What do major blockbuster movies like Hunger Games, Oz: The Great and Powerful, MIB III, Alice in Wonderland and numerous movies you dished money out to see all have in common? Not only amazing visual effects, but the specific VFX skills of Christian Boudman, with Clearcut FX.
Learn how Boudman climbed the VFX ladder of success, and created his own rules right onto the big screen.
Q: What piece of advice did you receive in the production industry that you still follow to this day?
A: I’ve received so much great advice and guidance over the years, it’s hard to pick just one piece. But here’s one of my favorites that I follow to this day: ”Make sure you do great work. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Q: What was it specifically about VFX that had you drawn towards starting a career in it?
A: I began my entertainment career in the late eighties as a magician, fire-eater and juggler… But, my dream from childhood was to work in movies and television. In 1991, my new bride and I loaded up the Honda Civic and moved from Massachusetts to Los Angeles. For several years, we scrabbled for work and I quickly clawed my way up the ladder: from runner; to production coordinator; to associate producer on shows like the Oscars, Emmys, and Comic Relief. I then landed a gig as the assistant to the line-producer and the post coordinator on a Disney sitcom called Boy Meets World. In one episode, there was a dream sequence in which one of the characters had to appear in multiple places on the set at once. We shot everything on blue screen and brought in an on-set Ultimatte guy to make sure that the keys would work. We then sent everything to a VFX boutique (which owned a couple Quantel Henrys) to comp everything together. It was during those sessions that I fell in love with the VFX process. It took a few years for me to find the right opportunity to transition into VFX, but when I got the chance, I jumped at it. The rest is history.
Q: How has the VFX industry changed today compared to when you first started?
A: Ha! Well to begin with, when I started, everything was shot on film and the Inferno compositing system, on which I worked, cost a million dollars. Also, the major studios compensated VFX companies fairly for their efforts. The internet was in its infancy and not everyone had a cell phone (That’s right, you actually had to drive around looking for a pay phone when your beeper went off!) The biggest difference for me is that we all had to physically be in the same building to make the process work. Nowadays, you can live in the woods of New Hampshire, work remotely with artists all over the country, and effortlessly collaborate to produce a great product.
Q: What was it like to work on feature films like Hunger Games, Oz, Alice in Wonderland etc.? How did you go about landing such amazing gigs?
A: Absolutely amazing! Working together with great people to produce inspiring work is what it’s all about!
Ever heard the expression, “It’s who you know”? It’s true! During the eighteen years I lived and worked in Los Angeles, I had the honor of collaborating with some of the most talented and influential people in the entertainment industry. Those relationships have endured despite of the fact that I relocated to the opposite corner of the country.
Q: How do you keep your company (and self) up to date on cutting edge technology?
A: First of all, I believe in keeping it simple. We specialize in high-end compositing and so we use the best tool on the market to get the job done: Nuke. Fortunately, Nuke contains a toolset for doing just about everything you could imagine in the way of 2D and 2 1/2D effects stuff. In addition to having the best color pipeline, it has great keyers, effects tools, camera tracking, projections, particles, etc. The Foundry does a nice job of following industry trends and keeping Nuke robust and up-to-date. When a project requires additional services, like full-on CG modeling/animation, matte paintings, complex matchmoves, etc…; I have a roster of senior visual effects professionals to call on who specialize in those disciplines. We collaborate virtually using encrypted cloud technology.
Q: Which feature film was your favorite to collaborate on? Why?
A: When I was still in LA, working as Senior Lead in the Interactive Compositing Department at Sony Pictures Imageworks, I had the enormous privilege of helping to modernize Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner- The Final Cut. I was responsible for coming up with the methodology for, and comp supervising the “Zhora Death Sequence” head replacements; as well as, the Deckard mouth replacements in the scene with Abdul Ben Hassan. World-class VFX supervisor Rich Hoover, other brilliant members of IAC team and I did some of the most challenging renovation work on the movie. Charlie de Lauzirika made a documentary about the restoration/renovation process called All Our Variant Futures. Check it out… I make a brief appearance. It was a thrill to be involved with such an iconic piece of film history.
Q: Was there anyone (whether famous or not) who inspired you to become a production pro? Why?
A: I grew up in an old 1830s farmhouse in the farming country of rural northern Maine in the ’70s and ’80s. My Dad, a career art professor and film historian, bought an early Betamax VCR in the 70s. I used to stay up all night recording classic movies for him off of TV (and editing out all the commercials). As a result, I was exposed to classic narrative film at a very early age. In that old house in northern Maine, Hollywood seemed like it was a million miles away… but, I dreamt of getting there one day. Thanks to the support of a myriad of important people (most importantly, my wife and partner of twenty-three years), I worked hard and was able to fulfill my dream. Returning to New England in 2008 elevated the dream to a new level…
Q: Is there a tip/trick you always share with up and comers in regards to creating one-of-a-kind work?
A: Be humble, listen carefully and work your ass off to produce the best possible product. Observe the natural world carefully and don’t forget that VFX is a collaborative process.
Q: What is it about Clearcut FX that you feel sets it apart from other companies?
A: Prior to my departure from LA in 2008, the “writing was on the wall” that the Industry was going to be experiencing some huge changes. Studios were squeezing well established brick-and-mortar VFX companies like Imageworks, ILM, DD, R&H, etc… to do more work for less money with more ridiculous deadlines. Outsourcing to Asia and other parts of the world was taking off. Flame/Inferno was being forced out of the feature film VFX process by products like Nuke and Katana and professionals in the business were starting to get panicky. In an fxguide podcast interview in 2009, Scott Ross (co-founder of Digital Domain) laid out his vision of the future of the VFX Industry. He referred to what he called, a “Hub and Spokes” model. In other words, you have a centralized office with producers and supervisors in a big city like Los Angeles, New York, London, Sydney, etc… and visual effects professionals working individually or in small groups scattered all over the globe, all connected virtually. That interview reinforced my idea to start my own company.
In 2009, I set up a studio on my property here in the woods of NH, got the best internet service I could find and built a secure pipeline for collaborating virtually with other senior level artists. This methodology eliminates most of the overhead associated with operating a brick-and-mortar facility, and removes the burden of travel and lodging expenses. Most importantly, it puts the money where it belongs—In the hands of world-class creative talent. I supervise every shot that comes through our doors and my producer on the ground helps me coordinate everything. We’re the hub and the artists are the spokes. We collaborate securely in the cloud and can connect seamlessly to other “hub and spokes” models like those being used by our clients. We’ve done multiple big projects this way over the years, including 240 shots on The Hunger Games, in only ten weeks. We’ve also contributed to MIB3, Fast5, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and many others. I believe that this is the future of our industry.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Companies like ProductionHUB that enable employers to effortlessly connect with creative talent and visa versa will be integral to success of this new paradigm.
Christian Boudman, as seen below:
images courtesy of ClearCut FX