A CHAT WITH KEROSENE’S PARTNERS
This year Kerosene Visual Effects is celebrating a huge milestone. Ten years in business is no easy feat and these 3 partners have reached it through hard work, diversity of creative strengths and exceptional service to their clients. So how did this dynamic team come together, and what are the secrets to their success? In sitting down to speak to each of the partners, Scott Broad, Glenn Nakagawa and Kevin Pitts, it is clear how very different these guys are from one another, but they share a vision in a few key areas that really form the backbone of the company.
1. How did Kerosene start out?
GN: Myself, Scott and Kevin worked together for 7 years prior to starting Kerosene. As our contracts ended, we wanted to keep working together and we had developed great relationships in the industry.
SB: We were core members of the different teams over 7 years and formed a strong working relationship. Between us, we had the skills to do a project from start to finish, and we had talked about going out on our own. We took the leap in January of 2012.
KP: The three of us started talking about keeping this partnership going. We were a good working team and the timing was right. I had been thinking about starting my own company for a long time. Partnering with Scott and Glenn was the smartest decision I’ve made.
2. How did you come up with the company name?
KP: We wanted something dynamic, with an element of activity and liked the idea of things that go “boom” and get our attention. We were throwing other words around but the 3 of us agreed on Kerosene and it rolled off the tongue. It just sounded right for us.
SB: It was Glenn that came up with the name and it was sort of inline with software and tools that used to be used in the industry that had the idea of pyrotechnics; Flame, Inferno, Combustion.
GN: Compositing software names involve the idea of fire, ignition, flame, inferno, combustion, smoke. It was tricky, but we liked the word Kerosene, it had a good ring to it. We’ve actually gotten calls to purchase drums of kerosene fuel!
3. Describe the Kerosene Team and what sets Kerosene apart from other studios?
KP: It was started by artists for artists. We like to be artists first and business people second. We understand a project and how it needs to get done because we’ve been in the trenches ourselves. This is good for the producers we collaborate with, but also good for our team of artists because we understand what they are going through.
SB: What we’ve heard from artists and freelancers that have worked with Kerosene is that people like working here. We are fair on hours, good at and take pride in scheduling and organization of projects from the beginning stages to avoid artist burnout. Because the partners are artists, still practicing, we know what it’s like. We enjoy our personal lives and respect that our staff needs this as well; work life balance as much as possible.
GN: We aren’t suit and tie management, we have worked in the VFX industry and still do. As Scott said, we work hard at scheduling things out properly and accurately, so that our team isn’t trying to do things at the last second, at breakneck speed. Great art and design aren’t created that way. We have a talented team of artists that are great at what they do, and they all have interesting practices and hobbies outside of the studio too. One of our 3D crew is also an incredible illustrator, another is a champion video game player, like top in Canada. And one of our compositors is an incredible DJ and amazing singer in addition to being a very talented designer. I love when an artist has a practice outside of the CG world and it’s something that I value when we are looking for new team members.
4. What inspired you to get into CG animation and what was your path into visual effects?
GN: In high school I wasn’t the best student and my parents suggested I switch to an arts school. I had been painting graffiti art for years and met friends and collaborators there. One of my mentors moved to the city and started working in Photoshop and other software and I thought it was cool so I enrolled in Digital Media Arts at Seneca College. There is so much mutual understanding between the 2 artistic practices, among my professional colleagues and friends. For my final project at Seneca I got involved with Digifest and did some 3D work, so it’s a combination of all this that led me down the path to visual effects.
SB: I actually didn’t plan on this type of work in general, I wanted to do cartoons and comics, so I studied Classical 2D Animation; pencil and paper. It was difficult to get work in 2D when I graduated so I did a year of 3D Computer Animation. My career started as a character animator on a children’s series, then character and creature animation, then more of a 3D generalist and it grew into VFX from the projects that came in. I like the generalist role because it pushes me to learn lots of new things and work on a variety of content; educational, editorial or purely entertaining. One of the first full CG animated shows called Reboot was a big inspiration in getting me into 3D animation. Then the 3D Transformers series. It was a game changer in the animation world.
KP: I think it all stemmed from my love of cartoons since I was a kid; X-Men, Spiderman, Dungeons and Dragons. The classic weekend cartoons. I also loved movies like Blade Runner and Star Wars, so when I learned about the connection between computers and animation, I had to do it. In high school someone came in and did a presentation on VFX in my computer class that further piqued my interest. At the time there were no specific programs and computer animation was the wild west , so my guidance counselor told me to go into Computer Programming. People came to animation from all kinds of different industries at that time so I went to Western for Computer Science and did my thesis on Computer Animation. After that I took a job as Junior Artist in a post house that required me to be self motivated and self taught. There was a lot I didn’t understand, similar to when we started Kerosene. I knew nothing about how to run a business and it took time to figure things out, but ultimately I thrive on learning on the job
5. Name a dream production or subject you would love to work on.
KP: My passion as a kid was dinosaurs. Then, when I was just getting into the animation industry, Jurassic Park was released. I wished I worked on that film. So anything with dinos or dragons would be my dream.
GN: For me the ideal dream production is having a healthy, comfortable relationship with reasonable clients that are good at what they do. Working with them, not battling against them to make the best production. A lot of the productions and clients we’ve gotten to work with have been so great.
6. What was the most challenging scene you have worked on?
GN: There was a photorealistic ship replacement we did for Mighty Ships that was out of our comfort zone and different from the CG style we had been doing. The weather was bad and the production team couldn’t get the aerial shots of the Northern Eagle that were scheduled with a helicopter. We were nervous to take it on but with elbow grease and a veteran CGI team we got the job done, and actually the online team didn’t realize it was CGI when they were editing the shot. It was worthwhile and gave us the confidence to do high-end, difficult things.
KP: For me, The Swan was the biggest challenge at Kerosene. I am proud of how that show got executed from beginning to end. I was on set helping plan the shots so that our team had all the footage to complete our work. It was the most ambitious single project we’ve worked on; it took 2 years from early discussion to completion and had over 250 shots. As the VFX Supervisor I feel like I am part of every shot, and I’m happy that we could execute it.
SB: The full water simulation for Hell Below Season 1 is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. When we started the series it was hard to find water sim experts; we couldn’t find the right person at the right time so, as a generalist, I learned to do it on the fly while simultaneously heading up another series. It was early days with the Maya integration software package and I had to learn the kinks of the software and contacted the lead designer of the software to get it to work for Kerosene’s purposes. There were many late nights with that series to do the shots and it was a challenge to direct dynamic, organic water and get it to do what we wanted it to do.
7. What is your favorite software or tool?
SB: The one I don’t use often for work, which is Zbrush, a digital sculpting tool. It’s the best in the industry, is super fast and it’s got a really different working environment from other 3D software. It’s digital clay. They’ve made so many advancements to make it more artist friendly, keeping the art in focus so the artist doesn’t have to worry about technical issues.
GN: Not a favorite exactly but I’ll use anything and everything to get the job done as long as it looks great. I like efficiency and the path of least resistance.
KP: After Effects, because it’s amazing as a standalone but when you take all the plugins that are written for it, it’s a fantastic workhorse of a tool. Within After Effects there are so many useful tools, like Particular but it’s really open architecture; the Trapcode plugins have really transformed the software and Element is an incredible tool. I’ve been using After Effects for 25 and couldn’t work without it.
8. Where do you see Kerosene in the next 10 years?
KP: I would like to see us go to the next level. We’ve done a good job as a small company and I would like to grow to a medium size. I like the level of service our small company can give a producer. We can focus on the details of what they need and give them personal attention. Maintain the relationships and continue to give our clients the personable feeling they get from working with us but work on bigger, more ambitious projects with an expanded team.
SB: Still thriving and consistently busy but staying with the boutique studio feel. It feels more personal knowing everyone’s name. I’m terrible with names! Keep doing what we’re doing, stay busy and provide a comfortable working environment with an interesting variety of projects. Give our team opportunities to grow and try new things. Kerosene is a great palace for people to spread their wings and our artists bring their own ideas to the table.
While Kerosene’s three founding partners each have their own artistic strengths, their success in business for a decade comes from creating a culture that prioritizes the team of artists while also providing their clients with personalized service and high quality visuals. Scott, Glenn and Kevin encourage the artistic team to experiment with techniques and develop their skills, and they lead by example, striving to continuously learn and improve their own technical skills as artists. Looking to the future of the next ten years, they share a vision for Kerosene and the team, working with amazing clients on great productions. Cheers to another 10!