Scott Squires is very well known personality in International Animation and VFX industry. Check out his exclusive interview.
The Virtual Assist thanks Scott Squires for sparing his time to pen down this amazing and inspirational interview. Below are the excerpts of our online communication.
Welcome Scott. You are man with many hats: VFX Supervisor, DOP, VR, Motion Capture, Software developer, had won so many awards and many others. How do you manage it all?
Just focused on the work at hand to the best of my abilities. Always trying to learn more. Thirst for creative outlets and technology challenges. I typically focus on one key aspect instead of trying to wear all hats on all projects.
Your credentials are amazing. Kindly brief us your journey.
I became interested in visual effects while watching Ray Harryhausen films and various Disney movies. Also interested in model railroading and studying insects. In early high school, decided to get a Super-8 film camera for filming insects. I specifically got one with frame shooting so I could do animation. Had fun with that and decided visual effects would likely be an interesting career.
Indiana, Midwestern United States, lacked motion picture productions (and pre-video and pre-internet of course) so I did everything I could to learn and get hands on experience like newspaper photographer, theater projectionist, etc. After graduating high school I went directly to Los Angeles to try to get into visual effects. Spent 6-9 months knocking on doors until Douglas Trumbull offered me a job as his assistant on an upcoming project called Watch the Skies. It was later renamed Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
First day on job, I was given $20 petty cash and 20 gallon aquarium. Asked to figure out how to make clouds in a liquid like cream in your coffee, but clear. I worked that out in a week and continued to work in all departments on that production. Great experience. I did self learning in electronics and computers during that time since I knew that it would be important. And, one project followed another.
I started up Dream Quest Images in 1979 with five others (Hoyt Yeatman, Rocco Gioffre, Fred Iguchi, Tom Hollister and Bob Hollister) whom I had met working for Doug. I ran that as President and one of the supervisors for over 5 years. Some of the major titles and projects we worked under banner of Dream Quest Images are video displays for Blade Runner, motion control for Buckaroo Banzai (The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension), V (TV Miniseries). We also designed motion control system for many other movies. In 1985, I went to ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) to focus on other things and had a young child would like to grow up outside of Los Angeles.
There was no spot for VFX supervisor when I started at IML, so I started as CTO (Chief Technical Officer) overseeing many new pieces of equipment, including new VistaVision cameras. Also worked on the input scanner and other areas to transition to digital visual effects. Did some smaller projects (commercials, TV etc.) and then worked on The Hunt for Red October. Many projects followed of all sorts.
I developed a software at home after work to do video playback, rotoscoping, painting and compositing. Started a company, Puffin Designs, with another person at ILM (Forest Key). Put together a company and sold the services around the world while I was still working project to project at ILM.
After Van Helsing, ILM management was changing and they were moving into the city which would lead more travel time for me. The era of the original ILM was winding down. I needed a break and my wife’s father in LA needed care so we moved back to Los Angeles. I freelanced on a range of projects (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, shooting plates for Hereafter, 2D to 3D development and production on Transformers: Dark of the Moon and many other projects.)
Over 2 years ago, I got involved in Virtual Reality (VR) and a year ago co-founded a VR company named Pixvana Inc. with 3 others, including a couple from Puffin Designs. It’s based in Seattle but I still live in Los Angeles. I Work at home as well as travel up for a week or two a month.
You must have been emotionally attached with ‘Dream Quest Images’. How it got acquired by Disney?
Dream Quest was a great experience. Co-founded it and ran it at 23 years old. After over 5 years, I decided to move to ILM. It was hard to run a company and try to supervise at the same time. With five other co-owners the work load balance wasn’t always even. After a few years I had joined ILM, two co-owners left the company. Then I sold out to the other original co-founders.
In 1996, Disney acquired it. It was too bad about Disney closing it up in 1999, merely in three years.
Two decades at ILM, world’s one of the best Post Production Studios. How had been the experience?
It was a great experience.
I was there pre-digital and helped to make the push into digital work as CTO so I was able to experience both there. During that period it was a special time for me. I worked with lots of great and talented people from all the different departments. Not just CG but optical, model shop, machine shop, stage, camera, motion control, etc. Most of that time we were breaking new ground and working as a well oiled machine. I had the opportunity there of not only supervising a range of projects (feature films, television project and special venue projects) but also directing projects and developing new equipment and techniques.
You had been honored by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – Scientific and Engineering Award for your immense contribution towards Film Input Scanning. Tell us more about it.
When I arrived at ILM, they started to work on Young Sherlock Holmes movie which required one of the first digital CG character with live action motion pictures. It became clear on review of the existing laser system, that had been built there as part of the CG division (this was before they were spun off as Pixar), it wouldn’t be up to the demands of production. The system was used for both capture of film and output to film. The computer graphics people didn’t know about the need for film registration and repeat ability.
So after that project I did a lot of research and contacted Kodak since they had developed a linear 2K CCD (Charge Coupled Device) sensor with separate RGB lines. It was perfect for film scanning. While that was being built, we bought a system from Eikonix in Boston and modified it. This was a team effort. That was used in Willow movie for the transformation sequence among other work. It was helping to establish one of the first full resolution digital motion picture scanners and was at least partially responsible for some of the DI and other developments that followed.
How do you keep motivating yourself towards new technologies?
I ask myself some questions.
- Is it technology with a purpose, especially for visuals?
- Is it new and different?
- Is it very easy to get caught in repeating yourself and the types of projects you work on?
Following all these, I strive to do different things. It’s always exciting to be creating something that didn’t exist before, whether that’s a commercial or a software application.
What do you see future applications of VR?
The possibilities for VR and AR (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality) are wide open. VR is a new medium that we’re just starting to explore it. VR can be used for 3D modeling, medical training and a wide range of experiences. And these are just scratching the surface of what might be possible.
What advice will you give to aspiring digital artists?
Observe movies, art, graphics and life. Be curious. Learn the fundamentals – using a camera and taking photographs, pick up a pen or brush, do stop motion, etc. Start off simply. Use Photoshop or Gimp for digital stills before moving on to moving images. Don’t get caught up in learning just one specific application. Applications change over time, new ones appears, new methods appear – but the fundamentals still apply.
Learn to solve the problem. Dissect the problem and consider all the different ways to approach it. The wider your range of knowledge and experiences, the more likely you can apply a different mindset to it. To people who only know how to hammer everything looks like a nail.
Be a team member. There will be time when you will be working by yourself and other times you’ll be working with a full crew. Don’t be the person people want to avoid working with.
Be self motivated and avoid an attitude.
Re-evaluate where you are and what you’re doing every year. Is it time to move on? Are you happy? Easy to get too focused and find time flying by. Strive to come up with a life balance that works for you. Certainly it can be difficult in visual effects with long weeks and hours a common issue.
Do share your future goals.
Make inroads with Pixvana, a VR company I co-founded. It is platform that merges VR, AR and MR to provide XR storytelling. I continue to do creative projects. More free time to travel for pleasure.
How is Scott out of his digital life?
Home family life. Still trying to balance work and living. Reading both fiction and nonfiction. Always lots of things on my list to get to or back to such as model railroading.
Again we thank Scott Squires for his outstanding pieces of advance and inspiring personal and technical journey.