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Interview with Digital matte Painter Melaina Mace

Digital Matte Painter Melaina Mace will be coming to Think Tank for a couple of Matte Painting Workshops. We wanted to take the opportunity to get an interview out of her about her experience working on Game of Thrones. So here is the interview for you.

What is your current position at MPC?

I am currently a Digital Matte Painter at MPC; I was Lead Digital Matte Painter on Game of Thrones: Season 4, which we wrapped in April.

Can you tell us what it’s like working on such a popular show as GOT?

I am a huge fan of both the books and the series, so I was very excited to get to be a part of that. It was certainly a challenging show, on a few levels. I've worked on both film and television projects – in general, television has smaller a budget and a faster turnaround time. It varies show to show, but you generally have about four weeks per episode, whereas in film, it varies from 4-12 months, sometimes longer. The unique thing about Game of Thrones is that the vast scope of the show, particularly the environments, really raises the bar on VFX for television. MPC delivered over 100 shots for the show, and about 80% of those were environment or DMP shots. I believe that Season Four has been the most VFX heavy season to date – the scope of that work is certainly becoming much more comparable to film work and I think that will continue as the show goes on.

The other challenging part is fan expectation – with a show as popular as Game of Thrones, that weighs heavily on your shoulders. My parents are big fans of the series as well. When they learned that I was working on GOT, they started emailing me very detailed and enthusiastic descriptions about what they thought things should look like. You don't want to let your parents down!

You’re from California, how do you like working in Vancouver?  How does it compare to working in the US?

I love Vancouver. While I spent most of the last decade in California, I grew up in Oregon and am, at heart, a Pacific Northwesterner. Rain and all. I also studied VFX in Vancouver and was excited to come back here for work. There has been a dramatic shift in work from the US to Canada in the last few years, particularly in film. I understand the frustration of American VFX workers who have lives and families in the US and have seen a lot of work go elsewhere. The US still has the best overtime laws for VFX workers, and I hope to see those laws matched in other countries, particularly in the UK. One thing I do love about working in Vancouver is how international the VFX community is here. Working in this industry has allowed me the opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the world.

And having a healthcare system that works is a major bonus.

Have you noticed an evolution in matte painting over the years? How has the process changed?

Matte painting is, to me, one of the most interesting mediums in VFX and, arguably, one of the oldest visual effects employed in film; it is fascinating to me how it has evolved with the ever-changing technology of film. There is the very obvious shift from painting on glass to the digital era of photo-manipulation in Photoshop. What I am seeing more and more, particularly in film environments, is a shift away from the 2D aspects of matte painting, which are quite limited for modern-day film. There is a limit to what you can do with 2.5D projected images, and I think that the epic scale and freedom of what you can do with a 3D camera move today has pushed environment work in film, and even television, to the point where fully modeled, lit and rendered environments are becoming a necessity - there is a point where trees on cards just don't work.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I enjoy the process of learning, and I enjoy imparting the knowledge that I have learned to others - I learn more about a particular subject, and learn more about myself, through teaching. Being great at a particular skill does not necessarily mean that you will make a great teacher. Learning how to connect with somebody and convey information is a skill in itself, and a very important one when working in a collaborative medium.

Any other dream projects you’d like to be a part of?

I would love to work on the Halo television series that is in development.  And Ridley Scott's rumored Blade Runner sequel - that would definitely be at the top of my list.

Melaina is currently working on Guardians of the Galaxy, and she has a long list of impressive titles that she has been a part of including : Maleficent, Godzilla, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Man of Steel, Iron Man 2, Thor and many more! You can check out her Demo here!