurate as the latest data would suggest.

JhJhJhJ10 karma

I remember seeing you on the BTS for the extended edition dvds for LOTR.

A lot of Weta folks went to work for Valve after LOTR finished up. Bay Raitt, Gray Horsfield and Jeremy Bennett being some of them.

What's your thought on this Dean? I've heard some people in the film industry 'look down' on the game industry. Would you, if asked, consider making the transition from one to another?

vfx_dude22 karma

I don't think anyone looks down on anyone in games anymore. Just like it's no longer a bad thing to work on "micro-budget" films.

Work is work, art is art, and excellence is excellence, regardless of the format or cost.

undbecks9 karma

I LOVE the Lord Of The Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia movies, since I grew up reading the books, seeing Narnia and Middle-earth and their characters brought to life when I watched the movies for the first time was great. I just wanted to thank you for your work on these! This may sound dumb but what subjects did you have to study in school in order to get this kind of career?

Edit: added a question.

vfx_dude11 karma

I studied the fine arts - writing, music, painting, sculpture, theater, etc. - practical, historical and theoretical. It was a great base to build upon. My emphasis was Film Production, but learning all about the arts has helped me much more.

[deleted]9 karma

What are your thought as a former vfx professional regarding DDs plans to charge kids to work for them? http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/the-paying-to-work-for-free-vfx-business-model/

vfx_dude8 karma

I answered this above. I can't condone this in any way, shape or form.

lakers288 karma

Any big upcoming projects you're working on? Besides your new movie. Thanks!

vfx_dude16 karma

Working on deciding that... This may sound crazy - but your SECOND movie is actually more important than your first.

GMAucr7 karma

For someone graduating with a Math BS, are there job positions on the movie set for people like me? I would be willing to fetch coffee/clean toilets if it means traveling on with the crew of The Hobbit.

vfx_dude16 karma

I was a film student who loved math, I took Calculus in High School & College - and my Math professor told me (over 20+ years ago) to keep up it as he felt it would be useful one day...

Depends on what interests you... Math and visual effects go very well together...