Adelaide, South Australia—Premamurti Paetsch was born in Australia and raised in Germany. He joined Rising Sun Pictures in 2005 shortly after graduating from Die Akademie für Datenverarbeitung, Böblingen, with a degree in Computer Science and Media Design.
Here Prema talks about the shows he's worked on in his career and offers some advice to aspiring artists.
Starting out as a technical assistant, Prema quickly rose through the ranks at RSP and currently serves as Senior FX Technical Director. In 2015, he was part of the team that won a VES Award for Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture for their work on X-Men: Days of Future Past. His many other credits include Gravity, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2. His current project is X-Men: Apocalypse, and he's also about to begin teaching his first introductory Houdini class for RSP, beginning on May 4th.
RSP: How long have you been interested in visual effects?
Prema: I’ve always been fascinated by computer graphics. As a teenager I was quite interested in video games and visual effects movies. I started doing some low level work in Open GL as a gateway to graphics programming. Eventually, I picked up a copy of 3D Studio Max. I taught myself 3D graphics as a hobby never thinking I’d be good enough to make it a profession. Instead, I picked something that I thought was more grounded in reality: software programming. But I soon realized it was too dry for me. I wanted to do something that was a hybrid of the technical and artistic. So I produced a show-reel and after I graduated from college, I sent off applications to Australia. I always wanted to move back to Australia and thought I’d try doing both things at the same time. My first job was at RSP.
RSP: What did they have you do?
Prema: I had to start pretty low. I was hired as a technical assistant. It was scripting, data wrangling and delivering frames to the client. I got to understand the pipeline and how to do low-level programming and scripting. Then I got to do some modeling on the fifth Harry Potter movie. I progressed from there to Junior TD. I went through a phase of doing everything related to effects, lighting and shading. Eventually, I became a Senior TD and then effects lead…where I am now.
RSP: Can you describe your job?
Prema: I mainly work on shots. On the new X-Men, I’m prototyping and look-developing a particular effect that will be used in several shots. I also mentor artists and provide quality control and technical assistance. I collaborate with other departments—lighting, comp, modeling—to ensure the inputs are what we need. I communicate with downstream departments to understand what they need from us. I also come up with strategies for complex shots.
RSP: So you’ve got the job you initially wanted, a hybrid of the technical and artistic.
Prema: Yes. Absolutely! It’s always been my dream. I’m very happy about it.
RSP: Tell us about some of the more memorable projects you’ve been involved with?
Prema: Well, there’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. It was very difficult, but also rewarding. It had a very cool concept. It was fun exploring “Quicksilver time.” It required a different way of thinking. The challenge was to make everything look believable in slow motion and to build things well enough for the detail to hold up.
RSP: Were you surprised by the results?
Prema: Yes, a bit. When you are looking at a shot over and over, you lose perspective. Once it’s cut together in sequence with music and sound design, it’s quite different. Sometimes details that we spent a lot of time on become secondary in the flow of things. Your brain fills in the details and you perceive it as a story, rather than a sequence of shots. So, it was very surprising to see that sequence rush past after we spent so much time art directing water splashes and even individual droplets of water hanging in mid-air.
RSP: The success of that project must have been very satisfying.
Prema: Yes! Our team won a VES Award, and we were nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar. I felt very humbled by that.
RSP: What other project affected you that way?
Prema: Gravity. It was similarly difficult but equally rewarding. We did the entire sequence of the space station breaking apart, burning through the atmosphere and falling to earth. It was meant to be hyper-real and believable, like the rest of the movie, but the tricky part was, there was no actual footage that you could reference. We had a blurry video of an Apollo spacecraft showing some of the events we were trying to create and footage of super-heated plasma in a lab, but in the end we had to extrapolate and take some artistic liberties. The difficulty was selling the immense sense of speed.
That scene was also quite amazing to see in context. I didn’t realize at the time that it was the apex of the movie and that all the tension builds to that moment. It was a little overwhelming when finally watching it at the cinema.
RSP: What sort of temperament do you need to be good at your job?
Prema: You have to be passionate and dedicated. The industry is incredibly competitive. You have to be strong enough to keep pushing yourself. You have to be highly self-motivated and you have to love your job.
RSP: What advice would you give to a young artist just starting out?
Prema: It depends on what they want to do, there are plenty of different disciplines. If they want to do something similar to what I do, I’d recommend at least a short course in computer science. You need to understand how your machine works so you can get the most out of it. I’d also suggest some visual effects and animation training to complement the technical component. Many of the best people I work with are self-taught. They spent their evenings doing tutorials,constantly practicing, improving and learning by trial and error.
RSP: What do you think about your decision to return to Australia?
Prema: It was the best decision of my life. Although Germany and Australia have similar cultures, Australia is more laid back. Not to mention, it has nice weather. I find there is more opportunity here.
RSP: And how do you like being at RSP?
Prema: I love it. It’s a relatively small company, but we do first class work on first class projects. It has a very friendly atmosphere, there’s a lot of knowledge sharing. We help each other out. Because it’s small, you get to work on different things and are exposed to different parts of the pipeline. So, it’s a great place to work. Yes. Absolutely!
If you'd like to learn Dynamic FX for Film using Houdini with Prema, there are still a few places left in his 10-week night class starting 4th May. The class is suitable for complete beginners.