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As creative director of MPC Los Angeles, Paul O’Shea brings a wealth of experience in film and visual effects for heavy-hitting brands such as Old Spice, Nissan, Canon, HP, Stella Artois, Audi, Chevrolet, Coca-Cola, Nike and Toyota. Outside of the commercial space, O’Shea’s feature film credits include Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green and Tony Scott’s Unstoppable. His music video work includes the Tim Burton-directed Bones, Paul McCartney’s Dance Tonight by Michel Gondry, and Vanessa Paradis’s Incendie with Johnny Depp.


Observation and Instinct

How did you discover you wanted to be in this field? I did a degree in Fine Art, and I began making films with a friend. I started out at the BBC in London, which provided me with a great technical foundation, and from there I began to understand what jobs existed in the field. Working for Discreet Logic in the 1990s, I traveled to different post-production houses around the world, showing and teaching people Flame. That gave me opportunities to work on films and commercials.

How did you get your first job? I was working as a clerk for BBC Radio, in the Gramophone Library, and I had to pull the vinyl from vaults to fill the playlists for the different shows. It was a great job because I had access to one of the broadest record collections in the country, but it was mind-numbing, so I applied for a job in the cutting rooms.

What tools do you find indispensable for your work? I use Flame to do most of my work and it’s second nature to me now. Nuke and Baselight are essential complements on a daily basis. On shoots, I take a 5D with a few lenses, a distometer, a tape measure and some handy apps.

What excites you about visual storytelling right now? Being seen and not heard. The best visual effects are the ones you don’t notice. Keeping that up in new formats, with more frames, higher resolution and more colors, is exciting. The characteristics of the new generation of screens and the variety of devices to consume content on require new approaches to visual storytelling. The cinematic language is not always appropriate; it requires a new way of thinking that’s not necessarily linked to the history of the projected cinema, so it’s an exciting time.

What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you create over the next few years? At MPC in Los Angeles, we have recently started to use V-Ray and the V-Ray RT GPU workflow. Advances in GPU technology mean increasingly complicated layered scenes in grading/compositing, and detailed lighting/texturing of virtual objects can be far more interactive. This allows for a more collaborative and experimental creative process in CG. We have also invested significantly in Houdini from Side Effects. The artists working with it are inspiring and offer amazing possibilities in the most complex areas of CG.

Where do your best ideas come from? A mixture of observation and instinct... And my dog tells me things when no one’s around.

What resources do you turn to for inspiration? Painting is a big one for me (other people’s rather than my own). I had tremendous art teachers when I was at school, and they laid very solid critical foundations based on looking and drawing. I would give one of my brother-in-law’s nuts for a Frank Auerbach drawing. I like Halliday Avray Wilson’s sculpture and paintings, and the photography of Barry Cawston and Andy Glass.

How do you overcome a creative block? Work through it and don’t be a soft lad. Talking to my Mrs. and Speedy (the dog) helps to see around things. They don’t put up with any nonsense.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? Try and be as mobile as possible so your tools can travel with you, and don’t worry too much about what time it is.

What’s the strangest request you’ve received from a client?
“That man on the bus who’s carrying the pig: Can you make it a fish?”
“Don’t make it smaller but make it farther away.”
“How orange is the orange?”
Referring to three lines of legal type about banking: “Just have fun with it.”

In one word, describe how you feel when beginning a new project. Tumescent.

What’s your favorite quote? “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein, and “I told you I was ill.” —Spike Milligan’s tombstone

Any fantastic plug-ins/tools you recently found that you would recommend? I like Autodesk 123D for messing about. I am very excited by tech demos The Foundry has shown, integrating Nuke and Hiero.

What is the most important skill you need to succeed in motion/animation? Patience and pride in your work. Standards in the industry are very high, and you have to try to push them. It also helps of you don’t need much sleep.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the field? Be prepared to travel to the work.