Anything is possible with 3D: An interview with VFX Supervisor Terry Riyasat

Terry Riyasat, a VFX supervisor and compositor based in Toronto, has seen the bulk of his experience in TV and commercials leading a team with timesaving tricks under tight deadlines to produce superb shots. We chatted with Terry to learn what it’s like being a VFX supervisor, his tricks-of-the-trade, what’s coming next for VFX and more.

Thank you for talking with us! Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and some of the work you’re currently working on?

First off thanks for having me. It’s such a pleasure to have done work with a company that has spread so much knowledge in the industry. I’m currently working at Acme Digital Pictures, a VFX studio based in Toronto, Canada.

I’m going on my tenth year in the industry and have worked in many positions along the way. I’m currently the VFX supervisor but also swing to compositing supervisor, depending on the project. We are gearing up to work on a project that is co-produced by our studio so it’s quite an exciting time.


Was this something you knew you wanted to do since you were young?

This was something I knew at the same time as thousands of others. That was the moment I saw Jurassic Park at the theater. Such an impression on a young mind will make you realize that anything could be possible with 3D. I had to watch it five times on screen so I could actually concentrate on the plot, rather than thinking how the heck that T. rex is chasing them in a Jeep!


How did you get started in the industry?

Well, after finishing school for 3D animation things were quiet for a while, but I studied and practiced everything under the sun in regards to CG every day and night. I was lucky enough to get involved with a company that was beginning a 3D department. It’s an old cliché but timing can truly be everything. So, along with a small team, we were able to create content for commercials. After that, one thing led to another.


The bulk of your work has been in TV. Do you have a favorite project?

From a professional point of view, I worked on a commercial that went so unbelievably smooth. I’m talking every step of production, from concept to filming to render to final comp.

There we absolutely no hiccups. This barely happens and will probably never happen again but that’s okay. I was just grateful that I got to experience it.

On a more personal level, I was able to work on a television show that involved aliens and spaceships, which was quite fun.


What’s it like to be a VFX supervisor?

The pressure and the approach is much different. I was lucky enough to work at a growing studio doing a lot of tasks. So learning how to quickly picture what’s involved at every step of the pipeline, rather than a specific role, becomes a huge asset.

You need to be able to see the steps and end result from all departments right away. When a director is asking you on set if they can shoot a specific shot and, in your head, you know this might make the difference between three days of work or three weeks of work, you need to be able to assess the situation very quickly and make the right choice. The best part of this is seeing the end result from a group of people that all share the same passion, which makes for such a great working environment.


As a VFX supervisor, you lead a crew of amazing artists to meet some pretty tight deadlines. What’s a trick-of-the-trade you and your team uses to save time that our readers could use today to get the most quality out of their shots?

I wish there was one simple answer but there isn’t. The most important thing you can do is assess and plan an approach to a sequence with a goal of efficiency.

What you don’t want to do is overbuild objects and assets if they are not going to be close to camera or if they are only going to be on screen for a few frames. Redoing redundant work is also time consuming so having a library of assets is great. Essentially, it’s a boring answer of organization and planning!


Is there a time you can share when you felt like you weren’t going to make a deadline that you laugh about today?

Many years ago we were working on a feature and, in the eleventh hour, the director decided to completely change the background of an actress that was shot on location to a white void background.

Now, this shot was a 180 degree rotation, so that that meant that all her long flowing hair in this shot needed to be rotated and placed on a super clean white background!

So it’s 24 hours before the deadline and you have this mountain ahead of you and no end in sight. Well, after much pixel pushing, it got done and it became a great war story I can look back at today.


What is a trend you see happening in VFX? Is there any specific technology you are excited about that will change the way you create?

The trend I see in the VFX industry is two things. Number one is the specialized software that keep growing. Not too long ago we had a limited selection of software that tried to do everything.

As the industry and technology evolved, software that are used in between steps of a process in order to complete a shot began to grow in number. This is a great thing, and has allowed this industry to reach new heights as these companies and studios are able to focus on creating specialized software. It might be particles, fluids, texture painting, asset managing, sculpting, look development re-meshing, rendering, etc. The range of software is constantly growing and seems endless.

The second technology that’s exciting to see is the upcoming power of CPU chips. The big companies are doing some amazing things in both desktop and mobile capacity. A few more years and you’ll be rendering on your phone.


You’ve expanded into doing some arch viz work, right?

I’m trying to stay creative and grow as an artist. There are so many interesting branches in the industry. Arch viz has become such an amazing art form as more tools became available and renderers matured. There are some truly stunning renders from arch viz sites that just inspired me to want to take a peek into that world.


You’ve done some tutorials here at Digital-Tutors. What made you want to decide to switch into the realm of teaching?

I love the fact that I get to go to work everyday and love what I do for a living. This makes me want to share my small piece of this infinite pie of learning to others, in hopes that someone will connect with it and make art with the aid of something they’ve learned.


Thanks for your time! Any last things you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists before we go?

Yes, get on Digital-Tutors and start learning! Watch a new course every week about software you don’t own and even topics you might not be interested in. There is no better way to grow as an artist than seeing how things are achieved from many different avenues.

Learning different approaches to get to the same goal will help you in your day-to-day software of choice and will expand your mind in helping to find alternate ways to get from from A to Z.


See more from Terry now by visiting his tutor profile and watching his tutorials on Creating an Abstract Forest Entity Using KRAKATOA in Maya & Fusion and  Realistic Composition in Fusion. You can also find him on LinkedIn and on his website.