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Film | Interview with Steve Begg: “It’s all about the special effects!”

Film | Interview with Steve Begg: “It’s all about the special effects!”

A Teenage Steve Begg and a model rocket made from a drainpipe.

Motion pictures; two hours of accelerating, funny and out-of-this-world events brought to life in front of you on the big screen. Watching a movie often proves to be the public's most popular pass-time and an incredible source of mind-blowing entertainment.

The world of cinema is transforming before our very eyes, becoming more visually appealing and showcasing the impossible. What once seemed unimaginable now seems within our reach. Aliens attack earth, hobbits follow a wizard's advice to destroy a magic ring and zombies cause havoc for Rick Grimes.

Steve Begg and Aliens AP miniature landscape.

Steve Begg and Aliens AP miniature landscape.

It is unlikely while you are enjoying binge-watching your favourite genre that you stop to think about how it is possible.

Steve Begg, a visual effects expert, is one of the many talented visual effect artists that work tirelessly to bring your dreams to life. Steve is best known for his artistic contribution to movies such as Casino Royale, Skyfall, Tim Burton's Batman and Aliens.

“The films I have worked on that I am most happy with are movies such as Casino Royale as it is a classic Bond movie. I also really enjoyed working on Batman Begins because there is a lot of model work and Skyfall was an interesting project.

Although working on feature films seems glamorous, it can be pretty hard. It is a large group of people trying to create a movie and this can lead to a lot of butting heads.

My advice for anyone wanting to break into the visual effects industry is to get your hands on a camera. Get your hands on a computer and just start playing about with techniques.

The best thing you can do is be hands-on. Even before you to go to college, because colleges just teach you techniques, but they don’t teach you art.”

Can this work? - Steve Begg

Steve's passion for visual effects came at an early age and was greatly inspired by his long-term hero and friend's work, Derek Meddings. From a working-class background, and a lack of education available at the time for visual effects, Steve took it upon himself to learn an art that would one day change the course of cinema history.

“I had a very basic, but secure, working-class upbringing. My mum worked for the gas board and my dad worked for the Granton and Leith docks as a repair and maintenance chap. You really couldn’t get two people further away from what I ended up doing.

I went to quite a rough secondary school, and the only thing I learned during my time there was to handle myself during a fight.

However, while I was there, there was a couple of art teachers that I liked and who I got on very well with. One of them allowed me to take home the 8-millimetre movie camera that was in the art department.
With that, I started to learn the absolute basics of filming, stop motion and plasticine animation as that was all I could afford. I began to learn all the basics of filming which I have used right up until today.

I had to self-teach as there were no courses, that I was aware of, that would teach you a lot of these basic tricks. So, the only solution I had was to try and self-teach myself the skills needed.”

The Movoe ‘Spectre’ base entrance.

Steve dreamed of following the path of his hero, who worked on productions such as Thunderbirds and James Bond. Little did he know that his dream would one day become a reality. However, not only did he accomplish his dream to work on similar productions, but he also worked side-by-side with the man himself.

“I was stunned when I was able to meet Derek Meddings. I was lucky because the show that I had worked on, Terrahawks, was being shown on the television at the time and he saw it and liked the effects that we were using. He needed an assistant, a second-in-command, and he had some big projects coming up. He asked me to come along to lunch, I had lunch with my hero, and a few years later I ended up working for him.

I really liked him and I learned a lot from him. When I finally met him, he’d been working in the industry for 30 years and so I really picked up a lot of tricks from him. Above all of that, he was also an incredibly nice bloke.”

It hasn't all been sunshine and rainbows for the visual effects' artist who has been in the industry for over 30 years. With media technology constantly changing, the effect tricks of the past often struggle to fit in with the visual effects of the future. However, this hasn't stopped Steve who often likes to mix the old and new ways together for an even better visual experience.

“The problem with CGI these days is you know it is CGI. Even if it is done really well, because you sit there and think ‘that is too big, they never would have destroyed that building or that monster could never walk down that street’. You know straight away that it is fake. The clever CGI is when you think ‘Oh, that background is CGI, I thought it was real cars.

A good example of this is a movie I worked on starring Liam Neeson, The Commuter. To begin with, I thought I was only going to be responsible for the visual effects. There was supposed to be a big train crash and all sorts of things.”

When I asked about filming the train, I was told that we weren't going to be shooting a real train. The challenge came in shooting a fake train against a green screen and making it look real. The director really enjoyed using CGI shots, even when not necessary.

“I remember having a bit of an argument with the director. I said ‘I know you want all the CGI to look real but don’t you think by now you have given the game away that we are using a CGI train. You have done such an unreal move, that is going to tell the public that you have a CGI train, yet all the other shots look real.”

Steve isn't ready to stop taking the world by storm just yet and is already working on a brand-new project series directed at children. The production is still in the making but could soon be available for public viewing.

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Disclaimer: This article is not for commercial ends and no gratuities were asked for or received from any products mentioned herein. Chrystal 2019     

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