“I love to see the pride an artist feels when they’ve clearly learnt a new thing and have gotten a kick out of creating something cool.”
Ed Thomas is Head of Content Creation for DNEG Virtual Production, based in our London studio. Ed has been working in the Virtual Production space for the past two and a half years. In his current role, he manages the artist teams across DNEG Virtual Production, and has worked on the likes of Pinocchio and Bullet Train. Keep on reading to find out how he made the move from video game development to the world of film, how his role has helped him meet some of his childhood heroes, and what advice he’d give to someone looking to start a career in Virtual Production.
Hi Ed! What brought you into the world of Virtual Production?
I actually studied architecture in college, at the time it was the only thing you could do that was both technical and artistic. But I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do for a career. Computer graphics were very much in their infancy back then but I was interested in that area so I taught myself 3D. And that’s how I got my first role in video game development. In the beginning, I was making video games on a computer that didn’t even have a colour screen! I spent many years working for several different well-known studios developing some really cool games. I gradually started to feel like I’d gotten everything out of that industry that I could, and was on the lookout for my next challenge. That’s when I made the move into what was ultimately to become VFX. At the time, unlike video games, VFX wasn’t utilising real-time. During my first role in VFX, real-time was starting to be used for things like Virtual Reality (VR) applications and immersive installations. Because I was one of the only employees in the company who had both real-time and VFX experience, I found myself right at the beginning of that merge of technologies. I always saw the benefit of using real-time in the VFX pipeline but as it was such early days, nobody was quite ready to take the leap. Then, during my time working for VR company Layered Reality, I got chatting to the team at Dimension Studio as we were partnering on some large-scale immersive experience projects with them. It was right around the time that Virtual Production was starting to become a thing and I jumped at the opportunity to work with them. Making the move into VP was perfect for me as it combined my two previous experiences.
Any career highlight(s) so far?
I’m really lucky in my role that I get to sit at the virtual table with some personal heroes of mine. A lot of the directors, VFX supervisors and showrunners that I get to speak with are responsible for movies that I’ve enjoyed since I was a child and now they know me on a first-name basis which is incredible! Seeing Robert Zemeckis in action when we were working on Pinocchio was especially a huge highlight for me. Prior to moving into this role, I also loved working on the immersive experiences and getting to actually see people enjoying what I’d created which is something you don’t often get the chance to do as an artist in the film and TV industry.
Ed on the set of Fireworks
What is your day-to-day like as Head of Content Creation?
My mornings are normally filled with catching up on all the individual projects that we’re working on, so I’ll check in with the leads and supervisors for each project and get a status update. After that, my days are very reactive and I spend a lot of time on various different calls; pipeline calls to discuss ongoing projects, personnel calls for the team I look after, and calls with clients whether that be during an existing project or at the bidding stage. The start of my day tends to be more practical and managerial focussed, whereas the afternoons are more reactive and I’ll need to jump onto projects and calls as needed. It ranges from getting into very detailed work with an artist, all the way through to having top-level strategic conversations with executives.
What do you like the most about your job?
The people! I’ve been an artist and an artist manager for pretty much all of my professional careers and it’s the people that make it. It keeps me on my toes! I get to engage with people at all levels of their careers and I love that. We always have juniors coming in that need mentorship and guidance which I really enjoy, getting to see someone who’s incredibly talented and enthusiastic grow their career is so rewarding. My role touches on so many different departments across the business too, so I’m always getting to meet new people and hear their stories.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in Virtual Production?
At the moment, Virtual Production almost universally uses Unreal Engine and it’s free and easy to learn – people can, and do, learn Unreal Engine on their own! The other thing you need to do is develop an eye for detail. That’s the most important thing. What we do in VP is essentially build virtual sets, but because we film on them there is a prerequisite for them to be photoreal. Although Unreal Engine is very good at making things look photoreal, the artist using the platform needs to have an understanding of how the world looks in order to make it believable. If you’re looking to get into the content creation side of VP then that’s my advice – learn Unreal Engine if you haven’t already and spend time and effort developing your eye.
Time for some, rapid-fire questions – What’s one thing that is always on your desk when you work?
My cat Milo! He normally spends my work day with me.
What’s your ‘special power’ at work?
I’m not afraid to say no and I’m good at handling the more difficult conversations that sometimes have to happen. I’ve been in the industry for a long time so I have a lot of experience and tend to have a good spidey sense for when things aren’t quite right.
What are you most looking forward to every day?
Seeing what the artists make! Every day is different. Some days are challenging but some days you have that wow moment of ‘how did you do that?!’. I love to see the pride an artist feels when they’ve clearly learnt a new thing and have gotten a kick out of creating something cool.
How did you feel on your first day at DNEG Virtual Production?
It was excitement but also trepidation around the kinds of people I’d be speaking to and having to level up a bit. It was such a fantastic opportunity to work with some of my heroes, but that came with quite a bit of nervousness!
What is your proudest moment to date?
I think it’s being promoted into the position I have now. I’m proud of myself that I’ve made it to this position, it comes with a lot of trust and responsibility and a lot of freedom to make decisions. I’m very proud of that.
Finish this sentence: DNEG Virtual Production is…
An opportunity to define Virtual Production for the rest of the industry.
DNEG Virtual Production, a partnership between DNEG and Dimension Studio, offers filmmakers and content creators an industry-leading, end-to-end virtual production service. To find out more about DNEG Virtual Production click here.
And if you want to join our Oscar-winning team, stay tuned for our next ‘FOCUS’ and click here to find out more about our open positions across our studios in North America, Europe, India and Australia.