Join Rob Garrott for an in-depth discussion in this video Part 2: The filmmaking process, part of Artists and Their Work: Conversations about Mograph VFX and Digital Art.
- So let's talk a little bit about the film-making process in general. - Sure. - And, how did you ... So, take a step backwards. Why don't you tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you go to school? How did you get started? - Yeah, okay. Well, unlike a lot of my colleagues, I didn't go to, to, like, an art school. I didn't study, like, design or animation. Everything I learned is just, like, self-taught stuff or, like, tutorials in books and things like that, and just picking things up over the years, you know. (clears throat) I studied film at UC Santa Barbara, and I graduated, I couldn't find a job.
Like, I was studying cinematography and it was, like, my true passion just to work in film making, but I just was, just didn't feel like the, sort of, the right fit for me at that time. I was working, like, at Radio Shack for minimum wage, and I wanted to find a better solution. And, you know, back in, like, 2002, motion graphics were all about main titles, you know, for, like, TV and film, so (swallows) I had a little bit of experience in that, just from my own projects and stuff like that, you know? So that sort of fueled me further.
And the other thing was, was just sort of, like, having a passion for understanding visual effects. And not so much just, like ... you know, if I read an article or something in Cinefex or whatever, like, that's great, but being able to do it yourself, like, that's how I really understand things, is if I can jump in and do it, you know? - Now, were you doing this in school at the time? - No. - Or were you strictly, strictly shooting and editing in school? - We were shooting on 16-milimeter film, editing with, like, a flatbed, you know? The only sort of digital thing, like, right when I graduated, I learned Final Cut Pro, and I was working, like, sort of like a computer lab.
And that's where I started getting introduced to things like After Effects and Maya, but I, like ... I didn't even know where to start. And I didn't really ... I had some interest in it, but it was really more just because I needed these tools to create my film. And beyond that, like, what happened was, as I was starting to get better at these things, I sort of saw an opportunity to get into motion graphics. But I didn't even know what motion graphics was then. I didn't know, like, that it was like a career. I thought graphic art, graphic design, I thought that was more like print stuff.
I didn't realize there was a whole industry where people were actually paying you money to do this stuff, you know? So I didn't see it as, like, "Oh, here's a new career for me." I saw it at, like, "Oh, here's a way to pay rent for a couple months." And as it-- - I'm sorry, go ahead. Go ahead. - No, I was just going to say, as I started getting into it, like, sort of progressing from 2D over to 3D, and that's when I got into C 4D. - Nice. So what was the very first thing that you did for motion graphics? What was that very first job? - Oh (sighs), let's see. Um, I did a promo for this HBO show called Soul Food. - (chuckles) Oh, yeah, great show.
- And there was this company called Montgomery Creative, and it was one of the big main title places in, like, the early 2000s. And there was this opportunity where an animator was sick, and I just knew this producer who had gone back there. And they sort of, like, dropped me in there, like, "Yeah, this guy is good, he can handle it." And I was, like, sweating like crazy. I think I was there until 10:00 o'clock at night, figuring it out. I mean, it wasn't hard work, but it was just, like, it was difficult sort of just being in that environment. And they kept bringing me back. And I'm sure they knew that I wasn't super-experienced, but I don't think they knew that I had no experience.
So I got really lucky. And I used, like (stutters) freelance work as my education. Because that's, like, the best education anyway. I mean, you can learn a lot in school, tutorials are awesome, but if you don't practice those things, then it's like nothing. Or not nothing, but, I mean, (stutters) at least for me. Some people can read books and they can retain all that knowledge. But for me, if I don't actually try it and do it myself, I'm going to lose it all eventually.
- And I think also, the application of that knowledge is really the important thing. It's fine to watch tutorials, but if you don't ever go out and try making something of your own, like you said, that's when you really start to learn. - Yeah, and it's great if, like ... Okay, so you learn clock dynamics -- that's awesome. But if you don't do anything that needs it, then what's the purpose of it? - And you had a reason to learn clock dynamics and, in-- - Yeah. - So let's take a step backwards and talk just about tools and creativity. So, there's an interesting phenomenon that's happening right now, where people are becoming very obsessed with buttons and software.
- Yes, exactly. - And the creative goals are not always kept in mind. So, in terms of your film-making work and how you're approaching that, are you approaching the film making from a script-writing standpoint or are you walking in the door, saying, "I want to learn how to do this, and this film "is a good vehicle for that"? - For me, it all starts with a story. So, you know, I'm all about just sort of coming up with a concept first, you know? Writing this, um, writing out a script and coming up with an idea.
Also, sort of factoring, if I want to show some sort of effect, that's the time when I start to think about it, you know? For some of my stuff, like, I have really strong visuals. For Epoch, there's some scenes where there's a couple that's embracing, like, in the sky. - Right. - I saw that ... I had that vision from the start, and I had to figure out, how am I going to do that once I actually film? And that's how we got into it. - The swimming pool? - Yeah. So this, this swimming pool shot ... Yeah, so this stuff right here, basically ... we used a friend's pool.
And, you know, when I started talking to people, I said, "Okay, I've got this idea. "I want to shoot people flying, but I don't want to use, "like, wire rigs and I don't want to do something "that's necessarily just on green screen "where they're sort of jumping or whatever. "I want to have it look like they're floating "and be really surreal. "So what about filming in a swimming pool?" And I couldn't find, like, any information on it. My creative colleagues, they were all saying, like, "Oh, that's not going to work. "There's this or that," you know, "You're not going to pull a key," or whatever.
And so I just kind of stopped listening to them and I said, "Okay, we're going to shoot this "in the swimming pool. "We're going to throw a green screen down there. "We're going to get some scuba gear and, like, "a camera housing and try it out." And the actors were all for it-- - Fantastic. They were practicing breathing patterns and stuff so they could hold their breath for a long time. And, you know, when I was shooting this stuff, I couldn't even see, like, what I was filming. There's sort of a view finder, but when you're under water and you're dealing with all these other things-- - It's all guesswork. - Yeah. But I could get the relative framing and, you know, it's kind of hard to direct while you're under water because it's, like, you have to go up and, like, get more air and sort of talk.
And this is in, like January in the Valley, so it's freezing cold and, like, we only got the water temperature up to, like, 70, which was - Wow, that's-- - still like, filming all day and it was pretty cold, especially for the actors, because we had wetsuits on and stuff like that. So yeah, this stuff was fun, and it turned out really well. It's got a really interesting look to it, like, all the particulate matter from the swimming pool that was coming off of the outfits actually looks more like particles, which was something that's, like, you know, takes a lot of work to recreate, so we have this sort of love scene, and there's also, like, part of the battle scene, this stuff right here.
- Now, did you do any rehearsing for that? Or did you just go, just bring the actors on the day of shooting and just, and dive in? Sorry, that's a ... (John laughs) Pun intended (both chuckle). - No, we just shot it. I mean, like, these guys are all awesome, so it was just a matter of, they read the script, they understood what was going on, we had, like, sort of a sense of what we would do, but, I mean, (stutters) I like rehearsing, but I don't really, like, believe in the idea of, like, spending another day to do all the rehearsals and stuff, unless it's really, really critical for the film.
But, you know, these guys ... Like, we're all working for free or, like, little pay, and, you know, it's not like a film that's being paid by a client or something. You know, it's just coming out of pocket, so it's a little bit different. I don't want to waste everyone's time, you know?
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Watch for fresh insights into the careers and creative processes of these working professionals.