My VFX job: VFX editor

Method Studios’ Chris Kowal on what editing in VFX actually means.

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I have to admit, a few years ago I wasn’t entirely sure what an editor inside a visual effects studio did. Of course, now it’s clear that this role is a crucial one in the mix of artistry, tech and workflow for any VFX operation.

To give others an insight into what’s involved in the role, I asked Method Studios VFX editor Chris Kowal about his experience. Here you can read about the kinds of things he does day to day. And, you can also get an insight on his path to becoming a VFX editor, which perhaps was not something he was expecting to do


b&a: Some people might not understand the concept of a VFX editor in a visual effects studio or project – what does your role entail?

Chris Kowal: My current role here at Method Studios is managing and overseeing all shows VFX Editorial tasks here in Montreal. The role of a VFX Editor however can vary from studio to studio as well as from client to vendor. Here at Method Montreal we handle everything from data transferring, to cut management and organizing of reference material that was shot on set.

We also run dailies sessions, create internal reels, run client reviews and handle all ingestion of material received from our clients. We’re one of the links between our client and our internal production teams in assuring that our artists have everything they need to complete their shots in the most efficient way possible and that they’re aware of all updates that are being done on the client’s side.

b&a: Can you talk about a typical day, and what things you’ll be called on to do?

Chris Kowal: Every day in Editorial is different. Which is why I love being part of the department. No day is exactly the same. One day we can be pulling our hair out going through all the cut changes that we have been sent by our clients and the next we could be processing and analyzing plates that have been turned over to us. Each day varies but for the most part we’re typically updating cuts and doing a lot of cross referencing and checking to assure everything is up to date for our artists.

b&a: What things do you need to look out for as a VFX editor in terms of both the project side and the studio side?

Chris Kowal: As a VFX Editor we need to be aware of everything that is happening to a shot at any given time. Our clients are usually still cutting the film or episode while we are creating the visual effects; frame ranges and scope of work can change drastically from day to day. It’s our job to make sure that everyone on the project is aware of these changes as quickly as possible. Internally we need to make sure we’re always working efficiently with our counterparts across the global studio. We assure that our marketing team in LA gets all the material they need as well as assuring the studio has everything it needs for any non-show projects too.

b&a: What tools do you tend to use everyday in your work?

Chris Kowal: The main tools we use as VFX Editors are Avid or Adobe Premiere, cineSync, FileMakerPro. I occasionally will use Nuke when we’re starting a show to assure that the work we’ve received conforms to what the client deliverable is within their spec documents.

b&a: Can you talk a little about your own path to becoming a VFX editor?

Chris Kowal: Absolutely. I always wanted to work within the film industry in some capacity. My dad worked for a local television station and I was around cameras from the day I was born. When I was younger, my friends and I used to create short films and videos and had a blast doing it. After high school I decided to move to Toronto and attended the Film Production program at the Toronto Film School. I had aspirations on becoming a big-time director/writer, the next Scorsese if you will. When I graduated from film school, it was around the same time that the industry was hit by the writers’ strike. Which had big effect on the industry in Toronto, and everywhere.

Since I needed to pay the bills and wasn’t able to find a job in the industry, I ended up falling into the restaurant business, managing an Italian Restaurant. Meanwhile around the same time my sister had started dating the man who became her husband, a talented animator in the industry. He had started his own VFX studio in Montreal with a few partners and always told me that I should get into compositing, because as an editor I had an eye for it. It seemed way too complicated for me and I never really explored that as a career option, though I did do some freelance editing on the side.

After growing tired of the restaurant business, my wife and I decided to move back to Montreal to be closer to family. Upon returning and not having solid employment, my future brother-in-law invited me to do a mini Compositing internship at his studio. I spent a few days a week during the summer learning Nuke and helping the compositors with roto work on a project they were finishing up. I saw a different side of the film industry that they never really teach in film school at least not back then anyways.

When the summer ended, I took a position at a television studio as an ENG Editor, editing for the six o’clock news. I did that along with editing trailers until I was given the opportunity to join MPC as a VFX Editor. I remember when I first took the position that it was nothing like any of the other editing jobs I had done previously. I was nervous and scared but after a few weeks, things started clicking. Everything was super-fast paced, and the work varied so much from day to day. I was hooked, I loved being a part of the movie making process for huge blockbuster films. The hours were tough as we’d extend into overtime quite regularly, but I didn’t care, we were working on real Hollywood movies. Since then I’ve never looked back.

After MPC I decided to join Atomic Fiction which turned out to be an entirely different beast. The studio was small and was missing a lot of key personnel which allowed for everyone to wear multiple hats and the owners were different from all the other companies I worked at. They cared about the people they employed; it was enlightening. I learnt a ton and continued to educate myself on the VFX side of editing which allowed me to grow into the role I’m in today.

Nowadays managing the Editorial department is my main responsibility, putting standards and workflows in place; but when the opportunity presents itself, I love to jump in and put on my VFX Editor hat.

This week at befores & afters is #myvfxjob week, looking at a range of different VFX jobs that are out there.

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