Digital artist talks of career start in GJ, work on ‘Captain America’ film
Q&A: Digital artist talks of career start in GJ, work on 'Captain America' film
Logan Watkins has always loved the movies so imagine his excitement about turning his lifelong passion into a career.
At 24, Watkins, a 2007 Fruita Monument High School graduate and a recent graduate of Vancouver Film School, has worked at two Vancouver visual effects companies. At Gener8 he did stereoscopic rotoscope for “300: Rise of an Empire,” and then he moved to Scanline VFX in August 2013 to be a digital artist.
Scanline VFX has three offices worldwide and is contracted by film studios to do special effects. One of Watkins’ most recent credited projects comes out Friday, April 4: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
He also worked on recent release “Divergent” and Season Four of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” premiering Sunday, April 6.
To prepare for a career in the visual effects industry, Watkins was dual-enrolled at Fruita Monument and Western Colorado Community College from 2005 through 2007, studying 3-D animation and graphic design.
He continued at WCCC from 2008 until 2010, simultaneously taking courses at what was then named Mesa State College.
In those five years, Watkins met several people he credits as mentors and friends, directing him on a path from western Colorado to Canada, where he moved in 2011 to attend film school.
His parents, Ben and Rebecca Watkins, live in Fruita. His brother Taylor, 21, attends Colorado Mesa University.
Through a series of email exchanges over several weeks, and presented here in a question-and-answer format, Watkins wrote about his love of movies, what exactly he does and the people he credits with helping him find his way to Vancouver.
“Thank you Grand Junction, friends, family and mentors,” Watkins wrote in one of his emails.
Melinda Mawdsley: Did you grow up a movie buff?
Logan Watkins: I was always interested in the art of films. I always had the “how did they do that” curiosity with film. As a young child I watched a lot of movies with my father. We would watch films such as “Jurassic Park,” “Alien” “Aliens,” “Star Wars,” “Starship Troopers,” “Predator” and the “Terminator” films. Although the graphic nature of some of the films could be deemed as being too mature for a child, I was allowed to watch because I could almost always distinguish between what was reality and what was on-screen fantasy.
Mawdsley: Do you watch movies differently with such an interest in visual effects?
Watkins: I have always been interested in the technical dimensions of filmmaking. I watch movies to see the pieces. It’s comparable to how a musician would hear a band or symphony, by note and listening for the roles the instruments play relative to the overall composition. The visual effects process is deep but once understood, even minimally, the work starts to make sense and the appreciation gets deeper as well.
Mawdsley: Tell me about Scanline VFX and your current role with them.
Watkins: I began my contract there August 2013. The company is international and expanding but has managed to keep the feel of a small business. The owners do a lot for their crew. It’s refreshing. The crew are incredibly talented and intelligent people but bring a level of fun to the work. I work with the kind of people you would want to be friends with outside of work.
Mawdsley: You worked on the new “Captain America” What did you do exactly?
Watkins: On “Captain America,” I was a digital artist specializing in rotoscoping and paint. A rotoscope artist uses a variety of techniques to create a matte for an element on a live action plate so that it may be composited over a background of CG object. Example: Captain is driving a motorcycle in front of a CG fighter plane. Someone has to put Captain over the computer generated images one frame at a time typically 24 frames a second. A paint artist does a multitude of things — removing wires, removing camera gear, cleaning green screens, painting out entire people or objects from a scene, cosmetic work, digitally “airbrushing” aesthetic imperfections. It can be tedious.
Mawdsley: Is your job during filming or post-production?
Mawdsley: Were you ever worried that going to school in western Colorado would hold you back from working in the motion picture industry?
Watkins: I never felt like Grand Junction held me back from anything I wanted to do professionally or educationally or held me back from anywhere I wanted to go. Although Grand Junction is a smaller market for the VFX (visual effects) industry, I felt that it presented itself with more specific opportunities. If a market is smaller it can grow. If it is over-saturated, it makes for a more difficult market for a young professional. Often younger people will run to the “place to be” prematurely. They want to jump into a dense market without growing in a community. I was able to grow in a community, learn, work, befriend and collaborate with friends and educators/superiors. In our industry, learning to work with others and superiors is mandatory. In dense markets, instructors and professionals are less likely to be available to individuals to lend their personal help — something that is key in our trade. Grand Junction was great for being able to provide resources and help that is lacking in dense markets. I never felt like I left Grand Junction, only moved to a different market.
Mawdsley: Tell me more about the people you worked with closely here.
Watkins: Bruce Manchee was a veteran artist and instructor at WCCC. He was instrumental in refining/setting the trajectory of my career and the careers of others. He dedicated his life to making professionals out of students. He taught client relations, deadlines, business techniques with a razor-witted sense of humor and experience. His dedication to his students was not solely academic; he was a personal confidant to many. I met Bruce as a student and later as a friend and professional peer. We would learn from each other, and he and I co-taught lectures and drew comics together. Bruce was a MAJOR comic fan, especially Marvel. Only appropriate that my first scale contribution to film (“Captain America”) would be a Marvel show. He reeled in my angst and skewed attention span, and challenged me and taught me to be a businessman, a better artist and hit deadlines. He did this for many people. Anyone who really learned from Bruce, loved Bruce. Bruce passed away last year. I still remain close to my other influential mentors: Arn McConnell, Dan McClintock and Melanie Snyder.
Mawdsley: When did you graduate from Mesa State and what was your degree in?
Watkins: Actually, I didn’t graduate from (Mesa State.) I had to leave to come up to film school immediately in 2011. The Canadian government was limiting one-year work permits for graduates here, so to get a chance to work up here I had to go as soon as I could. But in my time at (Mesa State), I structured my education based on applicable subjects like 3-D animation, figure drawing classes, film editing and character design classes.
Mawdsley: One project you did while at Mesa State was the MSC lacrosse project. Tell me more about it.
Watkins: The MSC LAX project remains one of my favorite projects. My brother Taylor was the subject inspiration of the piece, but the idea came about from a goal and a problem. Goal: “I want to make a movie.” Problem: “I don’t have experience or resources.” I didn’t want to make a conventional film where I would have to ask a lot of people to commit to something for myself or use the opportunity to exercise project authority without having any. I would not learn anything that way. I wanted a client and I wanted to make something that would get people involved and benefit those involved. MSC LAX had started with their debut season with their new facilities that could be profiled to build hype for the school. My brother was on the team so I would have information to help me schedule and get insight into how this was going to work out. I pitched the project to Dan McClintock at WCCC, and he was a major contributor to the success of the project. We were able to get resources and facilities, and I was able to work with others for a client and deliver a product that benefited people. We had a lot of additional help from Jordan Fields and Camron Eidness, who lent their musical talents to the piece and made relevant and relatable tracks that clicked with the demographic.
Mawdsley: How does one break into the film industry in visual effects?
Watkins: There are many ways and no one way is superior. But it always starts with the work. A really popular and effective way is to make a demo reel. A reel is a collection of personal projects or contribution highlights that show to prospective employers in a short amount of time what your capabilities and skills are. Think visual resume. The first step is creating product. The second step is getting exposure. The best way is to make material and market your material wisely. Be seen. There are many good artists out there that no one has seen, so finding an avenue to profile and market your material is imperative. Contests, school channels, student and personal/professional work, competitions and festivals are great for showing work, but it revolves around the product. Employers want to see that you are client-and-deadline conscious. Finding a commercial purpose for your work is important. Show the business that you can produce and make quality product that will ultimately benefit them. When it comes to selecting a project, spend time thinking about it, you will likely be spending a long time on it. Content-wise, aim for reality; know what makes something look real not necessarily “cool.” Do something you know. I did my demo reel on Colorado called “Champagne Days.” I turned a busy street of Vancouver into a Colorado mountain town: 319 frames, around 13 seconds. That took 6 months. (The video, uploaded to YouTube on December 2013, can be seen at youtube.com/watch?v=O0edF1d7ABw.)
Mawdsley: What’s the film/TV industry like in Vancouver?
Watkins: Vancouver is an international hub for many industries, but the film and VFX industry is prominent. We are called “L.A. North.” It’s rather small for a city but incredibly international. People from all over the world congregate here and cultural diversity is vast. That diversity allows one to learn socially and listen.
Mawdsley: You’re just 24. Time to share some wisdom. What advice would you have for a local interested in getting into the business?
Watkins: Advice I would tell someone is not to get seduced by the over romanticized “sexy” products of the business. The results are great, but it is a business first. There are demanding clients, deadlines, and the films are accounts and contracts. Have a healthy respect and approach for the work and work toward being a part of a team. Learn to work and collaborate with others. VFX is very team-intensive. Disney figured that for one person to make “Wall-E” it would take the person 900 years in labor. Team is everything. Approach every project, small screen or big screen, with the same level of professionalism, dedication and attention. Push yourself. This business is competitive, on par with the competitiveness of professional sports. It will require a level of dedication, time, perseverance, and education that will challenge you. Don’t simply make goals; make decisions. Hit your own deadlines before you hit the deadlines of others. Make a decision to start, make the hard sacrifices along the way, and prioritize.