Diving deep into the world of Visual Effects, PR Consultant and Writer Alex Coxon will be chatting to a VFX artist each month about how they broke into the industry and what makes them tick.  We’re kicking off with Harin Hirani, Head of 3D at Soho based studio, Freefolk.

Describe the company you work for, how does if differ from other VFX houses?

As Freefolk is a relatively small-sized independent company we tend to keep the team sizes fairly small, which means we can give the projects we work on our utmost care and attention. We work collaboratively across the departments so anyone is entitled to have their say on how we can make something better. We are also really flexible in allowing artists to develop and explore areas of their interest. 

What’s your job title?

Head of 3D

What does that involve?

I oversee the day to day running of the 3D department, involving bidding and pitching on jobs, working with clients, managing the team and ensuring a high standard of work that delivers on schedule. I also operate on projects myself in a generalist role so I get to move between many VFX tasks and am currently supervising the CG on our latest longform project in production.

How long have you been working in VFX?

I started experimenting with 3D softwares probably more than 15 years ago but I’ve been working professionally in the industry for about 11 years.

Why did you want to work in VFX?

For me it was a very attractive industry to work in. I get to be both creative and utilise my artistic background, something I have always enjoyed, and be technically challenged from project to project. It’s the perfect blend of art and science.  

How did you get into VFX? 

An IT course at school led me to Flash. It was the first time I had been introduced to the concept of animation, setting keyframes to determine motion and then letting the computer fill in the gaps. It was amazing how creative you could be. After that I started looking at 3DS Max where I became more fascinated by the photoreal side of VFX. I think the very first 3D project I did was a simple space scene with the planet Mars. It was just a basic polysphere with a colour and bump map applied with 1 key light and I remember being so impressed at how good it looked! 

What did you study?

In school I studied Art, Maths and Physics, then went on to a complete media foundation course specialising in traditional hand drawn animation. After that I did a digital animation degree where I learnt Maya.

Did a particular film inspired you?

I’d say the early Pixar and Dreamworks films inspired me the most, particularly Toy Story. It was such a groundbreaking film. I remember being wowed at a particular scene featuring a brick wall, thinking it looked so real! 

What show/exhibition/film has most inspired you recently?

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017). The level of detail and realism in the creatures in that film was outstanding. Often in VFX it’s hard to keep the high level of quality consistent across an entire film spanning hundreds of shots, but the artists at Weta did an amazing job pushing the bar with that one! It definitely inspired me to push our own in house creature work.    

What are you favourite and least favourite parts of the job?

In an industry that’s fast moving where technology is evolving all the time, there’s always new tools to play with. I like that I’m in a job where I can continue to learn things everyday. It keeps things interesting.  Working for clients can sometimes be tricky! You definitely have to learn quite early on to not be too possessive over your work as ultimately you are working to someone else’s specification and vision.  

Freefolk’s work on the Alienist

What have you worked on recently / are working on at the moment?

We are just about to embark on our next longform TV project for Netflix, it’s a brilliant project to be part of and involves numerous complex CG sequences so I’m happy!  As a company it’s exciting to be working on another HETV series, especially on the back of the huge success we had with The Alienist (Paramount TV) as we won an Emmy for the VFX!

What project are you most proud of?

There’s quite a few but I’d say probably a commercial we did for Beagle Street insurance, featuring a photoreal talking CGI dog. It was a pretty big job for us at the time as we hadn’t done anything before to that level of difficulty and scale. We had a limited crew size, but we were all passionate about pushing the quality level as high as we could that it still holds up pretty well today!  It was a great learning experience for us and set us up for subsequent creature jobs afterwards.  

What VFX tools to you use day to day and why?

I operate as a generalist so on a day to day basis I tend to jump between a number of programs. But I’d say most of my time is spent inside Maya and Nuke. I’m usually involved in the look development aspects of projects so these particular softwares are best suited for that task.  Most of the time it’s about using the best tool for the job, they all have their strengths and weaknesses depending on the task at hand. 

What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in it?

Our industry is very dependant on software technologies.  And although VFX is still a relatively new industry it’s evolved massively over the last 10 years. In the past high end work was limited to large scale companies working on big budget films who had in house software technicians to help them achieve what was required for the project.  These days all that technology has become far more accessible and more simplified which means even a student looking to get into the industry has all the necessary tools at their disposal to create high end visual effects shots. It’s great for us as it means we are able to offer more to our clients.   

Who or what has most influenced your career and why?

I joined Freefolk over 10 years ago when the company was a lot smaller and there wasn’t really a 3D department- just me! We only worked on commercials back then so it meant I learnt a lot as each job had quick turnarounds and their own unique challenges to overcome. Being in that kind of environment definitely helped me to develop my skills and get a better understanding of the whole VFX pipeline.

What’s your preferred social media platform and why? 

Probably the one I use the most and spend time in Instagram. I like it as it’s visual platform, it’s a great way to discover other artists work and to showcase your own.  I’m particularly interested in photography as well so I use it as a platform to share pictures I’ve taken on my travels. @h2_ is my username if you want to find me! 

Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know.

As well as specialising in grooming (digital haircuts) on creatures I create I also have a lot of experience of cutting men’s hair.  My own, awkwardly for many years growing up, and then honing the skills on my younger brother!

This interview was written by Alex Coxon, VFX PR Consultant and Writer.

See many more interviews from VFXWIRE in the interview section.

Allan Torp Jensen
Author: Allan Torp Jensen

Allan has worked on visual effects for feature films and television for 20 years. He has experience of the full VFX pipeline but has focused on compositing for the past 15 years and has been a Lead Compositor and Compositing Supervisor on various shows. He has worked with the talented people at Cinesite, Bluebolt VFX, Automatik VFX in London, and Weta Digital in New Zealand. For the past five years, he has worked remotely at his own Torper Studio on various high-end TV and feature film projects.