Benjamin Brenneur, Head of Motion Edit at Goodbye Kansas Studios, on teamwork, following your heart, and forging a new path for visual effects
What is your job title, and what does this role entail?
I am Head of the Motion Edit Department at Goodbye Kansas Studios (GBK) where I lead and manage the Motion Edit team. My role includes setting goals and objectives, developing and implementing workflows, technical and artistic procedures and evaluating departmental performance.
The Motion Edit department is responsible for the quality of the transfer of the actors’ performance captured on a set. We’re then responsible for editing these realistic performances of character and creature animations and props to the highest quality standards.
What is it like working at GBK?
It’s great! I love my job and my co-workers. We have a lot of fun and we work hard. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
What’s the best thing about working there?
The fact that GBK has a bright future. Management works hard to ensure we have the best VFX artists to work with, and they have confidence in our skills, empowering us to use our experience to strive toward the highest quality.
What have you been working on recently?
We’re working on every project including performance capture like TV series and video game trailers. This includes Vikings: Valhalla, Skull And Bones, PUBG Battlegrounds, and plenty of others.
What inspired you to work in visual effects?
The wonder of being able to visualize a dream or a story and share it.
Tell us about your career path; how did you get to where you are now?
My studies led me to become an Industrial/Product Designer and I worked in that field for some years. It didn’t suit me 100%, so I jumped ship and started working at a theater instead, as the light and sound technician and set decorator.
After five years I took up my old passion for 3D design, learned animation and became a generalist specializing in 3D real-time for the Aérospatiale and Airbus industries in the south of France. When I discovered Motion Capture, all the puzzle pieces fell into place, it was a crucial moment in my life and the beginning of a great career.
I have worked with the best specialists and companies in France, the UK, Australia and then New Zealand at Weta Digital. I specialize in Motion Editing, making sure I transfer the actor performance to their 3D assets and provide the finest animated details regardless of the size or creature-like the differentiation between them, be it a human, ape, orc, hobbit, robot, penguin, troll, giant, pig, alien or superhero.
Throughout the years, I have worked on many great films, including Happy Feet, Avatar, District 9, The Adventures of Tintin, Three Planet of the Apes films, The Hobbit trilogy, Two of The Hunger Games films, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine, The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, The BFG, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Rampage, Avengers: Infinity Wars, Avengers: Endgame, Alita: Battle Angel and the upcoming Avatar Sequels. Which led me to join GBK in 2020.
What would you say are the pros and cons of being a specialist vs a generalist?
You have to be a generalist before you can become a specialist. You have to learn all the disciplines; to understand the workflow and the pipeline of a VFX project, to be able to troubleshoot when you have issues, to be able to deliver your part of the work the right way for the next artist to be able to continue the best of the work. The more you learn, the more you understand where your skills lie. It’s natural to be better at some things than others and that other artists excel in those areas. VFX is a continuation of different disciplines and therefore entirely reliant upon teamwork. You can’t be the best at everything, and you can’t do all the work by yourself. You have to trust others to do their best and to concentrate and specialize yourself where you feel the most comfortable.
What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in it?
Well, thanks to the technological advancements in the past 20 years, plenty of progress has been made, the most recent being the machine learning algorithms with which you can train a program to do a redundant task faster and more accurately than when done by a human.
It is still in research and development all around the world, and thanks to the engineers, researchers, scientists and passionate individuals, it stays mostly open source. This is just the beginning, but it will certainly be transformative to the industry.
Who or what has most influenced your career and why?
Remi Brun (CEO of Mocaplab) and Bassim Haddad (Head of MotionEdit at Wētā FX), have been my mentors and are truly incredibly talented artists and so passionate about motion capture.
What show, exhibition or film has most inspired you recently?
None. The industry has started to overdo VFX, and in my opinion, this loses the meaning of the stories, while exhausting the artists involved. Today it takes a lot of courage and effort to leave this path. GBK is going on that journey and that’s why I’m here.
What project are you most proud of?
The trilogy of The Planet of the Apes. I think we truly found a way to transfer the actors’ performances to 3D apes and created the believable feeling that they’re alive. That was and still is a great achievement!
What skills are most needed in the industry today, and what do you think will be most needed in the future?
That’s a hard question to answer. I believe that, regardless of the specialty you choose, you need to be able to do work effectively in both the artistic and the technical world. As an individual, you need to be able to go ahead and troubleshoot and develop and create your own tools to achieve your goals, without being dependent on an industry that is too slow to react to the fast pace of the needs of a project.
What sort of core skills are valuable in VFX?
The core of VFX work is teamwork. So what is really hard to do? If you don’t know or understand, ask for help, recognize and acknowledge the talents of your colleagues, praise them, listen to them because they do know better than you do, and keep learning.
What resources would you recommend to aspiring VFX artists?
VFX is about telling stories, so, watch everything, listen to everything, and read everything. All artists tell a story in their own way. Cinema, TV, and video games, but also theater and shows and performances.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Follow your heart! Try everything that’s appealing, learn, work hard. Don’t stay stuck, move on the second you realize you don’t like it anymore. Stay true to yourself, keep going, try again, start again and never stop following your heart!