Framestore - New York
Thu, 26 Jan 2023 17:51:00 GMT
John Kilshaw and Julie Long are the creative director, and executive producer, respectively, for Framestore - where they oversee episodic projects coming out of New York and London that require the company’s signature flair, innovation and creativity, but not the full weight of its film pipeline. The pair have recently stepped into these international leadership roles after several years of working solely on Framestore’s episodic offering out of New York - where they have fostered in-house talent and developed meaningful client relationships since 2019.
This partnership originally began when John was asked to bring on a partner and - despite never having met before - he knew that Julie was the only person for the job. Though hesitant to leave her years of hard work vendor-side to return to a VFX studio, Julie was convinced by her mentor, Emmy award-winning VFX producer David Van Dyke, to meet with John and [president of global advertising and content] Charles Howell, who was managing director of the New York studio at the time. Very quickly, both Julie and John had their suspicions about each other confirmed, and their reputations that had brought the two together proven true.
“The first thing that I noticed was that Julie was very to the point, and would always cut through the fluff to get straight to the heart of a matter,” says John, praising his colleague’s “incredible skill set” and ability to plan for the medium and long-term future. “It is rare, when you initially meet somebody, to feel so in step with them and have conversations that are instantly making a difference to how you both work and how the business operates. Normally this only comes after years of working together.”
Intimidated at first, not just by John’s imposing 6’4’’ frame and his headstrong nature, but by his impressive catalogue of projects and collaborators - George Lucas, J.J Abrams and Michael Bay to name an illustrious few - Julie says she felt extremely humbled upon their first interaction. “It took me a little time to gain enough confidence to speak my mind and not always agree with everything he said, but I’m still in awe of John every day – and it’s been almost four years since we started working together!”
Assisted by Julie’s ability to keep a potentially chaotic schedule organised, John says that the duo started working together across multiple projects straight out of the gate. These early collaborations included sequences for series like ‘Lost in Space’, ‘See’, ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’, ‘Hunters’ and ‘Away’. All of these projects had very different VFX requirements, and it’s where John and Julie found their footing together as a VFX producer-supervisor team. “We both have very different natural abilities that complement each other,” says Julie. “John’s creative eye and out-of-the-box thinking, paired with my organisation and conscientiousness really balance our working relationship on each project that we’ve managed together.”
However, finding this balance between Julie’s detail and John’s creativity can occasionally be a challenge, especially when time is short, such as during the lengthy and already irritating process of bidding. “Sometimes, Julie’s level of detail requirements can slow the process down in a frustrating way,” admits John, although he believes that they’ve struck a happy medium over the years. “We have found a great balance between detail and the creative process, which, honestly, requires a lot more detail than I thought was needed, but that’s a testament to Julie’s skill set and understanding.”
The pair divulge that beyond this, they rarely have creative disagreements and, in fact, enjoy the occasional times when they have to flesh out both of their points of view. To reach an agreement, they respectfully discuss their equally strong opinions through “wonderful conversations that can lead to very different solutions,” as John puts it - something that he believes benefits both them and their clients. However, if Julie had to pick one bugbear, it would have to be John’s email etiquette (or lack thereof).
“John doesn’t read his emails - unless I tell him to,” she jokes. “He has a creative brain and I’ve learned ways to communicate with him outside of email, but sometimes it can be frustrating. I will say that I am one of the privileged few that he’ll drop everything he’s doing if I tell him I want to talk with him or need something. I just can’t send him the request via email…”
According to Julie, their new roles leading this side of Framestore’s episodic business haven’t changed their day-to-day responsibilities much, besides now having a team of London artists under their guidance. “There are efficient, collaborative ways to create VFX that can easily get lost in the fast-paced, competitive nature of the industry,” she says. “Our job is to reinforce these fundamental ways of working with our teams… the goal is for John and I to support the London team by offering them some guidance on how to approach project management, such as episodic workflows, client interactions, team leadership, budgeting and scheduling.”
Hoping to form teams of talented artists and producers to create “beautiful VFX” that align with Framestore’s ‘Intelligent VFX’ mantra, John explains that the challenge with their new responsibilities in London will be to find new ways of empowering the team to achieve 100% of their potential each day, in the growing world of episodic. He says, “In order to be successful, you need a little bit of L.U.C.K. – which stands for ‘Labor Under Correct Knowledge’. When we first get to meet with the creative team or are presented with a new project, the first thing we always try to figure out is the knowledge aspect. What do we need to know to make this person or project shine?”
Over the past year, Julie and John have been presented with many opportunities to give their teams on both sides of the pond such chances to shine - opportunities that they would usually jump at. However, the much-talked-about ‘talent crunch’ (a shortage of VFX talent and a high demand for their skills) has resulted in a more limited artist capacity that has provided the pair with a long-term challenge. “We have worked very closely with clients on several projects to think of ways we can approach projects more efficiently and on a realistic schedule with the crew that we have available,” says Julie. “Along with our clients, we’ve had to get very creative figuring out how we can make it all work.”
Recently, this situation has seen a project put one of their teams in, as John describes it, “a simultaneously wonderful and demanding creative position.” But he praises his partner for being able to problem solve in this less than ideal environment that appears to be continuing for the foreseeable future. “Partnering with Julie to evaluate and present timelines, budgets and ideas that help the client realise their visions has been both challenging and gratifying,” he adds.
And for John, these challenges aren’t just part of the job description. “The creative challenges are what we get out of bed for,” he says, “none more so than working on Marvel content.” He makes reference to the VFX work that Framestore did for the Marvel series ‘WandaVision’, which was released to critical and public acclaim in 2021. “One of the main visual effects for ‘WandaVision’ was creating a transition from the old film world to the new film world,” he says. “The ways we combined old camera optics, film effects and digital effects were a great example of what you can do when a client is as creative as Marvel when helming a show.” This highly distinctive sequence effectively snapshots what clients and audiences alike have come to expect from Framestore, whose wider suite of Marvel episodic projects include ‘Moon Knight’, ‘Ms. Marvel’ and ‘Loki’ season 2.
Discussing the fan-favourite series, Julie adds, “Developing the look of transitioning from black and white to colour was one of our first major creative collaborations with the client, where they relied on us to ideate what it would ultimately look like. It’s now an iconic moment from the show, and I’m deeply proud that we were responsible for it.”
Other moments that the pair take particular pride in include a challenging flame-filled sequence for Netflix’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ - a show which John also was the VFX supervisor on - and a fully CG river and boat that they created for a stormy VFX sequence in Apple TV’s ‘The Mosquito Coast’. “John and I feel the storm sequence is some of the best work that our team has produced from Framestore in New York since we joined,” says Julie. “We are extremely proud that we were given the chance to be involved.”
John reciprocates this notion, saying, “In ‘Mosquito Coast’, the initial meetings with Joshua [Spivack, VFX supervisor at Apple TV] were any VFX supervisor’s dreams. He was engaging, willing to allow us to collaborate and present ideas/techniques to help with the overall style of the visual effects. This empowered us to be very efficient with the budget and create moments which the clients loved.”
Outside of the often high-pressure and fast-paced world of VFX, Julie and John get along very well on a personal level, and try to socialise together with their families when possible. “John and I had children at similar times and therefore have had a lot of parallel new parent experiences,” says Julie. “John’s wife, Angi, is very sweet and an amazing mother – I try to glean as many parenting tips from her as I can.” And it’s not just John’s wife who has imparted valuable knowledge to Julie, in fact, she acquires “major pearls of wisdom” on a daily basis from her creative partner himself.
One of the most major pieces of advice has been “to have grown up conversations” - something that seems obvious but, based on her experience, is something that gets forgotten all too often. “I’ve witnessed this countless times, and I myself have been guilty of it; trying to work out a problem alone without discussing the issue with the parties involved and having a frank conversation.” She adds, “Whether that be an artist not performing or a client that expects an unrealistic delivery, having a frank conversation that lays out the facts and suggests solutions leads to better foundations of trust. Some of these conversations are uncomfortable, which is why I think they are so often avoided, but they really do prevent problems festering and lead to a result where everybody wins.”
For John, it all comes back to that delicate balance between the pair’s skill sets that they have managed to carefully curate together over the years. He says, “From Julie, I’ve learned the importance of detail and the value of a fresh pair of eyes at every level. In my career to date, I’ve never met anybody whose opinion I would trust or engage as much.” And while Julie has added her keen eye for detail into their successful equation, from John’s side of the scale has come his creative process - pushing them both to think more outside of the box and resulting in an exciting equilibrium that continues to produce some of the industry’s finest VFX work.
Julie concludes, “I’ve always been a rule follower, and John made me a much better producer. I’m so lucky to work with him. It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has forever changed me, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”