Creatives: Paul Nelson, VFX on Prometheus

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Paul Nelson: Hi my name is Paul Nelson and I’m ex CG Build Supervisor for DNEGTV.

Clara Fei-Fei/ @muthur9000 : How did you get into your line of work?

PN: As long as I can remember I’ve always liked to draw, I loved film growing up and wanted to be either a storyboard artist or a matte painter. I went to art college where I studied fine art and illustration. After a couple of years as a freelance illustrator and fine artist, I fell into 3D and never looked back. I’m a self-taught 3D artist like most and spent almost 2 years on and off on my portfolio. Finally, it paid off, and I got my first job in the entertainment industry as a model/texture artist at a UK video game company called Codemasters. In 2005 I relocated to London to work for Sony Computer Entertainment where I stayed for almost 6 years working on multiple projects that included Killzone 2. In 2011 an opportunity presented itself in film and I took a role at MPC, where I worked on my first feature which was Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.


CF: What was your inspiration to start? 

PN: There are so many things that inspired me growing up. I loved film and tv. I grew up mainly watching Ray Harryhausen films, Sinbad, Clash of the Titans etc. Also being English we watched a fair bit of Monty Python and in particular the films of Terry Gilliam, such as The Time Bandits and The Jabberwocky.



CF: Which Alien movie was the first that you watched?

PN: Had to be Alien, scared the living daylights out of me when I first saw it. Probably not that scary by today’s standards. Brilliant script and the build-up and suspense is just excellent.


CF: Which is your favourite alien or sci-fi movie?

PN: Too many to choose from, but I think like many the one I have watched the most is Bladerunner. Just visually stunning, and still holds up today. Just love all the original designs from Scott and Mead. They created a living breathing city that you could believe in, a future that is plausible. In recent years one sci-fi film that I really enjoyed was Moon directed by Duncan Jones, it kind of came from nowhere and was a solid film.


CF: Which is your favourite alien or sci-fi character?

PN: That’s a hard one to answer, but for me, it’s the Robot Hector from Saturn 3. Just so sinister.

CF: What did your work as the Lead digital artist at MPC entail?

PN: I worked on many projects as a Lead during my time at MPC. My job mainly entailed working on hero assets and making sure all my artists were working at a consistent level, achieving the quality our VFX Supervisor expected. Whether it was assets based on real-world references from the client or conceptual artwork.

CF: What do you think about Prometheus and Alien: Covenant?

PN: I liked them both, slightly biased but I thought Prometheus was and is pretty cool. The overall concept was good, unfortunately, let down by a few plot holes. I feel Prometheus will hold up visually for quite a few years to come. Alien Covenant was good, as it continued on the story and had a very familiar vibe.


CF: If there was something you could change, what would it be?

PN: Visually nothing. If there was one thing it would probably be the flaws in the script.


CF: What are your theories on how the juggernauts are powered?

PN: Not really thought of that, to be honest, obviously their technology is vastly more sophisticated than ours. By all accounts, it looks like an anti-gravity propulsion system.



CF: Do you have any theories about the space jockeys?

PN: Not really, other than what is already depicted in the film. I do like the idea that they essentially are our creators. Religion has always intrigued me even though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself religious. The idea of a god/creator is an interesting concept and there may be some truth in it, but what that still remains unclear. I think one day we all might be in for a big shock that will change everything, I kind of like the idea we are one big experiment.

CF: What sort of work did your wife do? and what period of time did you both work on the movie?

PN: My wife is a Lead modeller/ Texture artist. She was the Lead Texture artist on the Prometheus ship, and I was Lead Texture on the Juggernaut. The great thing about Prometheus was that both overall show Leads in Modeling and Texturing were both women. I think it started mid to end of 2011, and went into 2012.



CF: As CG build-supervisor on Metalhead, what did that job entail?

PN: My job was mainly to make sure my artists faithfully translated the VFX Supervisor, Directors and Writers Concept/Vision, into a living breathing believable character that you see on screen.


CF: Did you like the story?

PN: I enjoyed it and loved the fact it was 4k and B&W, really set the mood. Again like Hector from Saturn 3, MetalHead was very dark and sinister shows no emotion. It will stop at nothing to meet its objective, which in both cases is killing.

CF: What was your favourite job to work on so far?

PN: Unfortunately not Scfi, even though I’ve worked on some great ones. For me, it has to be Tarzan as it was my first show as Asset Supervisor. It’s given me invaluable experience, as I got to go on set for a number of weeks. Closely followed by Altered Carbon. Had a great time on that show, and worked with a great bunch of people at DNEGTV.

CF: What was your favourite piece to work on?

PN: That’s easy, it has to be Groot from the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Hard work and a massive challenge, but so rewarding to see him on the big screen.

CF: For people who’d like to get into your line of work, how do you suggest they start?

PN: Well a lot is down to determination, timing and a bit of luck. If you are passionate about what you do then it will happen, perseverance is the key. Obviously, it’s good to have a good grounding in Art and Design and there are plenty of courses you can now study. An understanding of the latest software such as Maya, ZBrush, Mari, Substance etc is essential especially for modelling/texturing.

Portfolio/Showreel quick tip: Fairly obvious but always think quality over quantity. I’d rather see 5 really well-executed pieces than 10 mediocre ones. If you are unsure about a piece then don’t include it.

After reviewing many showreels anything between 3- 4 mins is a good length. Always pick a soundtrack that doesn’t detract from the work you have done.


CF: What project are you currently working on?

PN: Unfortunately can’t say about the latest project, but I recently wrapped on Christopher Robin.

CF: What would you like to do in the future?

PN: In the shorter term I would like to move into VFX Supervision at least in the next couple of years. Longer term is to direct a short, which I’m in the process of working on now.

I would just like this opportunity to thank you, and hopefully, it gave you a small insight into my personal experience in VFX.

If you’d like to see more of Paul’s work head to his Art Station or you can contact him via Twitter

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