We are pleased to share an interview with Pierre-Simon Lebrun-Chaput, a VFX supervisor at Oblique FX. Pierre-Simon grew up on the south shore of Montreal and moved to the city at 19 to study at Centre NAD to become a CG artist. He joined Oblique FX, where they work on VFX for feature film and television.
We met with Pierre-Simon at the beautiful boutique studio of Oblique FX in downtown Montreal.
Hello Pierre-Simon. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us a bit about Oblique FX?
Oblique FX has worked on VFX for feature films, including On The Road, Source Code and Brokeback Mountain. We also deliver effects for documentary films and TV series, such as SyFy’s Being Human, for which we’ve been nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards, and Bomb Girls.
The philosophy of running this place is very humane. Oblique is a unique facility in that it feels like a home away from home for me. The people who work here are so devoted to creating the best visual effects we can. This means that we spend long hours here, working as a team, and that team has come to feel like family.
What do you do as VFX supervisor at Oblique?
My involvement in a project begins with the bid. I look at the script or a VFX breakdown, then evaluate costs and pitch ideas. Most of the time we work with a fixed budget, and finding creative ways to make the shots fit into that budget is a key step to winning the project. I plan how we will prepare, shoot and then build the shots to satisfy the vision of the director. The relationship with the director is essential to the process. I like to tune in to their vision and taste so I can understand how they want us to develop the shots. When you know a director well enough to predict what they like or dislike most of the time, you’re liable to make better use of the time you have to push the shots further.
The process really picks up with the shoot, but good prep before the shoot can make a huge difference. We do storyboards, previz and concepts whenever we can. Having visual references makes it is easier for everybody (actors, director, DP) because it saves time on set and provides us with better material to work with in post.
I don’t always go on set for a long stretch. I usually manage a few projects at once for Oblique and this makes it difficult to leave the studio for a few weeks for a shoot. Instead, I prefer to work with the crew at the studio and let a set supervisor take care of what we planned for the shoot together with the production team. When the shoot is over, and usually while the edit is being built, we start making temps and animatics of the shots. I research, sketch and establish looks. This is a step I love, where I really get to shape and design shots.
As the project progresses and we are more and more into actual shot production, the rhythm of my days becomes different. A typical day starts by going over the dailies with the crew in the morning, followed by meetings and follow-up of shots. Then, in the afternoon, my time is taken up with artistic direction, problem-solving on specific shots and overall supervision. This involves a lot of meetings, talking and flipping shots at my desk. We work hard to create the best images we can until the end, which often requires long hours and time away from home. It’s worth it though.
What tools do you use in your daily workflow?
As a supervisor, I know I always need to continue to work with the tools and never stop learning new techniques. I have to be able to share the same language with the artists on my team, to convey ideas and find ways to make better shots with the time we have. For design, creation and production we use mainly Photoshop, Nuke and Softimage. We have also created proprietary software in-house to manage files, edits and rendering. Supervision also requires tools for bidding and project management, such as Filemaker and Shotgun.
Can you describe in detail your favourite asset created at Oblique and how you created it?
Though we have worked on many cool assets over the years, there is one that stands out for me. While we were working on Source Code we had to fill an Econoline van with explosives. The production team felt the bomb they had built on set was not scary enough. It was supposed to be able to blow up the entire city of Chicago, but only a small box, about the size of a milk crate, was shot. I designed a larger bomb that had a homemade feel, complicated and threatening. We packed the van with shelves, from floor to ceiling, and filled them with thousands of parts. There were bottles filled with explosive liquids, pipes and C4 bricks, and everything was wired together with hundreds of wires hand-placed one by one. The asset was heavy, with over 20 million polygons, and we had to render it in different angle for about 20-30 shots. It was a big challenge but the final result was authentic and really cool.
What other assets have you helped create at Oblique?
I have been in this business, as an artist and a supervisor, for twelve years. Recently I began my hundredth project. I’ve helped create effects involving a galley battle for Ben-Hur, ships lost in storms, cityscapes from Jerusalem to 1940 New York, werewolves, jet planes, CG stunt doubles, desert alien planets, steamships and horses. The list is long and I could talk about any of these with passion as each one required many weeks of work. We spend so much time working on some of these assets, it often feels like we’re in a love/hate relationship with them!