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Thomas Montminy-Brodeur / On-Set VFX Supervisor

Thomas Montminy

On-Set VFX Supervisor

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How / where did you learn what you know? Self-taught? School?

How / where did you learn what you know? Self-taught? School? Well… I think it’s a mix of self-taught and school. I first went to school to learn about Compositing, then I worked a few years in a Roto-paint department, to then evolve as a Compositor, then Compositing Supervisor, I guess I wanted even more challenges so I decided to go back to school to learn more about every department other than Compositing, which gave me the necessary knowledge to get my current position, VFX Supervisor. I quickly learned with one of my mentors that technic is great, but useless if you don’t know what look or feel you want to get in your image. I think the most important thing is curiosity. When you start to analyze and understand the world and the light around you, it helps to bring realism to your images.

What keeps you motivated to stay in this industry?

I am having fun. I love to find ways to make a scene look as realistic as possible.

What is your biggest strength?

I am generally calm and I try not to be too spontaneous, which I think people appreciate when we have to find solutions.

"I ALREADY BROUGHT A FEW YEARS AGO A VERY BAD JOKE BOOK TO START EVERY DAILIES… IT WAS A GREAT SUCCESS "
What is your biggest strength?

I am generally calm and I try not to be too spontaneous, which I think people appreciate when we have to find solutions.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

I simply want to find great and original ways to solve VFX problems. Projects will always come in if I do my job properly. So, I’m not worried about this at the moment.

What’s the best joke you’ve done at work?

It’s important during Dailies (meeting with artists to talk about the work done) to be entertaining to make sure nobody falls asleep. I already brought a few years ago a very bad joke book to start every dailies… it was a great success and it relaxes people before the meeting.

Do you think remote work is a viable solution for companies and what are the challenges?

I think this is a great step for the future. I wouldn’t think we could be 100% remote for simple reason of technology limitation and team communication, but a few days a week is something that could be probably possible.

What are the qualities or characteristics needed to accomplish your daily work?

Communication and team spirit. You have co-workers that bring new ideas and different point of views. It’s your role to listen to them to then take clear decisions… Good communication will also make the time at the office more enjoyable, we sometimes need to be reminded that we only work with pixels, it’s possible to have fun while working.

How do you keep yourself updated with all the new technologies?

Conferences and trainings are for sure very important. You need to be interested by what is being developed. It’s a very fast-growing industry and you don’t want to be outdated.

What is the last tutorial you’ve listened to and why it helped you become a better artist?

I am right now following a few classes at UQAT (Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue) for my personal knowledge. I am learning main softwares and management technics to help my day to day job. Being able to know a bit the limitations of every department helps me a lot when I talk with a client so bring new ideas to solve problems.

`` I TRY TO BE AS TRANSPARENT AS POSSIBLE ``
How would you describe the quality of your physical environment? Desk, mouse, monitor?

At the office, Rodeo FX is definitely an amazing looking studio. It’s a very warm and enjoyable environment… Wooden desks with big windows, the layout is great, definitely everything has been thought… the studio even has its own bar. Because of the pandemic everyone’s reality has changed. It’s a lot harder to be as efficient with the material at home, especially when we are at the last stage of image approval.

What is the biggest challenge you faced when managing people?

We can’t make everyone happy, and some people have bigger personalities than others. Sometimes we need to figure ways to put our foot down with our decisions in a way that people can understand. Frustration usually comes from lack of communication, a person may disagree with a decision, but if this person understands why we took a direction it gets a lot easier.

Do you think a union would be necessary to protect the artists?

This is a tricky subject… I have seen situations where a union could be interesting, and others where it would be very bad. I can understand both sides and see the interest for both, but I would rather not to develop on this subject.

What do you do to make your co-workers comfortable?

I try to be as transparent as possible. I don’t think of myself too seriously either. At the end of the day we work on pixels, so there is no point to be too serious.

How would you describe the communication challenge through the hierarchy?

It is definitely challenging to have a good communication in a team. The important thing is that people knows you are approachable and that your door stays open. Artists need to understand that we are a team going in the same direction, and that we are all on the same page, if not, only communication can fix that.

What do you think about overtime work?

No one can say that they like overtime work. I am aware that I have done so much overtime in my career that I am not a good example on this matter. From the first day I became supervisor, I have always done my best to reduce the overtime work for my teams. We all have families and a life out from work… which is easy to forget. Although we also need to keep in mind that a project is never easy to BID, and that overtime sometimes cannot be avoidable, you can quickly identify a team that tries their best to limit this kind of situation.

What are the qualities and characteristics needed to be a good FX, lighting, etc. artist?

Other than being a team player, a good artist needs to accept and understand critics and notes. Only following what your supervisor says can make you a good artist… but it’s best to understand why you got a specific note so next time you can push your shot even further. Sometimes a note will seem very absurd, until you understand it was important to the story.

What is the biggest challenge when working on-set?

Usually the biggest challenge is to be appreciated by the crew on-set. If the director, camera, riggers, etc trust and like you, they will make your life a lot easier. They also need to feel you won’t lose their time and that you are well prepared and going as fast as possible.

Describe the way it generally works on-set? And how many hours you are spending in a day?

It depends a lot of the film or the scenes. The schedule can be different if it’s filmed outside or in studio. In general, a shoot day can be about 12 hours. The tricky part is that a shoot doesn’t always need VFX. You can be useless for a few hours until they need you, but you always need to be alert because they don’t have time to be looking for you. Once they call your name be ready to jump into the action.

Tell me more about your last project?

The last project that is out for public is the Watchmen TV show. We did work on more projects after, but those are still secrets.

What was your biggest challenge? And how did you overcome it?

On the Watchmen show, the frozen shot was a very big challenge. We had to stitch 4 different takes, rebuild the whole environment, create exploding lettuce, exploding cereal boxes, breaking a window, a full CG digital double that would be closeup, a full exterior environment matching reference, and all of that needed to look frozen in time with a camera turning around our main character. It took about 4 months to create the shot.

What have you accomplished on this projects/shots?

We worked on every episodes of Watchmen, but our main focus was on the 6th episode, named “This Extraordinary Being”. Among many things, we had 40 minutes of the episode to work on. We had to make sure the episode looks like a 1 camera take view, and we also had to make a frozen moment like “the Matrix” with camera moving around the main character.

Describe your first feelings when you're asked for a job you’ve never done and you’re not sure you're capable of doing it? What do you do after?

I think first that nothing is impossible in our world. I would begin by doing my own researches on the subject first and I would look for useful references. Then I would make sure to talk with my team in case they have different ideas. If I know someone else already got this kind of problems, I would get a discussion with that person. This job is about not being scared of the unknown, but to find a way to make it work.

`` I NEED TO UNDERSTAND THEIR WAY OF THINKING, AND THEN BRING IDEAS ``
How do you deal with problematic clients?

There are different kind of problematic clients… Though in general those persons have one goal: to deliver great and convincing images. My job is not to argue with them if I disagree…but to understand their visions and their style. I need to understand their way of thinking, and then bring ideas to push their visions even more. With this, we develop a relationship of trust which results to more agreements and less notes.

What is the project you are most proud of? Why?

There are many for different reasons. For the challenges, I would say “Birdman” and Game of Thrones”, but for a smooth ride that we felt it was an exemplary show, our situation on the TV Show “Watchmen” was great. The whole team had so much fun with no overtime, the client was respectful and knew where he wanted to go… and the show itself was good!

What is like to deal with directors and showrunners?

If you can win their trusts, directors and showrunners are very keen to listen to your advices. They don’t have time to doubt your decisions, so if they ask a question, you need to give a quick answer. You are an advisor on-set to make their film work better, so you need to make sure you give a clear point of view.

`` WE END UP KNOWING PEOPLE IN ALMOST EVERY COMPANIES ``
What do you hate the most about the job?

I am a bit sad about the fact that a lot of companies need to under-bid a project to be able to work on it, which usually result in overtime for artists. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why companies do that with the business model that we have right now, but it usually affects directly the project time-line, which makes it harder for everyone.

What do you think about all the movement in this field?

I think it’s a good thing. It’s a new field and the movement make companies think about better ways to keep their people. There is also a lot of work so it gives a bit more freedom to artists to decide where they would like to work. It’s always sad to see a good artist leave the team, but you need to trust their judgement.

What are your criterias when you apply to a company?

I haven’t changed much companies in my career, but personally I would try to understand the values of the company first, and how they want to evolve in the future. A company that has goals to reach will always be motivated to push more than a company who doesn’t have any.

How would you describe the general atmosphere in the field? Competitive? Friendly?

I think company vs. company is competitive. Obviously, better artists give a better name which gives better projects. Though… Artists vs artists I would think is a friendly environment. There is so much movement in the industry that we end up knowing people in almost every company. It’s always fun to see them at conferences or for drinks. In that situation, I don’t feel much about the competition.

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Marieve Pilon
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