Posted Mar 17

The benefit of putting VFX at the start of production

by Jane Bracher
The benefit of putting VFX at the start of production by Jane Bracher

Visual effects have often been perceived as additions to a largely finished product, an undertaking occurring at the end of the entire production process for a film or show. This even after VFX feats such as The Lion King. But MPC Episodic is seeking to change that and champion collaboration with filmmakers at the very start of the process.

MPC Episodic’s Head of Creative Gurel Mehmet talks about the value of this early collaboration and how technology has fostered it. He also discusses the current episodic landscape with streaming platforms and how it can benefit storytellers and even out the playing field.

Read part 2 of our Q&A with him below. Read part 1 here.

What excites you about the current episodic landscape for visual effects and what it can become in the future?

I’m excited about the range of content in the mainstream arena and all these competing platforms vying to attract talent. It's created an abundance of opportunities, be it films being picked up and green-lit that otherwise might not have been made, or detailed character-driven stories finding a place again in the market and the culture at large.

I love cinema but if the mainstay of our popular culture has primarily become tentpole productions then it drowns out other important voices on an uneven playing field. We end up watching a homogenised feedback loop masquerading as a story because most studios are playing a risk-averse game. As I see it, the streaming platforms are giving established filmmakers back that mid-tier category, which has been stripped back over the past decade or so, but it's also this burgeoning arena where new storytellers can take risks.

For observers of our industry, it's bewildering and counterintuitive because these multi-seasoned shows have created an insatiable appetite amongst viewers. When one could easily be led to believe that social media had diminished our collective attention spans, which isn't the case at all. I think there’s a direct correlation between the dominance of the tentpole blockbusters and the popularity of the 10-hour arcs of character-driven stories we are seeing in our homes. If you need further proof of a growing appetite, look at the uptake of long-form conversations in the world of podcasting.

What is your favourite part of the whole creative pipeline or process of creating episodic visual effects, and why?

I love the early stages where we get to experiment and work closely with the clients. Not that long ago, your outcome was the net result of your experience with an application and then waiting for a render to see if your calculations were on point. And now we are going through what feels like an inflection point in the creative community where you can conjure up anything you want. With some planning at the front end of the process, we can have shots play out in real time, which is great for our team to be able to collectively see what we are striving towards, and for the client so they can make a more interactive contribution to the worlds and stories they are creating. We've got 4K recorders in our pockets and entire post-production studios in our bags. With advancements in GPU-accelerated design and rendering, the democratisation of the creative process by good actors like Epic Games and the Blender community, it’s akin to playing in a highly detailed sandbox.

There's a memorable moment in the documentary Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now. And Coppola, in talking about his hopes for the future of cinema, reflects that because of the proliferation of technology 'one day some little fat girl from Ohio is going to be the new Mozart and make a beautiful film with her father’s camera'. I always think of that sentiment when there is a confluence between emerging technology and opportunity.

What qualities do you look for in the people you work with?

I suppose the kind of people you wouldn't mind having over for dinner since we spend so much time working together. We are hopefully laying down the groundwork for a culture where artists can continue to strive for excellence in their specialised areas but one that also welcomes the idea of branching out and not being compartmentalised by the very thing that they are good at. Hence, our emphasis on being a generalist division with great teamwork.

What are some of your favourite episodic shows at the moment?

The shows that come to mind most recently have been Ozark, Succession and Devs. All brilliantly written and directed and as good as anything I’ve ever seen. –

Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.