Recently I spoke with Goran Backman, Pixomondo VFX Supervisor. Goran has worked on shows such as The Mandalorian and other high-profile projects over his career.
How did you get started in the industry?
This began as a hobby for me, one that I had picked up as a young kid. After I posted some of my work online, I got a few job offers and took the one I felt was the most exciting. It was a little bit crazy. I dropped everything in my life and moved to another country within a week. Looking back, I wonder if I fully understood the gravity of what I was doing, but I was just so excited to make a living out of my passion.
What are the skills you would say are needed for your field and do you suggest classroom or on the job learning?
The most important thing is having a love for your art. If you have that, you will always strive to become better, know more, and be more versatile. You also need to be a good team player and see criticism as an opportunity to learn. For the craft itself, specialize in one area to enter the industry but try to expand your knowledge as much as you can. A well-rounded artist has an easier time communicating and understanding others’ needs, and if one can be trusted to take full shots from start to finish it also cuts down on completion time. These days there are so many great options for learning. A structured classroom helps, but graduation is not as important as a good showreel. Of all options, on the job learning will provide the fastest road to becoming a better artist, so I guess this brings us back to first specializing to get employed.
What are some of the notable shots/creatures, settings, etc. you worked on for The Mandalorian.
We created several creatures for this show. The Blurrg and Dewback are the two we are most proud of for the sheer amount of detail we had to create. It was also a technical achievement as we had to provide the on-set crew with animation data to drive the practical setup the actors were riding on. We also created the flying reptavian that attacks our heroes in the dark and the pit droids, to name a few.
Pixomondo created a large set of environments, and one of the more exciting for an old Star Wars fan such as myself was recreating Mos Eisley. It was always important to keep true to the older movies, and this was particularly true for a short sequence showing Mando entering the cantina. Richard Bluff, ILM VFX Supervisor, gave us a layout of exactly what buildings were to go where for us to pull off an exact match of this known environment.
How does the process of designing, submitting, and modification of an effect work in terms of the timeline and approvals?
The first step for us is a sit down together with the clients. We discuss where they are in the design process and look over any artwork. From there, we assess how involved the task is, how close we get to what it is we are creating, how many shots, and how many different angles etc., and discuss a timeline. The full timeline includes approval of milestone deliveries at logical steps in our process, for instance, animation or lighting approvals. This allows us to move to the next step with confidence.
How much work do you do before filming as compared to during and after?
Visual effects work is a post-production process, meaning almost all the work we do starts once shooting has finished. We often send people to oversee a shoot and gather VFX specific elements and photographic references, but the vast bulk of our work is done after filming is finished.
In terms of timing are all the episodes completed before the first one drops or will work still be going on for the later episodes?
Now that more and more streaming services release entire seasons at once, we are more often required to finish up all episodes before anything goes live. Even if that is the case, we still have schedules for each episode, so our final deliveries are staggered. If the episodes are released weekly, we usually work on later episodes while the first ones air.
What are the biggest challenges you face with the VFX in the show?
Our ultimate goal is also our ultimate challenge: having people not realize they are looking at something that is not real. That’s really the biggest challenge on all shows we work on. There are cases where this is harder, and such was the case with the creature work we did on this show. Particularly so with the creatures we get close and personal with, the Blurrg and the Dewback. While it’s a tougher task, it’s also an exciting and rewarding task that we all enjoy at Pixomondo.
If you had carte blanche, what would you love to do in the Star Wars Universe?
The creature work mentioned above is something I always enjoyed when watching these movies as a kid. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to contribute to the Star Wars universe in this way.
What are the biggest differences creating VFX for a movie version television?
Schedule. Creating more content in a more condensed time. ILM’s Richard Bluff, design supervisor Doug Chiang, and animation supervisor Hal Hickel always did a fantastic job giving us a great starting point for our tasks. This was of tremendous help when it came to creating high-quality content on a TV schedule.
What are some of the new technologies you are most excited over?
ILM created something they labeled ‘the volume.’ This is a large set of LED panels in a cylindrical shape that display an environment in real-time. The practical camera is synced with a virtual one, so any camera movement is now also shown on the LED panels. Once seen through the lens, you have a seamless endless environment inside what is, in actuality, a sound stage. I believe this will quickly become a normal tool for filmmakers as the benefits are many, and real-time graphics are gaining ground on offline rendering extremely fast right now.
When you watch a show/movie are you able to just sit back and enjoy it or do you find yourself studying the VFX work that was done?
I think I sometimes struggle when it comes to that, to be honest. But if the writing is good and the VFX well executed, it’s not too hard to switch my work brain off and enjoy the story. It’s also becoming increasingly hard to spot what was done, or added, in post – even for us that do this for a living. It’s always nice when a client asks us what we added, and what is real. If no one can spot our work, it means we did a good job.