Vine FX (http://vinefx.com) is based in Cambridge, UK, and has a capacity for up to 30 artists. Working with both a team of in-house talent and remote artists, the studio is delivering work for shows that include The Lazarus Project (Sky & Now TV),
The Tourist (BBC),
The Tower (ITV),
The Serpent (BBC/Netflix) and
War of the Worlds (Canal+/Fox). Alesja Surubkina is a lead compositor at the studio, and recently took some time to discuss her career path and work.
Alesja, what inspired you to become a compositor?
“I’ve always loved films and wondered how they were made, but it wasn't until my late teens, when I suffered a permanent sports injury, that I had to rethink my future career plans. This is when I discovered home editing and started to play around with the footage and learn new software. It was only a few years later that I could pursue this as an actual degree! After attending an open day at South Wales University, I knew this is what I wanted to do as a career. Being able to manipulate reality and create something new sounded like fun.”
Photo: The Serpent
How did you get started in the industry?
“My career journey started with a couple of work experiences before I landed my first proper job. I was employed as the main VFX artist for a Welsh feature film. This was a great learning experience for me, as it forced me to do a lot of research and have to learn new techniques very quickly.”
How did you get connected with Vine FX?
“I wanted to use my career as an opportunity to discover new countries and cities, so I was applying everywhere I could find. I had never visited Cambridge before, so was interested to land a job with Vine FX to explore a new city. I've been here for four years now!”
Can you talk about some of the highlights of your work?
“Ethel & Ernest, a 2D animation project about a year into my career. All of the animation was in flat color, and the compositors were responsible for creating the beautiful visuals. The project relied on a lot of brainstorming on how to recreate the principle of real life light and shadow in a 2D world. I had to make a transition from After Effects to Nuke, which proved a share of challenges at the time. Initially, I was employed as an assistant to the comp supervisor to help with initial template setups. Toward the end of the project, I had a small junior team that I was leading and teaching.”
As a lead compositor, can you provide insight into your role at Vine FX?
“As a lead, I'm part of twice-a-week office catch-ups, where we discuss priorities. A portion of my day is dedicated to checking shots and leaving feedback to the artists. Most commonly, I help troubleshoot issues artists experience in their work. When we have new projects coming in, I set up templates to keep the look consistent and also to make our artists lives a bit easier.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
“Time management is one of the biggest challenges in this role. It’s not only my own time I need to manage, but also the whole team, so communication is very important. I try to communicate with my team and offer a helping hand when I get a chance. It’s fun to be able to brainstorm together, which takes the pressure off both of us.”
What are some of the tools you rely on, and has that changed over the years?
“Outside of the transition from After Effects to Nuke, there haven't been many changes to my workflow. You do need to keep up with updates Foundry introduces in new versions, like the CopyCat plug-in. It’s also good to stay up to date with new gizmos and plug-ins that are being released and updated regularly. The main progression I've done on my own is starting to learn Python, which offers lots of flexibility and speeds up the working process significantly if you know what you’re doing.”
What do you think makes for successful collaboration as a compositor?
“As a compositor, it’s good to develop your artistic and technical skills. Collaboration is key for good communication and being able to bounce ideas between each other. If something does not work the way you expect, talk to your colleagues. It is impossible to know everything, so discussing ideas with fellow artists is crucial, both compositors and other departments like CG and DMP.
“You rarely work on a shot completely on your own, especially on a big scale. It is a big collaboration. Everyone needs to know what they are doing to make each element synchronize with each other in order to create the final piece.”
Photo: War of the Worlds
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in compositing?
“If you’re a student, take advantage of the time you have in university, and don't be afraid to experiment and collaborate with other students.
“Don't give up. VFX is a challenging industry to get into, but if you keep working hard, you will develop a portfolio that’ll help you land the job of your dreams.
“Keep researching. VFX is constantly evolving, with new technologies discovered regularly.
“Practice makes perfect. Keep practicing in your free time, even if it’s just a one-second shot. There’s plenty of learning materials out there to help you as well as the non-commercial version of Nuke that you can practice on for free. Of course, there are limitations to this software but it’s a great starting point.”
Looking to the future, what do you see as the biggest trends or developments in the composting industry?
“I believe one of the biggest developments to come is AI. We already have CopyCat that can assist and save time with some roto and paint jobs. Eventually, I believe AI will empower artists to focus on more creative aspects of projects.”