We caught up with VFX Supervisor and our Bristol studio co-founder Grant Hewlett, to discuss his long and varied career, his passion for art and design and where he sees the industry heading.
What has your career journey been like?
I left school at 16 and did an engineering apprenticeship then I went to South-Bank University at 25 and studied product design where I discovered CGI. At that time my brother was a very successful pop video producer in Soho so I was a runner for him on various high end pop-promos like Guns & Roses & George Michael; I got to know the post-industry at that time working at Rushes, VTR. I had the opportunity to sit in Flame and Inferno sessions and meet George Michael’s dog!
After graduating I worked with the Axis Studios founders Stu, Dana, Graham and Richard in the late 90s, doing awesome Lightwave 3D! I then went back to London to do commercials then into film as a freelancer, and met Nick Drew around that time (our current Executive Producer for VFX).
I started my own company in 2007 and ran that for a few years. We did Misfits Season 2 and a few other TV shows as a small team. It was fun being more involved with filmmakers, so that set the stage for what I did afterwards. I then worked with Aardman Animations and met Howard, he’d had similar experiences and he’d worked in a different side of visual effects so we had complimentary skills. I knew the guys from Axis Studios so in 2013 we decided to team up, take our bespoke approach to visual effects and bring that and Axis Studios together, which we’ve done successfully for seven years.
What makes a project fun for you?
If it’s something I’ve not worked on before, something that’s a challenge. I like the early conceptual stages and coming up with ideas. As a supervisor I enjoy the pattern of work from on-set supervision, early stage design, working with other HOD’s on film and TV projects through to implementation in the studio; supervising shots through to completion with our talented team of digital artists; but mostly design!
What was it about the visual effects that attracted you to that side of the industry?
That came from being interested in product design and more broadly craft and design, the possibilities of CGI were massive, you realise you can do anything in a virtual world, that's the ultimate fascination for me. The reality of modeling something in 3D studio version 1 was a bit harder!
What are the biggest challenges of making CGI worlds?
Technology limits everything so the processes involved when untangling how to make VFX shots can be quite limiting. Compared to a painting, where your brain can synthesise this beautiful image immediately (as long as you’re skilled enough), CGI takes many more processes, people, computer made structures and time; its very much less spontaneous and requires lots of vision, tenacity and patience.
Where do you see the industry going?
Virtual production is an area we’re expanding into as a company. It’s become more advanced and accessible than ever before but it’s a hard one to define - using a game engine for previs or to project images live, hooking up a virtual camera to a CG camera - there are lots of different aspects and possibilities, but bringing all of that together in a nice, easy to deploy way for smaller productions is something that we are exploring.
Engines like Unreal and Unity that are going head to head when it comes to advancing virtual production, with some amazing newly-applied technology in productions like Game of Thrones, The Lion King and Avatar 2. AI and its ability to look at those more technical problems and synthesise a useful solution without involving any people is also an avenue that could prove interesting in the future.