Cataclysmic climate changes, emerald green energies, and electrifying Pokémon powers have been the specialty of Brad Minnich, editor of visual effects for over a decade. Since 2008, Minnich has been working on box office hits like The Day After Tomorrow, the Twilight Saga, Captain America, Green Lantern, the Justice League and Detective Pikachu. This year, Minnich is expanding its VFX and animation horizons with two new projects: its first historical production, The Good Lord Bird, and its first fully animated feature, 2150.
Directed by and with Ethan Hawke, Showtime & # 39; s The Good Lord Bird from 1859 before the Civil War in America is based on a novel of the same name and is produced by Sharp Objects & # 39; Blumhouse Television. The show follows the shocking, shameful, and humorous journey of abolitionist John Brown (Hawke) and a young ex-slave whom Brown forcibly freed and calls "Onion." Brown is determined to free all slaves, regardless of the cost, and Onion – who is mistaken for a girl – accidentally finds himself for the messy ride.
Minnich, who also worked with Alpha VFX supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun on the first episode of The Good Lord Bird, acts as the primary VFX supervisor of the series that featured the shootings, cannon explosions, city fires, and the replica of the 1859 raid Harpers Ferry Animated, West Virginia. While the show's pilot is more deeply rooted in dialogue and backstory, Minnich's VFX work begins in episode two, in which John Brown makes a declaration of war in a flammable town, his speech accompanied by fire-ready pistols in each hand.
But Minnich's taste for the gross and the futuristic is captured in his personal animated film 2150, which tells the story of two innocent men who are convicted and taken to work in a lunar prison and inevitably die. The two men become friends in order to overcome their harsh reality and return to earth. Minnich describes his animation as "Shawshank Redemption meets The Matrix," but the numerous animation styles included in the feature were inspired by Love, Death & Robots. A show Minnich says made him awe the potential for animation. Minnich has also recruited a well-respected group of over a dozen animators and developers to join his team, including Walk the Line's Mike McCusker as editor and Star Wars character designer Ian McCaig.
We recently had the chance to talk to Minnich about his two new projects, delve into the creative process for the most challenging shooting scenes of The Good Lord Bird, and examine Minnich's vision of how he plans to incorporate 16 different animation styles in 2150.
Victoria Davis: What was your first interest in visual effects and animation?
Brad Minnich: When I first came to Los Angeles, I still wasn't sure what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be. I looked into DreamWorks, worked briefly as the PA for Steven Spielberg and then went into the editorial world of a Roland Emmerich film called The Day After Tomorrow. I've always liked big ideas and big things, and this is where I sat with Roland and looked out at the frozen earth.
We can take people anywhere and tell any story with visual effects, and it was cool to be at the front end of that wave. And now the lines of animation and visual effects are so blurry. They are one and the same. That is where the world goes. I love it.
VD: You have spent a large part of your career working on amazing films like Captain America, The Twilight Saga, Justice League, and Detective Pikachu. Meanwhile, The Good Lord Bird is a huge contrast to how well grounded it is in the real world and historical events. I'm curious to see what attracted you to this project because it is so different from your usual niche.
BM: You make a big point. I was really working on these big out of this world sci-fi animation effects, and to be honest, I was a little burned out. And that happened year after year, project after project. But when I got a call from the producer for The Good Lord Bird, I said, "You know what, this is perfect where I am right now." I just had to take a step back to blow up a planet and do more of this piece from the time, great fun, the John Wick-esque shooting game from 1857. It was really cool, with a smaller crew, and a more intimate filmmaking dive into this grounded world instead of those big, giant giant films in which 500,000 people end up crawling.
VD: Was it even an adaptation, from what you said blowing up planets in the most exciting and colorful ways to shootings and fires that needed to look as real and authentic as possible?
BM: You still have to go through the process to get an amazing shot. Big or small, the question has yet to be answered: "Does that help tell the story better?" That's true, whether it's a really small cosmetic correction or if it's a really big blast. You still have to act the same way and still feel the same way through the creative process and delivery process of the inclusion. It's just a different subject.
I also believe that it is always better to capture as much power and action as possible in the camera and only use VFX to enhance the scene and storytelling. During production, the goal is to work with the director and other department heads on the VFX work that is required on the set to complete the footage in post production. Since this is a historical piece, VFX were used to create time-accurate environments, time-accurate shootouts, and most importantly, Harpers Ferry in West Virginia. I was able to use a variety of techniques including animation, compositing, matte painting, and CG.
But during post-production, the tasks change. I then work with the directors, editors, and vendors to solve complex visual problems, including shot design, shot production, and shot delivery through to final presentation.
VD: Are there certain episodes – both in terms of plot and visual effects – that you are particularly excited about? The audience should look forward to it.
BM: In episode 2 we burned an entire city, which was a lot of fun as an effects artist. There was more big shootout and we put some humor in the shootout, which was a difficult thing to figure out how to make a big shootout humorous. But that is very much the tone of the show. Onion and John Brown are in the middle of everything that is exploding around them and somehow they still aren't hit. It was a scene I loved to work on, trying to strike the balance between a gunfight, burning down the city and still having a fun atmosphere.
VD: Were there any major challenges for you on this show?
BM: The challenge with this was continuity, especially in an exchange of fire because every time you shoot a gun and the bullet hits a wall, for example, you have to track that shot in every single shot, even if you have 1,000 hits. You have to chase 1,000 bullets or 1,000 fires or whatever. Episode 2 was a challenge for this reason too.
VD: They also have another project in the works that will bring you a new kind of endeavor – a fully animated piece called 2150 with an incredible team of creators including Cat Thelia from Alita Battle Angel, Nivanh Chanthara from Ghost In the Shell and Ian McCaig from the Star Wars saga, just to name a few. How did this idea come about?
BM: As I said earlier, animation and visual effects now come together. In some places they are almost indistinguishable. And I wrote this project because I love the prison escape subgenre: Shawshank Redemption, Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape. But when I saw Love, Death & Robots on Netflix with all the different animation styles I was blown away. It absolutely broadened my understanding of what can be done with storytelling and animation. So I changed my original script and took storytelling in a different direction to tell a linear narrative story.
I took the script and broke it down into 16 different beats. And then we went to all of these amazing Oscar-winning filmmakers, designers, and conceptual artists and asked them what they think of this idea. Each one said, “We love it. Were in."
VD: And you're working with Love, Death & Robots' character designer and concept artist Marcin Rubinkowski in 2150. Why do you think this story was so immediately confirmed by these great animators and artists?
BM: This is an animated feature for R-rated adults and all of these different styles. What I discovered is that there are a lot of animators and creatives who have no chance of working on these types of R-rated themes. And everyone who comes on our team says, "I want to show this violent world or this prison life."
VD: I'm sure getting the chance to bring these animators together is a big part of it, but what do you think animation makes for a story like this? What is the merit of bringing these characters to life in this medium?
BM: It actually started out as live action, but when I saw Love, Death & Robots I realized it could be better. I don't want to examine just one film style or just one animation style. And that makes this project neat. There will be 16 styles of animation, all of which are associated with this linear narrative. Nobody has ever done a project like this before. For example, one scene will be in 2D animation style and the next scene in photoreal 3D / CG.
And the biggest question here is, "Well, you can't come across animation styles, can you?" And my thing is, "Of course you can." As long as the story lasts.
VD: It's similar to the continuity you talked about with The Good Lord Bird, right?
BM: It is exactly like that. Even when making films, such as when Quentin Tarantino made Kill Bill, he has a full 3D cell animation in the middle of the live action set. Everything can be connected as long as your characters stay the same. My main character, Deakins, will have a very revealing scar on his face and a very special wardrobe. And all of my characters will have a visual clue of their character in their dressing room. Regardless of whether you change the animation style from one to the other, you will still see the same visual cues, hear the same audio cues, and the same cloakroom cues. Once you have that language set up, you can follow the story.
Another cool thing we try is to marry our scene locations with the right animation style. Beat number nine, for example, is the moon buggy chase. Our main antagonist and main protagonist have to jump into these hovercraft and they speed across the lunar surface in a chase. For the animation, we chose the Unreal Engine, which is used for video games and has a particle system called Niagara. So we modeled the cars and animated the chase, then we put them in Niagara and the idea is that their super effects will help tell this story in a very visceral way.
VD: The Good Lord Bird and 2150 were relatively new to you in animation and VFX. What was the most rewarding part of these two projects?
BM: A big part of that is working with the other filmmakers. You cannot make animated films without other people. It takes an enormous amount of mind and body to get your ideas off the ground. And the best part is sitting in a room and brainstorming with these other creative minds, amazingly talented people from across the spectrum, to turn an idea into the best story there can be.
If you would like to work on this type of project please feel free to contact me as I would love to hear from you. I will hear from animators all over the world. It's a global thing. So please reach out.
2150 doesn't have a set release date yet, but animators interested in project work can reach Minnich through the website 2150 website: enter2150.com. The Good Lord Bird is currently available on Showtime.
Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time otaku with an affinity for anything anime-related. She has covered numerous stories, from activist news to entertainment. For more information on her work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.