I’m Not a VFX Artist by Paul Inman

Technology is wonderful, right?


Yes, I think so. Without the advances in tech – seemingly jumping leaps and bounds almost daily – we indie filmmakers might not be able to fully realize our visions for these wonderful movies we’re dreaming up, whether that be a Stephen King Dollar Baby or our next big idea.

“My name is Paul, and I’m a filmmaker,” I say, feeling very much like I’m at an AA meeting.

“But I’m not a VFX artist.” (Truthfully, neither of these things feels authentic, but that could be Imposter Syndrome rearing its ugly head again.)

If you don’t know me, in late 2021, I completed my short film version of “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French”  – I retitled it to “That Feeling” because, you know, brevity – which went on to debut at the Beaufort International Film Festival in 2022. I’ve also made many other shorts both in front of and behind the camera and written a novel or two. Shameless self-promotion for the win!

I digress.

I don’t have to explain to other filmmakers about the many hats we have to wear as indie filmmakers – but I will. On “That Feeling,” I was producer, writer, director, locations, casting director, editor, anything-else-that-was-needed, and visual effects artist.

I’m not a VFX artist. Did I mention that yet?

Will (Ian Blanco) and Caroline (Cait Salvino) exit the airport. “Backseat” Caroline (Cait Salvino) observes. VFX – Composited two shots together.

I’m going to jump right over all those other jobs and get into the meat and potatoes. VFX artistry has always enamored me. I’ve been watching YouTube channels like Video Copilot, Film Riot, Production Crate, Cinecom, and many others for years. It’s the spectacles anyone could make at home with a computer, imagination, and some training that drew me in; anyone could, theoretically, make anything.

I spent several years piddling and wishing that I could make something that resonated within me. As it turns out, I didn’t have the right tools. So, I bought the correct software and then it was off to the races.

Except I wasn’t very good. It happens. You don’t know what you don’t know.

The training was lacking. I’m not a giver-uper; I persevered! I taught myself – through hours of internet training and practice – to be less sucky. Eventually, I felt confident enough to use some of my VFX skills in the short films I was making. Looking back at them now, I can see the growth that brought me to today. I’m grateful for those challenges and those opportunities to get better. Which, finally, brings me to “That Feeling.”

Cait Salvino stars as Caroline and her inner voice “Backseat” Caroline. VFX – Background replacement.

There were around two hundred VFX shots in the film. At just over thirty-one minutes long, that averages to six and a half VFX shots per minute of finished film! To put that in perspective, according to Christopher Nolan’s VFX Supervisor Andrew Jackson, Oppenheimer has about two hundred VFX shots. Let me repeat – I have as many VFX shots in my indie as Nolan used in his big-budget blockbuster. Mind. Blown.

Geri Sirakova acted as a stand-in for Cait Salvino. We shot these scenes twice so Cait could act as Caroline and “Backseat” Caroline. -VFX Composited two shots together.

I’m sure that many of us know about “low” budget films with great VFX – Everything, Everywhere, All at Once and Godzilla Minus One come to mind. My budget for “That Feeling” was just under four thousand dollars. I had to stretch every penny. That meant I was doing the VFX. And, like a lot of VFX shots, many of them will never be noticed – I hope! We had everything from mundane stuff like keying greenscreens to removing nose goblins that were somehow missed on the day – I’ll never tell who or where this is in the film – to replacing things to put them into King’s world. Some of the most fun VFX was replacementing Cait Salvino’s double, Geri Sirakova, when Caroline was communicating with her inner voice. Yeah, it’s that kind of film. Cait knocked it out of the park with her performance. I can only imagine how challenging it was to keep all of it straight in her mind.

Geri Sirakova also played a small role of the rental car agent in the film. VFX – Composited the two shots together.

Here’s a fun story: We were wrapping on day two of production – the only day we had access to the interior of the airplane – and Marshal Wells, my 1st AD, and I were looking at the plan for day three. Day three is where all of our driving scenes would be shot. You may not know, but a large portion of the story takes place in the car.

Unnamed Copilot (Deak Smalls) sees something troubling in the distance. VFX – Background replacement.

We had someone picking up our BMW from the dealer, had a trailer rented to pull the car on, and we were discussing how to rig everything when our cameraman informed us that they didn’t have a rigging strong enough to hold the weight of the camera. Mind you, we’d been in pre-production for six months, and we’d had several meetings about how all the minutiae of this would work. Finding out there was no rigging the day before we needed it…was not ideal. But filmmaking is problem-solving. That’s one of the things I love about it.

Marshall and I discussed our options. I knew that our DP, John Leonard, had ninety feet of greenscreen and the decision was made that most of the car dialogue would be shot on our makeshift sound stage (a large warehouse/storage area that we borrowed from Patrick Herrmann aka Floyd, the Pilot).

We shot the majority of Caroline and Will dialogue on a makeshift soundstage in front of greenscreen. VFX – Background replacement.

We spent a few hours the next morning hanging and lighting a lot of greenscreens and we reworked some ideas to make it all the more convincing. I’ll say that not all of the shots of the car dialogue are on greenscreens. A fair amount is from rigging the camera to the truck pulling the BMW. In post, I spent months going through different iterations of keying everything out to get it to look as natural as possible. I think it looks as good as I could do it.

BMW on the trailer and the truck camera rigging set up. Camera – Dorian Del Valle

Another place that I used VFX was to augment the look of the character Will, wonderfully acted by Ian Blanco. SPOILERS, I guess… There’s a part of the story that he needed to look like he’d been injured. We did makeup on the day and I added to the makeup with VFX to enhance the look. He turned his head toward the camera in the shot and that move became the bane of my existence for months. Tracking a moving object isn’t so hard but realistically overlaying graphics can be a nightmare. In the end, though, it’s a great effect, and the blending of practical makeup and digital makeup is something that I’m proud of. It’s a great shot and works well in the film.

A combination of practical makeup and digital makeup brought Will’s (Ian Blanco) injuries to life. VFX – Digitally replaced part of Ian’s face, added more burns and blood, and background replacement

Some of the more subtle and simpler effects were in changing signage to fit what we needed for the story. Carson’s sign was digitally enhanced, as well as some of the billboards, and there was a car dealership sign that was created to keep continuity with the story. Basically, you build the sign that you need in Photoshop and replace, or overlay, it in the original footage, tracking it if needed. I also had to do little things like make the altimeter dial move, change the radio station to a fun King easter egg, and add a reference from The Dark Tower – come to think of it, I wish I’d added the lobstrosities.

Lots of subtle effects were added like replacing or creating signs, making the altimeter appear to be losing altitude, as well as removing random things from the shots.

I think my most magical work on this film was removing a moving car from one of our shots. Of course, we didn’t get permission to shut down any of the roads we used for the film, so we had to do our share of waiting on traffic. In this particular shot, everything was going great until we started rolling. A car came up behind our BMW and followed it right through the shot. It wouldn’t have been a big deal except we didn’t have waivers from the people in the car and didn’t have a lot of time to reshoot that scene as our day was packed with setups already. In the end, I had to remove the car or cut the shot. On a whim I gave it a try and, to my surprise, it worked. I couldn’t believe how realistic the shot was. If you’ve seen the film, could you tell a car drove through, at some point, taking up ninety percent of the frame? Which part of the film do you think that happened? Make a guess and I’ll let you know if you’re right.

Our VFX checklist was beyond valuable for keeping everything organized and on schedule.

It’s been a few years since I did these effects and the technology has changed tremendously with the advancements in AI and generative imaging. Time will only tell how much more we indie filmmakers will be able to accomplish on shoestring budgets and using our imaginations. And a little training.

Oh, I can’t leave out that Stephen Tramontana (“A Very Tight Place”) saw my work and asked me to help with VFX on his feature, Bride of The Killer Piñata. Why? Why would you do that! Shame! Just kidding, Stephen. You’re awesome for thinking that I could do it!

Like I said, I’m not a VFX artist, but I made it work, and I’m proud of that work.

Paul Inman

“That Feeling” (2021)

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5 Responses

  1. Dena Walker says:

    You forgot to mention the true owners visiting the apartment upstairs of the Murrells Inlet General Store and having to get waivers signed from the “Baker Clan” before proceeding with the shoot. We enjoyed watching the magic.

  2. Vicky says:

    Awesome job my son! You never cease to amaze me. Keep up the good work. Love you, Mom and Dad

  3. Oscar Garrido says:

    Thanks to you! I really loved your article and all those .gifs you sent us.

  4. Paul Inman says:

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the VFX work of That Feeling!

  5. Paul Inman says:

    Thanks for giving me the chance to share about the VFX of That Feeling!

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