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April 01
2017

ISSUE

Spring 2017

A BUSY HUB FOR VFX, VES AND THE FILM COMMUNITY

VES Toronto’s popular Speaker Series: Legend VR, Will Maurer, VP of VR & VFX, and Ryan Cummins, VR & VFX Supervisor.

VES Toronto’s popular Speaker Series: Legend VR, Will Maurer, VP of VR & VFX, and Ryan Cummins, VR & VFX Supervisor.

By RENEE DUNLOP

The growth of the now 20-year-old Visual Effects Society worldwide is inexorably linked to the growth of its Sections. VES now boasts 11 global Sections and counting.

One of its standout Sections is Toronto. That seems only fitting since the city is a major screen-based hub with more than 40 years of international experience in film and television production, and post production. It also continues to be a mushrooming VFX mecca.

The Toronto Section of the VES began when local VFX producers Christa Tazzeo Morson and Lara Osland took the heady initiative to start the ball rolling, officially launching in the spring of 2013. Movie screenings were offered almost immediately, along with a handful of networking opportunities to create VFX community.

The first Section Chair was Kim Davidson, President and CEO of SideFX, a company he co-founded in 1987. SideFX is the innovator of advanced 3D animation and special effects Houdini software, and sponsors many VES Toronto events, along with the VES Summit in Los Angeles every Autumn.

“I feel I’m in a unique position for VES and VES Toronto as I have both a supplier and a global perspective,” says Davidson, who is also a board member of SIRT (Screen Industries Research and Training Centre) in Toronto and holds two AMPAS Sci-Tech awards, led the Toronto Section for the first two terms, followed by the current chair, Christa Tazzeo Morson.

The Toronto Section grew through what Davidson refers to as “soft recruiting: handouts at pubs events, just the general awareness that the VES has a Section in Toronto. Social events and our Speaker Series seemed to strike a chord with members,” he says.

In 2014 the Section brought Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Jim Rygiel in from LA for a panel discussion. With credits on Godzilla and Lord of the Rings, Rygiel was a huge draw. “We developed quality programming and events that speak to the membership and that the local stakeholders support. Since then we’ve hosted a number of pedigreed talent – the legendary Phil Tippett, VES, VFX Supervisor Stephane Ceretti, who worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, Special Effects Designer Shane Mahan, and most recently Michael Kaschalk, Head of Effects at Disney Animation.

“We all learn from the technical achievements in our field, and there will be more to come,” says Davidson about importing more top-draw talent in the future to speak to the membership.

Davidson has since passed the baton to Christa Tazzeo Morson, but maintains a seat as a Section board member along with eight others. He is also a member of the VES global Board of Directors.

Christa Tazzeo Morson, veteran VFX producer and current VP Sales of Post Production at Deluxe Toronto, took over the position of Chair in 2016. Tazzeo Morson’s credits include the upcoming Flatliners remake from Sony, A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix), Suicide Squad (Warner Bros./DC), the 2015 Academy Award® Best Picture winner Spotlight, and the Emmy award-winning Game of Thrones (HBO).

Kim Davidson, SideFX, and Neishaw Ali, SpinVFX, at VES Toronto party

Kim Davidson, SideFX, and Neishaw Ali, SpinVFX, at VES Toronto party

 

Fianna Wong, Kim Davidson, Ainsley Johnston, SideFX, at VES Toronto Party

Fianna Wong, Kim Davidson, Ainsley Johnston, SideFX, at VES Toronto Party

Today, Toronto Section membership numbers around 100. “We’d like to see that grow,” says Tazzeo Morson. “That is one of our mandates over the next year or so, to grow the membership and community.” In such a demanding industry that can be a challenge.

“People want to be part of a community, and our industry is so busy, that’s a good thing. So it becomes a combination of trying to provide the right educational and networking activities in the time frame that works for our membership,” she continues.

“I remember sitting down the first year and saying, ‘Let’s just get some screenings going,’” says Tazzeo Morson. The Section is now running one or two screenings a month. “It’s the sponsors that make it all possible.”

Tazzeo Morson and the Section managers have continued to build on the momentum gained from the Speaker Series by conducting specific training and education workshops, such as a planned lighting workshop with David Stump, ASC, a cinematographer who recently did work on American Gods. The Section also added an Intimate and Interactive series last year, a roundtable event involving roughly 20-25 members, where guests sit with the speaker in person or through video conferencing.

Says Tazzeo Morson, “We were lucky enough to have Ben Gervais, Technical Supervisor, and Demetri Portelli, Stereographer/3D Supervisor from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk at our last event, discussing the technical achievements of shooting and projecting at 120fps in 3D Stereo at 4K. We’ve had Nancy St. John, former Vice Chair of the VES, who talked about women in VFX, sharing her career path with some of the younger females of the industry, where they can go and where opportunities lie, and Doug Roble, Creative Director, Software at Digital Domain discussing digital humans. These segments are open discussion and quite valuable to have that one-to-one question and answer period with people of that caliber.”

Jim Rygiel and Kim Davidson at SideFX offices

Jim Rygiel and Kim Davidson at SideFX offices

 

Christa Tazzeo Morson, Lara Osland and Kim Davidson, VES Toronto Section Inaugural Board, at VES Toronto party

Christa Tazzeo Morson, Lara Osland and Kim Davidson, VES Toronto Section Inaugural Board, at VES Toronto party

Toronto has many companies and schools that stand to benefit from the local VES Section. There are a number of stereo conversion shops, such as Stereo D which contributed to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Legend 3D did the stereo work on Ghostbusters and The Shallows. Shops like Soho, SpinVFX, Rocket Science, and Mr. X get the pre-production, production and post-production on many big features and high concept television series. The city of Toronto often works on jobs in tandem with vendors around the world, while the location often doubles as New York. Pinewood Toronto Studio has the largest purpose-built soundstage in North America. Added to this impressive list of filmic activity is the fact that there are a lot of shooting days in Toronto.

Some of the notable shows that can credit Toronto locations and visual effects and animation talent are The Revenant, Suicide Squad, Game of Thrones, Hannibal, Ben-Hur, American Gods, Pacific Rim, Rio 2 and The Nut Job.

“We span indies to tent pole features and high concept television in animation and visual effects,” says Tazzeo Morson. “Credits that hold a lot of merit.”

The city and its VES members enjoy their fair share of awards, too. “We are extremely proud that there are three shows from Toronto that picked up VES nominations this year, Vikings, Penny Dreadful and The Expanse. We compete on a global stage and have been recognized at awards shows around the world.”

The Expanse combined the work of eight different Toronto companies under the VFX supervision of Bob Munroe. One of those companies was Rocket Science VFX, whose Owner/Operator/VFX Supervisor, Tom Turnbull, was nominated for a 15th annual VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode, acknowledging his work on the episode Salvage.

“Our job on that show was largely working on some of the main spaceships,” says Turnbull. “For me, that was the reason I got into visual effects. When I was a kid I was nuts about spaceships, into physics and all of that. This was a dream job, particularly this science fiction series, because they wanted to make it accurate to what space travel would be like, what we could achieve with existing technology resources.”

Turnbull is humble but no stranger to recognition. He has two BAFTA awards, one for the BBC adaptation of Day of the Triffids and another for the ITV production of The Titanic, and has three Emmy nominations.

Turnbull has seen the Toronto VES Section become a serious force, a great resource and a terrific way to network. “We aren’t a vast community in Toronto but having said that, there are thousands of people working in VFX here, especially if you start adding the animation companies. Most people who have been doing it for a long time stay local and know each other, so when you attend a mixer it’s ‘yeah, haven’t seen you in ages, how are you doing?’It’s like going into the bar on Cheers.”

Turnbull is pleased to see the way the Toronto VES Section is developing. “They are already becoming the thing I want to see, and are taking their position in the business pretty seriously. They are defining the standards of practice and acting as a resource for the industry, uniting us on a worldwide level.”

Tom Turnbull of Rocket Science VFX

Tom Turnbull of Rocket Science VFX


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