So with Ad Astra out and garnering mixed reviews its the effects and Brad Pitt who are receiving almost unanimous praise. So in the latest in our occasional series of interview with people behind the scenes we speak to Compositing Supervisor Eric Andrusyszyn who works for the award winning visual effects house MPC. With several offices all over the world Eric is based in the Vancouver office where he worked on the stunning effects for Ad Astra. With an extensive list of credits that includes work on Fast & Furious 7, Batman v Superman, Justice League and Aquaman he spoke to us about what his work involves on Ad Astra.
AGF: Hi Eric, So what exactly is a compositing supervisor?
Eric Andrusyszyn : Well Simon compositors are the artists who are at the end of the visual effects pipeline. We’re the people who put the shots together and are in charge of the final look of the shots. So basically we take the CG elements and the live action plates and we put them together and make them look like they belong. The other departments supply us with the material…if you think about it in the way of building then a building then they would supply with the material to make the building, whereas we construct it Our job is pretty involved so there’s colour correction, colour keying……there’s all that stuff. It’s trying to put it together and make it. So as a composting supervisor I’m in charge of not only managing the team and making sure they have everything that they want but also kind of directing the art portion of it and I kind of steer the direction of the way each shot should go and give feedback that way.
AGF: So as a compositing supervisor it must be quite stressful in terms of hitting deadlines if you’re at the end of the pipeline.
EA: It is quite stressful yes especially if any other department are a bit behind on their deadlines then that squishes us a little bit more. So yes it can be quite stressful. I’ve always loved compositing. It’s something that people in this position are rather passionate about
AGF: So how did you get being a compositing supervisor ?
EA: Well these days there’s a lot more visual effects schools so these days people can go to college and get the skills but for me though I went to art college…the first time for film production doing various optical printing and things like that and then I eventually got a job in a motion picture film lab doing stuff like that and colour timing back in the day. Then I wanted to progress my career somehow because I was kind of stuck where I was and I said I was kind of thinking of going into animation and they asked if I’d consider visual effects and that was actually right up my alley and so I went to school again. A lot of visual effects schools kind of teach you the whole kind of gamut of things and you decide what you want and I just gravitated towards composting and then I went out to LA and started out there.
AGF: As a compositing supervisor you’ve worked on a lot of superhero films which are fantasy based whereas Ad Astra is far more based on more realism rather than fantasy. Does that make it more difficult as it has to be an accurate representation?
AE: They both pose their own hurdles to get over. I have done a lot of superhero films but I started off with my first movie which was ‘Moneyball’ and that was kind of a mixture of everything a bit like ‘Life Of Pi’ and stuff like that which is a bit different to tackle but something like Ad Astra which you’re trying to make it look real……it’s kind of…… well I did a lot of research, looked at a lot of NASA photographs. I especially looked at photos from the moon and used that to tackle these different things. But the director and the client were looking for something that was tangible and you could feel would exist. It’s not like a big sci-fi fantasy movie and you look at the ships and think. ‘Wow, how would they ever fly?’. This is more like something that’s now.
AGF: The effect in Ad Astra are so impressive. What was the most involved and complicated sequence for you?
AE: Actually the most complicated scene that we worked on and I think this was the same for all compartments was the scene in Neptune. So we did the section where Roy and Cliff leave the Lima station up until Roy travels through the rings. So the rings were difficult hurdle to develop. The ring was about thousands of kilometres wide but only about 180mtrs thick so getting that to look as massive as it is to scale and with other departments we had particles ranging from golf ball size upwards and there were thousands of them. So other departments were working on getting them to look a certain way and then getting the size……if you ask anyone at MPC they’d say Neptune.
AGF: Now Godzilla King of the Monsters had a huge number of effects shots in it. How many effects shot did Ad Astra have ?
AE: Between all the offices at MPC I think there were between 150 -200 because London did some work but they came on a little bit later and they did work beyond us.
AGF: I know some shots are more involved than others but on average how long does it take to complete each of these shots?
AE: That’s a good question. Well I myself personally was on the movie for about a year to complete all the shots and I would say that my local team of compositors comprised of between 15 and 20 people.
AGF: So that Neptune scene you mentioned how long would those shots have taken?
AE: Its weeks usually. It depends because sometimes we have a little back and forth between departments. There’s always the process of giving the client exactly what they want and we take notes from them. But the easy shots, and I don’t think we really had any in this movie, take a few days.
AGF: I understand that you’re a Batman fanatic and you worked on Batman v Superman. So how did you feel about the movie both as a fan and from the work you did on it?
AE: You know I enjoyed the movie, I don’t think its perfect but the Batman v Superman film was one I really enjoyed working on because for example there’s shot in there which I was compositing , I wasn’t supervisor at the time, that is a replica of a comic panel essentially from The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel so I cherish the memories I have of that movie.
AGF: So lastly from a professional Compositing Supervisor point of view what have you seen that stands out?
AE: …oh that’s hard. When I go to movies I try to disconnect myself but it’s always a difficult process to try and disconnect yourself completely from the visual effects. It funny when you work in movies you see fewer movies…..it’s a difficult one . I would say that visually The Lion King had some amazing stuff in it that I would have loved to be able to work on.
AGF: What did you think of Ad Astra
AE: Oh i really liked it. I enjoyed working on it …it was a really great experience. It’s a type of movie you don’t get in the theatres very often and I really appreciated that. It took its time, it was very thoughtful and that was great to see. And Brad Pitt is striking in it, he did a really good job.
AGF: What are you currently working on?
AE: It’s Sonic the Hedgehog!