Gods, Marvel, & Maui: Making VFX on a Pacific Island
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VFX-heavy films are rarely awarded to a single vendor these days. It's a matter of scale. The immense shot tally of superhero blockbusters and action flicks can rarely be handled by one studio. Work is instead spread out across several teams, and even time zones. Filmmakers can turn to vendors that are hyper-focused on a certain speciality – whether that may be CG environments, creature creation, or water simulations. Smaller studios now have an opportunity to stand out amidst industry giants; and that's where a company like capital T comes in.
It's safe to say that there's no other VFX vendor in the world quite like capital T, let alone one that is constantly contributing to films like Marvel Studios' Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, as well as the critically acclaimed TV series, American Gods. What makes capital T unique is that they’re a two person, husband and wife team, who work from their home office – a beach house in Hawaii.
A view from the office of capital T
Thousands of miles away from any major VFX hub and six years into their island retreat, industry veterans Jamie and Lindsay Halletts’ business is thriving. Thanks in part to remote collaboration tools such as cineSync, they're able to work on the world's biggest films from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Made in Maui
Lindsay and Jamie each have 25 years of experience in the industry, including time spent at Sony Pictures Imageworks, Scanline VFX, and Luma Pictures. In 2012, they decided to relocate to Maui and go into business with each other, founding capital T in the comfort of their own home office… albeit a home office with workstations, a server room, and a screening room.
We last profiled capital T in 2015, "VFX From A Tropical Paradise", and the years since have only emboldened their determination to maintain this unique setup. "We're even more confident with it," effuses Jamie. "We literally wake up some mornings and can't believe we’re actually doing this. We love it so much. It really is a dream come true."
How does this tiny, far-flung studio stay in the mix with massive film projects? In their view, it's a blend of strong reputation and even more impressive results. "People trust us, people trust Jamie's abilities, and people trust my word," says Lindsay.
"Like being in the same room"
capital T points to cineSync as a critical tool that keeps them connected to clients on the other side of the Pacific, or the other side of the globe, eliminating the obstacle of physical distance.
"It's the only way we can really communicate with the client in a manner where we are theoretically sitting in dailies, if you will. They pull up something we delivered and we review it together – we would not otherwise be able to do that without cineSync," Lindsay affirms. "It's like being in the same room with them."
capital T primarily uses cineSync at the start of a project,, or when beginning a new sequence, to initiate the handoff with a client. Being able to view footage simultaneously with collaborators from around the world, as well as visually annotate footage in real-time, ensures that everyone is on the same page – and that there's no room for miscommunication.
"Right from day one, we open up cineSync and talk through all of the shots and sequences. I'll refer back to those annotations later when I'm moving onto that sequence, or when I get the plates and start working on those shots," says Jamie. "It saves me from having to bug the client with questions. cineSync is a great way to get the ball rolling with everyone involved and go through the details of what's needed in shots. It's perfect."
For capital T, video review is especially helpful when nailing the details in paint or wardrobe fixes, as a visual annotation from the VFX supervisor is much clearer than any written description could be. Lindsay suggests that the work capital T specialises in is typically "not subjective," and the result is either right or wrong.”
"You want to be right the first time around," Jamie affirms. When in the midst of work on a tricky shot, a quick cineSync session with the client eliminates any roadblocks or confusion.
It's that focus on detail and efficiency that has made capital T a regular contributor to the world’s favourite franchises. The Halletts have now worked on seven films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including enormous flicks like Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Just recently, they contributed to both Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, both fan-favorite films and VFX-laden stunners, and currently 2018's two highest-grossing movies.
capital T handled over 40 shots for each film. On Black Panther, they worked on the casino and high-speed chase scene, as well as the scene in which the villainous Klaue is rescued. These shots were a mix of split comps, paint-work, rig removals, and bullet hits. Similarly, capital T’s share of 2D shots in Infinity War included window and door comps, plus some elements of the final battle against Thanos. "It's all the stuff you couldn't see," explains Jamie. "Something you would never even know was done."
"When Marvel shoots things, they're very clean, clear, and their specs are great. They're very, very buttoned-up on the production side. When they need a 2D 'fix,' a marker removal, a rig removal, a split comp—they give us direction. Jamie oftentimes can turn it around and get a final on the first version," says Lindsay. "That's something Marvel really appreciates – they don't want to worry about the 2D work when they've got shots featuring 14 creatures. We can take the burden off of them having to even think about it."
Work on Avengers: Infinity War done by capital T
While the Halletts’ main focus is feature films, the studio recently picked up its first TV credit with significant work on the Starz series, American Gods. With an array of bold, striking environment shots on their list, capital T replaced entire backdrops, added in plant life, and even ‘killed trees’ in one instance.
Scene from American Gods finished by capital T in Mauai
“American Gods needed some creative 2D solutions and we were more than happy to help deliver Rio Grande,” recalls Lindsay. “Producers wanted a specific feel to that shot, based on the time of day and storyline. Characters were escaping across this river in-plate, set against a CG environment which capital T created.”
"This project had some very involved, creative shots that required visual collaboration," she adds.
Another day in paradise
The Halletts’ VFX-heavy, tropical lifestyle shows no signs of changing anytime soon. capital T has just signed on for their eighth Marvel Studios film, which Lindsay wouldn’t name, but suggests "should be pretty awesome." They're also working on the 2019 Brad Pitt sci-fi film Ad Astra for New Regency Productions.
They're expanding, too. While still based in their home office, capital T recently brought on a couple of junior artists to help tackle smaller tasks on shots, and they hope to expand further to increase the volume of work. Lindsay says they may fly in fellow industry veterans from the mainland for future projects, and that there's no shortage of people willing to relocate for opportunities. "We get a lot of offers from people who want to live in Maui and work on The Avengers, for example," she jokes.
As Jamie suggested earlier, the Halletts are living the dream: capital T has clearly found its niche in the bustling VFX industry while living in a little slice of paradise.