The new VFX Supervisor at Carbon on his new role, the intricacies of 'invisible post' and decades of experience at the likes of The Mill, Psyop and MPC
Tobey Lindback joined the team at Carbon VFX towards the end of 2020, bringing with him over two decades of post production and VFX experience. His creative and technical skills have seen him work on some of the most major league productions out there. He spent the last 10 years at The Mill, Psyop and MPC, leading high profile creative work for the likes of Audi, Budweiser, Mercedes, Nike and PlayStation. He is known equally as a trusted on set advisor and for using his sharp eye for colour, composition and final picture to forge stunning visuals.
LBB's Addison Capper caught with him about his new role, the intricacies of 'invisible post' and where he finds inspiration.
LBB> Congrats on joining Carbon! What was it about the opportunity that tempted you over?
Tobey> Thanks! What really enticed me was Carbon's nimbleness. I saw a great opportunity to both explore some new areas and be involved in all the areas of VFX I love, from on-set supervision to leading a team of artists and working together to create beautiful work.
In the interviews, everyone was very friendly and passionate, and I had noticed some other new joiners – people I really wanted to work with. I saw how Carbon is growing their directorial offering, and offering experienced artists the chance to lead more creatively. This really appealed to me as a next logical step! I knew it would provide opportunities to work on cool projects.
I'm first and foremost a VFX supervisor and 2D lead, but I also dabble around in After Effects, Photoshop, Unreal Engine RnD, creating landscapes and using various terrain generators. Flexibility and the ability to seamlessly navigate around various packages is key to whatever it is you need to create. Carbon seems less concerned with barriers between skillsets and departments.
Carbon is growing and there is a lot of opportunity for artists and people that want to jump in and be a part of it. I joined in the midst of the pandemic. It was very different - not being able to meet people in the corridors or talk to them eye to eye in a room and point at stuff, but we have made it all work. It's running fluently now. I already feel equally connected to all three studios. I think most companies have got their head around how to navigate in the remote world. We at Carbon just do it a little better than the rest!
LBB> How did you first get in the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?
Tobey> I'm from a small town in Sweden and got a part time job at a local company. It's sort of funny. I didn't really consider it ‘the industry’ at the time, but I guess it was! I was 17 years old and it was the late ‘90s.
I was hired to do 3D, visualisations and such, as well as some Photoshop. It was a great gig! They gave me some SCSI drives and books on 3ds Max. I would work full time during the summer and was even able to buy my first Wacom tablet and cell phone with the money I earned.
It's hard to think of any lessons I learned at that time, I'm sure there must have been a few. Lessons are learned every day. I think the real experience in actual VFX came a few years later. My ‘real’ career started after high school. Lots of 3D, lots of 2D, motion graphics, logos. My specialty now is 2D compositing, but I have a lot of experience in 3D as well. It's a great tool that stands by me in my VFX supervisor role.
LBB> Where did you learn your craft?
Tobey> I'm actually self-taught. I never went to a university or school for any of this. But, I started very young! When I was nine years old I started making ‘art’ in Deluxe Paint on my family's Commodore Amiga. Now, this is not something I was just doing occasionally - I sat A LOT, for hours at a time.
When I was 13 years old, I got my hands on 3D Studio Max. I wanted to know everything about it! I would stay up late, late at night figuring it all out. This was northern Sweden in the mid ‘90s. Most of you won't be familiar with the area (although I know there are one or two of you from this area who also work in the industry!) You would have to drive for 10 - 12 hours to find anything even remotely to do with CG or VFX. There was barely any internet access and definitely no online tutorials. Nobody to ask for help or collaborate with. I went to the library, got hold of some ‘3D Studio Max bibles and manuals’ and went at it.
My parents eventually invested in a pretty dang powerful PC with dual processors. I cannot thank them enough for believing in me at that early age. Even then I knew I wanted to do what I am doing today. I may not have known exactly what it was called. I wasn't even aware of what compositing was, let alone onset supervision. But I knew I wanted to do it for a living. It was all I would do and think about, and still is today...mostly!
LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?
Tobey> I care a lot for every job I do. Some of my most meaningful milestones are when I am especially proud of the team I'm working with. For example, if we put our minds together to solve a complicated technical or creative problem. Projects can be all consuming and when you all collaborate to create something beautiful there is a wonderful sense of accomplishment at the end. When I look back on some projects and the long time the team and I spent together, maybe discussing ideas and solutions over a beer, we had the best time ever!
If I were to mention a specific project. it would be one I did for the Discovery Channel in the mid 2000s. I sat in Sweden, while my other friend was in New York, and the client was in London. I was so excited to be a part of it that I worked on it after my other actual job. I probably spent around 18 hours a day handling both. It was a great experience being part of an international team and we won a Promax Gold! One of my first big awards.
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?
Tobey> The two types of VFX come with different challenges. And creative opportunities!
Let’s start with the invisible VFX. As the name suggests, they go mostly unseen by the audience. Heck, I sometimes have no clue these days when half of a city is VFX and I believe I have a trained enough eye.
There's a lot that can look wrong with ‘invisible effects’. Matching every little detail is essential. There are several aspects to consider and get right - perspective, choice of background footage, lens matching, light inside the car, the list goes on! The human eye can see if it's not 100% there. Even a tiny bit off makes the whole shot not believable.
I like to use the phrase ‘looking Seinfeld’. I'm not sure I coined it, but I'd like to think I did. You know those ‘inside a car’ shots in Seinfeld? When everything passing by ‘outside’ looks totally fake? Well, for me, a real ‘Seinfeld’ shot means every possible thing that can look wrong, does look wrong. I love Seinfeld though, just so that's been said!
For all these reasons, I love watching the breakdowns for invisible VFX films. It amazes me to discover that shots I thought were in camera, weren’t. I used to watch a lot of them back in the day. Zodiac, from Digital Domain, always stood out. It was difficult to imagine that so much of it was digital sets. The breakdown still exists here.
Another great invisible-post movie is The Truman Show. I had a subscription to a Swedish magazine back in the day and they had an article about the VFX. Little did I know the buildings were extended to the point that they were. What I love about these invisible VFX is that they have a huge effect on the storytelling, without you even realising it!
Epic VFX heavy shots come with their challenges too. But, that's also where the fun can be! I’m an artist who loves doing look-dev. I can dive down in silence for hours on end just experimenting. I naturally love working on shots like that. I would be lying if I said these weren't my favourite kind of shots to work on!
Certain shots are more forgiving than others. You want large scale explosions and creatures on a battlefield? Edge of Tomorrow is a great example. It's large scale, but it's very much real looking. It looks epic and seamless and there's a lot that goes into that.
Building a space scene might not be much easier, but it's more forgiving, in my opinion, because it's a bit more abstract. Again, that's where the fun is! I love working on anything VFX, but my favourite is the abstract stuff. You can add so much with it, dive in and see what you create.
LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?
Tobey> Something I can tell you about Carbon is that our VFX supervisors and Leads have a lot of experience. Like me, they are laser-focused on getting the best possible result on screen. Never make decisions solely based on what’s easy for the post process, how it will look always comes first!
I love working with directors, helping with problem solving and being involved from the start to understand the vision. It makes me incredibly happy that directors trust me. I am always honest, and have the best interest of the job at heart. I always want it to look as great as it possibly can.
LBB> I read somewhere that one of your favourite parts of a project is the "early calls", which is something I've not encountered before. Please elaborate on why!
Tobey> The short of it is - let us be a part of the project as early as possible. Firstly, I love all the excitement at the start of a new project, when everyone realises how great the work can be.
Secondly, or perhaps also firstly, we are here to make sure you will get the best possible help, guidance and advice so that the post production process can run smoothly. We can offer solutions and/or ideas for a project that is about to happen, and iron out any potential headaches. I want to hear what the director has to say, what their vision is and how they envision the final product. I want to know what the agency's priorities are.
LBB> Given that you're a fan of the early days of a project, how difficult is it to finalise a project and decide that it's done to the best possible standard?
Tobey> Now that you mention it, these two things are connected! Things being done right at the start and in the middle are what have the biggest effect on ‘the end’.
The foundation of a project to me is really important. Know everything about the project. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to execute it the best way possible. If something seems unclear - ask.
The best possible standard decisions need to be there before you're midway through. You need to have the eye to see that the work will look great, even if you aren’t there yet. And, it's always going to look bad for a minute, but that's why we keep going!
LBB> What are the biggest influences on the way you work?
Tobey> My main way of looking at it is, can I make this one frame look like a nice painting? Would I hang this on the wall? If yes, then I proceed to make the rest of the shot. If one frame works, then the rest will work, usually.
My influences come from all over the place, from movies and other really great tv spots to art made 100s of years ago. I try to shape my shots in ways that the old painters used to. I pull the viewers eye to where you want them to look. Old techniques like this have always worked well.
LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?
Tobey> To name a few that I've seen and felt I needed to share with friends - Destiny 2: Beyond Light game trailer (The Mill). It has a lot of nice atmosphere, nice dark and moody shots mixed with more daytime and evening shots. Overall well-polished and has a nice tone to it. Another one is Hennessy ‘The Piccards’. Same thing there, nice and moody, great colours and superb artwork throughout.
Let's not forget I work at Carbon though. A project that was finished up right before I joined is the Brizo ‘Jason Wu’ spot which was designed, directed and produced at Carbon. It's a beautiful piece and I love its abstract vibe. It's beautifully framed and lit and is full of amazing little details! Do I need to mention that I would have loved to be a part of that project?!
LBB> Where do you draw inspiration from, outside of your career? Any interesting hobbies?
Tobey> Generally speaking, I find inspiration in things that occur naturally. For example, the way light shines through the morning haze in a forest, creating volumetrics and adding thickness into the atmosphere. The way a foggy night lets the light bounce around from various light sources. I'm a big sucker for haze, and I love to incorporate into projects when I can.
Movies are of course a great inspiration. I love big epic establishing shots. The ‘Knowhere’ from Guardians of the Galaxy (Framestore is a great example of a misty, hazy, epic, awesome shot with enormous scale.
I also get inspiration from music. Creating music, to be more precise. I have composed a fair amount of music tracks that in my head belong in epic environments. I sometimes create music by visualising a scene and then making the music that fits with it. This way of creating has also influenced my VFX work. It just helps me think creatively in various dimensions at the same time.