Cause and effects: Digital Media grad making movie magic as VFX supervisor for local film scene

Andrew Degryse, Digital Media Technology, 2007‘Was that real, or computerized?’

These days, it’s getting harder for movie-goers to tell the difference. CGI, VR and visual effects are spreading across the big screens like (digitally altered) wildfire — meaning Red River College alum Andrew Degryse chose the right film career path at the right time.

Degryse, a 2007 Digital Media Technology (now Digital Media Design) graduate, specializes in making things look like they’re happening when they’re really not. In other words, he’s a visual effects supervisor.

Smoke, fire, blood, water — you name it, Degryse has faked it. When a director needed it to look like there was cold breath coming from an actor’s mouth because it wasn’t cold enough that day (in Winnipeg, believe it or not), Degryse made it happen.

When Keanu Reeves shot an airport scene on the local set of Siberia (in theatres this summer), Degryse added a computer-generated jet. And when the recently shot horror reboot The Grudge (in theatres next year) was before cameras this summer, he was responsible for supervising many of the sure-to-be gory scenes.

“Basically my job is making sure that we shoot things properly on set and we capture camera data so that the visual effects can be successful once the film goes into post-production,” Degryse says. “If we need to put tracking marks on a shot, or if there’s green screen, we have to capture it in a way that ensures it’s something the effects artist can successfully use.”

If it sounds complex, that’s because it is. Visual FX supervisors have to be extremely meticulous, work well with others, and be exceptional at time management — skills that few Digital Media grads leave RRC without attaining.

“It’s the Red River way,” laughs Degryse, who describes his educational experience as “intense” and not unlike life on a film set, where he might have as little as 10 minutes to coordinate a crucial, FX-laden scene. “My motto with anything I do is that nothing’s ever perfect, you just run out of time,” he says.

Degryse has been passionate about the visual side of movie-making since childhood, creating prosthetics and shooting his own short films in high school. In 2004, he began booking stunt work on local film sets with the help of his friend Sean Skene (the Skene family is well known on the stunt circuit), but it wasn’t until he attended RRC that some big doors started opening for him.

In 2006, Degryse’s film instructor gave his name to a client who was looking for someone to create a promotional video for the Manitoba Moose. He landed the job again in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, and when the Jets came back to town, Degryse helped produce five videos for them, as well.

“That was one of the biggest clients I ever worked for, and getting the Winnipeg Jets video was high profile on my resume,” he says. “Now when I look back at it, if (my instructor) hadn’t given my name to them — I’m sure I’d still be doing what I’m doing, but it would be a different path.”

Degryse has worked in visual FX on a freelance basis since he graduated, and as a supervisor for the past two years on the aforementioned films (Siberia and The Grudge), as well as the upcoming APTN film Wynter. Landing contract work can be tricky, but not with the local film scene as busy as it is right now, he says.

“Sometimes I take on too much work, but it’s just that mentality of, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to get my next gig so I can’t turn it down,’” he says, noting he often recruits recent DMD grads to assist him on bigger projects.

And Winnipeg really is where it’s at for Degryse, who feels he still has a lot to learn about the FX industry and its many new components, and hopes to eventually find time to shoot his own films.

“I don’t have a future goal like working on Star Wars [movies],” he says. “Right now there’s a lot of work in Winnipeg, so I’m just focusing on doing the work that’s here. I’m really happy working here, and I’m proud of what I’ve done so far.”

Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)

Photo credit: Jessica Hawkins