Richard Graham graduated with a degree in civil engineering from Nottingham University eight years ago. He didn’t have the intention of pursuing a career in the field he was trained in and wanted to break into the film industry. With a penchant for technology, Graham taught himself the intricacies of visual effects and joined Framestore, the British visual effects company based in London, in 2008 as a VFX line producer.
Graham was one of the four visual effects producers from Framestore who conjured up those larger-than-life visuals in Gravity, the Sandra Bullock-George Clooney starring science fiction thriller, which won seven Oscars earlier this year, one of which was for visual effects. He was in Pune recently to speak at a seminar organised by Anibrain Digital Studio.
Graham has been working with Framestore for the past six years and, besides Gravity, has top-grossing films such as Prince of Persia (2010), Clash of the Titans (2010) and Iron Man 3 (2013) under his belt. He is awaiting the release of Paddington, Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy later this year.
Gravity itself was a three-and-a-half-year-long experience for Graham. “We worked on it from the first storyboards till post-production,” says Graham, “The total number of people who worked specifically on the visual effects was 440, which is probably more than two-thirds of the credit list on the film.”
The film, says Graham, is the the biggest and longest project he has worked on. “It did not involve more money. Basically, we had to be innovative and manage the budget well,” he says. “The film was made efficiently. If one goes to Box Office Mojo, the website that compiles budgets of all films, one could see that it cost something around $110 million, which is reasonable for a film of that size and scope. It wasn’t super expensive but it was technically demanding work,” he says.
The film also employs a counter-intuitive filming process. “The shots were very long, which meant that everything had to be planned to the minutest detail. This was done using animation,” says Graham, “There was an animated version of the film and there was also a version in which we worked out all of the lighting, so when you moved from one place to the next, the lighting stayed consistent,” he says. They then proceeded to shoot with the the actors. “The cast saw the animation and would have dialogue read-throughs in advance and we would mash the two. Following this process, we shot with the actors over six months. After the actors had done their part, we finished the film in the next 18 months,” he says.
Graham had walked into the VFX industry in London when it was at a nascent stage. He says that the industry has matured and gauges where it is heading.
“These days, more and more of the frames are being generated digitally. When we started, we would add animation to photography but in Gravity, as I mentioned, we did the opposite,” says Graham, “On bigger budget films, there is a larger demand now for animation because there are no limits to what can