From tinkering with machines as a child to being the Lead Compositor on How to Get Away with Murder, we caught up with Kyle Spiker to learn about his life in Burbank, California. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m the Lead Compositor at VFX Legion. I currently live in West Hollywood California in a cozy 1920s apartment with my partner Phil and our antisocial cat Minion. Like most Los Angeles residents I’m a transplant, but unlike most, I’m a lifelong California native. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a beautiful and quiet beach town Pacifica California, located south and within visible distance (if you climb high enough) of San Francisco. Due to its close proximity to Silicon Valley our school system made computers an integral part of their education program. I was a computer aid for most of my school years. I took computer electives whenever possible and always tinkered with the machines I had at home, but it took me a while to find a profession that matched my unfocused interest. My older cousin Jason Beckwith really helped with that. He was working as an electric image artists and whenever I visited he would show me a new animation he’d completed or some new gear he’d just purchased. He always encouraged me to pursue my creative interests in computers. When I finished high school Jason was working as the video department head for an advertising company in San Jose. After months of interviews I was hired as his Editor’s Assistant. My three years learning from him, and the talented crew, helped me build a reel and an understanding of the industry. Which films and television programs really got you interested in the industry?
The most memorable influence is Jurassic Park. I found the dinosaurs convincing from the first reveal of the gigantic Brachiosaurus to the terrifying Velociraptors slamming into the cabinets in the kitchen. The blend of early CGI and masterful practical effects will keep that film from aging for a decades to come. The Matrix is another film that really stuck with me. Not only were the visual effect flawlessly executed but they were groundbreaking. I was obsessed with that movie. During my time at Design Reactor we actually got to make a short film for AMD that was matrix themed. It's cheesy, but fun to work on, and exciting at the time. It’s on youtube somewhere!
What are some of the biggest projects you’ve worked on during your career?
The biggest film I’ve worked on has to be James Cameron’s Avatar. I worked as a motion graphics artist and built a handful of tablet displays within the films established look. Unfortunately my best work, unique and dynamic heads up displays for each aircraft, never made it into the film. I’ve also worked on a lot of high profile television in my career. The most recognized effect is from the Emmy nominated series Hemlock Grove. I composited shots from a gruesome sequence where a girl transforms into a werewolf while staring at the camera. Her face rips apart, eyes split, and the wolf snout pushes through as the skin folds back. Within the same scene I composited CGI wolves and ripped off a guys face. It's gross, check it out.
What is your favorite thing about your role at VFX Legion?
I like being part of a team and working with artist with similar mentalities. Artists that have purchased and built their own systems to complete work they're passionate about.
What do you like most about the location in which you live/work?
I live near the office in Burbank in a densely populated area. Even though it’s not the beautiful nature filled environments a lot of our artists work from, I still enjoy working from my own space. I’m able to open my many windows, take breaks when I need them, chase the cat around the house, take a walk in the nearby park, play a game of Starcraft, and still complete the tasks I have efficiently. Having the freedom to break up the day is extremely beneficial to me and the work that I enjoy.
What would you say are the core skills that you bring to the VFX Legion team?
I specialize in Nuke compositing. I’ve completed hundreds of shots for Legion and helped build many of its tools that our artists use around the world.
What projects have been particularly challenging or exciting?
Television. It’s always exciting and challenging. With the short deadlines, compressing schedules, high expectations, and constantly changing needs you always feel challenged. I would like a little more time, especially on the bigger shots, but being able to complete them in such a short time and exceeding expectations is exciting.
Which projects have you been most proud to work on at VFX Legion, and why?
I had a lot of fun working on the early concepts for Jem and the Holograms. I built this nifty LED rig for her face, the early UI design for her POV, and worked on the first round of hologram development. I’m proud of the shots I’ve done for How to Get Away with Murder this season too. In the first episode I got to set a house on fire and make a car explode.
What are the challenges facing artists today, and how do you overcome them? Tax subsidies seems to offset the balance of skill vs value. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you live outside of a tax credit zone it can be difficult to find work. Legion is a big believer in an artist's talent. We give them to tools to live where they want while providing the management and direction to fulfill our client's needs. Why do you think remote working is so important for today’s VFX industry?
Artists work better when they’re happy, comfortable, and less stressed. I think remote work helps make that easier to achieve than a traditional brick and mortar facility. Even if the hours and deadlines are just as demanding, working without commuting, how you like, and with your own equipment can make the same hours more enjoyable. Remote work also has many benefits for the facility and project. Happier artists produce better work. Utilizing different time zones allows Legion to produce work on a 24/7 schedule without overworking employees. Legion is able to manage pods of artists within tax credit areas without having to move artists. Without the constraints of location Legion is able to find the best talent and allow them to stay where they are. We firmly believe remote visual effects is the future.
What are your hobbies and passions outside of work?
Most of my hobbies are related to my job, so even if I’m not working, I’m still experimenting with techniques in Nuke. I really like music and tend to spend a ridiculous amount of money on headphones and audio gear to make that experience even better. I also love photography, a hobby I think is great for compositors and digital artists. Understanding of light, composition, lenses, and cameras can be extremely beneficial.