A Day in the Life of a VFX Supervisor

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Photo Source: Warner Bros.

The visual effects supervisor is one of the very first people to be hired on a production and they tend to be one of the very last to stop working. As such, my job is broken down into three different phases: pre-production, production, and post-production. My working day will vary considerably depending on the job, but here’s what my days tend to look like in each phase.

Pre-production 

8:00 a.m.     
I arrive at the studio, grab some breakfast, and catch up with my VFX producer to discuss any hot topics, the state of the budget, awards to vendors, and other areas.

During this whole phase, I work closely with my VFX producer to break down the script to determine methodology and cost. We are responsible for putting together the VFX budget based on the requirements of the script which involves lots of creative meetings with the director and production designer since we often need to create digital environments and set extensions based on their designs. Even the biggest budget films never quite seem to have enough money to realize the director’s vision, so often my job is to find economical but creatively satisfying solutions and approaches to the film making, as well as working out the technical approach to the whole film.

9:00 a.m.  
I have the first previsualization (previs) review of the day in the VFX editorial office. Previs is a technique where we block out the film’s action sequences through the use of simplified digital characters, environments, and basic animation. I review shots and sequences with the previs supervisor and artists and give notes. 

Previsualization is very important. On a big VFX film, I’d expect to previs over an hour’s worth of material in order to work out what we then need to shoot during production. This varies greatly depending on the subject matter of the film and can involve car chases, space battles, monsters attacking cities, actors fighting, riding, or interacting with CG creatures, sea battles, flying sequences, the list is endless. Basically, anything that cannot be shot or filmed needs to be prevised in advance of filming the live-action elements.

10:00 a.m.     
I have a production meeting with the director, producers, and all heads of departments (HODs). 

10:30 a.m.    
There’s a director creative shoot meeting to discuss methodology and approach for specific scenes with the other key HODs.

11:30 a.m.
I review VFX facility overnight submissions, test shots, look dev, and R&D, and generate feedback and notes that are sent back to the facility by my VFX coordinator.

12:30 p.m.    
I have a VFX production meeting with the VFX crew and discuss progress of jobs and tasks as well as shoot preparation.

1:00 p.m.
A working lunch with the VFX producer.

2:00 p.m.    
We have the director review the latest previs and facility R&D dev work.

4:00 p.m.    
Meeting in the art department with the production designer to discuss set design, VFX involvement with digital set builds and environments, etc.

5:00 p.m.
Meeting with SFX and stunt supervisors to discuss mechanical and practical rig builds, and watch stunt rehearsals.

6:00 p.m.    
Second previs review of the day. We review shots and sequences with the previs supervisor and artists, and pass on director feedback and notes.

7:00 p.m.     
A studio call with VFX executives, then I head home.

Production

7:30 a.m.    
I arrive at the studio or location and grab breakfast on the way to the stage or set. I catch up with the 1st AD to discuss the plan for the day.

8:00 a.m.    
The director arrives and briefs key crew on the day’s scene work while actors arrive.

8:15 a.m.    
The stage is cleared to allow the director to rehearse with the actors. This is a good time to grab a second coffee of the morning and catch up with other HODs.      

8:45 a.m.    
I attend rehearsal with other key HODs, answer the director’s questions regarding methodology, VFX requirements, etc. and start prepping to shoot with my VFX data wranglers. The DOP lights the set and sets the camera.

9:15 a.m.    
Filming begins. I’ll watch the monitors alongside the director, making myself available at all times to answer questions and spot potential problems. Once I’ve seen the first set up and they’re onto repeat takes, I’ll try and slip off to catch up on other work with my VFX coordinator. This usually involves reviewing previs and facility shots on my laptop somewhere on the stage, but close enough to keep an eye on what’s going on and hear the 1st AD shout my name! This is the pattern for most of the day. 

1:00 p.m.    
Running lunch. Most films work a continuous day, which means you don’t stop for lunch but crew members take turns grabbing lunch. In the old days, key HODs would watch the previous day’s rushes over the lunchtime break, but since we stopped using film there is no need to do this anymore. The rushes are now distributed to HODs digitally via online portals such as PIX.  

If the day’s filming involves a lot of VFX work, I’ll stay on set all day working with the director and other departments. If the VFX content is light, I try to slip back to the office to do reviews.

6:00 p.m.     
Wrap. I head back to the office and look at more cineSync remote video reviews with VFX facilities to discuss their latest submissions and give notes.

7:00 p.m.
I catch up with the VFX producer, then head home. 

Post-production

7:30 a.m.    
I arrive at the VFX editorial office, review, and edit the overnight submissions, then prep the director review material. 

8:30 a.m.    
A director review in the VFX screening room, usually also attended by the editor and producer. We present all of the latest VFX facility work including animation, character design, look dev, and individual shots. This is done both in the Avid watching shots in the context of a scene as well as projecting the individual shots at 2K for greater scrutiny, and to ultimately have the director sign them off which we then call a Final. 

10:00 a.m.    
CineSync remote video review with any Australian facility working on the project to give creative notes. I work with VFX facilities based all over the world, so my day is dictated by the time zone each facility is in. 

11:00 a.m.    
London VFX facility visits to review work and pass on the director’s feedback and give creative notes, and lunch on the go.  

5:30 p.m.    
CineSync remote video review with any of the American facilities working on the project to give creative notes.

7:00 p.m.    
A VFX producer catch up and sometimes a studio call.

8:00 p.m.   
I head home.

Want to learn more about working on a film crew? Visit Backstage’s crew hub!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
Tim Burke
VFX artist in television and commercials (1987–1996), in 1997 Tim helped set up Ridley and Tony Scotts Mill Film, supervising “Enemy of the State,” “Blackhawk Down,” and “Gladiator.” Freelance since 2002, he supervised five “Harry Potter” films, earned four Academy Award nominations (win: “Gladiator” 2001), six BAFTA nominations (win: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” 2012), and three Visual Effects Society nominations (win: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” 2005).
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