Founded almost 20 years ago, MR. X has undergone several phases and transformations throughout its history. Dennis Berardi, the studio’s founder, returns now as Global Managing Director and promises to change the concept of the VFX industry through MR. X.
The Focus spoke to Dennis to learn more about his career and his plans for the studio as Global MD. This is Part 1 of our chat with him.
You can read Part 2 here.
The Focus: Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background?
Dennis: I started to work in technical support, training artists how to use computers. I got into the movie industry also through the technical area where I was using early CRT-based film recorders at the National Film Board and IMAX to do early digital output of images onto film. And I just fell in love with the merging of creativity and technology — this was really the spark for me.
I worked for a few companies in the early digital optical days, mainly doing compositing. Then, I ended up at a company called Toy Box in Toronto where I emerged slowly as the VFX Supervisor. We did some great David Fincher movies there, including Fight Club and The Game. This moment was really important for me because I started to see how effects and storytelling were going to be relying more and more on digital tools. After this experience, the idea for MR. X became bigger and my desire was to build a studio that was employing the latest technology but partnering with filmmakers to tell their stories.
TF: Where did the name “MR. X” come from?
Dennis: The name was a bit of a lark. I created the Project X, a kind of a secret project where I was doing meetings quietly and trying to raise financing. It evolved and the concept turned into MR. X. I liked the idea of seamless integration into movies, like something that is integrated and essentially invisible or in the shadows. The more I kept developing the idea, the more I liked it.
TF: Given what the studio has achieved so far, what are the challenges you can see in today’s era of VFX and how do you plan to address them as Global Managing Director?
In the point of view of series episodic storytelling, it is the golden era. The streaming services are very hungry for content and the appetite in the marketplace is huge: people watch eight or 10 episodes in a weekend and then they are out of content. We’ve seen a huge emergence of series episodic (shows), which is exciting. The challenge is that we’ve also effectively seen budgets erode in terms of pricing as well as timelines erode in terms of the amount of time that we have to do our work. We used to have 15 or 20 weeks to deliver an episode of a feature film or a series episodic show. Now, we have six to 10 weeks. At the same time, to add to the complexity of this problem, the quality and the visual craft is much higher. Conclusion: we have shrinking deadlines, tighter budgets and a higher standard than we’ve ever seen in the history of cinema. In my opinion, that is the challenge.
At MR. X, we’re gravitating more towards the higher end of the market and we’re focusing really on creatures and big environments. In those types of projects, you tend to have a big value-added component as well as to have a little bit more time to develop the idea. Secondly, those projects are usually better budgeted and allows us to employ the best artists in the world and resource the shows properly. Thirdly, we feel like we really want to play to our strengths as we’re part of a global organization. We’ve got amazing technology available to us and we intend to employ more of it and innovate on top of that technology so we can become more efficient in turnaround versions of shots more quickly. When you do more versions of a shot per week, the quality goes up and the director and the producers have more opportunity to comment and see the work. Innovation and improvements in efficiency are a hugely important thing for us. And then lastly, we are a global organization between Toronto, Montreal and Bangalore. We’re developing expert-level knowledge and a large capacity to accommodate work. Being a little bit bigger has helped us with the challenges of the typical production, so our scale is helping us as well.
TF: You’re also a VFX Supervisor, and your most recent work was on Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark and Shazam! Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
I’m a VFX Supervisor first. I enjoy running the business in the context of making movies and not the other way around. My passion project right now is Monster Hunter, which is a film that I’m also one of the producers and the Visual Effects Supervisor on. It’s a monster movie based on a very popular Capcom video game named Monster Hunter: World and I’m very excited about that because it’s the highest-level creature animation and photorealistic rendering that we’ve ever done. It’s over 1,400 shots and we’re really designing the movie from start to the end.
TF: Do you have any advice for people who are starting their career in the VFX industry?
Study great works and look at the great directors, visual effects supervisors and production designers. Look at what Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan do with their visuals and understand how you can employ the visual art in service of a story. I think an artist would be served well if they could look more at the masters of cinema to understand basic things like composition, camera placement, and lighting design, which have become fundamental norms in visual storytelling. So, my advice would be: study the masters and learn as much as you can. Also, get to know the important software. — thefocus.com
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.