BU graduate Ian Comley works as a VFX Supervisor at ILM, and is celebrating after being nominated for both an Oscar and a BAFTA for his visual effects work on The Creator.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) ceremony takes place on 18 February 2024, while the 96th Academy Awards (known as the Oscars) will take place on 10 March 2024.
A picture of BU graduate Ian Comley
Ian studied an MSc in Computer Animation at BU, graduating in 2004, and has picked up credits on film in the Star Wars series, as well as Paddington, Guardians of the Galaxy and more.
As Visual Effects Supervisor for The Creator, Ian is named in the Special Visual Effect category at the BAFTAs and the Visual Effects category at the Oscars, where The Creator goes up against Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One and Napoleon in both Awards. Godzilla Minus One completes the nominee list at the Oscars, while Poor Things gets a nomination for a BAFTA too.
The Creator is directed by Gareth Edwards, and stars John David Washington and explores a future where humans battle artificial intelligence.
Ian took some time to reflect on his time at BU, and how it feels to be nominated in a Q&A for Bournemouth University:
When did you study at BU and what made you choose BU to study computer animation?
I took the NCCA’s (National Centre for Computer Animation) MSc Computer Animation degree back in 2003/4, having previously completed a BEng Computer Engineering.
As a young Aardman fan, I’d been making plasticine stop-motion animations on the kitchen table, but had also been exploring the free trials of 3D software that used to come attached to magazine covers.
Whilst engineering provided great foundations, I most enjoyed any coursework that allowed me to do something visual – something creative – which told me that perhaps Animation/VFX needed to be more than a hobby! That led me to the NCCA.
What are your favourite memories of your time at BU?
BU offered an opportunity to learn more about the broader filmmaking process – an important area of understanding and continual learning. Knowing what’s gone on behind the camera can make a huge difference to the success of a finished shot. It also helps to maintain a ‘filmmaker’s perspective’ as a Visual Effects Supervisor; i.e. what will actually serve the shot and narrative versus what will just get us into the weeds.
I particularly enjoyed the group projects during my time at BU. Even though it got a bit nuts trying to bring the projects together, it was a chance to learn from and help each other, and I’m still in touch with members of the team from our final group project. We had one with an army of Roman Centurions played by squirrels (as you do!), and another where tracked, drone vehicles connect together to cross a ravine.
How does it feel to be nominated for both a BAFTA and an Academy Award for your work on The Creator?
It’s amazing and quite mad! I remember seeing quintessentially British Aardman Director Nick Park pick up an Oscar for Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers, wearing an oversized bow tie some 30 years ago. It briefly connected the glitz of Hollywood to England, and perhaps planted a seed of a dream.
I’m most delighted for the whole ILM Team to be getting this recognition between VES, BAFTA, Oscars and beyond. We had an incredible group of people, who found the confluence of stunning photography, inspiring concepts and the absolute trust and partnership of Director Gareth Edwards a real gem. I think it’s fair to say that many artists at ILM working on other projects at the time, were wishing they could come and get involved on The Creator!
Can you tell us about the role you played on The Creator?
I was Visual Effects Supervisor for work produced by ILM London, where the majority of shots on the film were executed and where most assets were built.
Jay Cooper, overall ILM Supervisor, was always on hand to guide as needed, but I was presenting work directly to Gareth, which helped us get through a huge amount of shots, from a relatively modest budget and timeframe. The volume of work meant I also had a co-Supervisor, Charmaine Chan, with whom I very much divided-and-conquered!
ILM’s London studio worked on the full gamut of shots and characters, including plenty of simulant child Alphie, the Lab Strike, Police Robots and vehicles, the Floating Village and Tank Battle with lots of simulants and robots, and almost all of the Nomad in Act 3.
What advice do you have for current students who might wish to follow in your footsteps in future?
I spent many years as a Look Development artist/lead and several more in global technology roles. I’ve always sought a balance of creativity and technology at every stage of my career, which has helped me be useful to projects that try to push the envelope. For instance, prior to The Creator I was VFX Supervisor for the ABBA Voyage concert experience, which is all about stunning performance and visuals, but required a monumental technological effort to pull off.
There’s always more to learn! Don’t forget to enjoy the periods where things are new and uncertain, as it can be much more fun than when it’s bread-and-butter and boring! Look for opportunities to expand your creative experience and technological understanding, and remember it’s very much a ‘team sport’, so try to remain a positive, proactive, team-player as you go.
What do students need to do to make their steps into a career in visual effects?
It’s a crowded field for those looking to break into a Visual Effects career, so it can be tough to get that first foot in the door. Because of that, it’s ok to think outside the box when applying. Maybe you have a very specific discipline or goal in mind, but if there are other areas and jobs you’re able to do, then whatever gets you in the building can be a crucial first move. Once in, both your attitude and your aptitude have a chance to shine, and you’ll be able to show off skills that may not be apparent from the day job.
I started in Render Support. I had my eyes firmly on being a Technical Director (TD) when I set out, but I look back at that first wrangling role as being such an important step. It gave me exposure to how the shots were really being executed (not just a shiny version you might read in articles) and I learnt so much – some of which still applies to what I’m doing now. It helped me make friendships and connections, all of which acted as a springboard for when I got my next break as a TD.
Very best of luck!
Congratulations to Ian Comley and the team at ILM for their nomination, from all at BU.