Ryan Curtis is the VFX Coordinator at Supernatural. He’s worked in VFX since 2010 and has had the opportunity to work on several really great shows before he began working on Supernatural. He is a regular contributor to conversations on Twitter and enjoys interacting with the fandom. We reached out to him recently and asked if we could sit down with him and find out a little more about him, the show and other projects he’s been working on. Ryan very graciously consented and the interview proved to be fun as well as educational.
DC: I started with the basics. Will you explain to us exactly what the term VFX encompasses and what you are responsible for in your role as Coordinator?
RC: Firstly VFX (Visual Effects) are the computer generated elements that appear in the show. Our most common effects are black eyes, angel deaths or demon fritzes. An on-set Coordinator works under the VFX Supervisor and attends set while production is shooting any of the shots that will have VFX elements in them. My job is to make sure that all the data on-set is collected so that the VFX artists will be able to match the setups in CG (computer generated) land. Depending on the shot, I might collect data such as lens size, angle of camera, lighting setup etc.
Often I will supervise the filming of smaller setups while our Supervisor Mark Meloche is working with our artists in finishing an episode. When supervising we work with the director and DP (director of photography) to make sure that we shoot all the elements we need in order to piece together an effect. Sometimes it is as simple as a dot on someone’s face, or it can be a much more elaborate effect using greenscreen and winds, such as Dean escaping purgatory in season 8.
There are many effects in an episode that people don’t even realize are VFX… if we do our jobs correctly.
DC: Kind of ironic that you work to make things appear while at the same time making sure your work isn’t necessarily visible to the naked eye…kind of a paradox! I have to say I kind of thought a black eye would be something that was done in makeup. I think I’ll be watching the episodes a little differently now.
You’ve had the chance to work on some pretty great shows. I personally loved the first two seasons of The Killing and have been told I’d love Haven as well. I don’t see any credits for anything earlier than 2010. Did you do something else before you got into VFX?
RC: Yes, in my former life I was an IT professional and Tech Support. It started out fun, back in the 90’s IT guys got to be cowboys and make their own rules, but the industry changed and it got too stuffy. I am not the biggest fan of corporate politics so it was time to find something else. I started editing video at home and realized that I loved it so I decided (at 34yo) to change careers… somehow. I studied up on editing and learned some techniques. I knew NO ONE in the entertainment business and wasn’t sure how the hell I could get in, but I was determined. I continued to try and pursue editing, little did I know at the time but Vancouver doesn’t do much post production work in regard to online editing, it’s mostly done in LA.
Eventually I came across someone looking for an IT/VFX editor. I used my decades of IT skills to get a job that got me into an editing suite. Turns out I loved VFX. As a VFX Editor, or I/O Coordinator as it is sometimes called, I was responsible for cutting in new versions of the VFX shots and playing back the scenes for everyone to look at. I was basically a glorified file shuttler. But I loved it. And yes, the company I worked for did some cool shows. Haven was the first show I got to touch and it just happened to be one of my favs, so it was very, very exciting for me.
DC: What a great story of reinventing yourself and ending up finding something that you love doing. We all spend so much time at work that it doesn’t make sense to spend day after day in an environment that we don’t enjoy. It takes a brave individual to walk away from an established career and start over. I’ve done it a time or two as well and have encouraged others to try to find their passion.
So, do you coordinate the physical effects as well? Do you have a preference?
RC: Physical Effects, practical effects or Special Effects – SFX are a totally different. They are a different breed then us pixel and mouse boys. Typically they do stuff like blow up cars, suspend actors on wires, or rig explosive charges (squibs) in people to make them look like they are getting shot. That is a very interesting department; you should interview one of them too.
DC: I would love to talk to one of them – will you recommend me? I’m not sure I follow any of them and I think that their job sounds equally as interesting as yours on the VFX side.
Have you or your respective teams ever been asked for an effect that you couldn’t pull off?
RC: We can do anything with enough time. Our VFX Supervisor, Mark Meloche, loves to push the boundaries of what we can accomplish and he challenges the team to produce bigger and better visuals every season. Plus, new technologies allow us to accomplish stuff that was only possible by huge budget features just a few years ago. We are always welcoming new and exciting visual effects.
DC: It sounds like you switched fields at a good time. I honestly don’t think we’ve reached the limit of what can be achieved through technology. It will be interesting to take a look back in 15 or 20 years and see how the effects hold up as things change. Think of the original Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies, and yes, I’m dating myself.
Are there instances where you have been able to improve upon the writer/director’s vision for an effect?
RC: Sure, we do that all the time. Our show is pretty cool with allowing departments to add their own touches when it’s appropriate. I guess one example from this season is the truck going off the bridge in 10×13. We had the opportunity and the know how to do a CGI truck, so I suggested the truck flying off the bridge and then into the camera. We mocked up a rough animatic and they liked it. I hoped they would use the truck flying into camera to smash the titles, and they did. I was so happy.
DC: I loved that visual! It was very, very effective particularly with the title card design this season. Totally not sucking up – you can ask the others, I mentioned it on our group re-watch of that episode and again to my sister.
Do you have a favorite episode(s) out of anything you’ve worked on) in terms of the work you and/or your team did for the episode? Can you share the episode(s) with us?
RC: Personally I like 8×23 (Sacrifice), the 200th (FanFiction), anything with Jody Mills (and Donna Hanscum), The French Mistake… and I also was the VFX supervisor for 10×13 (Halt & Catch Fire) this year, so that is one of my favs.
DC: So, here’s a total fan girl confession from me, I wept at end of 8×23. The angels falling from heaven while Sam appeared to be dying really affected me. My personal all-time favorite episode though is 3×08 (A Very Supernatural Christmas). I love Sam and Dean’s back story and yes, I cry during that episode as well.
Have you ever appeared as a character or an extra on any of the shows you’ve worked on? If so, will share the episode names? We’d love to try to spot you!
RC: I might be somewhere in 10×14 (The Executioner’s Song)…
DC: OK, we (the Lusties) will have to do a re-watch to see if we can spot you!
I imagine like corporate departments everywhere you guys have a budget and that you have to make that money last throughout your shooting year. How do you determine what percentage of the budget goes into each episode?
RC: Our VFX Producer Grant Lindsay takes care of the budget stuff. He has been doing it for this show since season 1 so he is an old pro. Ticks along like a Swiss clock.
DC: Supernatural’s been in production for ten years which is remarkable in itself and as I mentioned earlier those ten years have been filled with large and small technological advancements which is equally remarkable. Is there anything you wish your team had access to?
RC: I wish we had a replicator or holodeck.
DC: Those would make things a little easier, wouldn’t they? Ever since I saw the holodeck on TNG I wanted one for my home….dream big and all.
Everyone in the fandom loves the gag reels. Is any of that planned in advance (outside the short piece Misha did for last season), as in “let’s do this for the gag reel” or is it truly that spontaneous? Or, as someone else put it, is there really that much screwing around on set and does it get in the way of production?
RC: I don’t think anything is planned out, and I am sure there is a lot that doesn’t get on there too. We just have fun, like most people do at work. I wouldn’t call it screwing around per se, but when you are stuck together for 12 to 15 hours per day, 5 days per week for 10 months you gotta laugh. I have to say Gag reels are my favorites.
DC: Fair enough, we do plenty of ‘screwing around’ where I work as well and many of us have worked together for eleven years now. We just don’t get it on camera (that we know of). I think a good sense of humor is essential for navigating the work place. Without the humor there are situations that could go sideways in a heartbeat. One thing we (the fandom) have heard time and time again is how much fun it is to work on the Supernatural set. Would you share one of your favorite memories of working on Supernatural?
RC: I remember being on Stage 1, it was August and it was super-hot outside but even hotter in the stage. I was waiting around to do our shots for hours and just sweating. I was pretty miserable and started thinking “Sometimes this job sucks” when just at that moment the craft services guy Mike walked in with a tray of Ice Cream treats for everyone. I then decided that maybe it’s not so bad.
Another is watching in video village while Jensen and Ty Olsson did the “good bye to Benny scene” in the Alley, and also watching Jared and Mark do the “in the Church” Scenes in 8×23 (Sacrifice). Both contain some epic acting; those were memorable moments to get to experience.
DC: I follow you on Twitter and have seen you tweeting about your project The Weirdo Hero, what would you like to tell people about the project? Have you enjoyed your stint as director? Could you see yourself directing again?
RC: Weirdo Hero is a short film I directed this year. It is about a pro-wrestler who is battling depression. It’s pretty intense subject matter, but we tried to make it light hearted too. There will be tears, but way more laughs. We hope to try and spread awareness of depression, and to help to remove the stigma that depression carries, especially among young men.
It’s funny how these projects come along. I remember way back when I started in this biz doing VFX Editing and thinking, I would never want to be on-set… Then, I went to set and loved it… I then thought I would never want to supervise… Again, I did and I loved it as well… I thought I would never want to direct, and found myself calling action on a 30 pages/6 day shoot of a short film. It was a fantastic experience and I am proud to say I am a pretty good director. I found it very natural and had a lot of fun. Basically I wanted to do it just to see if I could. We made the film for about $5000 and it will run about 30 minutes.
The first day of shooting I told everyone, we are here to meet people in the industry, make new friends and have fun, and as a bonus we get to make a movie. So that’s what we did, we just had fun. I got to cast some friends and some actors that I have worked with before. Everyone volunteered their time and we shot it on weekends. There was a crew of about 18.
Currently I am editing and working on the Post side of it. There is still so much to do; we have to the do voice overs, sound design, musical score, foley, visual effects, color timing and distribution. So if anyone reading would like to donate we sure could use your donations to help complete the film. You can link to our gofundme page from www.theweirdohero.com
As for will I do it again? Most definitely, I am already looking for my next project.
DC: I really admire what both you, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are doing to help bring awareness to depression and mental illness. I have suffered from depression and it’s almost conjoined twin, anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember and it is hard to talk about it with people who have had no personal experience with any kind of mental illness. I think you are absolutely correct in your assessment that it is more difficult for young men to seek help for depression and hopefully these projects will help the general public gain a greater understanding of the struggle facing anyone suffering from any form of mental disease. There are so many misconceptions floating around and people are embarrassed to ask questions and/or seek help. I’m looking forward to seeing the film once it’s released.
Imagine that you are given the opportunity to do any film or show that you wanted – no strings, huge budget, what would you choose?
RC: My Own. Can’t talk about it, but maybe someday you might see it on TV.
DC: Interesting… I’ll be sure to keep a lookout for that in the future.
You’re very active on Twitter and quite witty. What do you like best about this form communication? What do you see as the drawbacks (if any)?
RC: I like Twitter very much because it feels like a big conversation you are having with the world. I love that I can follow people I look up to and know what they are thinking about certain things. I love that actors or scientists or whomever interact with each other for everyone to see. I find it very humanizing. Currently I have around 7500 followers, which is a great number, because I always have someone to talk to and I can still read my @replies.
I always feel bad because I only add people on Facebook if I know them in real life; I get a lot of friend requests. Sorry if I didn’t add you… I am trying to keep it for my private life.
DC: That makes sense and is completely understandable. I have just one more question for you and it’s sort of the signature question of the group, how do you define ‘lusty’?
RC: I like the idea of Lusty more than the actual form of lustiness. I think everyone wants to be lusted after in theory, but if faced with it outright I am pretty sure it would be unnerving to most people.
Also, whenever I hear the word “Lusty” I think of a well-endowed woman… hmm wonder what 80’s movie imprinted that on my brain? Might be a few. Also I could just be thinking Busty.
DC: I suspect that you are right regarding actually being lusted after….and as far as well-endowed? Well, Lusty does rhyme with Busty, right? In all seriousness I think that each of the LustyFanGirls would have their own definition of what lusty means to them and to me that is one of the greatest aspects of this group. We are all different, but have been able to bond over our common interests, most specifically, Supernatural.
Ryan, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I have truly enjoyed getting to know you and your work a little better. There will be a contingent of LustyFanGirls at Vancon again this year and if you’re there, just look for the girls wearing bright pink t-shirts bearing the Lusty Logo.
If anyone else reading is heading to Vancon this year please be sure to say ‘hi’ to Ryan if you see him and take a minute to thank him for his hard work on our favorite show. Of course you need to let him know you read all about him here at LustyFanGirls.com.