Outpost VFX Supervisor Jesper Kjolsrud on 25 years in the industry, being jack of all trades, working from home, and using coffee as a coping strategy

How would you describe the values and culture at your company?

Outpost is the first studio I’ve worked at with a work / life balance policy and they introduced enhanced overtime pay last year despite there not being a legal requirement in the UK. I think that says a lot about the values and culture of Outpost!

What’s the best thing about working there?

Without a doubt, the people! There’s a palpable sense of excitement and hunger for new challenges amongst the team.

For me, Outpost is good at understanding artists and their needs; those of us who prefer or need to work from home can, and we’re given the flexibility and freedom to do what we need to do in order to bring our best to our work. 

Also, what we do should be fun and Outpost is great at facilitating that.

What have you been working on recently?

We’ve just wrapped on The Man Who Fell to Earth in the UK which has been keeping me busy for over a year now. We were involved in the project from the very early stages, working on concepts and real-time pre-viz with our in-house Art Director, Steve Molloy, together with Dimension and the showrunners, Jenny Lumet and Alex Kurtzman. 

It was a lot of fun helping the client flesh out their initial ideas for the alien landscape of Anthea and technology such as the cityscapes and the vaporators. It was a huge collaborative effort where we all bounced off of one anothers ideas to create the final product. 

The team produced really creative work on complex space environments, including a planet asset which needed to work both close up on the planet’s surface, and from outer space. Our 3D team also did an amazing job on working up some really impressive alien machines.

Tell us about your career path; how did you get to where you are now?

I had a fascination with the digital effects in films in the early 90s that inspired me to seek out how it was all made. This curiosity eventually led me to a computer graphics course at university in Sweden. It was here that I first got to play with all the computer hardware and software that was used in those films.

I don’t think I really thought of going into VFX as a career until Senior VFX Supervisor Paul Franklin (Inception, Interstellar) came to the university to do a guest lecture and enticed myself and a friend to join MPC after graduation. I joined as a 3D artist and before I knew it, I had a career in VFX.  

I was at MPC for a year and a half when a bunch of us left to start DNEG in 1998. During my time here I also gained some experience working on-set, and then from there supervising felt like a natural progression.

Since DNEG, I did a few stints at some other VFX studios as a supervisor, coming to Outpost in April 2021. Now I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and have had some incredible opportunities and worked on some amazing projects.  

What are the main responsibilities of your job role?

Aside from the normal responsibilities of a VFX Supe (planning / bidding, identifying build requirements, overseeing shot production etc.), I feel that my personal responsibility in this role is to draw on my own past experiences to help deliver a show to a happy client. My producer would say it’s to do that, and within budget.

What do you spend most of your time doing?

My role is quite varied and it very much depends on where in the process you are as to where you spend a lot of time, but the one consistent element is staring at a screen. 

What do you need to be good at in your job?

To be a successful VFX Supervisor, I think you definitely need to know some of the fundamentals about the film process but beyond that, really dive into any material related to your show. Learn about the subject, read the book the script is based on, watch the previous seasons of a series. Immerse yourself as much as you can, not only will this help you come up with good ideas for the show, it also makes the work much more fun.   

What were your career goals when you started out, and how did these change as you progressed?

I can’t say I ever had a very active goal, but it would be cool to work on a Spielberg or Zemeckis movie as the two of them made all the best films when I was growing up!

What are the benefits of learning lots of different disciplines? What would you say to someone who is set on specialising early on in their career?

When I started in VFX you had to be a jack of all trades. Knowing a little about a lot helped me find my way into this role but there’s absolutely nothing wrong in specialising early as we work in an industry that I think encourages change. 

What’s the most challenging part of your role?

Night shoots in Toronto in the winter.

What’s the most rewarding part?

Seeing the end result of the team’s hard work, preferably with some time having passed after you wrapped it up – a little distance is often welcome after a large-scale project.

What kinds of projects do you most like to work on?

As long as I feel involved and can contribute in a positive way, I’m happy. The variation of working on different types of shows is a great part of this role, so I don’t think I favour any one type over another.

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

A pandemic that out of necessity suddenly allowed us to work from home. We’ve been thrust into a different way of working, which has resulted in more flexible workflows and more robust pipelines across the industry. 

Who or what has most influenced your career and why?

The people who challenged me to do more as I wouldn’t have taken all those steps on my own.

What skills are most needed in the industry today, and what do you think will be most needed in the future?

Realtime rendering and AI assisted image creation are two areas I think will become more and more explored in VFX so any knowledge in that will be highly sought after.

What strategies do you have for coping with the pressure of your work?

Copious amounts of coffee.

What’s your advice to artists for creating a killer showreel?

Don’t make it too long and make sure it’s clear what your contribution was to each show or shot by providing a breakdown document. 

What advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

I’m stealing this from Ed Catmull, and it doesn’t just apply to people starting out, but show your work early and often! 

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.