Interview with Hasan Khan: VFX Compositor
Favourite Film: Anything from the MCU except Thor: The Dark World, Inception, Interstellar and Zombieland.
Favourite Animation: The Lion King and Tarzan from the 90s, Treasure Planet.
This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Hasan Khan, who I know from university! He recently finished up working as a compositor on the new Lion King film. Read the interview below as we talk about all things in the industry, VFX and animation.
Joseph Learoyd: Hi Hasan. So first of all, let’s start out by introducing yourself and the big project that you were recently working on.
Hasan Khan: Hi everyone. I was a digital compositor on The Lion King. I’ve been working in films for about a year, year and a half. I was working in TV and commercials with Framestore before this. I worked on Black Mirror, Mars, ads for Tesco, Gucci. When I worked on Lion King, it was with MPC (Moving Pictures Company). My job is to create the final look of the shot. It is the area at the end of the pipeline where we try to make the shot look realistic, fix any issues or problems and put everything together into a final composition.
You were a compositor on the project, for everyone who may not be familiar with compositing,
what is a compositor’s role?
Well, in a typical live action film combining live action and CG, there is a pipeline. Concept art,
pre production running all the way through lighting and compositing. A compositor would put
the CG and live action together or fixing issues and changing anything the client wants. As the
lion king was fully CG, we would fix the lighting, creating the look of the shot, making it realistic
and editing the colours.
What is your CG background? Where did you head after graduation?
So, I graduated from the University of Bradford. After that, I worked for about three weeks on a film called Isle of Dogs. It was 3D printing and scanning so not that similar to what I’m doing now but it was good experience as it was the first film that I technically worked on. Then after that, I started off as a runner at Framestore. Runners basically serve clients coffee, clean up, all that kind of stuff. It is a good way to get into the industry if you want to try different fields and aren’t sure exactly where you want to start. From there, I worked up to paint and roto which is the first step in getting in compositing. Six months later after doing paint and roto on Black Mirror, I got moved up to junior comp on a show called Mars. I started at MPC around June last year until July this year and now I’m working with Sony, Disney and Netflix on different projects as part of a place called “One of Us”.
You come from a Punjabi family in High Wycombe, England. What is it like being a young Asian
man in the industry?
It is interesting. Some bigger companies have a lot of younger people that I can make friends with like at MPC but smaller companies have more experienced members so it is quite a different environment and being Asian, there aren’t many Pakistani s in the industry so when I meet another Pakistani, I try to make friends, introduce myself. There were two of us at MPC so I spoke to them like, “Hey, there are two of us at this company.” (laughs). I try to make friends with everyone.
So, you worked at Framestore, 3 Mills Studios and Moving Pictures Company. How would you
compare the experiences at each?
3 Mills was Isle of Dogs. I was thrown in at the deep end, started off and managed to figure out
the 3D printing. I’m a quick learner so I could pick up the equipment easily. I had experience
with 3DS Max so that helped me with cleaning up the model before I printed it so it got me used
to working in a professional environment. Then at Framestore, I really started networking
because when you’re running, you get to meet a lot of different artists, working on a lot of
different things. It was a huge learning curve, seeing who works with who, how software is used
and what is used for what and all that sort of stuff, learning paint and roto. I had to practice a lot
before junior comp. When I moved to MPC, as it was film, the standards were much higher than
TV. My attention to detail improved, looking out for issues. My general understanding of realism
improved, learning the most about comp. So yeah, learned the most about comp with MPC, the
industry at Framestore and how things work at 3 Mill.
Tell me a bit about your work on the Black Mirror USS Callister episode.
I did quite a bit of quality checking, doing cleanup and prep. It was shot in Morocco so we would
have to clean up shots, remove crew and vegetation from footage. I had to roto too, adding elements. One of the worst I had to do was a shot for hair. The reason it was so tough was because, imagine 400 frames, having to follow each hair follicle. I got it done but it was only like three seconds. A lot of the shots were sent to India and when it came back it had to be ingested into the pipeline to work seamlessly with the pipeline. I had to make sure it all looked right. For example, naming conventions needed to be right so as not to break the system so that was part of my role too.
Lion King was made entirely through photo realistic CGI, how big was the team that you worked
with on the project?
Most at MPC at the time were working on Lion King and after a while it died down as people went to Maleficent. When I started in June last year, there were three people which went up to fifty at the peak of the project. Despite that, 30% of the work was done in the UK and the rest in India. Immediate tasks with clients and daily tasks were done in the UK MPC as it didn’t need to be transferred. At one point there were so many people that there was no room to even sit on tables. The fifty people were actually just my comp department. There were around 1150 artist working on the project.
How many shots did you work on and did you have any difficulties with the shots?
I worked on about 50 out of around 1600 shots in the film. I tweaked a couple of bits of shots and then they get sent to the client and you move to a different shot. Then that will come back if anything else wants changing and you work on that. I finalised about 30 or 40 shots. Some were very difficult, as some shots needed fixing as the renders had errors, noise etc. There could be issues and depending on the way the shot is set up, we would need to figure out the process of troubleshooting it, fixing issues. Comp is faster than lighting too so often comp will be used to render as much as possible.
Did you get to meet any big names during production?
Adam Valdez, our supervisor, is pretty big. He was an individual name credit and on the poster. We also met the director, Jon Favreau and we all got a challenge coin. It had Lion King VFX crew written on it. It was a nice commemorative piece. Then at the premiere of the film we got a nice leather book with a note from Jon in it which was great.
Tell me about Creative Pakistan.
It is an initiative that I started because my friend wanted to get into media. He didn’t know how. A lot of Pakistanis don’t have the means to learn the industry so the whole idea is to create a learning source to help promote the software and tips and helping out the industry in Pakistan using industry tips and helping to get a foot in the door. VFX is big in India so I want those options to be present in Pakistan too, encouraging them. It also helps parents to know that this is a career that is stable and that their kids can get into.
VFX and animation now vs back 30/40 years ago. It has changed a lot. How do you keep up with animation and VFX trends and what software do you primarily use?
Generally we use Nuke by the Foundry and at the moment there isn’t much competition. It hasn’t changed as much in the last twenty years or so like animation has so a lot depends on the company but doesn’t change every year thankfully, more like an update every decade.
What inspires you to create VFX?
I love creative things and that wow factor, seeing the emotion on people’s faces when they see a shot or piece of work. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and the sense of satisfaction at completing a task actually spurs me on to keep going.
Do you have a piece of VFX, a shot that you always go back to and think wow?
I love the shot in Endgame where (Spoiler Alert) Cap picks up the hammer and there is a wideshot of him on the left opposing Thanos and his army on the right. I also love The Last Jedi where the Captain goes through the other ships at lightspeed, it goes quite and there is sudden destruction. It was beautifully shot.
How did you land that first pivotal job as many graduate VFX artists and animators get caught in that catch 22 of job hunts, needing a job to get experience and visa versa? What advice would you give to them trying to break into the industry?
The most important thing is not giving up. Even if you are doing a completely different job, don’t
become satisfied, keep pushing into industry, network when you can, make connections. Starting out, the best way in is to be a runner, learn from that and move on to proving yourself with projects which is great as there is constant support and help. Keep looking at reels and developing your reel. After Uni, I had to change up my reel to fit a comp role and it is important to focus the reel going forwards. Show what you can do and work your way up from there. Get the first job and move up from there. Get yourself known too, message people on Linkedin for feedback on work. If you keep pushing, you’ll get there.
Are you working on any projects in your spare time?
I’ve been super busy lately but I’m working on my vlogs. I’m also hoping to start a photography studio, do some projects at the weekend and holidays, expand that and maybe transition into that eventually. Also, working on a music video for my cousin who is a musician. I like to keep myself busy. One important thing is to take breaks. Watch a film while working on a project or stop and walk around for a bit. I don’t like not working though. (laughs). I listen to podcasts or comedies when I work as they are easy going and help you focus on work.
That’s all for now Hasan, it has been a pleasure to talk to you today and catch up again.
No worries. It was great talking to you, man. It was fun. Have a good one.
Hasan’s currently working on 2 other much-awaited box office releases by Disney, along with a super-hero adventure from Marvel. He can be found on the following sites.
H45K on YouTube