Framestore wants to develop the best Indian VFX talent

As part of a drive to attract the best local talent, Oscar-winning creative studio Framestore partnered with Anibrain to helm a series of recruitment roadshows across India. We spoke to Framestore’s Director of Global Talent Development, Andrew Schlussel, and Head of Production, Lizi Bedford, to get some insight into the synergies between the two companies.
Framestore’s Director of Global Talent Development, Andrew Schlussel
Hello Andrew, could you please discuss what brought you to India, what brought on this partnership and what are your plans in India? This is my second time in India, so for me, it is two-fold. The conference itself is about recruiting talent for Framestore and Anibrain which is a joint venture of two companies. I’m involved with the conference to help to recruit new talent and to plan and coordinate training. My title is Director of Global Talent Development, which means I oversee all the training initiatives globally for Framestore – it’s a core part of our talent strategy to create a rich learning environment at the workplace. This can include everything from introducing new entrants to Framestore’s specific pipeline to ensuring existing employees develop their skills and broaden their knowledge base. Our goal is to create opportunities to nurture the creativity of the artists that work for us. Your background is mainly in VFX and Animation, is that correct? That’s right; for over 20 years I have been working in the animation and visual effects industry. I have done a little bit of everything, which is good for training because I can speak the language of every department. Primarily my career has been about education. I have worked in colleges and universities, writing curriculum, teaching classes and heading up programs. I have taught classes at Pixar and I was an education manager at DreamWorks Education. Before I came to Framestore, I was the Global Head of Training for MPC in London. Since you’ve been training students to become next-generation animation and VFX artists, could you tell us if there is any project in India that has appealed to you personally (If you’ve picked up on any projects especially VFX-rich ones in India) in the recent past or the past year? Has any project intrigued you or left an impression on you?  I guess what has left an impression on me most is the contribution India has been making to major feature film visual effects. So, what you will find more and more when you watch the credits of all the major visual effects features is a whole long list of Indian names in the credits and that continues to grow and grow. Concerning Anibrain and Framestore in Pune, our goal is to see all of a film’s visual effects go to Anibrain. We are going to have to build up department by department to get to that point, but ultimately that’s our goal.   We really hope that happens. As a moviegoer myself, I love watching a lot of Hollywood big-ticket movies like Avengers: Infinity War, I mean, you’ve been involved in Avengers. When we go to a watch those movies like that, we see credits rolling up with a lot of Indian names. But in India itself, for a want of the better word, we have not been able to see the magic happen yet. We have seen a lot of promising VFX projects like 2.0 and Thugs of Hindostan yet the Wizardry, for the most part, seems missing.  We wonder if your institute would facilitate the required nuances and training to allow for the next generation VFX artists to come up with Hollywood-style work. I would love to see that myself. It’s the goal of Anibrain to do feature film-level work. It sounds like you’re asking more about homegrown movies, and I think it’s just a matter of time. One of the things limiting that is that if you look at the budget of a film like Avengers: Infinity War, it is huge. So that’s a limiting factor to get to that level. My impression is that there is an incredibly rich history of fascinating stories and myths that are intertwined with the culture, religion and the history of India. I see potential in the kind of draw on the incredible stories that will be interesting to the world. I think the potential is there. You’ve got a rich history of storytelling too. We’re building up the engine to get some of the best work in the world done here. Add in the financing and the will to do it and you’ve got all the pieces in place. In my opinion, it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, it’s more of a question of when.   We hope that with your arrival and many such studios, the day is not far. One day we will see movies which are VFX-rich and visually pleasing to watch. We heard that there is a talent-hunt sort of a thing happening. Will you be going to different places in India looking for budding talents and students willing to learn? Could you also elaborate on that, please? This actual trip involves recruitment. Here in Mumbai. It will also be in Pune and then Bengaluru. It will be focused on recruiting talent. Is it happening first in Mumbai? Will you be visiting schools? We will be visiting the Anibrain School of Media and Design. Again, the question that has been weighing on my mind. Could you talk to us about your recent projects and other projects in the pipeline if you’re allowed to discuss (if you are not contractually bound) some of the projects you have recently worked on and the projects we may see in the future? I am proud of our recent work on Christopher Robin. It’s such a beautifully done film. If you look closely at the characters, the level of detail and realism is just amazing to me. It’s a moving story that I think will stand the test of time.  Alongside the character work, there are hidden visual effects. One example is a scene where all the characters are sitting around a picnic table and we had to digitally recreate the entire scene including the food on the table and the environment to accurately match the original plate shot side-by-side.   Another film that moved me was Mary Poppins Returns. I think it’s the kind of film the whole family is going to enjoy. A movie that stands the test of time and has a lot of beautiful effects. That film moves away from the photorealism into these kinds of fantastical worlds and uses VFX in interesting new ways. Since Mary Poppins was also this legendary 1960s movie, a movie that would be on the lips of almost every Briton. Was there any challenge to recreate that? What’s interesting to me is that original film is an absolute all-time classic that stands the test of time – I’ve probably watched it more than 20 times. So many people grew up with it, so many people have seen it. It’s always hard to make a sequel, but I really enjoyed the film and I think it had its similarities and its difference in the story. Ultimately, I judge every movie by whether you care about the characters, and I found myself caring about the characters and their journey.   The action-packed sagas like Avengers and Spider-Man are spectacular to watch. The ones that you are moved by are also kind of appealing to both adults and children alike. Christopher Robin is also thought of, as one would suppose, a children’s movie but of course, it was also enjoyed by you equally. The issue in India is that Animation and Programmes only appeal to a certain demographic, which is children. Parents can’t sit with children for a movie and enjoy watching it. Do you think there is a lack of content that can appeal to all age-groups equally? There is so much content. I agree that there are certain movies that appeal to children only, and there are certain movies that appeal to adults only, but I really like the movies that can bring a whole family together. For example, Paddington 2 – another film that Framestore was heavily involved in – was rated ‘100% fresh’ on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that audiences of all types love that film. I think what is special about Framestore is that we create characters that move and connect with the audience. You have Paddington and Winnie the Pooh as examples. You have Dobby in the Harry Potter series, and Rocket from the Guardians of the Galaxy films; characters that audiences love.   Surely the characters designed by Framestore have found resonance amongst the masses. Could you tell us about the process as to how the work is commissioned? Is the work distributed amongst many studios? There are films like Paddington 2 where Framestore will have worked on the lion’s share of the work. For a film like Avengers: Infinity War, however, we did the exciting opening sequence, and several other studios will also be working on other parts of the film. It’s the full range. Often it depends on the studio, and their decision can be influenced by the scale of the project, time and how they want to break things up. We enjoy being as involved as possible. It’s great when you are involved very early in the process and get to work creatively with the filmmakers.
Framestore’s Head of Production, Lizi Bedford
  Hello Lizi. Could you tell us a bit about your plans in India? I was lucky enough to be invited by Anibrain to come over and help support them in their recruitment roadshow. We’ve got a big event this evening, and we’re hopefully going to meet lots of people tomorrow. We’re hoping to find lots of new recruits to come aboard and join Framestore. Framestore has been involved in a lot of Oscar Winning projects and other big-ticket Hollywood movies like Avengers: Infinity War, Mary Poppins, Paddington 2. Since in India, the VFX scene is in its first flush. We’ve recently been treated to many promising VFX-rich movies like 2.0 and Thugs of Hindostan. Do you think Framestore-Anibrain synergy will usher in a new wave of artists trained up in the advanced VFX nuances to make movies on par with the international projects that your studio has worked on? I have been at Framestore for 17 years, and it has always been about training and developing staff and working together as a team. People that work for Framestore are in it to learn about new technology and to push visual effects as far as they can. What we are hoping is that we find people in India who want to do exactly that. We’ve heard that there is an event happening where Framestore will recruit new artists in India. Could you tell us about that? The team are heading to Pune, and then they are going to be heading to Bangalore. We are quite excited about who we are going to meet. Do you think that the advent of Framestore’s partnership with Anibrain will make way for newer possibilities? Building the best team always takes time, but it will happen. Framestore’s evolution is a testament to this – we started off working on music videos, and now we create content for Film, TV, AR/VR and advertising projects. Building this kind of experience takes time, effort and determination. We want to do it together. Anibrain has a talented team, and we want to add to that and make us both better. How does the process work if you could elaborate on that? We are involved with Anibrain on a day-to-day basis, and we’re working with them on several films. I have two meetings a week with their Head of Production, my team has meetings with their team – it’s all about communication. It is also lovely to come and meet the people face-to-face. It takes time to build those relationships. You know you want to do things the right way but not rush things either. I think that’s what Framestore is good at- we take our time to take the right decisions. We hope this confluence of forces and more such converging synergies set new benchmarks on the Indian VFX slate.