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April 2014
Issue: April 1, 2013

Getting Started: Poetica's David Elkins

David Elkins is a well sought-after visual effects artist, whose reel boasts graphic elements that are both staggeringly beautiful and wildly fantastical. It’s no wonder then that the artist’s earliest inspirations came from the science-fiction and fantasy genres. As a youngster, Elkins obsessed over now classic films and television series of the 1980s, including Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, Excalibur, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and also literary fare like Edgar Rice Burroghs’ John Carter series.

Never one to remain a passive observer, the young Elkins used the guiding lights of his favorite films and series to jumpstart his own filmmaking experiments. The burgeoning director would put together production crews of friends and classmates after school and on weekends, drafting them to help him create short, quirky films on a Hi-8 camera. For editing, he employed a no-frills set-up comprising two VCRs and a great deal of patience — all worth the effort as far as he’s concerned.

“The idea of leaving the planet and going somewhere else in outer space — Mars or Kappa Sigmus 1 or wherever — really piqued my interest,” says Elkins. “But I knew I couldn’t do it, so it was like vicarious living through those movies and stories.”

Serving as more than just an outlet for an active young imagination, these amateur productions marked the beginning of what would become a lifelong pursuit of visual storytelling. Experimentation with imagery and technique played an important role in Elkins' informal education, affording him an early education in filmmaking fundamentals. 

“We shot something once where we used a bottle for a spaceship, and used the old depth-of-field trick where you frame it so the bottle is way up close to the camera and someone dressed in costume is far away in the distance, and you frame it so it looks like he is exiting from inside of the bottle.  It’s a simple trick, but the concept still plays an important role when it comes to shooting models and integrating them into live action plates.”

As a teenager, Elkins stumbled into another interest that would signal his eventual career path, making a hobby of creating painstakingly detailed composite images. Elkins recalls a particularly complex project from his days as a hobby pool player. “At this point I’m not even sure why I ended up putting so much effort into this, but it was a lot of work,” he recalls. “I took a choreographed close-up of a pool table and a few dramatically placed billiard balls. Then I took several shots of other people using mixed film stocks.  I developed a large print of the pool table background and smaller versions of all of the other shots, and physically cut the people out of the pictures, assembling them on the pool table and eventually re-photographing the final composite.”  

Looking back, Elkins sees these early efforts as an essential starting point for his ambitions. “Cutting and pasting, resizing and combining, scissors and glue — perhaps this is oversimplifying it a tad, but today I use the Flame and its splines and all of its nodes essentially to do the same thing... Who knew I could actually get paid to do it?”

Poetica is comprised of storytellers with an understanding of design and visual effects. They place character, story and emotion first. With offices in NY and LA, the company offers full design and VFX services, as well as editorial.