22 October 2020 802 Views

Wayne England: sfx maestro of Gillian Flynn’s ‘UTOPIA’ talks about his Craft

by James Murphy

What makes Effects ‘special’? The best Personnel!  And so it is with WAYNE ENGLAND of FuseFX, who served as a VFX Supervisor on Gillian Flynn’s ‘Utopia’..

I had the privilege of asking Wayne about the art, craft, graft and joys of making sci-fi look real..

 

What movies inspired his initial vocation? 

Well as a boy living in Hertfordshire, England, my father took my brother and me to see a rerun special cinematic screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I clearly remember as an 8-year-old, feeling completely transported into a future vision of the world. The same was also true yet so much more, when I saw Star Wars.

Emerging from the theatre, beside myself and thrilled, I literally had the sensation I’d just been to another galaxy.  Foundationally, these two films were all about the experience of being transported. I could say they rooted in me a fascination for the power and possibilities of cinematic immersion.

My love for the art of cinematic story was deeply influenced by two films from the historic filmic year of 1999. Of course, the original masterpiece: The Matrix and a co-masterpiece from that year: American Beauty. Both these films were imbued with remarkable storied expressions of awakening, and transcendence. There are many other films, but these four stand out as uniquely impactful and inspirational.

What is the status now on the whole ‘practical’ vs CGI thing? Surely we have progressed beyond it and see all tools as just that: tools of parity?

 

That’s right. It has to be rooted in what works most effectively for the shot.  More deeply, it’s what expresses, reflects and captures the truest expression of the story’s deepest intent.

If there’s a clearly recognized means to capture the effect practically, where levels of detail and/or motion fidelity are possible, while cost effectively realizing the aims of the dramatic moment, it should be an SFX solution.

On the other hand, beyond the scale and scope of VFX’s endless creative possibilities, any time there’s a desired level of creative control for realizing specific, versioned levels of precision, digital is the default solution.

So when the VFX and SFX teams are aligned as components of the larger collective in service to the story, it has to be deemed a win for all when the story itself receives its strongest expression, from either VFX, SFX or a combination of the two.

 

Did you get to meet Gillian Flynn much / at all? Had you seen /read Gone Girl?

 

Yes, I’d seen David Fincher’s Gone Girl. I was also aware of Gillian as a contemporary literary force and that each of her three published books (Sharp Objects, Dark Places and Gone Girl), have been adapted into television and film productions.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to meeting her, not to mention being entrusted to realize her vision for so many of the epic and climactic moments of Utopia, her first episodic as writer/showrunner.

We met a number of times for the VFX blocking sessions, where we creatively defined and confirmed together the vision for VFX shots across various episodes.

As the writer and showrunner, Gillian’s creative input was of course present in every shot and yet, she was extremely gracious and humble, so it was a pleasure to answer her questions and exchange ideas and suggestions for the VFX work ahead.

FuseFX’s outstanding producer Gary Romey was with me each time, and our hosts as it were, the impressive post-producing duo for Utopia, Huey Park and Nick Fuentes.

 

Is there a procedural, noticeable difference in the making of a product for Amazon vs other outlets / film units?

 

My primary aim as a VFX supervisor is to realize a next level in quality. This is in large part because that is the aim of world class productions, of which Amazon are recognised creators. So when everything is oriented around how to realize that aim, it’s an attractor force.

Utopia’s call for impeccable environment extensions and hyper realistic gore within its subtly stylized world asked for delving deep into the story and footage, to gain sensibility toward all the unique creative choices made, that cumulatively render the tone and feel of the show..

With that, a level of discernment can arise that aligns VFX choices in good directions. For exceptional supporting VFX, seamless integration is half the target, while the other is a perception into how the VFX can express nuanced qualities that enhance the story’s highest aspirations.

Of course this all rests upon the talents of the team and the organizational infrastructure that enables our focus to rest upon the art itself. Our FuseFX Utopia compositing supervisor Heather McAuliff, our CG supervisor Christian Gonzales and FX supervisor Wayne Hollingsworth, consistently produced exceptional work.

We live in uncertain times. Are we headed more for a Utopia or a dystopia in reality and how do you think visuals, both in fact and fiction, help us to define that vision?

 

Hmm, a question of weighty proportion! Historic fictional books and films (works of art), warning us of harsh dystopian worlds like Blade Runner or even more so Elysium, where less than 1% of society maintain all the wealth and power, speak to democracy being overthrown by corporate-political corruption.

The documentary “Capital in the 21st Century” speaks to the dangers and history of this tendency very well. Then there is the dizzying more recent emergence of social media for which another documentary comes to mind as must watch: The Social Dilemma.

When conspiracy theories are seen to garner six times more clicks than factual, there’s incentive for those profiting from those clicks to expand upon the fictional and “alternate facts.” We can say Utopia speaks to all of the above challenges in its own way as a disruptive work of art.

But the human tendency toward awakening and innovation, to recognize common cause; the creative human spirit to persevere and overcome should never be underestimated.

This is especially true within our current context of so much accelerated exponential change, within which there is also great opportunity. The influence of artist expression can strengthen during uncertain  times.

Disruptive shows like Watchmen and Utopia both touch on speaking to struggles to find truth in our perspectives toward contemporary (disruptive) issues.

 

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I am guessing the ‘effects’ there were not just in the occasional explosion but also in weather creation / atmospherics and even making the more gruesome scenes somehow more suitable to watch? Such a shame they never did a sequel btw…

My involvement in the feature was rooted in the VFX of the opening credits. With my background as a fluids specialist, I was contacted by three different sources inquiring if I (and my company at the time) could play a significant role in the project.  We ended up in collaboration with Tim Miller and Blur Studio, providing many of the powerful black tar imbued fluid dynamic animations, for David Fincher’s amazing vision for his unique opening credits.

Green Lantern is, in my mind, unfairly maligned. Effects wise it is a joy to just look at, even if the character beats fail. Would you agree on that?

There’s been an evolving process in understanding for the big studios, how to most effectively approach adapting comic books to feature films. Some take themes more seriously than others, like Nolan’s Batman, while others target raw fun like Deadpool. Green Lantern was somewhere in between, but yes, agreed on as you say “character beats.” It sure was fun though for my then company to have contributed in the way we did, especially for the Sinestro (energy ingestion) transformation sequences. Still holds up well!

MANY THANKS, MR ENGLAND! 

 

 



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