Posted May 13

From making films as kid in Ohio to Head of Studio for Technicolor Pre-Production in LA

by Jane Bracher
From making films as kid in Ohio to Head of Studio for Technicolor Pre-Production in LA by Jane Bracher

Katie Hooten was this year named Head of Studio for Technicolor Pre-Production in Los Angeles, a studio opened in 2019 as a resource for filmmakers to get their projects off the ground from concept art to final VFX.

A 20-year industry veteran, Hooten started out in animation as a production coordinator then moved on to production. She worked on various feature films from Marvel, Sony, Legendary, and Disney before joining Technicolor.

In this Q and A, Hooten spoke about, among many things, her vision for the studio, the culture she’d like to cultivate, and her journey from making films on weekends as a kid in Ohio to making major Hollywood pictures in Los Angeles.

What is your ambition for Technicolor Pre-Production?

Ultimately, we want this to be a workshop for creatives. We want to be the first stop for directors possibly even before they pitch their film because we have everything here to help bring visual language to their world exploration. A filmmaker might only have a treatment or outline, a general idea of the story they want to tell or adapt, and we have concept artists and character designers, we have an amazing visualization department where we can ideate action beats and choreography and see it all the way through to VFX. We are incredibly excited to elevate the development experience, expediting the process to greenlight and production. 

What resources are available for filmmakers with an idea or project in mind?

A special skill that our supervisors possess is the ability to ask very perceptive, creative questions up front. Those discussions are exciting and foundational because they start to create the look of the film before we even put anything into a visual medium. We like to start with initial designs and key frames with the art department because that is where you can tell a story with one frame, with one beat. You can really start to nail down tone, environment, color palette, use of light. Following concept work, we move to visualization to explore choreography, action beats, timing. We're currently working with a studio on something that's an animated comedy and there's a lot of exploratory motion tests that we're able to do to play with the physical comedy. It’s incredibly helpful to see these tests as early as possible to inform the entire project.

Do you see projects through to the end as well?

Yes, some projects come back around throughout production, very close to final delivery. Our aim is always to provide a seamless handhold with our VFX studios. We’ve been doing quite a bit of Post-vis lately. That's when we receive plates and we quickly fill in the gaps of CG items that are missing – environments, characters, fx, costume extensions, etc. It not only serves as a guide for VFX, but enhances the director’s experience in editorial to have more visibility of the action and composition. Post-vis has also become an incredibly important element for studio preview screenings. The audience needs to see as much as possible to follow the narrative.

What sort of culture are you looking to build at Technicolor Pre-Production with your role now?

I am so excited about what we’re doing at the Los Angeles studio - we have world-class artists collaborating in a creative space making movie magic. Sometimes I think amidst deadlines and pressure to perform we forget that. What a dream, right? So, we're trying to have a little bit of fun here. We've got community events. We have a rotating monthly council that plans fun social events. We have chats going company-wide where people can share things about their craft, articles they're reading or artwork they think would be inspiring to their co-workers. We have groups that meet outside of work hours and go to events and do activities together. We have ongoing drawing classes for the art department, and Patrick, our Head of Visualization, has started a previs lecture series. At this point in time it’s been a little different, of course. We’ve all been working from home and still making efforts to stay connected. We have twice-weekly studio-wide calls for info sharing, and we fold in social elements to every call. Departments have been putting forward a “Rec of the Week” where each department recommends something on the topic of the week – best streaming show, best game, best WFH snack, favourite book. Building a shorthand with each other and staying connected helps us do better work in the trenches. That’s a very important ingredient to our teamwork.

As a female leader in an industry that's still male-dominated, could you share the biggest or most significant hurdle you had to overcome in your career thus far to get to where you are now?

I have a very specific memory of when I decided I wanted to become a producer. I moved to LA in 1999 from Indiana after acting in and crewing a movie that went to Sundance that year. I was a production assistant on a big studio movie that was shooting in downtown LA. There were 200 people on set and there was a situation where the director decided last minute he wanted a topless woman on a fire escape as “set dressing.” It was the middle of the afternoon, and he literally lined up the female extras to check them out. He designated a woman and was bullying her, trying to convince her to take her top off and get up on a fire escape. To say it was not ok is an understatement. She was terrified and the level of intimidation being used really floored me. I was straight off the truck from the midwest and I was looking around the crowded set for someone who would handle the situation - shut it down. I saw a huddle, it was all men, discussing how they were going to convince the woman to do this. She was holding up time, they were getting frustrated, she was yelled at and embarrassed. They ended up removing her from set. I remember at the time thinking, ‘I want to be in that huddle.’ I'm a very justice-oriented person and that was a key moment in my life where I shifted my career with the goal of getting in the huddle. So, I’ve spent over 20 years trying to figure out how I can lead in a way that is honoring of the people I work alongside - that we have a good experience together and that it's not just about the outcome but the process as well.

What do you think is the biggest hurdle for women to get into leadership roles in visual effects?

I have experienced the visual effects community to be a very warm, creative, progressive community but yes, it’s a male dominated industry. There are several women that are working right now at the highest level that continue to shine and embody what's possible. I think the challenge is extending a hand to the younger generation to show a path of what's available and that will naturally grow a rich community that has more diversity. There has to be mentorship. That's the future. 

What would you consider to be your career highlight thus far?

Looking back, making the decision to move to LA from the mid-west was big. I grew up in Ohio with a super8 camera, making movies on the weekends. I've been a self-categorised movie nerd my whole life. I moved out to LA with lifelong friends and collaborators who still encourage and support me. I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some of my heroes, and to take each opportunity as a step to grow.  Every job is different and gives me a new set of tools for the next challenge. I'm really grateful for the journey.

What's your favourite film?

It’s it's really hard to narrow it down but probably my all-time favorite movie is 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. It’s kind of a perfect movie! It is fun, it's heart-pounding, I love Harrison Ford. But definitely every year new movies come along that sort of shake me up and stay with me and inspire me. –

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