Creators: VFX Supervisor Jep Hill
Since March 2021, Hill has been working with Alkemy X as a VFX Creative Director and Head of Imaging to expand Alkemy X's West Coast team, capabilities, and presence in both USA and Canada. With over 25 years of visual effects and imaging experience, Hill spent 17 years creating and supervising visual effects for the Los Angeles/West Coast studio system. Hill's work on the West Coast included classic studio-style visual effects production and leading teams through the entire process on live-action and full CG feature films at such facilities as Dream Quest Images, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain, and Industrial Light & Magic.
AX: What is your favorite part about your job?
JH: Collaborating with an amazing team, I enjoy solving problems and working with the artists to create unique solutions indicative of the talent everyone on the team brings. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to work with people and bring something to life that no one person would have been able to do themselves. Everyone having a contribution is really where the sum is greater than its parts. Collaborating as a team is the greatest gift I draw from this process.
AX: What was your first production role, how did this influence you?
JH: My first production role was as a PA/Runner. Ultimately it was pretty cool because I saw what was happening around me. It was right when computers were replacing optical printers, so computer-generated ("CG") effects had just come into the game, and I had a knack for computers. There wasn't anything in school about this, so I never really heard of it, but the longer I was at the company, I admit it really piqued my interest. Then I learned you could make a living from it; the rest is history!
AX: What is the key to being an effective VFX Supervisor?
JH: It's all about working with the team to provide leadership and support rather than management. Effective skill-based management is far different and non-skill-based management. So, ensuring the team feels connected to the process and recognized for contributions across the board is vital. No one role is more important than another, we simply wear different hats, and many of us wear multiple hats, and we may have other size heads, but every hat and head is equally important. So, it is about recognizing the contribution of everybody and appreciating the team. Because at the end of the day, people often forget and say, "Oh, I worked on Star Wars, or oh, I worked on this commercial." Yeah, that stuff is excellent, and, as the years go by, what you remember and value the most is how you felt working with each other as a team, this is the key.
AX: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in pursuing a career in VFX?
JH: When choosing any career path, ensure there is nothing else you'd prefer to do instead. And I say this because finding your passion is essential to whatever you want to do, and you will need to make a personal investment in it. If you're having fun while doing it, you often don't feel it's work or labor.
Getting into VFX is all about finding a place doing the types of work you like, getting in as an intern, finding people to learn from, educating yourself, and continuously honing your craft. While there are many bad tutorials online, there are also excellent learning opportunities - find these and take advantage of them. So, once you are sure you want to do VFX, just like anything else, find the top talent, train with them, ask questions until they tell you to go away, and then come back again and ask more. Also, start getting a reel together and keep it updated with examples of your very best work and/or tools. When it’s good, it doesn’t matter where it comes from - folks see it and say "have you seen this reel?! It's amazing; let's get this person in here. We need this help!" It'll happen like that. My mother always told me that if there is somewhere you want to go, be prepared and have your bags packed; it's all about the moment that opportunity meets preparation.
AX: What was one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?
JH: One of them, and I know Mark Miller will laugh at me for this, was Armageddon. It was at Dream Quest just after they had been bought by Disney and still had the whole model shop and "miniatures stage" in play. So, we shot most of the main asteroid using old-school practical miniature and motion control techniques and then combined that with the newly emerging digital VFX process. Seeing the amazing talents and skills involved in the miniature process of attenuating light and how to shoot it so it appeared as real-world scale was mind-blowing. It was truly such a magical time to be involved.
AX: What was a project that challenged you and how did you get through it?
JH: On a project called "Jungle Cruise," one of the full CG characters was literally made of mud, and we were set in a very dense and, sometimes dimly lit, jungle. We would have ongoing discussions in dailies about how to make sure this character appears as being made of mud and isn't mistaken for something else... because the jungle floor encompasses a lot of animal waste. Initially, the direction we were taking just wasn't working, so we embraced the darkness of the plates - we used it rather than fighting it. We had so many challenges in ensuring we hit the director's creative vision while simultaneously bringing the four fantastical full CG characters to life as intended. It was wonderfully enriching to be a part of evolving the problem-solving process and manifesting the director's vision in a way that bested his expectations.
AX: What is a moment in your career that made a huge impact on you?
JH:There have been so many moments that have hugely impacted me as I continue to learn. For example, collaborating with the best-of-the-best across the industry to execute top-notch VFX while developing and implementing improved processes, fresh ideas, and emerging technologies with the ultimate goal of improving the team's work experience as well as the facility product has been incredibly rewarding. I'm humbled to contribute to these processes and hear people I hold in such high regard say, "yeah, this is great!" I am very grateful to have worked alongside the minds and teams. They've offered so much knowledge; I wouldn't be anywhere without them.
AX: How do you spend your free time?
JH: Coming from Austin, I'm naturally a fan of the "big three": live music, fantastic food & drink, and spending time with family & friends. I love being outside in the sun and fresh air, enjoying the beach, a day on the lake, hiking, snowboarding, SCUBA, staying active, and perfecting my backyard BBQ skills. It's probably no surprise that I also love photography, like "love love" photography.