Interview: Kyle McCulloch, Visual Effects Supervisor



Kyle McCulloch is visual effects supervisor at Framestore in London, UK. His impressive list of credits includes Iron Man, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s currently working on Warner Brother’s Pan. Kyle was recently in Dublin to attend the 2014 VFX and Animation Summit, where Lynn O’Reilly, an animation student at BCFE, had the chance to fire some questions his way.


This past weekend was the second VFX Summit, and let’s hope there are many more to come. Any words on the importance of having events like this one?

Events like this are really important to the industry, and the people who work in it. Being able to get together, learn about what other artists are doing, connect to your colleagues, and share your passion with like-minded people is key to growing as an artist.


The summit was open to students and graduates who are starting off in the industry. Many of them came out of your talk feeling very inspired. Where did you look to for inspiration when you were starting off? And where do you look for inspiration now?

When I was first starting out in the industry, the community was a lot smaller. For me, the magazine Cinefex was my connection to the industry, and the cutting edge of what people were doing. I read it religiously. Once I found SIGGRAPH [an international community of researchers, artists, developers, filmmakers, scientists, and business professionals who share an interest in computer graphics and interactive techniques], I started going to that convention, and left every year feeling hugely inspired to go back to work and try new things.


More than anyone else, artists learn a lot from their mistakes, and from trial and error. We saw some examples of this in different talks over the weekend. What is the happiest accident you’ve experienced when working on a film?

That’s a tricky one. I’d probably say that my happiest accident is a particular straight-to-DVD movie I was working on ran way over-schedule. At the time, this meant that I missed out on returning to LA to the job I had lined up, but meant that I was able to take a last-minute project with the Orphanage, where I wound up staying for 4 years, and working on projects like Iron Man and Die Hard 4.


You’ve worked on films like Harry Potter and Iron Man, which have the real world as a backdrop, and the fantasy elements and visual effects are then built on top/around this setting. In Guardians of the Galaxy, apart from Peter’s past on Earth, we are in a totally fictional world. Was it freeing to have that kind of blank(er) canvas to work on? Or what challenges did it present not to have the real world as a foundation to work the visual effects elements upon?

For me, the challenges of creating something fantastic, or replicating something from the real world are quite similar. Even though we were making a giant alien world in Knowhere, we still needed to fill it with details and structures that make sense to our human viewers. We needed to show the viewer how big it was, how complex it was, and still have it feel ‘real’. Part of how we achieve that is to find things in the real world as inspiration, and use those in the design.


When I watched Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, I was struck by just how jam-packed the visual elements were, and we got an insight into this in your talk at the Summit. The Knowhere set alone was very detailed, and on top of that you have a large volume of both practical and computer generated effects, not to mention all that lighting, the vivid colours and all the characters – again both physical and computer generated… the poor compositors had their work cut out I’d wager! As a visual effects supervisor, how did you deal with such a visually heavy film? Was it difficult to ensure all that visual information would not overwhelm the audience?

With a project as big as Guardians, you really depend on your team. I was fortunate to have some of the very best artists in the industry working with me at Framestore. Like any huge project, you have do divide and delegate – I had sequence and department supervisors doing an incredible amount of work to move the project forward. Without them, we would have never finished the film!



The 2014 VFX and Animation Summit  was funded by Screen Training Ireland, Animation Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland.



Guardians of the Galaxy


DIR: James Gunn  WRI: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman  PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Ben Davis  ED: Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, Craig Wood   DES: Charles Wood MUS: Tyler Bates  CAST: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

Guardians of the Galaxy continues Marvel’s impressive streak, with its characteristic technical polish and comic irreverence.

It opens brilliantly. In 1988, young Peter Quill listens to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” on a mix tape. His grandfather takes him to visit his dying mother, who has a gift for him. Young Peter’s grief and sorrow at her death are too much to bear. He runs from the hospital, falling to the ground, crying, emotional, upset. Suddenly, out of the darkness, a spaceship appears and takes Peter up in a beam of light. The sequence takes a cheesy song, milks the sentiment from a dramatic situation, before ending with the humour and irreverence that director and co-director James Gunn sustains for the film’s length.

He keeps the action moving at a frenetic pace, introducing a ragbag of cynical characters motivated mainly by greed or a desire for vengeance. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown up to be an interplanetary bandit, choosing “Star-Lord” as his moniker. He has made a deal to source a mystical orb, finding himself caught up in political strife. Ronan (Lee Pace), a radical Kree, agrees to retrieve the orb for Thanos in return for his assistance in defeating his enemies, the Xandarians.

While trekking across the universe, Quill teams up with Rocket, a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper; Groot, a tree-like creature, voiced by Vin Diesel; Drax (Dave Bautista), a warrior seeking vengeance against Ronan for killing his family; and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an orphan trained by Thanos. Also in the mix are Yondu (Michael Rooker), a bandit and father figure for Quill; Nova Prime (Glenn Close), leader of the Nova Corps and protector of Xandar, whose force includes Rhomann Dey (John C Reilly); and The Collector (Benicio del Toro), who keep his collection of space oddities in a place called Knowhere.

Groot almost steals the film. He can only say, “I am Groot,” and the running gag works well. A wide-eyed smile on his plain face, expressing delight after he has beat up some goons, provides another highlight, while the light given off by his branches gives the film one of its most striking images.

Rocket vies with Groot for attention, coming up with elaborate plans (notably to escape prison on Xandar). Benicio del Toro hams it up in his small role, while Glenn Close has one of the film’s best lines, a nicely timed delivery of a single choice word.

Surprisingly, Chris Pratt is the film’s weakness. His face, one of the few not plastered in layers of makeup or CGI effects, lacks expression, and Star-Lord makes for a poor main character among the more entertaining array of supporting players. He’s funny, sure, but he lacks the charm or charisma of, say, Han Solo.

Guardians of the Galaxy risks being an elaborate send-up of the Star Wars movies, but it’s been put together enough style, imagination and panache to make it an entertaining effects-laden extravaganza worthy of judgment on its own merits. Sequel guaranteed and, based on the first instalment, should be highly anticipated.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
120 mins

Guardians of the Galaxy is released on 1st August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy – Official Website