Blair Walker is head of post-production TBWA\NZ. An industry veteran, Blair has been bringing ideas to life with motion design, 3D, VFX and animation for the last 22 years. Formerly head of post Production at FCB, and senior freelancer at numerous New Zealand studios and agencies, Blair is passionately involved in many industry initiatives, most recently supporting the launch of the Motion Design Guild Aotearoa.
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?
Blair> I feel that VFX whether invisible or shining bright should always be there to support the message. It’s hard to not get wrapped up in the how rather than the why.
LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?
Blair> Having a VFX supervisor involved as early in pre-production and throughout the production process. This can save a lot of work throughout the entire process.
LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?
Blair> I learnt 3D during my graduate and post graduate diplomas. Then moving into post production studios there were senior Flame artists that taught me a lot.
But when FXPHD came out I was lucky enough to sign up early in the first year it was available. I then spent many years emerging myself in the craft and the technology through these classes.
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?
Blair> Understanding the creative ambition is where I like to start first. Getting aligned with the ambition of the work. With that in mind a lot of decisions can be made throughout the production process.
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?
Blair> As Da Vinci said, “art is never finished, only abandoned.” There is always something you feel could be tweaked but this is usually invisible to everyone else. It’s always important to ensure the quality of the whole film is at a high level. Giving everything attention, not just the hero shots. But really delivery deadlines are the true decider of when a project is finished.
LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?
Blair> AI, machine, and deep learning. The developments are exciting and disruptive to what is still a young industry, and it will be exciting to see how these developments improve the speed and quality of creative work.
LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.
Blair> Untethering from physical servers locally and moving all the workflows to the Cloud has been the biggest development. It has really opened the door to bringing on talented artists from anywhere to collaborate. I have felt this shift coming for over a decade, especially observing the larger studio networks. The last two years has definitely required an increased speed of adoption by the wider industry.
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?
Blair> It can be challenging not being in the same room, especially when trying to work with creative partners. There will always be times when in person collaboration sparks the unexpected. But the flexibility to work anywhere also has a really powerful place in the creative process as well. It’s nice now to have the option without massive infrastructure to make it work well.
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?
Blair> My first job in post-production was at a post house as their in-house 3D artist working with the flame compositors and editors. The biggest lessons I learnt was how to communicate with a range of people. That has made a massive difference throughout my career - collaborating and getting to the best results.
LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?
Blair> As a junior Flame artist, I spent 12 months working in any free time I had creating a music video with holographic instruments - a lot of 3D holograms, tracking and hours of roto. It had a grungy aesthetic that still works today, which is why I’m still proud of it. So much work from then has dated so quickly.
LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?
Blair> Burberry Open Spaces
remains top of my list at the moment. The VFX is so instrumental to the film's magic – it’s beautiful and so interwoven. The essence of VFX supporting the message.