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The VFX-Factor: Limitless Possibilities with Framestore’s Jessica Söderström

Post Production
New York, USA
The Framestore New York asset supervisor’s first ever project was the incredible, animated storybook sequence ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ from Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows Part 1
Jessica Söderström is an award-winning asset supervisor at Framestore in New York, where she acts as the most senior specialist in creating 3D models, objects, environments, characters and elements across projects.

While at Framestore, she has overseen a range of episodic projects such as Netflix’s sci-fi drama Away, and scenes for the hit Amazon Studios comedy-drama The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel. She also played a role in bringing to life HBO’s His Dark Materials AR app, My Daemon, to time with the release of the show’s second season.

Prior to joining Framestore, Söderström spent time at The Mill Chicago as Lead 3D Artist, and The Mill London as 3D Artist. She acted as a character modeler for the multi award-winning Smithwicks 'Squirrel' and Volkswagen ‘Black Beetle’ campaigns, and worked on a host of top brands like Coca Cola, Orangina, Sky Sports, Vimto, Müller, as well as the Rainbow Six Siege game trailer.

During her first stint at Framestore in London over a decade ago, Söderström began her career on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I, specifically on The Tale of the Three Brothers animation sequence which won Best Film/TV Graphics at the British Animation Awards, and was nominated for multiple Academy Awards and a BAFTA overall. She was also part of the team that worked on Avatar, which received Academy Awards for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, Cinematography and Art Direction, and a BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects. 

Get to know her below.

LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum - the invisible post and the big, glossy 'VFX heavy' shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those?

Jessica> Invisible post is all about seamlessly integrating your element into the plate, which can be tricky on many different levels. You have to understand how the reference material will fit into the shot and use your own interpretation from there. It’s important to ensure the asset build, FX, and animation are extremely realistic, the tracking is immaculate, and that you have enough information from the shoot to be able to accurately recreate the lighting conditions.

For VFX-heavy shots, layout is crucial since there are so many elements involved -- it takes time and hard work to fit everything together seamlessly in a believable way. 

LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?

Jessica> It is important for any director to have a very clear vision that they’re able to communicate, but an understanding of the VFX process in general always helps things run even more smoothly. 

LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Jessica> I originally fell into VFX as a profession through art and filmmaking. I did an animation degree in South East London at Ravensbourne University during the first year that Maya and other digital skills were taught within the syllabus. However, I truly honed my skills when I started working on my first big project Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.

LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Jessica> It sounds fairly simple but I start by gathering all of the information about the project - boards, references, the schedule and any other details or research available. Then I set up a smooth workflow and attempt to anticipate as many future obstacles as I can in order to sort them out before they become real problems.

LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Jessica> Under normal circumstances, the schedule and time limitations tend to steer when the project is complete. It’s all about interpreting what the client wants and when we think we’ve hit that (and more), then we’ll show them the final product.

LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Jessica> I really love using Zbrush. Once you get over the initial hurdles, the possibilities are limitless when it comes to sculpting. I recently created a human digi-double for an episodic project, sculpting the face and clothing in detail from scratch.

LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Jessica> Yes, it was a big shift - we now need to communicate in a different way via video and text. We can’t just lean over to the desk next to us and start chatting. It’s forced me to be a lot more descriptive and also showed me how important it is to schedule time with my team, both group meetings and one-on-one catch-ups.

LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during Covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Jessica> I will definitely maintain scheduled check-ins with the team moving forward.

LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?

Jessica> I kind of fell into it. After our graduation show I was contacted by Framestore in London for a runner position. At that stage, I really didn’t have a clue what the VFX industry entailed and had to learn quickly. I was booked as a modeler on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and learnt Zbrush on the job. I was able to learn so much about the importance of working together as a team where everyone relies on each other’s unique skill sets.

LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?

Jessica> The team and environment on Harry Potter still stand out to me to this day. Together, we created the animated storybook sequence ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ - a fairy tale inspired by oriental shadow puppetry that was used to teach children morals - which I believe still looks fantastic to this day.

LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?

Jessica> I really liked OREO’s ‘The Fair’ that Framestore and Framestore Pictures worked on recently with The Martin Agency. It was a sweet story about plush toy characters that timed with the US Presidential election, and offered a little light relief during a tense moment in the country. I’m very proud that I had the chance to not only work on it, but also teach some of the team about the importance of modeling and topology.

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