Get Small. Live Large: A Conversation with Visual Effects Supervisor Jamie Price
Downsizing imagines what might happen if, as a solution to over-population, Norwegian scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall and propose a 200-year global transition from big to small. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in Omaha in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.
JAMES E. (“JAMIE”) PRICE (VFX) is a visual effects supervisor known for RoboCop, Pacific Rim and Australia. His Film Credits also include The Time Machine, The A-Team (2010), The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, The Kid, Bicentennial Man, Enemy Of The State, Air Force One, Son Of The Mask and Waterworld.
In our interview, The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali spoke to Jamie Price about his work on Downsizing, working with Alexander Payne and explains the distinction between Special Effects Supervisor and Visual Effects Supervisor…
Being a Special Effects Supervisor, when you get given this sort of concept to bring to life, can you just talk about how you approach that process.
Sure. So, you know when you begin looking at the visual effects in a movie you have to think about the movie itself and the filmmaker making it, so the things that drove us where how Alexander Payne likes to work, you know, he and I spoke about different techniques, but he is such a performance based director and a story based director that led all of our decisions, we made decisions about deciding not to use digital doubles because we knew we wanted to shoot actors and then the other technique was informed by his visual style, he’s a very classical filmmaker so we knew we’d be able to take advantage of some aspects of that like relatively few camera moves and relatively few cuts, using his direction as a guide we designed it that way.
The film itself has got such a stellar cast attached to it, that must have been a joy for anyone to work on…
Yeah it was a real pleasure to work with everyone on the project and, you know, everyone was very invested in the movie and that translated to working on set on the visual effects and, you know, some of the actors, like Hong Chau, who had a lot of visual effects associated with her character specifically because she’s meant to be missing a portion of her limb, she hadn’t done a lot of that stuff before but was very interested in collaborating, very professional and really took into account all of the physical aspects of what we would eventually do in visual effects and incorporate them into her performance. And in the case of Matt Damon, you know, he’s had such deep experience with visual effects and is such a professional in general it was really just an easy dialogue and a pleasure.
Great. Yeah it shows on screen, because everyone just works together really well, from the veterans like Matt Damon to the Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau, like you just mentioned. For you how did first get into this part of the industry?
I began as an intern at Industrial Light & Magic, let me back up, I ‘d made movies as a kid with my dad’s 8mm camera and did special effects with that equipment when I was was a kid, then I got into computer science and realised, you know, that you don’t necessarily need a piece of film to make an image and when those two disciplines where merging in the 90s, that’s when I got into the visual effects industry as a professional, starting with an internship at Industrial Light & Magic.
Okay. So did you work on a lot of things while you where at ILM?
I worked at ILM while I was at school, so I was an intern I worked on the movie Hook, so that was my first credit, so that was a real treat to have a Steven Spielberg movie as your first credit, he’s a real inspiration in terms of getting me to that point, so that was a real treat, and after that I went back to school and then moved to Los Angeles where I began my career as a freelancer.
Okay, nice. When watching the film, I got some vibes like Innerspace and certain things of that ilk like Honey I Shrunk the Kids in a more comedic tone, did you have many influences that you where looking at when creating the effects?
Alexander and I looked at decades of material and we really decided that none of it was quite the right inspiration for us, we took inspiration from the work that had been done but Downsizing is such a unique movie, you know, it’s not strictly a comedy or it’s not strictly a science fiction movie, it’s not strictly an adventure and so some of these choices and aesthetics that had been made where not really right for us, so we were able to look at the movies for inspiration for ideas, how they use the juxtaposition of big and small, but really kind of visually and tonally we wanted Downsizing to be something unique.
Yeah and it definitely is unique, I was sent a screener so I’ve got that any time so I’ll pop that in, any time, yeah because it’s great and I’m sure there are things I missed when watching it the first time. So what is it you’re working on next?
I’m reading some screenplays right now and I’m doing some consulting but haven’t decided on my next project yet.
Okay. Is special effects the area that you want to stay in or of have you got aspirations to move on?
Yeah. Just to make the distinction, I’m a visual effects supervisor, we work hand in hand with the special effects department, there are things that are done on set that are a more practical thing, but yeah visual effects is a wonderful discipline it’s a creative outlet and a creative mix of technical challenges so I find it really enjoyable.
And obviously you said you did this at school and you where working for ILM, and just looking through your IMDB credits, you’ve worked on some spectacular work over the years, is there any challenges or anything that stands out to you?
Well, what I will say is the stand out for me over the course of my career is just how much the technology has been able to give us creative freedom when we’re working in movies. You know, I began my career at the beginning of the transition for digital visual effects, so it’s just been remarkable how we’ve been freed as creatives and how much the film-makers have been freed as creative from some of the restrictions of older techniques in visual effects so know we’re able to achieve some of these things that people have only dreamed of, you know, it really feels like the sky’s the limit, so it’s fun to have participated in that transition.
You mentioned you worked a lot with Alexander (Payne), how is he to work with? He’s got such a brilliant mind.
Working with Alexander was wonderful he understands better than anybody the key elements of making a great movie, you know, story and performance and that really infuses everything that he does and so as a collaborator you really feel like you are participating in the telling of a great story, you know, and that is a real treat and he did not have a lot of experience with visual effects and so he really was intent on learning and understanding the process, and it can be quite complex but he wanted to know how it would affect him as a film-maker and as a storyteller so he was very very interested in what we did and as a result we really felt engaged in our part of telling the story, it was a wonderful experience, he was a wonderful person, polite, professional, intelligent, what more could you ask from a boss?
Yeah perfect collaborator. Within the story itself of Downsizing, was there things that you worked on or that you had talked about that didn’t quite make it into the film?
Yeah there where, let me see if I can think for a second, there where a few scenes that where shortened just as part of the overall length of the movie, but all of the key story points are in tact.
Alexander and his writing partner had been working on the screenplay for almost 10 years and I was fortunate enough to be part of it for a large portion of that, I first met Alexander and was discussing this project in 2009, so I have to say the script was pretty tight by the time we rolled camera.
Downsizing is out now on DVD, Blu-ray™ and Digital Download