Kevin Mack begins his visual effects career as model painter on THE ABYSS. Then he joins Digital Domain as matte painter, he will work on this position on films such as TRUE LIES or THE FIFTH ELEMENT. He becomes then a VFX supervisor of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, FIGHT CLUB or VANILLA SKY. In 2002, Kevin Mack leaves Digital Domain to join Sony Imageworks where he will supervise SPEED RACER, GHOST RIDER or BIG FISH.
You were VFX supervisor at Digital Domain for years. What it makes you of being this time to the side of the customer?
I was at Digital Domain for nine years and it was great fun to work with my dear friends there again. Being on the studio side was not much different than being at a facility for me as I have been the overall supervisor for most of the films I’ve worked on.
How did you have distributes the sequences between the various VFX studios?
The VFX Producer, Denise Davis and I divided the work as logically as possible, based on the capacity and capabilities of the various VFX companies we chose to work with.
Chris Columbus know really well the visual effects. How was it the collaboration with him?
Chris is very generous and collaborative and really fun to work with. He allowed me to contribute much creatively to the film which made the process very enjoyable.
What were the challenges on this show?
The biggest challenges were the short schedule and the vast variety of difficult effects we had to create. Most big VFX films have a specific kind of major effect that is done over and over so you achieve an “economy of scale” by doing lots of similar shots. “PERCY JACKSON” has so many different kinds of effects, from all manner of CG creatures and environments to complex fluid simulations for water and fire effects as well as the various transformations, It meant that we had to develop and plan many different assets and techniques simultaneously.
For the creatures, did you choose an approach 100 % CG or did you have use some animatronics?
The creatures are 100% CG or CG added to actors. No animatronics.
How did you conceive the Mount Olympus?
Mount Olympus was based on various concept illustrations. Production Designer, Howard Cummings and his art department, set the style of architecture and the floating asteroid concept. I worked with Whiskeytree, who did the shots, to refine and develop it into the final design.
Does your past of matte painter artist helps you in the conception of the visual effects?
Definitely! As a painter, one is well versed in aesthetic design, visual story telling and the behavior of light. This helps one to be able to conceptualize and visualize imaginary things as though they exist.
How many VFX shots is there in the show?
We created just over 900 shots. Over 800 are in the film. Because of the short schedule it was inevitable that some completed VFX shots were edited from the final film.
THE CLASH OF THE TITANS is the reference movie about gods and men. Were you inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen?
As a kid I certainly was inspired by the work of Ray Harryhausen as well as Willis O’Brian and others. “CLASH OF THE TITANS” came out after my formative years so I wouldn’t say that film was an inspiration specifically. “JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS” and the “SINBAD” films that Ray did were a big inspiration. One of the most inspiring films for me was the original “KING KONG”.
What was the most complicated sequence to create?
That’s a tough question because we had so many complex sequences. Certainly the big water effect at the end was quite complex, but so was the whole aerial fight in NY city. Medusa was insanely complex having to track in and animate all those snakes and give them all something to do. The Hydra and it’s transformation and the re-growth of ten heads was ridiculously complex.
Thirty foot tall Poseidon walking out of the sea and transforming into water and then eroding down to human size and back into human form was a very complicated sequence to plan and execute. Hades with his fluid simulation fire effects and his facial performance capture was very complex as well. I guess the point is that creating VFX for a movie like this one is a very complex process. Even wire removals and composites can get quite complicated.
About which sequence are you the most proud of?
I’m sorry, but I am so proud of so many of the sequences in this film that it’s impossible to pick just one. That said, I have to admit that I’m extra proud of the big water effect at the end of the film as it was my concept.
I know that it is a delicate question but can you give us an idea ot the budget assigned to the VFX on this show?
I’d say that the budget was just right.
What memory did you keep of this film?
So many great memories from a project like this. You become quite close to so many people. They become like your family. The film was shot in and around Vancouver, BC and post production was based in San Francisco. I live in Los Angeles, so I was living as well as working away from home for over a year. This adds even more intense and vivid memories because it’s all so new and different. It’s almost like being someone else for a while. You work somewhere else, you live somewhere else, you drive a different car, you have different friends. It’s quite surreal. Like a dream.
What is your next project? The next adventures of Percy Jackson?
I am taking a much needed break to be with my family, work on my fine art and play guitar. What comes next remains to be seen.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the great questions.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2010