VFX Interview – Tristan Kilmer, Senior Previs Artist, Digital Domain
August 14, 2020 – Tristan Kilmer is a Previs Artist in Los Angeles who has worked at vfx studios such as Digital Domain, Halon, and MPC working on films such as The Predator, Aquaman, Detective Pikachu, and Dumbo. Tristan is a graduate from CalArts where he earned his BFA in experimental animation.
Today, Tristan Kilmer talks to VFX Online about his work experience of Visual Effects Industry.
How do you describe yourself professionally?
I have worn many hats over the years working as a Previs Artist, Animator, Animation Director, Layout Artist, and 3Ddmp Environment Artist. I am passionate about making great movies and telling great stories with great visuals.
What sparked your interest in VFX & Animation?
Ever since I was a kid, I just loved the idea of being able to use animation to tell stories that normally would not be seen in the real world. Being able to use animation as an interpretation of the world gravitated towards me. I think what sparked my interest in VFX was when I was sitting in the theater watching Man of Steel for the first time. I had never seen anything like it and was blown away by the visuals. This was when I decided to learn CG.
How did you enter the industry?
My first job in entertainment was in Stop Motion Animation. I made a few short films using the LEGO toys that ended up going viral, which caught the attention of some people over at Warner Brothers Interactive. This led to me creating a promotional video for their video game LEGO Dimensions.
How was the experience to working in Previsualization Artist?
I love it. There is such a wide variety of things to do, you are never stuck to one specific task. As a person who loves to tell visual stories, it’s great!
What was your favorite Previsualization Projects you’ve worked on? What was the Previsualization Challenges in this project?
I think my favorite has to be Star Trek: Picard. I am a big fan of sci-fi and though I was on it for only for a brief moment, I got to previs some really fun shots. It was great to see them on the screen just a few months later! I think two major challenges of working on an IP that has existed for so long is being able to do service to the fans and making sure to respect but also push the style and aesthetic of the show.
Tell us about some of the projects you have worked on?
I have been really fortunate to have been able to branch out and participate in different mediums over the years. I have worked on projects that were stop motion, VR, live action shoots, traditional animation, full CG, game cinematics, and an animated/live action documentary hybrid. I love the diversity of tools that are available that allow the exploration and experimentation with so many mediums.
How was your working experience in Artemis Fowl, Star Trek: Picard, The Call of the Wild, Dolittle and More?
Each show is different, but the deadlines are always the same. One thing that I love about the variety of films that I have worked on is that it has allowed me to explore different film scenarios. Being able to go from robots to spaceships to animals to monsters is quite fun. It really fires up the imagination.
What’s the best way to approach cinematography in our Film Industry?
Sometimes less is more. The cinematography should help support the story and not distract or pull the audience away from it. The tone of light should push the scene towards the emotional points it needs to hit. Doing so can make a low budget film look more high value with little tricks like increasing the depth of field to enhance the performance of the actors.
How has Virtual Production support our Film Industry?
Collaboration between departments and crew are more bound to happen with virtual production. We are able to visualize and create on the fly rather than what would be an extra few days of back and forth.
How are projects being worked on during this lockdown period? What’s your thoughts about the current state of the film industry?
While I cannot talk about the current project that I am working on, I think that the industry is still thriving. It’s adapting to the current situation. It looks like a lot of on location filming will be moving more towards a stage. Whether that is a physical set or LED screens will be one of the next big topics for Hollywood to figure out.
What are your biggest influences/inspirations?
I try to have variety when it comes to inspiration. I take inspiration from Contemporary art, Surrealism, Art Deco, Tonalism, as well as anything different in the mediums of film and art. I think there is always at least one thing you can be inspired from in your daily life.
Any particular artists/professionals that inspire you?
Some of my biggest influences have been Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig Mccracken, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, and Zack Snyder.
What’s your favourite tool to use and why?
I love using Maya and Nuke as well as a Cintiq! Anything used beyond those would be more for focusing on a particular aspect in the pipeline that would be easier to achieve in it. Those three are my daily tool’s, I use so much as they’re so versatile. With them, I can draw out my scenes, work in a 3D space, and add visual enhancements to the shots I create.
Outside of Previsualization what are you most passionate about?
I love acting, specifically improv. Improv creates a spontaneous environment. With the right group of people it can be a great time.
What will be your ‘dream project’ to work on?
I don’t think that there is quite one project I want to be on. I love originality, but I think working on a Star Wars film would be cool!
What do you think about the future of VFX & the Animation Industry?
I think it is going to get to a point where there is no sharp difference between the two. So many live action films are using CG animation to push original shots. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is animated even when you have worked on shot.
Which direction would you like to take your career in the near future?
I love storytelling, both with visuals and writing. As long as I have a voice in it, I will follow my path in my career to wherever it takes me.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get into this industry?
Never stop learning! Be open minded to critique and criticism. Lastly, make sure you really want to go for the role that you will be working for a long time in.