The ILM and Digital Domain producer talks to Hina Pandya about the complexities of working for big budget movies
Producer Jeff Olson chats to Hina Pandya about his work at ILM and Digital Domain
Company ILM and
Location San Francisco, California USA
Biography Jeff Olson started at Industrial Light and Magic in 1982 in the model shop working with his hands and using his skills in movies like Batteries Not Included, Willow, Ghostbusters 2 and Star Trek: Generations. Having worked on 13 movies Olson moved into producing VFX in 1986, and later onto Digital Domain working on Ender’s Game. At ILM he began work on Star Trek: First Contact as his first role as a producer, which was, “very challenging, lots of computer graphics, lots of models too a good transition for me before I went to work on Star Wars.”
• Ender’s Game, 2013
• Star Trek, 2009
• Pirates Of The Caribbean: At
Worlds End, 2007
• Eragon, 2006
• Poseidon, 2006
• Master and Commander: The
Far Side Of The World, 2003 • Star Wars: Episode 1 – The
Phantom Menace, 1999
• Batteries Not Included, 1987
• ET The Extra Terrestrial, 1982
the complexities of shooting and producing visual effects are wide and varied says Olson.
“On a typical live action shot there might be days, weeks and sometimes months of prep work,” in many cases a model would be involved in a shoot and its preparation, creation and painting can take weeks or months before it is ready for the stage shoot.
Organising scheduling alone is arduous as it involves ensuring all the components come together, keeping track of what’s ready, when it will be ready and scheduling it so that when the model comes onto the stage the stage crew have time to get it lit correctly, photographed and approved again, “Because there’s so many elements to shoot in a typical VFX movie the stage is in high demand [and] you’re under pressure to get the whole project done in three to four months or maybe a much tighter schedule than that to produce hundreds of shots.”
With all this work going into the components of a model, the shooting element of a shot may only take a day or three and result in seven seconds of screen time.
Master And Commander, directed by Peter Weir was a favourite of Olson’s due to a mutual love with the director of the great seafaring novels the film was based on. the two had a connection and would “often talk about how we can pull this off” in the film, which often comprised of a complex and varied list of VFX shots. A realistic cannon ball fight, for example, needed to be created between French and British ships.
Pyrotechnics, background water for wide shots, and incorporating shots of the model made at Weta as well as some shots of the model at ILM were all elements carefully prepared, planned and constructed for a seamlessly realistic result. Olson was at ILM in san Francisco whilst Weir was working with Fox in Los Angeles, “He’d come up twice a week and would meet with my crew of 60 computer graphic artists as well as the stage crew working to make elements.”
together they energised each other to produce some very realistic dramatic shots, not just in this scene but in the many scenes Fox had asked ILM to produce.
despite all the meticulous planning, not all of it comes off smoothly but as Olson says producing is about solving problems and team work, “there are always going to be problems you didn’t expect; count on the people around you for their expertise to help you solve problems, you can’t come up with it all yourself, but you’ll know who to go to.” Which he certainly excelled at, having produced some amazing visual effects throughout his career.
there are always going to be problems you didn’t expect, count on the people around you for their expertise