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Matt ‘Hybrid-Halo’ Plummer has walked a long and winding road for the last decade, discovering an interest in visual effects after stumbling across FXhome.com and then gradually honing his skills on projects such as Project One and Between The Lines, before making the jump to the professional leagues a couple of years ago. He's since worked on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood, Prince of Persia and Fantastic Mr Fox.
Being FXhome.com’s official man on the inside, we decided to drop him a few questions about crossing the bridge from amateur to professional.
1. You registered at FXhome.com back at the start of 2003. That was over seven years ago. Where did the time go?
I've spent most of the time 'getting old'. It's a little bit crazy.
2. What brought you to the FXhome.com website in the first place?
When I was enrolling for university, one of the people I quickly made friends with was a massive Star Wars fan and part of his obsession included having made and animated a film of him and a friend fighting with lightsabers. The footage had a big watermark across it - for AlamDV2, and that led me to the FXhome website, though I didn't start participating until a little bit later.
3. Did you know Joby ‘er-no’ Stephens before joining FXhome.com?
Me and Joby went to the same high school but didn't know each other. Later on we ended up working together in a computer game store over Christmas - the kind of diabolical environment which forges friendships. It was then Joby's film Crawling Space which actually got me signed up onto the FXhome forums.
4. Early on you helped out on other people's films, notably acting in Project One. When did you first gain an interest in visual effects?
I've been interested in visual effects since Jurassic Park and in some ways it naturally took over from my childhood obsession with Dinosaurs. The making of that movie amazed me and I still have the making of book which has some storyboards in the back which I used to read in bed [I had that book too! Ah, the days before DVD extras... –Tarn]. Though at that point visual effects were something other, talented people did rather than something I would ever be able to realistically do - and the FXhome software was essentially when I realized that maybe I could make it a possibility. Project One was my first try.
5. You only ever released one personal project, Ninja Interrupted. How come you never made more films yourself?
Ninja Interrupted was a university project I was obliged to do in order to pass a module and it was an amusing contrast to everyone else’s work. There was also Dreamscape, which was the fruit of me and er-no with a camera in the middle of the night (easy, tiger). The basic reason is that I'm not a director. I have a creative streak that wants to make VFX-based short films and maybe I'll act upon that someday but ultimately I'm happiest as an effects guy.
6. You went on to work extensively on Nightcast, both visiting the set and creating VFX. How did you get involved with that project?
I have a feeling that it was Joby's idea, though both Sollthar and Arktic were people I had been talking to over the forums and on live chat for a long time. Marco's work on the Nightcast Trailer is still amazing, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to fly out and appear in the film.
Marco really was a one man army with Nightcast's VFX, all I did was model the tank which also attacks us during the film - which is a little bit amusing given that in part, Nightcast is about people being attacked by their own creations.
7. What was it like flying out to Switzerland to meet a bunch of people you'd only known over the internet?
This was also the first time I had met Geggs [aka Geraint ‘Arktic’ Abbott –Tarn]. It was great, I remember when Marco turned up to pick us up at the Zurich airport still dressed in his villain’s costume from the film. There was a brief moment of terror before he introduced himself. It was a good chance to exercise control over my fight or flight response.
8. You then worked on Between the Lines with Ashman, really upping your game in the process. How did you get involved with that?
Once again, FXhome is to blame. Ash had posted up some test footage he had filmed of a remote control tank blasting its way through the wilderness and some sort of dialogue was established. I think a little while after that the VFX artist who was originally involved had to drop out and so Ash got in touch with me. Between the Lines was the first time I worked with integrating 3D and camera-tracking, some of it worked well and some of it didn't but it was definitely the film that got me started with more serious work.
9. You've collaborated extensively with various FXhomers - er-no, Sollthar, Ashman, Mantra, Arktic. How did the FXhome community influence your work in those early years?
Everyone I worked with, I met on FXhome. I think there's still only one amateur project I've worked on which didn't involve someone I had met on FXhome. So I'm not sure how that influenced the work, but it definitely dictated who I worked with. Having a community of people I liked to work with was great.
Mantra helped out on Project One which is where we first met, he really came out of the blue to help us and we instantly got on. He also did some of the make-up effects on Between the Lines so when it came to working on a film of his we had already worked together a few times.
10. When did you decide to move from amateur work towards forging a professional career? What prompted you to make that decision?
It was the slow and steady realization that it was a real possibility for a career. Discovering that the VFX centre of Europe is in the city I live in [London –Tarn] was great and in that regard I am extremely lucky. After uni finished I started to hang out in more VFX-specific communities filled with people looking to move into visual effects on a professional level as well as looking for low level jobs in the city. I went along to a few community meet-ups and met people already involved. I was directed to fxphd - an internet training resource for VFX industry applications and pretty much dedicated my life to that.
11. Getting your foot in the door took you a little while. How did you go about finding that first job in the VFX industry? Did you have to start off making the tea? Any particular advice to FXhomers in a similar situation?
My first job in VFX was as a Roto-Artist, which is the lowest rung on the ladder in 2D VFX. I had applied to the position through VFXRecruit by sending my CV and showreel - by now filled with my independent/amateur project involvements and the software knowledge I had acquired through the support and advice of people I had met and training resources online. I think I got the position based on the strength of those, as I had worked as a runner for six months in two production facilities - though neither benefited my progress into VFX beyond establishing I was employable. Geggs had also done me a massive favour earlier, landing me a job at a TV motion graphics company where the boss gave me a lot of good advice. That first artist position was a big break.
A lot of people do start off making tea, and if I had one piece of advice - it's simply to make sure the mindless tasks you're having to perform benefit you in the long run or at least support you financially so you can afford to train and benefit yourself. Solely making tea isn't going to make you an artist, so be wary of working at places where all you can improve is your tea-making abilities, even if it is a job in the industry. If the company you're running for employs people into positions you want to work as – that's a good sign. But still, don't wait on other people to give you a job. Learn the skills as best as you can and then apply.
12. After getting that first break you seem to have been working consistently. What's it like working as a freelancer?
I think at most, I've had a month or so without work. Freelancing, especially when you're a junior artist, is a little bit scary because for a long time everything is pretty scary.
I'm still just coming to terms with the idea that maybe my skillset is useful and that I'm valued and not totally replaceable in an industry which has a lot of competition.
Though, as a freelancer you make a fair amount of friends who by the nature of the industry will end up in a variety of different companies and will clue you in to upcoming projects and recommend you for positions. I've been very lucky in that I'm with a company I keep returning to and who have actively pushed my skillset and taught me tricks I would have otherwise never known.
13. In just a couple of years you went from working on indie no-budget projects to major summer blockbusters. Did you expect your progress to be that rapid?
No, not at all. A lot of people seem to be a runner for a year and then slowly progress from roto into prep and then to compositing whereas I feel like I moved into a junior compositor role quite quickly, which I think is the result of working in a smaller scale company. The projects are still big and the experience is the highest level, but there's more space for someone like myself to fill a variety of roles. It’s very satisfying when I get assigned a shot and I work on it from the initial scan to the finished shot.
14. What VFX work are you most proud of to date?
I can't mention the film name yet. But it involved painting swishing water and bubbles nearly frame by frame. I can't wait to put it on my showreel. Though really, right now I am on the precipice of a lot of films I've worked on, some of them for over a year being released and so soon my showreel will be getting a lot more exciting which feels like a bit of a milestone. Even though I am not actively applying for work elsewhere, as a vanity thing I am looking forwards to updating the reel!
Basically, I'm proud of it all, does that make me shallow?
15. In April you visited the FXhome office in Norwich to be one of the first people to see the new projects we’re working on. What were your general impressions of the team and what we're working on?
I was surprised. I can't wait. It's really exciting to witness the changes that have happened at FXhome: it was obvious that the engines are really starting to warm up.
On another note, getting to spend some proper time around people who, despite having met before briefly, I knew largely from short exchanges at events or from text on a screen was great. It was brilliant to add a little more humanity into an otherwise totally digital relation.
16. Where do you plan to take your career next?
There's a long, long way to go and whilst I feel like I'm doing okay, I don't feel like I've 'made it' and probably never will. The big plan is to try and stay in work and push my abilities and become a better compositor and with the colleagues I've had lately I am pretty sure my skills will be pushed, which is a great feeling.
17. What's it like being an FXhome meme?
Oh, it's no big deal. Given that I am working in the industry, after all.
A big thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions in between moving house and working hard on most of this summer's blockbusters.
Next week we’ll be chatting with FXhome team member Angela Symonds about being on the front line here at FXhome HQ.