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Credit: Universal

A VFX producer on Glass and A Quiet Place reveals the secrets of their craft

Contributed by
Oct 31, 2018

When M. Night Shyamalan’s Split hit theaters in 2016, audiences were shocked to learn of its link with Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero epic Unbreakable and a promised third film. The final entry in the trilogy, Glass, will bring Shyamalan's heroes and villains together when it premieres in theaters in January 2019.

Ahead of Glass' premiere, SYFY WIRE spoke with the film's VFX producer Katherine Soares to learn what it takes to work on a film of this magnitude. A lot of it, it seems, comes down to experience. The list of films in Soares' repertoire is too long to list, but her talents can be seen in the recent smash horror hit A Quiet Place (2018), Netflix's Maniac (2018), mother! (2017), Swiss Army Man (2016), and Black Swan (2010) — just to name a few.

In this interview, we discuss Soares' early beginnings and her favorite VFX moments, as well as the role of a VFX producer.

What immediately comes to mind when you think about your favorite VFX moment in either film or television?

There is a scene in Big Fish where Ewan McGregor sees Alison Lohman in the circus. Time stands still and he walks... towards her. He pushes past some popcorn frozen in mid-air. That's the moment I decided to go to film school.

I was 15. The movie ended and I told the kid I was with that was what I was going to do with my life.

Those are my favorite visual effects, the subtle moments that aren't superheroes and giant explosions and aliens. Those are absolutely fun, too, but it's the moments that don't feel like visual effects that I like the most.

Every artist has their own unique story about how they got started in their line of work, so how did you get started?

My first real industry job after college was in visual effects. I knew from early on that I wanted to work in post-production, and as these things usually go, a friend of a friend knew someone who was looking for a VFX coordinator. I interviewed for the job at a very small shop — at our biggest, there were 8 of us — and the owner/producer basically told me that I seemed more artistic than the coordinator job would allow for and asked if I'd like to do a trial run as a roto artist instead.

I was just happy to be working on a real movie and would have taken any job they offered. I started out in roto; two weeks later I was also compositing and tracking my own shots. I spent the next eight months there on that project, The Book of Eli, and then moved out to New York and worked about four more years as an artist before transitioning into a coordinator role.

I've been producing for the last two or three years, and while I do miss the day-to-day artistic moments that come with being a VFX artist, seeing a project through from start to finish, script to screen as a producer is what I always wanted.

Did you get to work on any of those terrifying monsters in A Quiet Place?

I'm actually terrified of everything — I legitimately need to sleep with some sort of light on — so working on A Quiet Place definitely scared me going in.

[Industrial Light and Magic] did all of the creature work, and it's absolutely beautifully done. I was the VFX producer at a smaller shop doing some auxiliary work on the show, but we interfaced with ILM directly and worked on sequences that included the aliens. We did a few shots where something (no spoilers) is on the roof and we're adding those quick shadows and dust through the rafters, building tension in the in-between moments.

I was also fortunate to actually be working just down the hall from John Krasinski and his editorial staff, so we were able to discuss collaboratively with the team, which was fantastic. It was a really fun project overall and is one of those things that even though I was so scared to sit down and watch, it was ultimately an absolutely thrilling experience!

Is it in any way difficult to work on films that you are interested in watching later once they are completed?

It's really difficult. Something like Glass, as an example, is a followup 19 years in the making. I read the script last fall, and as exciting as it is to know what's going to happen, to read that story before most, you're losing a little bit of the movie magic by being one of the magicians. At the same time, a movie like mother! I would have seen anyway because I'm a big Darren Aronofsky fan, but I feel like after spending a year with that movie and being in the room with Darren for creative conversations, I have such a different respect for it. It's so subjective, but I have all this insider info that makes my personal relationship with the story so different than anyone else.

Speaking of Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and Black Swan, was there something that interested you in these projects from a VFX (or personal, if you are comfortable sharing that) point of view?

mother! was tough because while I spent a full year working on it, I was pregnant for half that time. There were moments in that movie that are hard to watch even if you're not expecting or already a parent, and even though I knew they were VFX I couldn't watch a few shots in our reviews. We would turn over work to vendors and start the conversation with "This might be tough to watch for some employees." I think that's the power of movies, though. We all know it's not real because we're literally creating it, sometimes from nothing, and yet it's hard to watch, hard to talk about, hard not to feel vulnerable.

In a totally unrelated way, though, mother! felt like a real achievement for me. Black Swan was my first film in New York, I did a bit of roto, a small amount of compositing, but it was a short two-week project for me right at the end. mother! was the first feature I did where I went in as the VFX producer from start to finish. I had produced before but had moved up from the coordinator role as people left projects or things shifted. I hadn't met Darren on Black Swan, but on mother! we were in the room with him every day having creative discussions. It was one of those moments where you realize you're doing exactly what you want to be doing, where you want to be doing it. It doesn't get much better.


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