A love of art and design led Chris Townsend Graphic Design graduate 1998 to a career in films. As an Oscar and BAFTA nominee, we find out Chris’ journey after University
Q. What films have you worked on?
I have led the teams for the visual effects of films including Iron Man 3 and Captain America: The First Avenger, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, amongst many others.
Q. What led you to a career in the film industry?
I really enjoyed combining all elements of art and design into something which told a story. After travelling around the Far East, I ended up in Australia and worked for a couple of TV stations. In 1994, I attended a computer graphics conference in the USA. It was a year on from Jurassic Park and the film industry had discovered computer graphics. I was very lucky that I was in the right place at the right time. I stood out from the crowd with my schooling in England, then work experience in China, Australia and Singapore. My education had given me a sound foundation upon which to work, with a portfolio to back it up.
Q. Why did you choose to study at Coventry University?
Coventry was attractive to me because it retained a classical approach to design, but was one of the few colleges, back in 1984, which was beginning to embrace computers as a viable design tool.
My time at Coventry gave me a thorough understanding of design principles that I still use to this day. Some people look at Higher Education as just a stepping stone, but I was fortunate enough to choose a vocational course which really taught me some great life skills that I’ve been able to use every day.
Q. We hear you worked as a Technical Director for George Lucas’ visual effects company?
Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) was, and in many ways still is, the pre-eminent
visual effects (VFX) company in the world, having made their name with Star Wars, then The Abyss, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and many major Hollywood blockbusters since. I worked there for 11 years. It gave me one of the most valuable
experiences in the art of visual effects one could ever hope to have; it was an incredible time.
Q. Now you’re a freelance Visual Effects Supervisor for feature films, what does this involve?
I advise the Director, and lead a group of people into making the Director’s vision a reality. I help design shots, figure out how to create and execute them, and then help deliver them to the highest possible standard. I’m very fortunate; my role allows me to be involved in all aspects of the film making process, from preproduction, working with the Director and key creative team during the script writing and story boarding stage, through to the photography, actually shooting the film on set with the cast, to post production, where we create the VFX for the final film.
Q. What are your career highlights?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work on many ground-breaking films, and Iron Man 3, my most recent, was a fantastic experience; I supervised over 1,200 people in 17 companies in six countries, and we worked on over 2,000 individual VFX shots; I was nominated for an Academy Award, which in itself was a great honour, even though I lost out to the very deserving Gravity.
I don’t just have a job, it’s a lifestyle. Working in the film industry can be very rewarding and can be very hard; often I’ll work six day weeks and 14 hour days. You’ve got to really love what you do.