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"Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires" | 1980s Action Insanity With Puppets

"Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires" | 1980s Action Insanity With Puppets

VFX Supervisor Christopher Callow sheds light on the making of "Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires".

In this article, we’re here to chat with VFX Supervisor Christopher Callow about his recent work on the Stop Motion Film Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires.

We’ll be giving you a quick look at how Christopher and his team put together this 1980s Stop Motion film, and how ActionVFX elements helped them do so without sacrificing the overall quality of their composites.

Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires (Official Teaser Trailer) from Chuck Steel on Vimeo.

Jaime: First off, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us about your work on this project. You were one of our very first backers from our KickStarter Campaign and we are excited to see some of the work you created using our assets!

So, just to get us kicked off, go ahead and give us a little of your background and where you are today.

Christopher: I studied a general media degree at The university of South Wales that covered a range of subjects such as video production, sound for video and some design and post. I kind of accidentally got into compositing and VFX when realizing while making short films I could not visualize what was in my head with just a camera and some lights. After some research I came across After Effects and basically taught my self from there.

I continued my research into VFX through my second and third year at university as a part of an independent study module. Kind of like a dissertation but much more practical. By the end of my studies I had a little body of work, some short films, some compositing examples and some on set experience through some work placements.

I was offered a job as an edit assistant at a production facility in Wales which I gladly accepted but out of the blue the following day I was asked to an animation studio for a chat regarding some of my work. As soon as I walked in I realized it was the type of environment I wanted to be working in in and shortly after I was offered my first role as a compositor.

I’m currently working for a great VFX studio in Bristol called Axis VFX. I’m compositing supervisor on a feature for Aardman Animations.

via Gfycat

Jaime: That’s awesome! It is always great to see the path professionals took before becoming successful. What would you say were some of the big challenges that you faced while working on this film?

Christopher: It’s all very complicated from start to finish! From a VFX point of view, budget and resources meant we were limited to an almost completely 2D pipeline. We did not have the resources or budget for expensive simulations or Houdini artists so we had to be as creative as possible with what we had to use.

Aside from one sequence there are no CG environments but a large percentage of the shots had to essentially be built up in VFX from multiple plates. Some scenes had lots and lots puppets where it was just not logical for the animators to attempt to animate them in one hit.

Also due to the scale of the sets we had to take pieces out to allow access. On a daily basis I’d spend time with Mike Mort and Laura (DOP) trying to figure out the best plan of attack for plating the shots that both allowed the animator to do what they needed and provide my VFX team with all the elements they needed.

Also in stop motion you are always prone to little tech malfunctions on set. Lights popping, sets shifting about as they expand and contract under the lighting, a moco malfunction. There was often a large amount of ‘fixing’ the shot before our FX would be applied.

Jaime: How big of a role would you say that stock asset libraries play in your everyday compositing?

Christopher: This is an action movie and something is exploding in almost every sequence. We used all of your fire, explosions, embers, smoke and atmospheres, and dust waves. Anything you had available basically!

The high resolution, the variation in the VFX assets within the same collection, most of the elements (fire, smoke plumes) were shot within the frame, and the ability to choose between using the original RED file or the QuickTime put the ActionVFX Elements head-and-shoulders above their competitors.
Jaime: What was your thought process during the compositing of the film?

Christopher: It was essentially about working with Mike to clearly visualize what was in his head. He gave great references throughout the production for what he wanted with regards to specific effects and style. Fortunately we had very similar tastes in films and music, which is also an integral part of the feature, so I always had a good idea of what he wanted.

On set it was a case of working with the animators and camera department and making sure they could work as freely as possible while making sure my guys got all the elements and plates they needed.

Jaime: I bet that was tough. What were some things that helped you stay creative and innovative?

Christopher: Just constantly talking to colleagues and my team. Success in this industry relies on collaboration. There are fundamentals to the way VFX works but all artists work differently and it’s being sensitive to that has allowed me to continue to learn with every show I’m involved in.

Early in the production I made a lot of reference material that the comp artists could use when designing certain FX. I wanted us as a team to try and immerse ourselves into the look and style of what we were trying to achieve even through simple things like adorning the walls of our studio with posters from Cobra and Big Trouble in Little China. Also it meant playing a lot of 80’s hard rock in the studio everyday.

Also, knowing when to step away from the job and making time for yourself and family. It can be easy to get bogged down with stress, workload, and deadlines in this industry.
We would like to give a big shout out to VFX Supervisor Christopher Callow for taking the time to tell us the story of how Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires was made!

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