VFX compositing graduate Vince Bufalino worked on some pretty cool projects before getting a job as a Compositing Artist at VFX studio Mr.X. Some of those projects included creating music video visual effects for Tones and I.
Vince takes us on tour with a music video VFX breakdown of Australian singer/songwriter Toni Watson's 2020 hit, Fly Away, and tells us how he felt when he heard a music video he worked on was nominated for an ARIA award.
Hi Vince, tell us what inspired you to get into VFX? How did you discover compositing as a career path?
I knew I wanted a career in film/TV or VFX since I was a child. I would head to my local Blockbuster and hire movies on a weekly basis and enjoy watching them over and over again. Some of my classic films would be the Back to the Future trilogy, Jurassic Park and Terminator 2, to name a few.
A turning point would have to be when I saw The Matrix for the first time. The way the FX were tailored and shot blew me away.
Flash forward some years to around 2012, I had given up on film/TV. But by 2016, whilst working a part time job for an airline (which was great), I decided to give film and TV another go. However this time I wanted to get into VFX.
Doing some research I found CG Spectrum and went through the courses. I was looking at FX or compositing.
My only concern was a preconception that I had to be good at drawing/art, which I'm not very good at. However, I am creative and have a strong eye for details, so after reading about compositing I decided this would allow me to get into VFX.
I have always played around with Photoshop and creating things, so thought it would be a natural progression.
My experience at Animal Logic was amazing and I highly recommend anyone thinking about applying to do it. It was an intense 4 week course, using actual plates and real movie scenes they had worked on to practice with.
It was a good eye opener, plus it gave us another great way to build a rapport with fellow artists breaking into the industry as well. I learnt so much by doing rotoscoping/roto paint day in and day out.
It was also nice having the teacher, Vaughn Arnup who worked on The Matrix films give us insight and knowledge. I had to pinch myself a few times!
You've since done some visual effects for music videos. How did you get work on Tones and I's music video, Fly Away?
The project came about through Visible Studios, who I have had the pleasure of working with over a couple of years as a freelancer. I have known Nick, Tim and the team for a little while now having worked together in my film/TV days starting out. They literally called me up and asked if I want to be a part of the project.
After hearing the concept and the song it was a 100% yes. This whole project felt different. I felt connected to the lyrics, the story being told, and seeing the rough edit, I got chills.
In the second verse of the song the lyric goes: “Knowing I was here for a reason, but I was scared that if I tried, I’d fall”. I connected with this lyric and felt the overall song was how I was feeling at the time, or in the back of my mind.
Can you give us the VFX breakdown for the Fly Away music video? What was your compositing process?
So the brief for Fly Away given was the climax of the clip: there is a field of singers and some begin to float and fly away.
Having done a flying shot for Visible in another project “These Streets”, I had learned these shots were a little more complicated as they had wire removal and there were roughly around 4 shots that I needed to roto/prep, have keyed then integrated for the final shot. I used Nuke to complete all my work that was delivered then it was graded in Davinci Resolve.
Once the shots are distributed through the team, I find it really useful to analyse the shots and mentally breakdown what it is going to take, time-wise. Also asking a lot of questions about the final vision of how close these characters are going to be in camera – do I need to detail the work or can we get away with it – always contemplating time vs outcome.
The turnaround on what was delivered was about 3 days, and 3 other artists worked on the other shots in the sequence and the backgrounds.
The main challenge was probably the wire rig from the harness at the waist to pull the actors up in the green screen footage. The main actor's t-shirt was pulled up, so I managed to paint a patch and track it back onto her shirt.
I had done similar paint and track during CG Spectrum and on other projects, so I felt confident, but you always have to tweak certain things to make it work. I focused my roto/paint skills here as I knew this was mid close-up. The actor is solo in the frame so the details and accuracy would need to be perfect.
If given more time I would have worked on more of the creases in her shirt, however, with the time allocated I am proud of what I and the team were able to pull off.
How do you stay organised to ensure you meet tight deadlines?
I like to have a list of my total shots and tick small goals for each. You really have to work a little bit of this then submit, a little bit of this and then submit, then allow more time to work on the detailed areas.
One thing I learned from my time at CG Spectrum and film/TV experience on set: plan your main shots that need to be done to tell the story, but if time permits, there’s always a bonus shot or bonus element you can add.
What feedback did you get on the Tones and I music video?
Feedback generally was pretty positive, most of it came from the Visible team. The final shot of the four actors floating had five people floating originally, but we played around with a few versions with various distances, placements, sizes of people and light wraps to get the right amount. So it’s a collaborative process back and forth but rewarding being creative.
There was one shot that was really cool but would have required full paint patches over the actor's face, arm, body and leg – unfortunately, it ended up on the cutting room floor.
You also worked on Tones and I's Ur so F**king Cool music video which was nominated for an ARIA Award. What did you do on that, and how did you feel when you heard about the nomination?
On this music video I managed to work on the opening shot which was a small model. The team used RobotFace Robotic camera to transition the camera through the empty window. I composited the static shot of Tones into the window transition between the two scenes.
When I found out that it was nominated for an ARIA award, it was a surreal moment; the whole team behind it, everyone involved, it's a nice feeling to be recognised.
Sometimes I forget this was all done remotely whilst in lockdowns. Like, here’s me working on shots in my home, in my study. It's a crazy world we live in at the moment. Goes to prove anything really is possible.
What do you enjoy most about VFX/compositing?
The thing I enjoy most is being able to bring these worlds and shots/sequences together. I have always enjoyed playing around with Photoshop as a teen, so to be able to do that for video is fun.
I like adding subtle VFX or “hidden” FX the most. There is a huge enjoyment seeing the before and after shots, and when people can’t tell the difference I feel I have accomplished my goal.
I am trying to get better at photorealism and analysing a lot of real world references with lighting, shading and colour. It's really satisfying solving problems and working out solutions for various shots and making them work to the best of your ability.
With Visible Studios the work varies from project to project, depending on the needs of the client. The work has been a lot of green screen, clean up, tracking, replacement, compositing and rotoscoping mattes on occasions for grading. I have worked on music videos, online campaigns, online web series and a feature. The work varies which is always a nice change.
My experience studying at CG Spectrum was amazing. You could say back in 2017 we were doing Zoom calls before they were popular now due to Covid19!
I chose CG Spectrum because it was a flexible solution for me wanting to learn VFX but still able to work at my job at the time.
I struggled at the start to get my head around the whole node system of Nuke but having a great mentor in Gregory Ng was a dream come true. His knowledge and experience really showed and he was so patient.
As a mentor actually working in the industry, it was great to have a relationship where in shot reviews he would point out things and help to train my eyes to see the faults. That way I could get to Version 5 or 6 having improved on the knowledge from previous tasks.
My biggest take-away from the class was being mentored by actual industry individuals, you really don’t get that anywhere else.
The way it flows, the mentor is your lead or supervisor and you show them what you have worked on, get critiques, or have questions answered.
Being all online but both of us based in Melbourne, Australia, we actually got to meet a couple of times at Q&A events for Luma Pictures so that was a nice little bonus to my situation.
I also was fortunate to win a 10-week scholarship through the Rookies Awards in 2018 which enabled me to mentor with Sean Amlaner (also a CG Spectrum mentor). This gave me more opportunities and it was great to learn from a different mentor/artist perspective, looking at things from a slightly different view.
What other projects are you working on at the moment?
I am looking to start researching Unreal Engine just to get some basic knowledge, and start building those skills especially if compositing is evolving to on-set VFX. It's just nice to be in the know.
I love post-production, however, there is also a different buzz being on set whilst filming. I am going to start looking at Mocha Pro to expand my knowledge and skill in a different system, and work on my rotoscoping skills – building speed and accuracy. Just being open to the possibilities.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In my spare time I like going for scenic walks and always stop to take photos, so a 45 min walk might turn into a 1.5hr adventure. Photography has always been a hobby over the years.
I recently purchased a Nintendo Switch so getting into gaming is a nice escape. Catching up with friends and family when I get time is always nice. We all live such busy lives that if I learned anything from COVID-19 in 2020, it is to appreciate your loved ones and the time you get to spend with them.
You recently got a job as a Compositing Artist at Mr.X in Adelaide, congratulations! How do you feel?
Working on feature and episodic work has always been a dream of mine, and as cliche as it sounds, to see my name on the big screen, or these days on a streaming service.
I am excited, emotional and so grateful to be joining the talented team at Mr.X. I have no doubt it will be a rollercoaster of a ride and a huge learning growth experience!
Vince, thanks for taking us through your music video VFX breakdown. We wish you all the best for your career and look forward to seeing your name on the big screen!
Want to become a Compositor on films, TV shows or music videos?
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