Five Questions: Chip Potter, Founder and President, MECHnology Visual Effects Studio
One secret of MECHnology's success seems to stem from its dual-purpose ideology: Produce and innovate while keeping your artists happy. The Hollywood-based boutique effects facility, which has a laundry list of film (The Aviator), TV (Burn Notice, Southland, Without a Trace) and music video (Foo Fighters "The Pretender") work to its credit, provides everything from pre-viz and on-set VFX supervision to full 3D modeling, animation, set extensions and compositing. But the studio is also bringing newer ideas to roost with a digital lab that lets artists cross-pollinate and share ideas, skillsets and techniques, from architecture to Z-depth, between projects.
According to MECHnology founder and president Chip Potter, the digital lab concept is one reason why the facility decided to head north—to the Great White North—and open a second studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sean Bowers, formerly with Syfy and Lionsgate, serves as the Vancouver general manager, with Stephen Lebed as visual effects supervisor and Kristen Sharp as visual effects producer. We asked Potter why he felt the time was right to expand to Canada and how his company plans to spread the widest possible net for its visual effects.
Q: What are the main reasons you opened a second studio in Vancouver?
Film and TV is booming in Vancouver and increasingly it's a place to innovate for the new media industry. We wanted to attract those visual artists—many of them working on the web—who can help producers tell a story most effectively, from big screen, to home screen, to tablets and phones. More specifically, we had been thinking of opening a Vancouver facility, but were hesitant to take the “build it and they will come” philosophy. Then we got an amazing opportunity to work with Director Stuart Gillard and Producer Tracey Jeffrey on the Disney Channel Original Movie Girl vs. Monster, which will air during Disney Channel's “Monstober Month." With their encouragement, we decided to go for it and immediately sent MECHnology principal Stephen Lebed to Vancouver as visual effects supervisor. Stephen has worked with Stuart in the past creating visual effects for The Initiation of Sarah and Avalon High.
Back in Hollywood, I began the process of incorporating MECHnology in Canada. Fortunately, I met the right people who helped me with the process, including speaking with Robert Wong, Vice President, Tax Credits and Development of BC Film and Media, Vancouver, and Arthur Evrensel, partner of Heenan Blaikie and head of the Entertainment Law practice of the Vancouver office. With their help, we got things up and running fairly quickly.
Q: What do you mean when you use the term "transmedia storytelling" to describe the range of work you do?
We define “transmedia” as the ability to amortize or re-purpose content across multiple vertical markets. As an example, MECHnology may be hired to create visual effects for a film. Working with the filmmakers we create logos, titles, matte paintings, digital set extensions, 3D animated characters, organic effects, etc. These elements are then repurposed for Mobile, Tablet, Web, Game or Social Media applications. One build, many markets. At the end of the day both the client and MECHnology save time and money.
Q: Did the digital lab concept, which gives your artists the freedom to create mobile apps, pipelines, and new software, evolve specifically for the new Vancouver office, or did you experiment with the idea in your original Glendale studio?
The genesis of the digital lab grew from Hollywood. However, it has taken off with Vancouver. We have met many talented young artists involved in technologies, fine art, architecture, visual effects, gaming, animation, and software development, to name a few. The MECHnology Digital Lab gives them an outlet for displaying their work and ideas. The Lab has become a literal overnight hit and is now becoming an entity unto itself. It is completely artist driven and we will see where it goes.
Although our on-set supervision and visual effects work for television and film is MECHnology's bread and butter, through our digital lab we've been creating other assets along the way for ourselves and our clients. Stephen Lebed has created several mobile apps for filmmakers, two mobile games and a scanning tool that allows us to capture an environment as a point cloud, which in turn helps us integrate 3D models into live action. We've turned our artists loose inside the lab and they've created prototypes for amusement park rides, interactive corporate presentations, education apps, games, and a ton of art. At its core, the lab is a repository for artist noodling. It's also a jumping-off point where our client might say: ‘That's amazing, what if we apply that technology to my project?’”
Q: Which new tool or technology has significantly impacted the speed or quality of the work MECHnology does on a regular basis?
Pipeline/asset management tools. In our current project we are testing RV, Shotgun, Deadline and Hiero. These applications provide similar toolsets to manage and review miles of data with user-specific granularity, meaning, I can look at a scene, shot, frame, model, rig, texture, cloth, lighting, animation, BG, and a finished composite. These assets can be grouped to scene, schedule, artist, team. In addition, some of the tools we’re using track plate photography specifically through the editorial pipeline accessing the metadata at the time of acquisition. We can now quickly access approved edited head and tails for specific shots rather then sift through miles of footage to retrieve just the pieces we need. We’ve only used these tools for a while but I see them saving a lot of time for MECHnology and editorial.
Q: What are the top three apps on your iPad?
Probably not what you think. It’s kind of boring, though for the record, I’ve slingshotted my fair share of birds into wood and glass structures:
1. Mobile Bank Apps. It’s a huge timesaver for managing business out of country.
2. Google Flights: Hands down the best flight finder out there.
3. IMDB Pro: Still my go-to for tracking the industry.
For more information: MECHnology Visual Effects Studio