Michelle Rose is a VFX Producer currently working on Alex Garland’s new film, Civil War, after being on three seasons of the Starz series, Outlander.

How did you get into VFX?

After finishing my degree in Interior Design and Architecture I went to live in Berlin. Whilst there I stepped into the role of Assistant Set Decorator and Prop Coordinator working on Inglorious Basterds (Universal), Flightplan (Touchstone) and The International (Columbia). After 8 years in Berlin I got the role as the Art Department Coordinator on the animated feature Arthur Christmas (Aardman Animation / Sony Pictures Imageworks) firstly based in Bristol (UK)  and then out in Los Angeles. Not only was this an incredible opportunity to work in the States but it was also my gateway into the world of CGI and VFX.

Upon my return to the UK I joined the VFX facility Cinesite working on Skyfall (Eon) and World War Z (Paramount), moving onto MPC as a Production Manager for Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel) and then Framestore as a Line Producer on Paddington (Warner Bros). During my time working in house I learnt invaluable skills and disciplines which served me well when I got my break production side as a VFX Digital Asset Manager on King Arthur (Warner Bros). I then went on to join the team on Wonder Woman (Warner Bros) working as the VFX Coordinator and Robin Hood (Lionsgate)I was recommended to Harriet Donington (VFX Agent) who instigated my first job working as a client side VFX Producer on the Starz HETV series Outlander.

What were your career aspirations when you were growing up?

I got into VFX unintentionally, my original plan was to become an Interior Designer and prior to leaving for Berlin I was working in a junior position at an architecture firm in Bath. It didn’t take long before I realised the job just wasn’t for me and that my heart lay in film and TV. When I moved to Berlin I applied for film production jobs involving set decoration and props and was fortunate enough to land a fantastic opportunity. I worked hard and asked lots of questions. 

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I love my job, it’s varied and exciting. Teamwork is key as it is my responsibility to oversee the VFX budget, while keeping to the schedule and navigating the shots from their initial conception right through to final delivery. The VFX Supervisor and I work as joint HoDs, with the VFX Supervisor looking after the creative, leaving me to manage the finances and the day to day management of the VFX during prep, shoot and post. We are an integral part of the production team working with the Directors and HoDs, and are the client interface to the VFX vendors and in-house teams. It’s involved and has its challenges but overall it’s fun and I thoroughly enjoy it.

What would you say has been the most important step in your career?

I was quite apprehensive to take on Civil War (Alex Garland – A24 / DNA Films) after working on three seasons of Outlanders (Starz). I loved living in Glasgow and adored the cast and crew who had become firm friends over the four years of working together. After two seasons I realised I could do the job in my sleep and it became less challenging for me.

After the first season Harriet was keen that I move on as I had earned my stripes getting my first VFX Producer credit, and by the end of season 3 she was desperate. Harriet could see my potential and knew I was selling myself short.  Civil War was so far out of my comfort zone. It was a huge role working with the phenomenal Director Alex Garland and the highly experienced and brilliant Producers Allon Reich, Andrew MacDonald and Gregory Goodman. Stepping up from a ‘comfortable’ TV series was far from easy but I am so incredibly proud of myself and what I’ve achieved. It was, and continues to be a massive leaving curve and I am now so excited for my next set challenges.

What can you tell us about Civil War?

Civil War is an upcoming epic action film written and directed by Alex Garland. The film was shot in Atlanta and is currently in post production in the UK. Framestore is our fantastic lead vendor who is pulling out all the stops and delivering stunning work. Vendors Fix FX and TPO are also a huge contribution to ensuring the stunning VFX the film deserves.

What do you do on your day-to-day basis?

Now we are in the thick of post production, I am working closely with the three vendors to get the shot finished and over the line. When you engage a VFX vendor the contract is based on an estimated shot count and an agreed body of work that will be completed at a fixed price. This of course will ebb and flow in post production with new shots being added and others being omitted. My job is to track the shot costs, negotiate overages, and provide weekly cost reports to the studios and Producer. I am also looking after the ‘clean up’ shots that inevitably show up during the edit. These shots are completed by our small in-house team and Fix FX as more cost effective vendors so that Framestore can concentrate on the heavy lifting.

How was the transition from TV to your first feature project Civil War?

What I like about working on a feature film is that every day is different and it feels more like one solid project, where you see it through from start to finish. I also like that you can get into the real details and nuance, making sure you’ve got all the information you need. 

We used a scanning company in Atlanta called Clear Angle who scanned every location, the majority of the characters and all the props. These lidar/cyber scans are now available to the Framestore team and prove invaluable because we cannot go back to Atlanta to do reshoots. 

Working on the film I have witnessed every day of the shoot and been involved in every aspect of VFX.  While in HETV you generally shoot the series in blocks, with prep, shoot and post happening in parallel.   Hence I couldn’t always be on the shoot because I had to prep something for later blocks, or review shots from previous episodes.  

Film is more linear, giving you more control and an easier ride. Film averages 120 minutes; TV averages six or eight hour-long episodes (360 – 480 minutes).

Looking back at all the projects you’ve made, what lessons have you learned?

My knowledge has grown exponentially and I now understand the nuisances and nitty gritty involved in VFX film and HETV production from department overhead to the cost of scanning a prop.  

This job is a perfect combination of politics, creativity, accounting and managing talent. Navigating financial constraints, negotiating with a busy global marketplace, appreciating the Director’s vision while trying to manage their expectation is not always easy and relies on building a strong, communicative team. I believe in transparency and I am fully aware that I do not have the power or authority to change the direction on the ship. All I can do is advise, offer up solutions and keep everyone informed whilst doing my job to the best of my ability.

What are your future goals?

I adore being a VFX Producer and I also like to travel. Working in Atlanta earlier in the year was fantastic and I would love to return to the US. I would ideally love to work on another film with a shot count of around 1500 would be perfect. I’m not a huge fan of epic CG movies, I prefer projects where the VFX are invisible and secondary to the action and not the star attraction. I’m excited about the future and Harriet already has a number of irons in the fire.  

Michelle will be free for a new work opportunity from February 2023. More info and full credits list at The VFX & Post Talent Agency.

Tanya Combrinck
Author: Tanya Combrinck

Tanya is a writer covering art, design, and visual effects. She has 15 years of experience as a magazine journalist and has written for publications including 3D World, 3D Artist, Computer Arts, net magazine, and Creative Bloq.