VFX Interview 001: Yves McCrae: Senior Roto Paint Artist

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Digital Domain

How did you first learn about VFX (Visual Effects)?

The first time was probably watching a DVD bonus feature from the original Star Wars trilogy.

What led you to pursue work in VFX?

The regular university thing didn’t work for me, since I wasn’t motivated unless the subject interested me. I studied 3D animation here in Vancouver but my first job in the industry was working as a Production Assistant at Hydraulx. They were really kind to me and said I could learn from the artists and later work on shots once they got a new project. I saw the entry path for 2D and found it more appealing than 3D.

Is that where you became a roto paint artist?

I actually learned how to roto using Silhouette FX at my next job, which was at Gener8. My work involved doing quality checks of the mattes created by other artists for stereo conversion and attending weekly meetings. Later I became a Rotoscope Pod Lead, overseeing and supporting a group of 5 artists.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Gener8

Which projects did you work on while you were there?

Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Maleficent, Godzilla, Escape Plan, and Into the Storm.

You also worked on the first season of the Amazon series: Man in the High Castle. What was that experience like?

It was great. A friend of mine was working on that show, and they wanted to have some onset VFX work done before sending the bulk of it off to other vendors. So they set up some work stations there for us to do roto and comp right after filming. I was the only rotopaint artist; the rest were compositors.

What has been your favourite studio to work at so far?

Digital Domain. They gave me shots I was comfortable doing and the chance to prove myself. My leads were very supportive and helped me when I had questions. I enjoyed answering the questions of newer artists as my skills improved.

What software did you use for rotopaint while at Digital Domain?

I used Nuke for roto and paint. They have mocha Pro for tracking too.

Digital Domain had quite a few VFX shots for The Fate of the Furious and Spider-Man: Homecoming. How did you handle the workload?

At crunch time, we had a team of about 40-50 artists for rotopaint sharing the shots. We all worked really hard.

How do you explain your job to your family and friends?

That’s a good question. I usually just tell them I make things disappear or I paint out wires. There was a shot in the trailer for The Fate of the Furious that I worked on where a submarine bursts out from under ice and launches cars into the air. The cars were practical, supported by wires, and the tires needed to be changed. Specific examples like that are helpful for explaining the kind of work I do.

The Fate of the Furious – Digital Domain

Did you ever work on a shot that seemed impossible? How did you deal with it?

There was a wire paintout shot on The Fate of the Furious that was really challenging. I kept trying different techniques thinking I could finish it by the end of the week. But it took me about a month before it was approved. I asked for advice and just kept at it to find what worked to get it done.

What do you like most about your job?

Being part of the creative process, part of the army needed to tell a story is the most rewarding aspect for me.

Is there a film or series you would like to work on in the future?

I’d love to work at ILM on part of the Star Wars film series. I really enjoyed The Force Awakens.

How do you think the VFX industry has changed since you started working in it 5 years ago?

There is a lot more work now, with so many franchises and adaptations of comic books, etc. Film studios often try to appeal to everyone by creating spectacle, but that doesn’t always result in a good movie. It’s rare but really nice when VFX are used to tell a good story.

Yves McCrae

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the VFX industry?

Learn as much as you can. Don’t be difficult to work with. And find the right balance in asking for help. You don’t want to ask questions too often or too little. You can even ask someone at the beginning: how often can I ask you for help? If they say, “anytime,” and you can see you’re not bothering them, take the opportunity to learn from them. Learn how to read people.

Thank you for your time, Yves.

You’re welcome.

Portrait Photo and Interview by Andrew Zeller. July 16, 2017.

Connect with Yves McCrae on Linkedin.

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