Kristof Kiraly: VFXtraordinaire

Kristof Kiraly may not be a household name, but as a visual effects artist, Kiraly has played a part in making some of the biggest films of recent years. From ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to ‘The Jungle Book’, mass explosions to vast landscapes, Kristof Kiraly is the man with the magic touch who, along with his team at Double Negative Visual Effects, gives your favourite films that extra kick.

Interview by Jakob Lewis Barnes

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JLB: Working in visual effects seems like a very specific and technical field of filmmaking, was there a particular moment where you realised that was what you wanted to do?

KK: From a very early age, I was obsessed with creation. I spent hours drawing, sculpting or playing with Lego. I’ve always wanted to understand how things work under the surface. I think it’s this kind of curiosity which led me to the world of computer graphics.

Like many other artists, the big blockbusters were the real push for me; I remember watching behind-the-scenes documentaries of ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jurassic Park’ etc. and realising that people do this for a living was a life-changing experience. Of course I had no idea how I could break in to the industry, but I dived in deep and spent all my time learning VFX on my own (this was a time before YouTube tutorials). With that knowledge, I was fortunate enough to secure a job with a small VFX company where I really started growing, and after six years I got invited to MPC (Moving Picture Company) in London.

JLB: I imagine visual effects to be an extremely challenging and painstaking task, so what, in your opinion, does it take to be a top visual effects artist?

KK: In my opinion, a good VFX artist has to be a good problem solver, because that is essentially what we’re doing most of the time. In this very technical world, things go wrong all the time and you have to figure out how to fix them. The ability to work under pressure is a must-have skill too; time is always compressed and the number of tasks can often be overwhelming.

Also you have to be open to learning new things all the time, because the industry is rapidly evolving and if you stop learning you’ll get left behind. And finally, learn to leave your ego at home. A movie is a team effort where your work is always open to criticism, changes and sometimes it can even be completely thrown out. That’s the nature of the beast, but that is also why the end result is usually much better than the first version.

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JLB: On IMDb you’re credited as “Environment Technical Director” – can you clarify exactly what that entails on a day-to-day basis, and on a larger scale in the filmmaking process?

KK: Environment Technical Directors are responsible for creating environment scenes, that match the photographic quality of the plates they are dealing with. In simpler terms, everything that isn’t a character, vehicle or prop is environment. Creating environments requires both technical and artistic knowledge, as it involves everything from matte-painting to modeling, texturing, projections, lighting, rendering and even composition. As I said earlier, it is creative problem solving on every level.

JLB: Your filmography includes quite a few superhero movies such as ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, but who is your favourite hero (or villain) and why?

KK: To be completely honest, I’m not a huge superhero or comics fan. I personally prefer movies that are closer to reality; I am more excited about everyday superheroes like the journalists of ‘Spotlight’, or the computer scientist Alan Turing, who helped Britain win WWII. But if I had to pick a superhero movie it would be Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, with its dark atmosphere and Hans Zimmer’s unforgettable score.

JLB: Recently, films like ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and the upcoming ‘Assassins Creed’ have opted for more practical effects rather than CGI – can you see this becoming a common trend?

KK: I think everyone agrees that going practical is the proper way of approaching any shot. It gives the film crew a physicality they can relate to. The actors can feel that they are part of the environment, the DOP can set the lights up properly and figure out what lens and camera movement works. Of course, practical effects are very costly, harder to control and have their limitations. That’s where VFX comes into play – to extend those boundaries, but it should be used sensibly and be based on reality. That’s why it’s good when we have the practical elements.

To be honest, my only problem with this new wave of “practical effect based” movies is their marketing and the way they treat visual effects publicly – as though VFX is just a negligible thing, and practical effects is the holy grail. The fact is that these modern blockbusters have almost no frame which has not been digitally enhanced in some way.

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JLB: Your company – Double Negative Visual Effects – was part of the VFX Oscar winning team this year for ‘Ex Machina’. Where would you say Ava – the artificial intelligence at the core of the story – ranks among your studio’s creations?

KK: I was extremely pleased to see ‘Ex Machina’ winning the Oscar for Best VFX. Especially since everyone was pretty sure that it would go to either ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Mad Max’. I think the movie in general was a massive achievement, and the effects served the story well; it wasn’t just a mindless visual orgy but a very organic piece. ‘Ex Machina’ is a great example of why I love to work for Double Negative – it is very much a technology-driven company with some insanely-talented artists.

JLB: For you personally, what is your proudest moment/favourite piece of work in the VFX industry?

KK: I’m extremely thankful that this is my nine-to-five. Working on movies that millions of people will go and see (and hopefully enjoy) is very rewarding. I’m proud of everything I’ve been working on, but my personal top three would be ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Mission:Impossible – Rogue Nation’ and ‘Spectre’.

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JLB: And finally, what is the best piece of advice you’ve been given throughout your career?

KK: I’ve been given lots of great advice throughout my career, but two of those stand out as the most influential. The first, is from my late grandfather who told me that you have to learn new things so you have more legs to stand on and that will give you stability.

The other is from my former MPC leader, mentor and friend, Marco G, who told me that in VFX you have to have three things to survive: reputation, connections, and savings.

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Steven Spielberg: Top 5

Written by Chris Winterbottom

It’s going to be an interesting year for Steven Spielberg, as his upcoming adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is due to be released to UK audiences on the 22nd July 2016, and I for one am very much looking forward to it. As a child, this Roald Dahl novel about nasty and nice giants was one of my favourites, so it will be interesting to see how Spielberg’s vision fairs. The novel is obviously aimed at younger audiences, yet it also holds a real sinister edge, which I absolutely love.

Spielberg is often criticised for being overly sentimental in his films (War Horse being a near-unbearable example of this), so I do hope Spielberg finds a perfect balance between the dark edge and family-friendly tone of the novel. With this and the recent announcement that Spielberg and Harrison Ford would be re-teaming to create a fifth instalment in the ‘Indiana Jones’ saga, I thought now would be a good to go through my favourite Spielberg films. Here’s my top 5.


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5. Saving Private Ryan

Criticism of this film is levelled at its sentimentality, and its inability to improve on what is one of the most groundbreaking opening sequences in cinema history. The D-Day landings which open the film is as brutal, powerful and moving now as it was upon release in 1998. I agree that the rest of the film does not reach the dizzy heights of the opening, but for me, it remains one of Spielberg’s most accomplished technical achievements. I also agree that its sentimentality becomes a little cloying by the end, but there is no doubting the technical brilliance and moving story at the heart of this film. Also the acting is superb, particularly from Tom Hanks, who delivers one of the most interesting performances of his career. Hollywood’s treatment of battle sequences changed forever after this film and it’s clear that the technical achievements have inspired other filmmakers (Paul Greengrass for example). ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is undoubtedly one of the finest war films ever made.


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4. Minority Report

This film really is an underrated gem. To tell the truth, my first viewing of ‘Minority Report’ left me uninspired; I thought it was just another middle of the road sci-fi movie. But one Christmas, I remember watching it on TV while flicking through the channels. Within seconds I was hooked and I saw a completely different movie than I did the first time around. I think this is one of Tom Cruise’s finest performances; he is so captivating and charismatic in this role it’s hard to think of another film where he is so watchable. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography which adds so much atmosphere. Where the special effects create a unique vision of the future, it is the oppressive light in the background that creates a heady mixture of noir and science fiction. The atmosphere is creepy, claustrophobic and strangely chilling. This overexposed light technique is something Spielberg has used quite often in his modern movies; he even used the technique in the recent ‘Bridge of Spies’ and it is clearly a device he will continue to use. The storytelling is also executed brilliantly and the set pieces are exhilarating.


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3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

A moving and expertly-crafted family story where, once again, Spielberg’s unquenchable thematic exploration of an absent father is at the film’s heart. Of course, it ends on a syrupy-sweet note but there is no doubting the films power and you would be hard pushed not to be swept up in the film’s majesty. This is a film that is as timeless as any, and E.T. himself is one of the most recognisable movie characters in history. A spellbinding performance from Henry Thomas who plays Elliot, Spielberg really did get the best from an incredibly young cast. One of the key quotes from E.T. is “I’ll be right here” and I’m sure he will be for many a year.


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2. Jurassic Park

I personally think this is one of the finest films ever made. It is a rollercoaster ride that has all the thrills and spills you expect, as well as plenty of spectacle. But there are deep philosophical mutterings underneath the still gleaming surface, such as the fear of fatherhood and the morals of genetic engineering. This was a film long in the making for Spielberg; it is ‘Jaws’ on land and has some of the most iconic action sequences in recent cinema; the bloke on the toilet?! Wow. With strong performances throughout and Jeff Goldblum showing why he was one of the coolest actors of the ’90’s, this is one of Spielberg’s finest films and a movie that rewards repeat viewings.


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1. Jaws

Of course Spielberg’s finest film has to be ‘Jaws’. Films like ‘Jurassic Park’ would not have existed if it was not for this work of genius. With the now infamous production problems with the animatronic shark, the film is an example of how financial restrictions often spark the most interesting creativity. With recent big-budget superhero films being released – films which I believe fundamentally lack imagination and creativity – ‘Jaws’ is a lesson in how to stretch a budget and invent filmmaking techniques to achieve your cinematic goal. Not seeing the shark ultimately proved to be the greatest strength of this film, because it somehow amplified the scare-factor and cranked up the claustrophobia. It was also the first film to smash the box-office; word of mouth and large publicity meant this film was sold out for weeks. Now every big-budget blockbuster tries to emulate this feat and to be honest, it works – just look at ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Thanks to a carefully moulded marketing campaign, no amount of bad reviews can stop a juggernaut of this scale. It is, by far, Spielberg’s greatest achievement both technically and on a commercial level. The film has inspired so many of his colleagues and even himself in recent years and will continue to do so for many more. 

Oscars 2016: Best Picture Predictions

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

The approach of the winter months doesn’t just mean it’s time to go shopping for a new coat, because with the cold weather and shorter days comes a growing desire for people to discuss The Oscars. It may be more than four months until the 88th Academy Awards, but that doesn’t stop anyone speculating as to who the winners and losers will be on the big night. To be honest, I’ve been guessing since this year’s ceremony ended, and whilst guesses are all we have for now, The Academy certainly have a distinct pattern to their choices, hence the term “Oscar bait”. Here are the films that are likely to make the cut and be nominated in the Best Picture category.

And the nominees are…

Sicario
Arguably, this intense thriller from Denis Villeneuve (who directed the fantastic Prisoners) is the film which started the ball rolling with all this Oscars buzz. As one of the few films in this list that has actually been released in cinemas, I can offer my personal opinion of ‘Sicario’, and if it was up to me, this would be the winner. Whilst myself, and many others, love this gritty crime flick though, it’s unlikely that ‘Sicario’ will go further than a nomination.

Steve Jobs
Nothing gets The Academy’s attention like a biopic, and with the late founder of Apple taking centre stage in this Danny Boyle production, ‘Steve Jobs’ is about as relevant as they come. A fantastic cast, led by the very talented Michael Fassbender, and Academy favourite Kate Winslet in support, ‘Steve Jobs’ has been garnering praise from early viewings and could be the frontrunner for the Best Picture award.

Suffragette
If there’s anything The Academy loves more than a biopic, it’s controversy. A cast boasting some of the best actresses around – including Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter – should boost ‘Suffragette’ and allow the feminist movement to be represented next February. It also helps that various stars, including Meryl Streep herself, voiced their concerns over the lack of opportunities and equality for women at this year’s ceremony.

Bridge Of Spies
The man responsible for classics such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Steven Spielberg, is back, and has teamed up with legendary actor, Tom Hanks, for this cold war drama. Both of these men are probably sick of the sight of these trophies, but it is very likely that this winning recipe will earn them a few more nominations to add to their resumĂ©.

The Revenant
One man who certainly wouldn’t mind getting hold of a golden statuette is Leonardo DiCaprio, and whilst we’re sure Tom Hanks could just lend him one for the weekend, we don’t think that would quite be the same. By hooking up with Tom Hardy, and last year’s big winner Alejandro GonzĂĄlez Iñårritu (director of Birdman), Leo may well have given  himself his best chance yet at grabbing a personal award and leading his film to glory. Could Iñårritu win back-to-back Best Picture awards?

Joy
Another winning team come together once again, to bring us ‘Joy’ this Christmas. Director David O Russell, who has received nominations for his last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle), joins forces with Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, and familiar faces Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, in what could be a perfectly crafted, Oscar-bait picture. Whilst unlikely to win the top gong, it would be a surprise to see this one snubbed.

The Lobster
The film festival circuit isn’t just a fun way to spend your summer, it’s actually a breeding ground for hot productions hoping to catch the eye of The Academy. Pretty much every year there will be one or two films that thrive in the quirky world of film festivals and make it to the big stage for The Oscars. With an interesting plot, big name stars in Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell, and plenty of hype from critics, ‘The Lobster’ could well crawl its way into the Best Picture category.

Carol
The big success story from the film festival circuit however, is undoubtedly ‘Carol’. This film, which sees Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara embark on a complicated lesbian relationship, has been lauded by critics all summer and will continue to be praised all the way through winter as it arrives in mainstream cinema theatres. It’s an outside shot, but this low-key, artistic offering could well beat the big names and steal the top prize next February.

So, with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ unlikely to get the nod from The Academy, in favour of something more stylistically brilliant (they don’t know what they’re missing), my money is on ‘Carol’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ to fight this one out.

Watch This Space: May 25 – May 31

Welcome to your weekly go-to-guide – WatchThisSpace – where we give you recommendations of films to watch in the cinema, on the television and those brilliant films hiding at the back of your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

The Rock is slowly winning us over, proving that he is a respectable actor in Hollywood. He certainly earns enough anyway. His latest offering, ‘San Andreas’, promises to be quite the spectacle, one which simply HAS to be enjoyed on the big screen.

We waited a week with this one, to gauge the opinion from opening weekend. Disney’s attempt at a summer hit with ‘Tomorrowland’, has been quite divisive among audiences thus far, with the consensus seeming to be that the fantasy flick is just about worth seeing.

ON TELEVISION

Monday 14:25 GMT: The multiple academy award-winning western ‘Dances with Wolves’ graces our screens during the Bank Holiday afternoon on BBC2. An emotional roller coaster, set against wonderful scenery and with a beautiful musical score to accompany, this film is just about as good as the West gets. 

Monday 20:00 GMT: Finish your holiday in explosive style with Avengers Assemble’ on BBC1. You’ve probably seen it before, but why not relive some Marvel magic. Sit back with your beverage of choice and enjoy blockbuster action at its very best.

Wednesday 18:55 GMT: Film4 brings us the hilarious ‘Sister Act’ on Wednesday evening. The perfect way to break up the working week, this film will do it’s best to raise your spirits. As far as musical comedies go, there’s nun better. I’ll get my coat…

Wednesday 22:55 GMT: A real late-night treat for you on Film4 this week. Arguably his best film, ‘Psycho’ is trademark Hitchcock. One of those films that you’ve heard people talk about, but never had the opportunity of seeing? Now’s your chance. Just don’t expect a peaceful sleep afterwards. 

Saturday 17:25 GMT: With the release of Jurassic World growing ever closer, see where it all began with the ground-breaking, timeless classic that is ‘Jurassic Park’ on ITV2. The iconic action film for all ages, this is one simply not to be missed. Hold onto your butts.  

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

A Beautiful Mind: There was sad news last week when mathematician John Nash and his wife were tragically killed in a car crash. Celebrate his life in this truly incredible film with Russell Crowe portraying the genius with an Oscar winning performance. Dig out this wonderful film that chronicles the life of a truly wonderful and inspirational individual. 

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Following Sweden’s victory at this year’s Eurovision ‘singing’ competition, we recommend watching one of the country’s more notable exports, aside from flat-pack furniture of course. The original Swedish adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series of books are astounding. This is a brilliant beginning to a wonderfully gritty and violent crime trilogy. Make sure you watch the original Swedish version though, as it is infinitely better than the later Hollywood effort starring Daniel Craig.

Fish Tank: Last week we were treated to a teaser trailer for the upcoming biopic ‘Steve Jobs’, starring Michael Fassbender. Now, we urge you to travel back to the start of this wonderful actor’s career and check out the provocative, British flick about that fine line between adolescence and the scary world of adulthood.

Pulp Fiction: Cannes, the biggest event in the film festival calendar, has come to an end. This time, the coveted Palme D’or prize went to Jacques Audiard for ‘Dheepan’. A great film no doubt, but will there ever be a better winner than Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 effort?

 This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and Nick Deal

Jurassic World [Preview]

 Written by Nick Deal

As the days tick by towards the much-anticipated reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise, we were treated to a second trailer during this year’s Superbowl. This second trailer answered some previously existing questions, but also raises just as many new questions for fans looking ahead to what the upcoming film has in store for us. This preview will take a look at the new trailer and see what we can learn from it and what we can expect to see.

Click here to read the full preview