Bastien Chauvet, VFX supervisor at MPC Paris, tells us more about his background, his day-to-day routines as a studio supervisor and his advice as a shooting supervisor.
- How long have you been working at MPC?
I started as a Visual Effects Supervisor at MPC Paris to oversee Season 1 of the Starz series The Serpent Queen in August 2021. After that, I worked on the Netflix film, Murder Mystery 2, and then the “top-secret, cool project” we’re currently working on.
8 years prior to that, I had already worked with the same teams as a graphic artist on Le Renard et L’Enfant or Vent Mauvais when MPC Paris was Mikros VFX.
- What was your journey like to become a VFX Supervisor?
I wanted to pursue this career ever since I was 7 years old, whilst watching a Jurassic Park documentary. I realized that I could make a living by creating dinosaurs! That idea never left me.
At the age of 16, I founded a theater and cinema association called Soudja, where I started creating my first special effects, make-up, projections, and VFX shots. With these experiences, I built a portfolio that got me into the Georges Méliès school. My final graduation film project was 100% VFX.
After that, I was hired at E.S.T by Christian Guillon and Arnaud Fouquet, where I learned the importance of precision. Then I joined Def(2)shoot with Franck Malmin, where I learned to focus on the essentials.
From there, everything went very quickly: Christian took me to the set of Astérix 3, Franck entrusted me with small solo projects, then projects with two or three artists, and finally commercials. Four years after graduating from school, I became a VFX supervisor on a feature film!
- The role of a VFX supervisor varies from country to country. What does your job involve?
My job is quite comprehensive. It’s actually very similar to being a chef in a kitchen. I develop the recipe, assemble a team, and then taste it until the dish can be served to the client!
In most cases, I receive a script that I analyze, and then I determine how to create it, the team needed, and the budget required for the film. Then, I go on set to ensure that everything goes as planned.
Finally, I return to the studio to assemble the team and start the production. I oversee the whole production process, with of course, the help of th entire team. I then have the final say as to when the shots are good to go, and hopefully, our client agrees too!
Of course, this can vary depending on the production. If the studio is only involved in a part of the film and there is a VFX supervisor on the client’s side, it is rare for us to participate in the design or even the shooting.
- What is a typical day for a VFX supervisor in the office and on set?
The supervisor in the office needs a routine.
It’s important to structure the day in order to be able to respond to everyone! For the team, it also helps to know when they can work independently and when they will have time for meetings and collaboration.
The day usually starts with a one-hour meeting among the VFX supervisors, production directors, CG supervisors, and 2D supervisors. The goal is to quickly review the previous day, client feedback from the night (when working with international clients), and the shots for the day.
Then I go in my daily screening session. There, I review the progress from the previous day and provide feedback if necessary. I try to reserve time for any additional meetings (studio meetings, launching a sequence, a big shot, an asset). Then, depending on the day, it’s time to review shots that were delivered in the morning or have a review session with clients.
On a film set, life is mostly filled with unforeseen events…!
You need to ensure that you have anticipated and prepared as much as possible the day before the shoot. Once on set, you always need to be alert. The secret is to observe everything that is happening, how the shots are being captured, intervene when necessary, and above all, be present when you are called upon.
Then you need to make sure to return to the studio with everything you need, without wasting too much time for the tightly scheduled film crew. I often hesitate to ask for specific references or reshoot a scene on set, but the thought of having to justify to a distressed artist back at the studio that I don’t have those elements is enough to set me on the right path.
- What would you say to a teenager who wants to pursue the same career as you?
What I already tell my students at Méliès school: educate yourself! In every sense of the word.
VFX is a branch of magic. We are illusionists. We have to make the unreal believable. To do that, it’s imperative to know how the real world works! Optics, computer science, of course, but also anatomy, chemistry, and behavioral science. There isn’t one of these disciplines that hasn’t been useful to me when I had to mimic a creature, an environment, a fluid, or bring a watercolour painting to life!
Referring to history is crucial in our jobs. It’s important to know how the pioneers did things so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, or on the contrary, understand how to take a shortcut. So, watch a lot of films and making-ofs!
Learn what it means to be a team player: no one can make a film alone today. A VFX supervisor can’t be good at everything. However, they must surround themselves with competent people. You are the leader, and paradoxically, you’re not there to be right! You’re there to guide, to cultivate. That also means recognizing the voice of reason when it comes from elsewhere.
- What is your favorite part/moment of your job?
I quite enjoy the “first times.” When we start working on an asset or a sequence and everyone is gathered to discuss it, when the first looks come in, then the first animations. When creatures start coming to life, when we assemble the initial elements and see that “it’s going to work.”
In fact, I love it when “the magic happens!”
- What is the highlight of your career so far?
As an artist, it’s undoubtedly my time at Weta FX. It’s a childhood dream that I was fortunate enough to fulfill. As a VFX supervisor, the highlight is what I’m experiencing right now!
It’s reassuring because it means it’s not over yet!
- Which shot has been the most challenging in your career?
I think of two shots in Oceans directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud.
The first one is a shot where a whale emerges from the water and glides close to the camera. The shot was filmed in a “whale field” with two boats connected by a crane. Unfortunately, on the day a whale decided to pass between the boats, the sun was behind, and the crane’s shadow covered the entire surface of the animal. Nowadays, this shot would be considered easy with tools like SmartVector or other technologies. But in 2009, we had to reinvent everything: using matchmove of the whale, on which we projected and backed the shot. We then analyzed each frame to find skin patterns without the shadow and recreate the texture “to match” and create a CG patch. It was crucial for the directing duo to keep as much live action as possible.
In the same film, there’s a shot of a grizzly bear catching a salmon. However, when the shooting team arrived at the airport, a Canadian customs officer found it amusing to pass the reel through the X-ray machine and partially open the protective lid. The result was a moving veil of tiny red grains that had to be isolated and restored.
For both cases, there was a real innovative strategy to implement, delving into the “heart of the pixel.”
- Who inspires you, and why?
As a teenager, I had posters of Rick Baker in my room. Even today, it’s these people who inspire me. Baker, Winston, Dykstra, Murren, Tippet, Dick Smith, Ray Harryhausen, Alexeif, Georges Méliès, Robert Houdin!
They are individuals who are both artists and technicians and have pushed the boundaries. I’ve sometimes thought that I was born too late and that they had already invented everything. But real-time rendering or the new techno-ethical challenges posed by AI show that there is still plenty of ground to explore, understand, and shape.
- What is your favorite film, and why?
The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky. It has everything that makes cinema. This film is both an independent movie and a visual effects masterpiece.
It combines an incredible number of techniques, but everything is ultimately in service of a beautiful story and message. The music is incredible. The quiet moments in the editing convey more than any sequence.
And there’s this incredible shot of rebirth that encapsulates it all. If I had to summarize cinema in one shot, it would be that one. Image and music serving the message.
- What is your favorite MPC film?
Like many others, I think it’s The Jungle Book because it was a real turning point for MPC, especially regarding creatures. It set a new standard that The Lion King pushed even higher a few years later. When clients come to us, these are the films they have in mind. So we always have to take them as a starting point because delivering a “lesser” copy is impossible. It’s very challenging on a daily basis.
Thanks Bastien! Interested in working with him and our French teams? Apply here.