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The View from the Visual Effects Society

Mike Chambers is currently serving his fourth term as Chair of the Visual Effects Society. He has contributed to the visual effects efforts on many Academy & BAFTA award-winning films, and has won three VES Awards for Best Visual Effects, on The Day After Tomorrow, Inception and Dunkirk. He was also nominated for his work on I Am Legend.

Tell us about yourself: how did you get here?

I’m proud to have been a member of the VES since 1997, serving multiple terms on the Board of Directors.  It’s an honor to serve as Chair alongside my esteemed Board colleagues, our Section managers around the world and with the dedicated VES staff.

Working in visual effects I have had the opportunity to collaborate with many A-list filmmakers, and some of the most exceptional artists and innovators you will ever meet.  As a freelance Visual Effects Producer & Consultant, I specialize in large-scale feature film productions.  I’m currently working on a project for Playtone/FilmNation, and my last film was Dunkirk, my third collaboration with producer/director Christopher Nolan.

Tell us about your membership: who are your members, where do they work and in what roles, and how do your global chapters/sections fit in?

We are driven by a truly global mindset, focused on the needs and interests that unify the rapidly expanding worldwide VFX community.  As the entertainment industry’s only official organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners, our membership includes, artists, producers, technology developers, educators and studio executives.  We are thriving with almost 4,000 members in 40 countries worldwide, who contribute to all areas of entertainment – film, television, commercials, animation, music videos, games and new media.

Now two decades strong, the VES owes much of its growth and diversification to our global network of Sections — 13 and counting.  These groups galvanize their regional VFX communities and foster networking and professional development, while advancing the reach and reputation of our Society and industry worldwide.  The aim is always for members to feel that no matter their location, they are part of a unified community.

I’m focused on ensuring we can successfully handle large organizational growth in the future and that we inspire new generations to lead us forward. Our determination to outreach to all corners of the globe and to all of the disciplines across the VFX spectrum has yielded us a very rich, talented membership and that commitment to diversity will continue to be a driving force of the organization.

As the only org representing VFX (in its entirety), what is the big picture goal for VES, and what are the key issues that motivate the Society on behalf of your members?

The VES is focused on advancing the arts, sciences and applications of visual effects and elevating the profile of the talented worldwide community of VFX practitioners who create exceptional visual imagery.  That means both creating and supporting opportunities to recognize excellence in our field.

Visual effects have been mischaracterized for years as “magic” and “wizardry,” which greatly undervalues the craft, and we need to make that clear with the industry at large in order to enjoy a broader level of respect and recognition. Talented, experienced artists and technologists who work very, very hard behind the scenes create visual effects. And while audiences are ever more savvy to VFX, I would really love for them to realize that some of our members are indeed their rock stars.  We’ll continue to lead the charge to bring that awareness to all.

We’re hard at work preparing for the 17th Annual VES Awards, which has grown into a prestigious yearly celebration of outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation and the VFX supervisors, VFX producers and hands-on artists who bring this work to life.  And this past year, we launched VFX Voice, the Society’s signature print and digital magazine.  Creating an entirely new platform to advance the profile and recognition of our industry was an exciting way to mark our 20th anniversary.  And we are thrilled to share that VFX Voice has just been nominated for two prestigious publishing awards, including Launch of a New Magazine

What issues keep you up at night for the security and future of those who work in VFX?

I’m concerned about the continued health and welfare of the industry and the impact it has on VFX houses and each individual effects practitioner.  It’s a buyer’s market with a burgeoning VFX workforce, and so I think about whether there will be enough work to go around to sustain both seasoned and new VFX professionals and hope we achieve a balance in the marketplace.

The work of VFX professionals has become increasingly nomadic, with practitioners traveling around the country and around the globe to where the work is, a cycle increasingly influenced by tax incentives and subsidies.  So I think about what that means for families and quality of life, and how the VES can be a supportive resource for our peers.  And like many industries, I’m concerned about what a potential economic downturn could mean for the entertainment industry as a whole.

Why is proper screen credit so important?

Many in the industry believe that VFX doesn’t have a voice, nor does it get sufficient respect for the artistry of its contribution, which touches nearly every film produced and, in some, provides a majority of the on-screen imagery. Others simply want to know why their credits come so late in the end crawl, long after the other creative credits, or why their names don’t appear at all.  As a whole, the visual effects community believes it’s time for a change, and the first step towards achieving that is knowledge and understanding.

We published a Special Report in VFX Voice that examined the history of this practice and gleaned insights from industry leaders on the challenges and potential solutions to the issue of standardized credits in this dynamic marketplace – and the path towards greater recognition.  From our perspective, it’s time to bring renewed attention to this issue of concern to many and move the conversation from private meetings with studio executives into the spotlight, spreading the dilemmas facing VFX facilities and artists to the wider Hollywood community.

What are the top technology trends that impact VES members (e.g., does the advancement of AR, and the retreat of 3D and VR, impact your members/community, and if so, how?)?

Technology has always had a significant influence on the visual effects industry and a central role as we look ahead to the future and harness new ways to educate and entertain a global audience.   I believe the best work has always been the result of collaboration between artists, craftspeople and technicians, both in front and behind the camera.   Our industry and our membership is rich with visionary artists adept at using technology to create unforgettable worlds, and pioneers whose technical expertise and groundbreaking work have changed the art and science of visual effects for generations to come.

As this dynamic industry continues to change, I expect we will continue to see VFX practitioners at the forefront, adapting their craft and creating new vehicles in service to the art of storytelling.

What are the key topics we can look forward to at the VES Summit?

With the growth of the global organization, our regional Sections have taken the mantle on some of our signature events.

The San Francisco/Bay Area Section is hosting the 3rd Annual VES Bay Area Summit, “Shifting Landscapes: Exploring The Tech-tonic Shake-Up in Visual Entertainment” on September 8th at Dolby Laboratories headquarters in San Francisco. The daylong interactive forum features keynote presentations and approx. 10 interactive roundtable discussions on topics including GPU and the Cloud, Producing VFX Globally, Crowdfunding for VFX Projects and Augmented Reality: What is it Good For?


To learn more about the VES, visit www.visualeffectssociety.com and follow us on Twitter @VFX Society.  Read our signature publication VFX Voice at www.vfxvoice.com

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