Mark Scott Spatny 

Visual Effects Supervisor and Photographer

Mark's Blog

Setting the record straight

Posted on September 17, 2016 at 4:40 PM

So I woke up this morning to find this astonishing headline for an interview I did about the 10th Anniversary of Heroes for Inverse.com; The VFX Mastermind Behind 'Heroes' Says DC is Beating Marvel on TV. You can read the article here: https://www.inverse.com/article/20987

 

Let me set the record straight right off the bat and say that no, I never told Inverse.com this, or anything close to it.  That's entirely fabricated to generate clicks. First of all, I have great appreciation for the Marvel TV shows. I have many friends and respected colleagues working on Marvel productions, and I have interviewed with Marvel productions in the past. I hope to have the opportunity to do so again. Secondly, I don't consider myself the 'VFX Mastermind Behind Heroes'. I wasn't even the lead supervisor. That was Mark Kolpack in season 1, and Eric Grenaudier seasons 2-4. Third, I'm not interested in the whole Marvel vs. DC fan war. I love them both, read both comics as a kid, and watch all the live action shows. They all have their appeal in different ways.

There were a number of other factual errors and misquotes that I saw. As soon as I pointed out the errors this morning, Author Emily Gaudette was kind enough to do a rewrite and change the text on the web site. Some of the errors appear to have come from her editor, or the person who designed the web page. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about this headline still coming up in a Google search:



So again, no, I did not say that.

For clarification, below is the complete text of my email interview with Emily, where I answered the 5 questions she sent me.


1. Does it surprise you that Heroes premiered twenty years ago? What have you learned about special effects since?


It's been 10 years. The thing I've learned the most since then is how to properly scale up a show's staff to match the higher expectations for television effects. On the original series, we had a staff of about a dozen artists working mostly in one location, and they could handle the effects for the entire show. Since then, the demands for visual effects on television have increased exponentially. A standard medical drama (Pure Genius) I just supervised this year had a per episode VFX budget roughly 4x our budgets on the first season of Heroes. We had 50 artists working in 5 cities in 3 countries. A modern day superhero show will have a visual effects budget nearly 10x the first season Heroes. And the key to success has been to find the best talent, wherever they are, and put a system in place to work with them easily. A lot of people talk about the advances in technology and computing when they talk about visual effects, but ultimately, that's irrelevant. There's no such thing as CGI (computer generated effects). Good effects are generated by world class artists, and they are a rare commodity. You need to be able to work with them wherever they are, if you want to break new ground. The computers and software are just tools. Using the term CGI is like saying Computer Generated Script.


2. When Heroes premiered, putting superheroes in TV dramas was still a relatively novel idea. Do you think the show would have stood out if it were produced today, among Marvel and DC's properties?


I do think it would stand out, because ultimately what made Heroes so special when it premiered was the excellent ensemble cast, and also the idea of people first coming to grips with their powers, and deciding whether to use them for good or for evil. That's still a compelling story. I love the Marvel and DC TV shows (fair disclosure - I currently work for the company doing the effects for The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow), but they don't have the same over arching mystery that Heroes had. I think the tone of first season Heroes was closer to the first round of Avenger movies than the shows on TV now.


3. What were the biggest challenges of working on that first season?

The biggest challenge was educating the writers, producers, and directors about what could be accomplished on a TV budget or schedule. They really had no idea how much work creating visual effects is, or how long they took to execute. At that time, we were lucky to get 10-15 days to do the effects for a single episode, compared to a feature film that may take years to complete. On Game of Thrones now, they get months to work in post production, but even that means compromises. With just 10 days, we had to be very strict about how things where staged, what action we could see on the screen, and how we could move the camera. Directors would come in with wild ideas based on the movies they just saw, and we'd have to sit down and say, "OK, to get close to that on your budget and schedule, you HAVE to do X, Y, and Z. If you don't do that, the effect won't be done in time to air.". By the end of the series, of course, everybody understood the parameters, and it was much smoother. Conversely, we had to ask our artists to up their game - to come up with new ways to do things faster and more efficiently, so that we could get closer to the producer's expectations. There were compromises and challenges on both sides.

Most producers today still have no idea that the visual effects team is often the biggest department on their show, because they don't see the artists. They work in another building or city, and all producers see are the checks going out to pay for it. They don't realize the sheer number of artists it takes to do even simple requests.


4. You had worked on Smallville before Heroes. Did producing SFX for Superman affect how you wanted to frame the Heroes characters?


In all honestly, I only did a little work on Smallville, really just the occasional small overflow shot that the main team was too busy to handle. All credit for the effects on that show goes to the folks at Entity effects and particularly to Mat Beck. What I learned from that show (and it was more from being a fan and watching every episode) was to not be afraid to push the boundaries. And knowing that the bar was going to be raised every single season and to plan accordingly. It also helped that Greg Beeman, who was executive producer/director on Smallville, was in the same position on Heroes. He was already an expert on making a superhero show, and visual effects in general, and was an excellent advocate for us.


5. Do you watch superhero media now? Do you have favorite depictions on television?


Of course. I'm a huge fan of superhero shows. And I watch them all to see what my competition is doing. I particularly love Gotham. I love how closely the production designer, cinematographer, and VFX team work together to achieve a really unique stylized look for that world. It's simply gorgeous. You could run episodes of that show on a flat screen in a museum as a piece of artwork. And I loved Jessica Jones. A great superhero show with very few VFX. It's all character driven. And David Tennnant was amazing. I supervised the effects for his series Gracepoint, and he's just a joy to work with. Super talented and so nice to the crew. It was fun watching him in a villain role for a change. And to be honest, I came to my current employer specifically to see how they manage to do The Flash on a weekly basis. I've only been here two weeks, and I'm not working on that show, so I still haven't figured it out yet. Armen Kervorkian's team amazes me with what they accomplish for television.


And as I mentioned above, there were a number of misstatements in the original article as I found it online this morning. Those errors are corrected now, but because some of you may have seen them, and Inverse didn't print a proper retraction, I'm also going to address those here.


First paragraph: "Lead VFX supervisor Mark Spatny " 


That was not my title. I was the overall VFX Producer starting mid-way through the first season, with Company Man, and going through the rest of the series. In addition I did supervise and co-supervise some episodes when we were crazy busy and had to share the workload, but as mentioned above, the lead VFX Supervisors were Mark Kolpack and Eric Grenaudier. Mark and Eric were the primary people on set working with the crew, and making the key creative choices with the producers and directors on a daily basis, and I managed the team of artists back in the office and executed their vision. It was certainly a team effort, but I don't want to take credit for Mark and Eric's work. 


Fourth Paragraph: "Though Spatny hasn’t worked in superheroes since the craze began"


I actually *was * Stargate's lead VFX supervisor on last year's Heroes Reborn mini-series, a show where there were over 90 VFX artists working at two companies in offices in five cities. I supervised in conjunction with Kris Wood for Stargate and Colin Davies of SpinFX. It was a major superhero show, and I'm proud that we made it as far in the Emmy competition this year as SHIELD, The Flash, and Supergirl.  I'd like to think I still have my hand in that genre.


Sixth paragraph: "he prefers DC’s technical innovation over Marvel’s storytelling"


I never said any such thing, and did not generalize a comparison of DC to Marvel shows that way. I said I particularly liked Gotham for their production design. That's one show, not a generalization of all DC shows, and it was for their production design, not technical innovation. And it comes from the fact that I started my career as a production designer in theater. That's what my degree is in. So I have a special appreciation for good production design. I'd be the first to aknowledge that the folks working on Agents of SHIELD are doing lots of great technical innovation. I would never imply otherwise.


Eighth paragraph: "Spatny could make Sylar’s (Zachary Quinto) vicious abilities appear any way he wanted.


Not true, and I never claimed this. The look of the effects in Heroes was most often dictated by the writers in the scripts. They would say that a character had telekinesis, or could shoot blue fire out of their hands, or see sounds as aurora borealis. The directors of the episodes would then tell us how they imagined that would look. The visual effects team interpreted those directions. And it was always a collaboration between the supervisors, the artists, and myself, with show creator Tim Kring being the final word in whether an effects worked for a character or not. It's really not accurate to say any one person on the VFX team was responsible for the appearance of the superpowers.


Eighth paragraph: "noting that the team looks laughably small in comparison to current productions".


It's implied that those are my words, and I never said "laughably small".


Ninth paragraph: Spatny says the other bright spots in superhero TV are The Flash and Jessica Jones, specifically because...the later makes do with a lower budget.  Spatny may admire Marvel's superhero shows for being emotionally resonant and riveting, but DC's superheroes have superior effects.


That's the author projecting her bias on me. You can see in the text above that I never compared Marvel and DC shows in that way. I don't know how you can extrapolate that from what I wrote. I did express admiration for Armen's work on the DC shows and my hope to learn from him, and my enjoyment of David Tennant's performances on Jessica Jones. But from that you cannot extrapolate "Spatny may admire Marvel's superhero shows for being emotionally resonant and riveting, but DC's superheroes have superior effects." Let me set the record straight on this right now, I thoroughly enjoy both Marvel and DC shows, and I think there is excellent work on both sides of the TV superhero aisle. I'm just happy there is so much great work being done in a genre I love. Especially on the more family oriented shows that I can watch with my 12 year old daughter. I think it's great to be able to watch both SHIELD and Supergirl with her.


Let me again give Emily credit for rewriting the article after I pointed these errors out to her. She certainly took responsibility to correct things immediately, within the hour. I do appreciate that. But I'm certain I'll be hearing about this for quite some time. And it will make me pause before granting the next interview, that's for sure.

Categories: Visual Effects, Behind the Scenes, Creativity

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