Recently our page had the opportunity of interviewing the Special effects supervisor of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Mark Kolpack. We have asked the fans in our social media accounts to send questions to him, we have selected the best ones, and add to the interview. Check out the interview bellow:
AoSBR : 1- To begin, can you tell us about a little bit about you, your history. Was there a key moment where you decide you wanted to work with special effects? What are your influences and interests beyond VFX?
MK – Good question to begin with. I began my career in 1985 as an apprentice film editor. I then rose to assistant and then post supervisor. While I enjoyed the editing process immensely, and to this day value that world I came from, I did not see myself as a film editor. I wanted to write and direct. Still want to direct. But editing taught me how to tell filmed stories through picture editing and I lean on my editing background all the time when it comes to Visual Effects (VFX).
In 1992 I was working for a company called Kaleidoscope Films. They were a trailer house and I was brought on to help as an assistant editor on a Show West reel for Paramount Studios. While working there, the VP of the company took a shine to me and said that I’d be great for where his wife worked. Now remember back then, we cut on film and finished on film. That means all VFX and standard opticals like overlays, fade ins and outs, dissolves etc were all on film. So I had not been involved in any high end VFX projects at all. I took his recommend and went to the company named after its famous owner and commercial director, Joe Pytka. I got the job at Pytka and I’m immediately thrown into running his in-house post production division which included editing, film grading or telecine, and of course Visual Effects.
It was at Pytka that I realized my opportunity and saw the future. I could take my film optical knowledge and apply that multi-layer thinking into this brave new world of digital Visual Effects. I spent two and a half years there working and learning everything imaginable when it came to VFX. It was working there that I found what I was good at it and loved to do it.
After two and a half years I left to spread my wings and my career grew from there.
AoSBR : 2 – You are a part of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. since the pilot and doing a great job. Which was the result of two Emmy nominations, one in 2014 for the episode “T.A.H.I.T.I and another in 2015 for “The Dirty Half Dozen”. Considering both and remaining episodes of the show, which one did you most enjoy to work and which one had the best results for you? Suggested by Natali Moraes.
MK – Thank you for asking, Natali.
Well, my favorite season thus far has been season 03. The reason has been all of the character animation that we have done. I loved doing Shadow-Man, Lash and Hive. All three presented certain challenges and new leaps both artistically and technically. For Shadow-Man we employed new tech with our Xsens 3D mocap suits and for Lash we used the traditional mocap with the optical Vicon camera system stage. Xsens allowed us to outfit our stuntmen and have them interact with Chloe and Adrianne on set while the Vicon system was used for Blair Underwood so his performance would drive the animation. Of course we built secondary and tirchiary animation on top of Blairs work to help finish the performance within each shot.
Also this season, we were able to design and build a brand new plane with the Zephyr One. That process was hugely fun and the result was a bad ass plane that is totally unique but fit our universe perfectly.
So this past season was hugely gratifying when it came to raising the bar artistically & technically. The entire VFX team accomplished a lot.
AoSBR : 3 – Daisy powers has evolved a lot since she became inhuman at the midseason of season 2. They left from frequency manipulation and generation of “seismic waves”, to generate true continuous sound waves, reaching up to use these powers as propulsion to jump, as we saw at the end of Season 3. How was the process of creating (and evolution) of these powers? We can expect that Daisy’s powers continue to evolve this 4 Season?
MK – I agree. Daisy’s powers, like her character, have evolved tremendously over the past three seasons. She’s gone from computer hacker to inhuman to superhero. Chloe and I work very closely together to make sure her performance and the VFX sync perfectly to one another. That is in a nutshell the absolute goal. Performance plus VFX need to become one.
So we went from not seeing anything to bursts of energy emitted almost in a none controlled manner to controlling her ability to then mastering it in the opening of season 3.
The design of the Quake effect needed to be grounded in the 2D world. Because, she was going to use it a fair amount and having it be 3D was something I did not want to embrace for both time and money. So a 2D approach was developed. Now one might think that once we created it that it would just fall into place with every shot. Not true at all. It is a very complicated 2.5D effect gizmo in Nuke that’s hard to handle and requires the same artists to do the shots each time. And even then, we have to massage it into place.
So the first design was the distortion and rings with motion blur or drag on the rings. The sonic rings are a very integral part of the look of the effect. Without the sonic rings the Quake Effect looks flat and none dimensional. Basically it looks like a blurry, flat smudge. The rings give it volume and dimension. From there in season 02 it was in bursts like when she knocked down the forest for fifty yards. So now we think this works great and we’re done until we got to season 03 when her Quake Effect is now a sustained blast. RnD all over again to get the elements that were designed for a single blast to now work in a sustained emission. The rings became even more critical to the look and just how much we saw them in opacity vs blur and so on became a balancing act. A huge balancing act. Because if you don’t work the effect properly it looks like water rings going by and not sound.
Then came Daisy using her power to kill when she was controlled by Hive. So now I wanted the gizmo to be more jagged. It had to have a sharper quality to its look to better sell the idea that she was breaking bones or killing as with the Kree warrior or Malcolm. Subtle to see but hopefully most felt it.
As for Daisy in season 04? I have no idea yet. The producers have been very careful to ensure that all along, Daisy’s abilities had somewhere to grow and build so she was not too powerful straight out of the gate. We know she can jump using her Quake ability. We’ll just have to wait and see where she goes from there.
AoSBR : 4 – From the start of midseason, Hive ended up with the face of Brett Dalton revealing his true face only in the last episode of season 3. How was for you to shoot and give life to that villain? Suggested by Lucas De Moraes.
MK – That is a terrific question, Lucas.
Well I was hugely excited about creating yet again another cool Marvel character. My producer, Sabrina Arnold, and I met with Jeff Bell and Jed Whedon back in October and were then told about Hive’s true face being revealed. Joshua James Shaw who is the Marvel TV concept artists began working with the EP’s on his look while Sabrina and I pushed to hurry them up because we needed time to sculpt him in Z-Brush, texture and rig him & animate him at FuseFX. We knew that he’d only be seen from the back in ep 316 and just a tentacle tease in ep 310, Maveth. So the one off tentacle was done first giving us a general idea as to where we were going. Then in 316 we worked on his head but not his face since that was being saved for the finale. Then for 322, we were in full execution of his entire head.
We worked on finishing up sculpting of the face details such as the eyes and mouth. Also overall skin texture refinements as well as the suckers on the tentacles and all of the sub-surface light scattering to give it more realism and lets not forget the slime. What was super important to me was to make sure his eyes had a soul. Without that happening, I knew that no one would believe him being a real character squaring off with Coulson.
Once we had his finer model details worked out, then we worked on ensuring that Brett’s performance was going to drive Hive’s performance. So we used some witness cameras on set to capture any additional tracking data needed from other angles than what the production cameras were shooting. I dotted him up making sure that we could capture his subtle facial motion thus implementing that into Hive. As you may have seen from reel, we also had him wear a tracking cap to give the 3D artists and trackers a physical space to place Hive’s head.
Since Hive’s facial dimensions did not fit Brett’s, I asked Clark Gregg to focus his gaze up at Brett’s eyebrows because that was roughly the height of where Hive’s eyes would be. Once we got into post, tons of work was done on Hive’s animation. We took all of Brett’s facial tracking and amped it up a bit. What played well on a human face did not read as strongly on an alien looking head. We also had to work out all of the tentacle animation to emotionally perform properly as the scene went along. It went from a sultry confidence / arrogance to a stiffer anger look once he learned that he had been fooled.
AoSBR : 5 – The villains of the show has been evolving so much since the first season, through the Centipede, Hydra, inhuman villains, until reach the first inhuman villain, Hive. How was for you to do so many varied and surprising villains? And the next theme for season 4 “What’s beyond humanity?” leaves the impression that this next season will be more directed to technology. Will this give you a little more hard work to do the villains from the point of view of VFX?
MK – Well I don’t know what is going to be happening in season 04 yet. So we’ll both have to wait on that one.
As for the varied villains, we certainly had our fair share this season. Lucio with his Medusa Rigor Mortis gaze that stuns you to Giyer with his telekinesis abilities were certainly fun times. Many of the villains in season 01 moved from Hydra agents to Inhumans with abilities in season 02 to building on that premise in season 03 with both sides harnessing abilities. So the creation of different looks and powers was a huge undertaking.
AoSBR : 6 – In the first season, your son made the Kree that Coulson found at a facility. For you, as a father, how was the
experience to work with your son, creating a visually imposing character and with so much importance to Coulson development?
MK – Working with Brandon was a lot of fun. In season 01 for Tahiti we scanned hin for a digital double and scaled him larger to be taller and more imposing. Brandon is 6ft tall and his Kree version was about 7ft tall. He enjoyed doing it and he was super proud to get to be involved.
We also had to treat Brandon’s digital version as if SHIELD had been dissecting the body for some time. There for it was in pretty bad shape by the time Coulson comes across it. But the importance of this character was huge because it became the basis to everything that has followed since with our stories. So it was awesome to have Brandon be the alien that everything else built upon.
AoSBR : 7 – In an interview with HitFilm last year, you said that the models like the Quinjet and Helicarrier, the effects crew receives direct from ILM. What about Zephyr One and hangar S.H.I.E.L.D., how were they made?
MK – We do get certain assets from ILM time to time and that his huge for us because they’re wonderful models that Marvel already owns and we get to use them.
The Bus was a modification of a C-17 Globmaster that we were able to purchase and then perform the necessary changes to it. The Zephyr One was an entirely different process. Zephyr One was built from scratch. We spent three weeks just doing drawing after drawing after drawing to work out the design of this new plane before we even stepped foot into 3D to model it. Once the EP’s were happy with our direction and we were very close finishing it, Joshua James Shaw stepped in and cleaned up the lines and details in our drawings and then we were set to begin the longer process of modeling the plane in 3D. Three artists worked for six weeks to build it. Engine details had to be worked out. So did landing gear, surface textures to the surface of the plane and so on.
All in the ship is scaled at 250ft long and 35ft tall to the cockpit. It is a huge plane. Each tire is 5ft tall with 16 engines between horizontal flight and the VTOL engines giving it the ability to hover. What I love about it, is that it reflects two creative direction blends. It has the feeling of a Romulan Bird of Prey body with the modern or newest Godzilla head.
AoSBR : 8 – To finish, is there anything that you would like to do but had not had the opportunity in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What are your plans and expectations for the future?
MK – Hmmmm? Good question. I suppose I’d like to continue developing more character animation should the opportunity lend itself. Since I do not know what is coming it is hard to say what will be in season 04. My job is as always to serve story and character. I don’t write the stories so what I’d like to personally do with my Visual Effects is not very relevant and is instead entirely dependent upon what kinds of stories the writers create.
I suppose if it were up to me, I’d like to help create larger scope sequences that feel even more cinematic than what we’ve done thus far. Sequences that are not just CGI but incorporate cast as well. Whatever my department can do to help build more drama I’m always game for.
We would like to thank this amazing opportunity that Mark gave to our page, also thank Marvel TV, Soldado Carnaval, DanyZyka e Anny that helped with preparation and translation of the content.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Will return on September 20th, 10pm on ABC.