The special effect days consisting of actors in rubber suits, flying saucers on a string and blowing up a Holly Hobby dollhouse are mostly obsolete. Special effects can make or break a movie and Asylum fans are fortunate enough to have award winning Joseph Lawson leading the Asylum’s VFX team.
He brings the writer and director imaginations alive. Which includes the many quality kills in “Zombie Apocalypse” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-c destruction by a glacier in “2012: Ice Age” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-1a dragons terrorizing villages in “Dragon Crusaders” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-11 he’s also responsible for the brutal shark attacks in “2-Headed Shark Attack” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-A along with “Almighty Thor” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-2I “Grimm’s Snow White” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-1B “2010: Moby Dick” http://wp.me/p2eH5w-26 and that’s just a small sample of Joe’s work. Even with his crazy schedule Mr. Lawson was kind enough to share his experiences and expertise with us, thanks Joe!
JOE: Thanks, it’s a pleasure to chat. Yes, we do keep busy. With a slate of now up to 24 films a year, we’re getting busier than ever!
I read and heard about visual effects taking years for some movies. You have much shorter deadlines with Asylum movies. What’s your secret?
JOE: We’re just determined to do the best we can with the time and materials allotted. We DO have a great team of multi-talented people who make a supervisor look good. 😉 Our films, on average, take about four weeks to do the entire visual effects load from 100 to 300 shots of varying types. We do our level best to stay organized and focused on the goal… over time, we’ve grown our staff a bit to include artists from Iowa, Florida and England as part of our regular go-to folks. It’s a wonderful thing finding the right mix of in and out of house talent who, together, work in the most fast paced and demanding environment I’ve known. We learn something new (or how to do better) with every film so, with luck, we should have it ALL figured out around 2024!
One thing our team is VERY fortunate with is that The Asylum just plain GETS filmmaking at its rawest form… and they DO support our ability in VFX to achieve the goals. When there’s a bit of software kit that makes something easier or possible, they will get it (getting time to LEARN it is sometimes challenging but we’re getting there). When we quantifiably show that a new bit of hardware will help us get things done more efficiently, they’ll make it happen (even if on a budget).
The producers are like kids in a candy store and the greatest joy is when their faith pays off with a “WOW!”, a laugh or a smile in the edit bay about a VFX shot or sequence that works. I love those moments. We’ll continue to strive to make more of them.
It’s always fun to see people compare our films to gazillion dollar blockbusters not realizing they’re comparing a film with a 150,000 dollar budget to one with a 150 MILLION dollar budget. What those talented folks do with hundreds of artists over six months to a year we have to do with six to eight people in one month… so there are likely going to be some differences. Fortunately, our talented teams (not just VFX) do hit things out of the park in ways most people will never realize considering the time and resources.
At the end of the day, are you just as entertained by the Asylum film as the genuine blockbuster? Because if the entertainment value is equivalent (even if it’s taking a shot drink every time something silly graces the screen) then which of the two Hollywood studios is spending their dollars more wisely? That being said, having an amazing amount of trenches experience, I look forward to someday showing what we could do if someone DID give us a 15 million dollar budget and a year to use it!
Whenever you’re not working and out and about do you visualize special effects? Like watching people swim and how to have a shark brutally attack them or visit a new city and how to demolish it?
JOE: Fortunately, I actually do that crazy destructive stuff at work so don’t necessarily carry it with me into the real world. I also am blessed to have a wife and kids who not only support this crazy habit but keep me very grounded in reality. I DO have a tendency to study how things work, how people move and act, processes, how vehicles move, what nature behaves like. The best training for a VFX life is to LIVE life, watch and understand, appreciate the beauty of the physical world around us. Take acting lessons, travel, learn a musical instrument, draw or write (even if you think you can’t, it’s practice practice practice and perseverance that pays off). I also watch a lot of the best of what other artists do, many of whom I’ve had the honor of working with or even supervising, and appreciating how much incredible talent they have that I can only dream of.
You’ve done many different movies, is there any specific type of effect you haven’t done that you really want to?
JOE: The one thing about The Asylum is that this really isn’t a problem. Doing 27 films in my two years there means there probably isn’t an effect we’ve missed. I think it’s the striving to do some of the effects again with new tools and new understanding BETTER than before which makes it challenging and new again. I actually looked back at some of our older shots a few days ago and was realizing just how much I’d FORGOTTEN that we’d done. That happens when your team does almost 2,000 shots a year…
Are you typically on location for the filming or mostly in the editing room afterwards?
JOE: Mostly the editing room… unfortunately, our timelines don’t always allow me the luxury of going on set so we hire other VERY talented artists (like Glenn Campbell, not the singing one… or maybe he does, dunno) to be our representatives on location. I wish I COULD have been hanging out in the Keys but, alas, was a bit busy with two other films and prepping to direct at the time. As for what happens when we wrap, well… sleep!
Finally, what was your most challenging project and why?
JOE: Nazis at the Center of the Earth, all in good ways. It was my first feature directing gig (thank you David Latt, David Rimawi and ESPECIALLY the writer of such a fun script, Paul Bales), it was a TON of effects (which I suspect is a goodly part of the reason they took the longshot chance on me), we had very harsh deadlines and financial challenges and a LOT of creative problem-solving to achieve the goal… and yet, we did it! The best part was having great teams and support every step of the way from the great cast, great crew, great VFX team, great post team, great composer, great producers, great family… it was humbling and the most creatively satisfying experience of my life. And a chance to say the word great seven times in an interview! The film is out on DVD, BluRay, Video on Demand and for rental everywhere on April 24th so hopefully folks will really enjoy all the blood, sweat and caring that went into it. 🙂
I personally struggle to make a title look halfway decent on my home videos which makes me admire Mr. Lawson’s work a ton. He has to put together elaborate, exciting, and flawless special effects and the best part is unlike other special effects teams who work many months to years on a project he completes his in a fraction of the time and budget and wins awards!