If you’ve ever watched one of the films or television shows that Seth Brower has spent days working on and you have no clue what he did to the shot, then he’s done his job well.
As a visual effects compositor, Seth’s body of work isn’t solely comprised of eye-popping flash and flare: his skills are often used to make more subtle and nuanced enhancements to the shot. In his eight years of working in Hollywood, he’s lent his talents to a variety of projects, including TV shows like The Flash, Homeland, and Orange is the New Black, and movies such as Black Swan and The Muppets.
After graduating from Full Sail’s Computer Animation program in 2006, Seth worked in a variety of post-production facilities in Los Angeles, contributing to major projects at the beginning of his career (The Golden Compass, the first film that he worked on, won an Academy Award for its visual effects). In more recent years, he’s shifted away from motion picture work and has been more active in the realm of television, most of which has come through his work with post-house Encore Hollywood. Seth has found that in the world of VFX, the difference between film and television is quite substantial.
“In television, you get a nice variety of work from episode to episode. And the timeframe is much different. In film, you typically get four months to work on a shot,” Seth says. “In television, you usually have about a week and a half to deliver. You obviously want to get it as close to perfect and feature-quality as you can, but at a certain point you have to realize that it’s going to air in two days and it needs to get out the door for sound and final color.”
One of Seth’s career highlights was working on the final season of ABC’s Lost. “I was already a big fan of the show, so to be a part of it was really fun. I worked on pretty much every Smoke Monster shot in that season,” he says. “Even though I was working on the show, I still had no idea what was going on in the story. You rarely get to see the whole episode while you’re working on something, as you’re only given the shots you’re working on and maybe the adjacent scenes for context.”
Black Swan also stands out for Seth. Although his reel boasts that infamous, not-for-the-squeamish scene where Natalie Portman peels back her fingernail to pull off her cuticle, there’s another shot in the film that holds a special place for him.
“Natalie Portman is doing dance moves in front of a brick wall, and we see her shadow along with the shadows of several other dancers moving around her. There’s a lot of motion and it looks very cool. But the only problem was that the way it was shot on-set also cast the shadows of the camera person and the focus puller right in the shot,” he says. “The only shot description we got was ‘remove crew shadows.’ We had no idea how we were going to make it work. But we wound up taking a solid week to rotoscope each dancer’s individual shadow and separating them from one another frame by frame. We also wound up color correcting the shadows of the individuals to hide it. And what’s funny is that no one would ever notice any of the work that we did. It was a real blast.”
The world of visual effects is one in which immense attention to detail is key to getting the job done. And while some of the aforementioned work doesn’t always call immediate attention to itself, Seth enjoys being inside the inner circle of knowing just what went into achieving those final results.
“I love seeing the end product and knowing in my head what it came from and where it ended up,” he says. “I try to go home for the holidays to visit family, and this last year I was there for a week. The television was frequently on, and I was able to keep saying, ‘Oh, there’s a show we worked on,’ or ‘Oh, that’s a shot I did.’ That part never gets old.”