Dneg: Paul Franklin & Nathan McGuinness

Double Negative has worked on 4 of the 7 films in this year’s Oscar Bake Off. Plus is now on John Carter of Mars and Captain America. Also the Singapore office has just appointed former Asylum VFX CEO Nathan McGuinness as that office’s Creative Director. We talk to McGuinness about his new role. Plus we have an fxpodcast with Dneg vfx supe Paul Franklin about the studio’s proprietary software tools.

R&D of Dneg: Paul Franklin Podcast

Paul Franklin

Dneg Singapore: Nathan McGuinness

Double Negative began its main London operation in 1998 and has now grown to a staff of over 850 people. Notably, four of the seven films short-listed for the Visual Effects Academy Award this year include contributions from Double Negative (Inception, HP7, Iron Man2 and Scott Pilgrim). The studio’s Singapore office was opened in 2009, originally with the intent to farm-out existing work but ultimately to create visual effects in its own right. That process will now be assisted by Nathan McGuinness, who has taken on the role of Creative Director for Double Negative Singapore.

Prior to this, McGuinness was the founder, CEO and Creative Director of Asylum VFX in Los Angeles for the past 13 years. He has worked on numerous commercials and 81 films, including most recently Unstoppable and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, both of which have been included in the 15 Oscar semi-finalists. McGuinness was previously nominated for an Academy Award for his outstanding work on Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Unfortunately, Asylum closed down in late 2010, and this presented McGuinness with a new challenge of remaining creative but also applying his years of visual effects experience in a new environment. “I felt that Dneg was the only type of place I could still stay as a creative,” he says. “I need to have a passion for the facility as well as the creative side of dealing with visual effects and pushing it through. For me, being a freelance supervisor wasn’t going to fulfill all the challenges I wanted to face, which was also managing of the staff on the creative level.”

“There was also a similarity in the style of work that we did. I had a lot of respect in Alex Hope (Dneg’s MD) and Matthew Holben (Dneg’s CEO). They’ve done so well to create a company that has gone well for so many years and continues to lift the bar with the kind of work that they bring in.”

For McGuinness, the opportunity to work in Singapore was actually a return to the early days of his visual effects career. “When Alex talked to me about building this mirror-image company – Dneg Singapore – I found that really attractive,” he says. “One, I found it culturally very interesting because I’m from Perth which is only five hours from Singapore. So I know the Asian area very well. Actually, when I started off, I didn’t go to Sydney like most guys did. I actually went to Singapore and started my career there. It’s kind of very bizarre that I’ve gone and done that full circle.”

Although the Singapore operation currently has around 100 employees, the goal of the company as a whole is to have it and the London office working in tandem. “We want to build a mirror image of Dneg London,” says McGuinness, “operating on the same pipeline and the same workflow and the same kind of technology, basically so that artists can move from London to Singapore and back, without having to do any re-training – so that they’re integrated to work alongside each other like they’re in the next room.”

“The idea is to get this whole company going in Singapore to being able to handle much bigger tasks that it’s already taken on. When I popped my head out and spoke to Alex, I said I’d be really interested in going down there and trying to speed up the process, start taking on bigger portions of what’s going through the London office, take sequences and eventually get to a stage where we are running self-sufficiently so that I can still cater to my clients from Los Angeles.”

McGuinness thinks there would not necessarily be any limit to how big the Singapore office could become. “It’s a case of: if we can still produce the quality of work that is coming out of Dneg London with that same calibre of staff, there is no reason that it can’t be the same size as London – it’s really up to Alex and Matt and myself to make sure that we can control it – that it doesn’t get too big too fast. But Alex and Matt already have the knowledge and know-how seeing as they’ve already done it with the London office. We do have a leg-up.”

To ramp up Dneg Singapore, McGuinness plans to recruit artists internationally. “I’m going to be looking everywhere, leaning on the Dneg guys in London at first to pull some of the great talent they have,” he says. “I’m also going to start looking at places like Australia – I feel that if there is talent in Australia – obviously that’s my home and I would love to give Australians an opportunity. And also from say, the New Zealand side as well. I can now source from around the world which is a little bit different to how I was sourcing in LA – I was sourcing talent from around the world at Asylum, but I was limited by the size Asylum could grow. I don’t feel I’m going to have as many limitations because Dneg is kind of on a roll – it’s got a great team of people. We’re going to be in a situation where Alex, myself and Matt are going to be able to say yes more than no to projects coming through, to handle them with the care that every job needs.”

Initially, Double Negative’s current R&D efforts will remain part of the London office, which McGuinness feels has the infrastructure and momentum to continue there. But he will still be sourcing work from Hollywood and hopefully from the directors he has built up relationships with over the years. “I still want to take on say -the Tony Scott films,” says McGuinness. “When Tony Scott’s next film comes around the corner, I still want to be doing that. I don’t want to stop with the successful run I’ve had with these great directors. So I have to move as fast as I can to get the place running with the right artists, the right talent and with a great CG pipeline and star compositors.”

Although McGuinness has had significant experience in both features and commercials, Double Negative Singapore will focus on the long form work. “We’re out to achieve a goal of making Dneg a powerful effects facility in the Asian hub, servicing the Hollywood market for features only,” he says. “I need to go with the flow of Alex and Matt’s visions for their companies. I need to deliver a successful company for these guys with these guys. Obviously they’re not in commercials at the moment. Who knows where all that could lead. I mean, when I first started at Asylum I started with four guys and within two years I was working on Steven Spielberg films. So who knows what I can do at Dneg with the help of these guys.”

Inception one of the Dneg films in the bake off

Having previously run a visual effects house and been the main creative driver of that effort, McGuinness is welcoming the chance to focus just on of those roles. “I get time now to deal with the directors directly, and to keep trying to establish relationships with filmmakers and studios,” he says. “Everyone kind of knows that the thing I really liked doing was sitting in those theatres and pushing work through and trying to be creative as I possibly can. I am so lucky to be given the opportunity to work with Dneg and given I’m a creative person and just work with that. What I can give to Dneg is the experience of what I’ve had also dealing with my business. I consider myself really lucky that I didn’t have to go to an effects house and just be one of the guys. I just love that I still get to create and build an empire, and that is so exciting to me.”

McGuinness joins an already extremely talented group of visual effects artists and practitioners, including Dneg co-founder Paul Franklin, who talks this week on our fxpodcast about the studio’s in-house specialist tools. “I think Paul is an absolute amazing talent,” says McGuinness. “I think the most exciting part is that all of a sudden I can’t believe that I’m involved with all these amazing talents. Down the line I hope that some of my great talent from Asylum days will join me. It’s going to be so interesting in the next 18 months and how I go about this with Dneg. I just feel I’m so fortunate to have a terrible six months – the whole situation with Asylum was so sad – but then be able to be put in a position now where I am 100% going forward.”

A large part of McGuinness’ Creative Director role at Dneg will be bouncing between Singapore and London, but still maintaining a strong presence Los Angeles. “My whole job is to be everywhere when anyone wants me – call and I’ll come running!,” he says. “My job is going to going to entail a lot of travel, and moving around from London to Singapore to Los Angeles dealing with directors and film guys. To me it’s just a really great challenge to move around and try something different.”

Visual effects artists who are thinking about applying for roles at Double Negative Singapore should contact Dneg’s HR Manager, Vic Rodgers, via the recruitment website here: http://dneg.com/jobs/. McGuinness says there will be opportunities on major feature films and the same films and roles as are being offered in London. “Artists might be able to take a year’s experience in London to Singapore to get to know how the pipeline is working and to get to know everyone in London,” he says. “It’s a great way to make sure the two companies are working well together.”