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Steve Newburn Interview Special Effects Artist


You’ve worked on a lot of super-hero movies, was that something you went out for, and which have been the most rewarding or frustrating?

I've never gone out for a specific job, especially as far as the super-hero stuff. The industry doesn't work that way. I've worked on many of the super-hero movies of the last 10 years, but it's just a coincidence. It's rare to know what project you're going on, until you're there. There is a LOT of secrecy these days, especially with the comic book movies. Companies and effects artists are all required to sign non-disclosures more often than not. What ends up happening then, is that you'll get a call asking availability. If you 'sign on', then, if you're established with the company, (have a long standing relationship with them), they might tell you what the project is. Often though, you find out when you show up the first day, what the movie is going to be. Honestly, it's different every time.

As far as rewarding effects in super-hero movies, I just talked about ‘The Dark Knight’ which was very rewarding to me personally. Another highlight would be the Doctor Octopus stuff from ‘Spider-man 2.’ There was a design phase on that film that lasted longer than most movies entirely. By the time we got to actually making the real stuff, I think a lot of us were sick of it. But once it all starts coming together, and in-house tests are being done, you start to be reinvigorated toward the job. The excitement comes back.
With ‘Doc Octopus,’ the practical tentacles we built actually ended up working so well that we 'stole' some shots that were planned to be used as CGI. The movie got the ‘Academy Award’ that year for VFX (Visual effects), which was exciting.

Do you ever fear that ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ premise, where computers literally will be used for everything with regards to your work?

I don't fear it so much personally; I've branched out a lot and continue to do so. The simple fact is that even with CGI stuff, much of it starts in the 'real' world - scanning maquette’s, VFX elements, etc. Everyone seems to know the limitations to computer technology, except the producers and directors who ask for it. It's funny, because I've only recently realised, in the last couple years, the degree to which many digital artists AREN'T aware of what can be done by practical means.

I was bidding a show a couple years ago in conjunction with a digital department, I would do the practical, and they the digital work. We were on the same team essentially, rather than working against each other. For gags, and in our little round-table discussions, I would get the constant, "you can do that?!?", and it would be over the simplest thing, the kind of thing they were doing well in the 50s and 60s, not to mention with updated techniques. I've seen it many times since, and have actually been told by a number of digital artists, that they are well aware, that much of what is being done, doesn't hold up, but they need to get all the shots they can - it is a business after all.

I started to realise that you've got the video game generation coming out of school now, and they've never learned to think in the traditional art sense. Many of the younger ones honestly can't think outside the digital box, because they aren't aware that there even is an outside. The ones who have been around for a while are aware of what can be done, but have often given in to what has been deemed ‘the future'. I guess it depends on your outlook. Stan Winston was quoted as saying something along the lines of... computers are just another tool in the effects artists’ arsenal, they shouldn't rely on it solely, but use it where appropriate. He also mentioned, and I agree 100%, that - the magic of movies, came from not knowing how the trick was done. If you go to a magic show, do you want to know how the tricks are done? No, of course not. You can then appreciate the showmanship, but you'll never leave with the excitement and wonder that should have come from it. Movies are the same way. When everything is being done digitally, the ‘awe factor’ goes away. Look at the original ‘Star Wars’ - the Falcon escaping the Death Star, with TWO tie fighters in pursuit, and everyone was one the edge of their seats. Jump forward to the last ‘Star Wars’ prequel, and you had entire armadas of imperial and rebel ships going at it, and most people didn't care less. People have become desensitized to it, and the awe is gone. Viewers are starting to realize this, as are production companies, and there does seem to be a resurgence, at least with some of the old school filmmakers, toward practical effects.

Have you ever been star struck?

I've never been in the least bit star struck by anyone, celebrity or otherwise. I respect the advances made by certain individuals within the industry, but have also found that once you get to know them, sometimes the negatives downplay that level of respect. Again, I don't want to bash on people, so I won't get into the negative side of things, which are definitely there.

I have to respect the accomplishments Stan Winston put forth. He really did benefit the artists within the industry by 'fighting' for respect for the people within the creature industry. A lot of people have gained from his drive to be recognized for his work. Honestly, I think the people I look up to the most are the people, as a group, that put the information out there for the next generation to learn from. So much of the work in the past was kept secretive, and that doesn't help anyone progress, individual or the industry.
I've been doing this long enough that I've seen the dark side of everyone, including the people I looked up to when I was getting started. It's a bit of a downer, but I respect them for the accomplishments they were a part of none the less...

How do most actors deal with the SFX people such as yourself, and have you ever had any difficulties with an actor regarding an effect?

Actors are funny. They're a very hit and miss group. Some are fantastic and others you'd like to toss off the nearest bridge. My own experience has been that there are the people JUST starting out who are so grateful to be there and end up being really excited about everything. They'll put up with nearly anything to try and make it.

Then you have the middle of the road actors who've been around, and done a few shows here and there. While I don't want to create a stereotype, these have been, in my experience, the hardest to deal with. They think they are 'somebody,' yet they're really no more recognizable than a million others out there. This carries into some of the people who have just recently fallen into the A-list. There is a bit of a god-complex in many of them. That's tough to deal with.

Usually, the actor's who are true professionals, and have been around a long time, recognize the importance of EVERYONE to a project. These people want the respect they deserve having paid their dues, so to speak, but most also realise that everyone else who's been in the other filmmaking industries have paid their own dues and, as such, have earned their own respect. As I said, none of this holds true 100% of the time and there are exceptions to all the rules. It's just a general norm I've seen myself. Some of the best experiences I've had were with what I would classify as those 'middle of the road' actors, and some of the worst have been with the A-list. Without naming anyone in particular, when you have 7 and 8 year olds who will put up with being made up day after day, and a "star" who refuses to even wear dentures without throwing a tantrum over it, that's ridiculous.

One of the worst experiences I've personally had was a certain "star," who insisted that production should drop everything it was doing while shooting a scene for which we had just done a very involved 5 hour makeup for the end scene of the film. It was a one shot deal for us. He had come in for his call time, and we were just finishing up shooting. They told him it would be about 15 minutes till we were ready for him, and he freaked out, and stormed off the set because "I shouldn't have to wait." Completely immature behaviour, in my opinion. He went so far as to call his own kids, "f-ing #$#$#$#," when they interrupted him, while he was talking to someone at the craft service table between shots. The same individual had near daily rants like that and was hated by pretty much the entire crew.

THIRD PART WILL CONTINUE NEXT WEEK:



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FIRST PART OF INTERVIEW WITH STEVE NEWBURN
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Content copyright © 2013 by Steven Casey Murray. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Steven Casey Murray. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Steven Casey Murray for details.

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