VES Summit: Cinematographers Discuss Their Strong Working Bond With VFX Supervisors (



Cinematographers and VFX artisans are fashioning strong working relationships, according to panelists at a Visual Effects Society (VES) Summit session held this past Saturday (10/28) in Los Angeles. Paul Cameron, ASC, noted, for example, that he’s enjoying a strong collaborative bond with VFX supervisor Gary Brozenich on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, a 2017 release for which the DP has been working on DI over the last couple of weeks. 

Panelist Rich McBride, a VFX supervisor of note, related that he’s valued his coming together with cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki on Gravity and The Revenant--both earning Best Cinematography Oscars for the DP. However, the circumstances of those collaborations were quite different as Gravity entailed extensive pre-planning, every frame worked out with Lubezki in advance. By contrast, The Revenant--for which McBride earned a Best Visual Effects Oscar nomination--was less planned as director Alejandro G. Inarritu wanted the actors and crew to more extemporaneously experience first-hand the great outdoors, including the extreme cold and harsh conditions that were integral to the story.

Panelist Larry Fong, ASC, known for assorted projects including his lensing of features for director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), noted that his modus operandi generally is to work “every day” with the visual effects supervisor. “I try to befriend all the visual effects guys as much as possible,” said Fong, acknowledging their importance in helping to realize the look of a film as envisioned by the director and DP. Fong added that on movies he probably spends more time with VFX talent than with the director.

Panelist Wally Pfister, ASC, an Oscar-winning cinematographer for Inception, has since made a successful transition to directing in features (the 2014 release Transcendence), TV (episodes of Flaked and The Tick) and assorted commercials. His directorial roost for spots and branded content is production house RESET. On the spotmaking front, Pfister noted that he has formed a strong bond with visual effects house The Mill, particularly with VFX supervisor Gavin Wellsman who’s in that company’s New York studio. Pfister said of Wellsman, “He’s key to my process...integral from pre-pro through the end.” Pfister said that he brings Wellsman in as early as the bidding process, coming up with methodologies and technologies best suited for specific projects. 

The VES Summit panel discussion featured Cameron, Fong, McBride and Pfister, with Naida Albright, owner-producer of Conshimfee Productions Inc., serving as moderator.

Virtual reality was also a topic tackled by the panel. Pfister and Cameron think meaningful strides in VR will have to be made by content creators. Cameron conjectured that leaders in content are needed to drive VR, coming up with a project or two which will spark others to say, “You’ve got to see this.. Now they’ve nailed it.” 

Pfister concurred, observing that the prime responsibility on the commercials/branded content front lies with the agency creatives to come up with content that will best mine VR’s potential.

Cameron added that the ASC has cast a watchful eye on prospects for virtual reality and is starting to offer to its members some master classes focusing on VR.

Pfister and Cameron also see drones as a filmmaking tool of promise. Cameron shared that a special drone was built for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, yielding good results. Pfister chimed in that high caliber pilots such as copter operator Craig Hosking are starting to get involved in drones, which bodes well for the technology as a viable filmmaking tool.