Interview with Brian Dickett, Special Effects Supervisor

ED– The Eerie Digest is excited to introduce to our readers Brian Dickett, the Special Effects Supervisor for PlasterCITY Digital Post Production. Brian, your work makes films really “happen”. Special effects are what movies are made of today and you are a leader in that field. Please tell our readers about your business and the impact it has on the Movie Industry as a whole.

BD– These days, there isn’t much content being developed without a plan for some sort of digital manipulation in post.  It’s not just the obvious dinosaur running through a scene anymore; it’s set extensions, performance capture, crowd replication, screen replacements, cleanup.  The list goes on and on.  Almost anything you can imagine doing to pixels on a screen has at least been tried somewhere.  It’s an exciting, evolving, and extremely complicated field and it’s in constant flux.  You’re always a student when you work in visual effects, and films have become bigger and more realistic because of it.

ED– Tell us a little bit about the company that you are with, PlasterCITY Digital Post Production.

BD– PlasterCITY has really positioned itself to be the preeminent stop for all forms of digital post-production in Los Angeles.  There are suites for editing, surround sound mixing, advanced 2 and 4k color grading, and visual effects.  I was brought on by Scot Barbour to fill the visual effects side of the equation.  Before PlasterCITY, Scot’s post-production experience landed him a job at Apple as a liaison to the film industry, and he has also worked extensively with stereoscopic imagery.  PlasterCITY has been moving into 3D in a big way.  The main grading theater is equipped with a RealD 3D projection system, and there’s even a 3D editing suite available.

ED– Brian, you worked on pilots such as ‘Ghost Writer’, a pilot for a TV series that we recently interviewed. What goes in to making such a film so realistic?

BD– That was an interesting project and I enjoyed meeting all the talented people that helped pull it together.  My initial role was to come in as Visual Effects Supervisor to help with some of the supernatural ghost effects, but like everyone on a small production, I ultimately had to wear more hats than one.  I worked to develop a climactic fight scene and we had to re-engineer the entire sequence on the spot to avoid a company move.  Once I made a few suggestions, I had to own them, and the next thing I knew, I was Second Unit Director.  We had about 20-25 setups to do in one day and thanks to the excellent work of storyboard artist Glen Thomas, and DP Dan Ainsworth, I was able to keep things moving at a rapid pace.  It was a white-knuckle moment, but we finished on time.

The realism you ask about is as attributable to the team as anything I have to offer.  It starts with a solid story – I can’t stress that enough.  I’ve seen so many projects with such beautiful imagery, just gutted with a lifeless story.  After that, you need solid actors that can just melt the screen away.  You need to really feel the characters they are meant to portray and they need to understand them down to the soul.  Next, you need to stay on time and on budget.  That requires a lot of planning and is extremely difficult to master.  The less experience you have, the more time you need to spend in pre-production.  The work I do in post-production is important, but it can never save a lousy shoot.  The “fix it in post” mantra is sign of weak of planning and execution if used excessively and unnecessarily.  I avoid jobs that need fixing, in favor of jobs that need enhancing – there’s a huge difference.  It’s a delicate recipe: all these ingredients, and an excellent team, are crucial for making a product that’s “real.”

ED– As you know, our readers love the Paranormal, Supernatural, and Mysteries in general. What recent work in that genre have you done that would peak their interest?

BD– In the beginning of 2009, I was the lead digital artist on a remake of the 1988 horror movie “Night of the Demons” which was directed by Adam Gierasch.  I’ve worked on horror movies before and they’re always a lot of fun from a visual effects point of view.  The conversations you get into are very unique, for example: just how much does a human arm bleed when you cut it off?!  Definitely check out “Night of the Demons” when it’s released in February.

I was also the VFX Supervisor on my first kid’s movie in 2009, which had a supernatural theme to it.  It was an original film titled “Monster Mutt” directed by Todd Tucker.  Todd is the co-owner of Drac Studios; a special effects studio that has many Oscar nominations and two wins with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”  This was his directorial debut and he knocked it out of the park.  A long-time colleague, Joe DeRobbio from Creative Motion, brought the work to me at PlasterCITY.

ED– Are their future projects on the horizon that we should be looking out for?

BD– My main focus for 2010 is to build the visual effects department at PlasterCITY, as well as the usual workload of commercials, music videos, independent films, etc.  I’m finishing some motion graphics for Scot Barbour’s feature-length documentary: “Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story” which just got a distribution deal.  I’m also working out a plan with several colleagues to do my own project for once!  It’s going to be a short film, and I’m likely to use it as a showpiece for the work we do at PlasterCITY.

ED– Our readers include many young writers in a College Student Writer’s Program that we developed, tell us how your work enhances them with inspiration?

BD– Wow, that’s a bold statement!  I think the best answer is that visual effects have helped to free a writer’s imagination as they write for the screen.  The process is becoming much more affordable by the day and the strength of computers continues to grow.  Young people today have more power in their iPhones than ILM had to render the water tentacle in “The Abyss.”  That was only 21 years ago – in my lifetime – and I still think I’m kinda young!

Another piece I like to reference is the “John Adams” miniseries that was on HBO in 1998.  There were so many visual effects in that series, but you don’t notice any of them.  As far as the viewer can tell, they just built old towns and that’s not really accurate.  So much of the work was digital and the artists used real maps from the late 1700s to recreate the towns exactly as they were laid out.  You just couldn’t get the budget to build that for real.  Modern day visual effects are remarkable and we can really say that anything written can be done, and we would be right to think so.  It’s an interesting time to be a writer and I admire them greatly.  My job wouldn’t exist without them.

ED-Brian, thank you for letting us look into this exciting and expanding field that has developed over Movie Making history. It is definitely one that would define the industry as a whole. We hope that you will continue to share your expertise with us and keep us in mind for any future developments on your part. We love to keep our readers informed of Breaking News in our Eerie News column with this magazine. We wish you success in all that you do.

BD– Thanks a lot and best wishes to everyone in 2010.

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