VFX with Double Barrel’s Stuart Campbell
In today’s episode, we’re diving into the Western Australian post-production sector with Double Barrel VFX Producer and Company Director, Stuart Campbell.
Visit the Screenwest website to learn more information about the WA Post, Digital and Visual Effects Rebate.
You’re listening to In Conversation with Screenwest. We’re diving into the Western Australian post-production sector with Stuart Campbell from Double Barrel VFX.
In today’s episode, Stuart shares his experience working on local and international projects, tips for emerging practitioners, looking to get into VFX and post, and some of the benefits of working with Western Australian companies, including WA’s attractive PDV rebate.
From Screenwest, this is In Conversation.
Hi, I’m Gabrielle Cole, the Production Attraction and Services Manager for Screenwest. Today I’m chatting with VFX Producer and Company Director of Double Barrel VFX, Stuart Campbell.
Recently Double Barrel has completed the VFX on a feature film, Clouds, which is now streaming on Disney+.
The company has also worked on What Men Want, for Paramount Pictures, Gringo for Amazon Studios. Other notable projects include Hotel Mumbai, Dumplin’, which is also on Netflix right now, and VFX series, Mr Inbetween.
And of course, the Western Australian hit series, Aussie Gold Hunters, Outback Opal Hunters, and the feature film, These Final Hours.
Hi, Gabby. Thanks for having me.
[Getting Started in Animation and VFX]
That’s quite a list. So, how did you get into animation and VFX? What drew you to it in the first place? Can you talk a little bit about what your pathway was in the sector, how you got there?
Okay. Well, probably started with a love for movies when I was a kid, child of the 80s. So, the Star Wars, Back to the Futures, Indiana Jones; they all fuelled my imagination.
At the moment, you can find behind the scenes, information on any film, but back then it was much more of a novelty. So, magazines and books, and behind the scenes specials on TV.
It wasn’t long before I had a VHS camera running around, conning our friends and family into making films. Tomato sauce for blood and plastic guns, that sort of thing.
And then when I finished high school, I think it was a no-brainer to do something in media. So, I ended up in the film and TV course at the Central TAFE, Perth campus. That’s a three-year diploma. And I guess, you mentioned, that that’s where I met Nathan Stone who’s been my long-time collaborator and who I started the company with.
Animation was an elective in the course, we both had a keen interest in it. Both ended up doing some work experience at a company that had probably the only 3D software probably in Western Australia at the time. And from there, that got our foot in the door.
So, after the course finished, we both flew over to Melbourne, on a wing and a prayer. Ended up at a start-up that was doing animation for children’s television. We stayed there for a few years.
I just ended up staying in Melbourne working in the games industry, primarily at a company called Taurus Games. I was an animator and an animation supervisor there for probably about 10 years.
Nate went to Sydney. He ended up at Animal Logic and then went to Germany at a company called Trickstar. And so we always kept in touch. We used to write, we used to make short films and we both had an ambition to come back to Perth and start something here.
[What does Double Barrel VFX do?]
So, can you give our listeners a bit of an overview about what Double Barrel is, I guess, and the services you guys offer?
So, we’re a VFX and animation company, primarily. So, a lot of comping, green screen cleanup, rig removal, editorial effects like split screens. We also do 3D. And my background’s, obviously, character animation. Also do a bit of previs and motion graphics for documentary and docudrama.
So, we work on quite a variety of things, kind of had to, being a small company. Feature films, TV series, documentary, and music videos, a little bit of TVC, animation for games as well.
And around that, we still write and make our own little shorts and proof of concept. Got an eye of expanding into production, maybe.
It’s quite a big list. Keep you guys very busy.
We’ve been around for a little while.
[Starting a Company in Perth]
So, what was it like starting a VFX company in Perth?
So, we had X amount of experience. Came back to Perth. Obviously, no one knows who you are. You don’t have a track record here. So, we started working on short films to get to know the lay of the land. Quite a few Screenwest funded shorts. And then from there we got a bit more on people’s radar.
So, Wasted on the Young and These Final Hours were two of the first features that gave us a bit of a break. And I think especially These Final Hours put us on some people’s radars.
So, working on the shorts and then transitioning into those features fuelled the relationships and got a little bit more of attention.
The visual effects in These Final Hours are pretty insane, pretty amazing.
Oh, that’s nice. It was good. There was that hero sequence. So, it’s a memorable sequence, the end of the world, type thing. And so, yeah, that was a good thing to have under our belt. And it did lead to other producers contacting us.
Yeah. I think we’ll probably touch on this a little bit later, but it feels like it’s very much word of mouth and as you grow and people get to know you, then you start growing more and more, getting to know more people.
[COVID-19 and Post-Production]
And so obviously, in a COVID-19 world, what kind of challenges did you guys face? How did it affect the company? How did you overcome those?
Yeah, so obviously, COVID’s affected everything and everyone. We’ve been very lucky here in WA, needless to say. We had a short lockdown, put regulations in place. But yeah, we’re just so lucky.
And again, we were lucky that we had a project that started, so that was Clouds, just started as everything was unfolding. So, I want to say February. And so, it was already shot, it was a feature that ended up streaming on Disney+.
And over on the LA side, they’re all starting to work from home. Over here we had a small team, it was mainly just me and Nate in the office. We had one person working from home, one artist, and that was with a secure remote desktop login because content security is obviously hugely important on a studio job.
So yeah, small team allowed us a bit of flexibility if the project slid a little bit because of just all the logistics that were happening. But it went very smooth. It’s a really cool film.
So again, you’re very lucky to have that one. The other projects that we work on regularly are the WA docudramas, and they were continuing to shoot because they’re such isolated productions. So, that was also very fortunate.
Nothing like being alone in the outback looking for gold or opals.
Yeah. WA’s isolation finally paid off.
Yep. Yeah. I’ve used that quite a bit during COVID, like finally, being so remote and so removed.
A little bit more on that COVID. Did you find that you guys were already set up tech-wise for that remoteness or the requirements it put on your broadband or your network providers?
Yeah. We’ve got a really good IT team. So, they had that set up to some degree. It isn’t something that I guess, pre-COVID that was usually an option on bigger films but I think some things have had to become more flexible.
It’s kind of amazing. I feel like because we’re still in the crux of COVID and probably will be for quite a bit, there’s a lot of changes happening now that on the other side, people are going to be like, “Oh, no. It’s always been done that way.” We’ll be like, “No. It’s because of COVID that we can now work remotely a bit more and people are a bit more willing to be more flexible.” So, it’s really exciting.
[Favourite Types of Projects to Work On]
Do you have a favourite project that you’ve worked on or something you’ve gotten to do?
Yeah, I’m not too sure. I really do enjoy most of the work that we do. The local productions are always fun and great teams. Obviously, the feature films are really cool. Things with a good story and occasionally when you work on a film and it’s something like Clouds or Dumplin’, it’s a good uplifting film, it’s a nice message in these times.
They have beautiful stories.
They actually do make a difference and give you a good feeling while you’re working on them.
It’s really interesting because I think the more I talk to people who work in this industry and certainly myself, when I was working on stuff, every job is fun and unique and you take something away from it. But when there’s a really amazing story behind it, and you get to know that you’ve contributed to that, it’s really something special.
That’s right. Yeah. Even when you’re looking at the plates and you don’t have any audio and it’s disjointed and you’re not sure it all fits in, you can kind of tell, that looks really good, the performances are good.
Yeah. Those moments.
It’s got a good feel.
Yeah. That’s one of my favourite things is when you get this glimpse of a moment, you’re like, “Oh, that’s going to be special. That’s really cool.”
So, is there any cool projects you’re working on currently? And obviously, confidentiality is a big thing with what you do so you don’t need to name any names, but any insight into the scale of projects or where you’re looking to attract business from?
Yeah. I won’t say too much. There’s a lot of talking to people at the moment, especially looking forward to next year where everyone’s hoping production’s going to ramp up. There’s a lot of interest in WA, it feels like, which is really great. So yeah, we’re working on a few shots for a feature at the moment. Got our docudrama series, they’ve got seasons, which is awesome. Hopefully, a TV series by the end of the year.
And then always tinkering. Always tinkering with our own projects.
Always playing with something.
[Tips for Emerging VFX and Post Practitioners]
That’s really cool. All right. Do you have any advice for emerging practitioners who want to get into VFX or the post sector?
There’s obviously courses with TAFEs and unis, that sort of thing, and online courses run by professionals. But YouTube and Google tutorials, there’s so much information out there.
We regularly get stuck and the first thing we do is just jump online and there’s usually someone who’s had the same experience or just willing to share their wealth of knowledge. So, yeah, if you’re starting out, software learning editions are usually for free or at a much-reduced cost.
So, I guess, accessibility to that sort of thing now is really great. So, if you really have the drive and the passion and you want to sort of get into the industry, I think that those things are out there and you just need the initiative.
I think that’s a really big thing. It feels like the world is really open and there are these endless possibilities which can be really wonderful and could be really daunting. But I think, like you said, if you’ve got the initiative, you’ll get there, you just got to start working, which is really … how cool.
Yeah. I mean, our access to knowledge at the moment is crazy compared to 20, 30 years ago.
[Working with WA Post Companies]
It’s insane. Yeah. Do you have any hot tips for production companies who are looking to work with a WA post company like Double Barrel? Any benefits to coming to work with a WA post company?
Hot tip would be get in touch. Get in touch with us [laughs]. No, we’re very friendly people out here in WA, aren’t we Gabby?
Yeah. We really care about our work. We’ve got a really good PDV incentive.
We have a great incentive.
We’re very competitive, our rebates. So, yeah, I’d say, definitely get in touch if you have a project. And the US too, their time zones really work out quite well with the projects that we’ve worked on for turning around changes and that sort of thing.
Yeah. It kind of works out. You can work well … they finally go to sleep, you can keep working and it’s there when they come up.
Yeah. It’s been a really great experience working on the US films.
[Working with the US]
So, I think people would be really interested in the US jobs. How did you start getting US jobs?
So, initially, we were working out of a spare room in a very generous friend’s house.
And so, yeah, I mentioned before that we were doing quite a few short films, initially. And so, Nash Edgerton, stuntman, writer, director, producer, some of his shorts were something that we helped out on initially.
And when he had shot Gringo for Amazon Studios, he came back to us, started off with 50 shots and it ended up being about 260 shots. And that happened around the same time, I think Hotel Mumbai was supposed to start around the same time, that got a little bit delayed which ended up being good.
We moved out of the spare room, got an office in Leederville. Ramped up with some staff, and then kicked off from there.
And so, on Gringo, it was a great experience and the post supervisor really enjoyed working with us and said that she’d come back to us with some more work.
And we were absolutely delighted when she did just that. That led to Dumplin’, then introduced us to Paramount on What Men Wants and then Clouds from there.
Yeah. It seems so simple but it always stuns me as the more work you do, the more people you meet, and the more people you meet, the more people then trust that you can deliver. And it’s like, as soon as you get that tick, you’re in the door a little bit easier for the next one and the next one and it spirals.
Yeah, that’s very true. Gringo gave us a great opportunity to prove ourselves and gain some experience, work on a US studio film. And so, yeah, that definitely led directly to the other jobs.
[Building Relationships in the Industry]
That relationship with Nash. How did that start out?
Nate, while he was in Sydney, he wrote and directed an animated film called The Tooth. It ended up winning, I want to say, the Best Animation at St. Kilda Film Festival.
So, we went along to it that night. That’s where we first met Nash. And so Nate and Nash kept in contact, helped out on some of his shorts. That led to Gringo. Now, we’ve done a couple of seasons of his TV series, Mr Inbetween.
Mr Inbetween. Yep. That’s awesome. It’s just so amazing that it’s like, just working on short films with people and the end result is something streaming on Disney+. That’s a huge pathway.
Yeah. I mean, this industry is all about relationship building and improving yourself when you get that moment.
[Pitching for US Jobs]
That’s incredible. Can you give us a broad overview, obviously, don’t need to give specifics away for any particular company, but what is the process of pitching on a larger US job?
So, on the projects that we’ve worked on for the US, I think they’ve all been shot.
So, what happens is they send you quick time references of the VFX sequences, and then it’s back and forth if you need some more information and then you bid the shots. And then you’re often bidding against other vendors, and that can be all around the world.
So, I guess, a combination of the best bid, how the Australian dollar’s doing, vendors’ rates, and relationships that result in you possibly getting the job. It’s always filled with a bit of anxiety, bidding. A few assumptions.
And I mean, the US companies in particular, I guess, it’s been a pretty great experience. They’re a very well-oiled machine; they’re pros in how they go about it all.
The people that we’re talking to on the other end are extremely knowledgeable and reasonable. And you’re on the same page, you’re asking great questions, they’re asking great questions. It’s yeah, it’s really a good experience.
That’s great. That’s nice. You realise everyone’s just here to do a job. Everyone’s actually really open to having the conversation.
Yeah. It’s very personable. Yeah. We’ve had a really great experience.
[Working on Independent Australian Features]
And how does that differ from independent Australian features?
Australian budgets, generally speaking, are probably tighter than a lot of the US ones that we’ve worked on. So, lots of ambition, maybe not always enough money. And I would say that’s probably the case in all areas of production in Australia.
Yeah. I think, you’re a hundred percent right there in that budgets across the board, certainly in independent features, and I would venture a guess of independent features across the world, budgets are increasingly tighter.
I think, in terms of Australian films, it’s important that you spend the money well on your VFX so you get the most bang for your buck and that it’s planned really well. We are usually brought on earlier, I’d say, to help in those regards because yeah, budgets can be tighter.
Yeah. It feels a little bit like you probably have more scope on a larger budget studio feature, certainly, to sort of, “Oh yeah, some VFX here would be good or we could do this.” Whereas, in an independent feature, it’s a lot more, “Okay. We’ve got X amount. We really need to know what that VFX is going to be early on so that we can allocate that money for it.”
Yeah. I’d say that’s definitely the case. And also depending on the needs of your film, it would probably feel irresponsible to spend too much money, percentage of your budget on visual effects.
But it’s always good … No matter the film, I guess you’re going to end up with things that you will fix in post. Things that will come up, and editorials and changes. And so, it’s always worth it to allocate some sort of budget for those things that aren’t necessarily in the script, but you just know that there’s going to be some package of them.
Yeah. Covering yourself, I think.
Yeah. That’s right.
Make sure you have that ready. If you don’t spend it, great, it can go somewhere else.
[Western Australian PDV Rebate]
And as you said, we do have a very good PDV incentive. It’s 20% on your expenditure up to the first $500,000. And then for all your expenditure over $500,000, it’s 10%, which is the best in the country.
It’s awesome. It’s awesome.
So, it’s pretty awesome.
[Film Recommendations with Amazing VFX]
Apart from your own projects, is there a project that showcases really amazing post of the effects that you would say is the gold standard, what people should track down and watch and learn from?
That’s a hard question.
How long’s a piece of string?
There’s so many awesome VFX sequences in films now. It’s overwhelming.
So, yeah, I wouldn’t say gold standard but I guess in recent memory, the ones that have really made an impression on me, the most recent Planet of the Apes series, even. That’s a combination of awesome performances and artistry and filmmaking. So, yeah, those are films that I watch a fair bit. Really made an impression.
I’d say even Mad Max: Fury Road was a film that I thought was an incredible piece of filmmaking. And to then realise, brilliant use of visual effects until the breakdown are released afterwards.
So, off the top of my head, put on the spot-
Yeah, that’s hard.
I’d venture those couple.
Those are two pretty good ones.
Yeah. I mean, they’re pretty iconic films.
And some iconic ones. That’s really cool. I think for me, one of the cool things about VFX is sometimes you’re like, “Wait. What? That was VFX.”
Yeah, there’s so many invisible effects, and those are the ones that we end up working on too. If we’ve done our job properly, you don’t see them or notice them. Yeah.
Very much now can fix everything in post.
[Get in Touch with Double Barrel VFX]
Alrighty. So, how can people keep an eye on what you guys are working on and what’s coming up for you?
We do have a Facebook page as well. So, you can keep track of what we’re doing there.
I thoroughly recommend everyone checks that out. I love watching your showreels.
We will also be talking a lot about the amazing work that you and the rest of our post companies are doing. It’s a bit of a focus for us at the moment in line with that PDV incentive but also, it’s about time we started really pushing out there what WA post can do because we have incredible companies.
Thank you so much for joining me today.
If anyone listening has any questions about post services, the new PDV rebate, or filming in WA, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at Screenwest [email@example.com]. Or, if you are looking for some VFX services, Stu at Double Barrel. And I think that’s it for us.
Thanks so much, Gabby.
This has been In Conversation with Screenwest featuring Stuart Campbell and Gabrielle Cole.
This podcast was brought to you by Screenwest. Screenwest wishes to thank Lotterywest for their continuing support of the WA Screen Industry.
Today’s episode was edited by XB Studios with music by Andrew Wright and produced by Gabrielle Cole and Alex Biddle for Screenwest.
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