Women in VFX: Image Engine's Charlene Eberle
June 13, 2017

Women in VFX: Image Engine's Charlene Eberle

The leadership role of women in the visual effects industry is becoming a growing topic. In the May/June 2017 issue of CGW,  Marvel’s Victoria Alonso discusses her role in this male-dominated industry and her goal of continually setting the bar high. And, she is not alone in this regard.

Here, Charlene Eberle, visual effects executive producer at Image Engine, talks about the integral role women play in the visual effects industry and about her career, which started with Stargate SG-1 and has taken in senior roles on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Wolf of Wall Street, Captain America: Civil War, and many more.

How did you get involved in the VFX industry? 

Originally, I wanted a career as a news reporter. I studied broadcasting at Humber College in Toronto, then interned for one year in the news department for CFOR. My very first news story was about a murder. I realized the industry wasn’t for me. 

I moved back to Toronto and studied film at Ryerson. After graduating, I decided – on a whim – to move across country to the West Coast. I left home with no job, no place to live, and no friends, traveling towards a new home I’d never been to before. I had no idea if I would love it or hate it. I made this big move in 1994 and haven’t looked back since!

After a few years in broadcasting on Vancouver Island, I moved to the mainland to search for new opportunities. I landed my first on-set job as a PA in 1996 for Outer Limits. That role gave me the opportunity to see all the different departments within the film industry. The one department I found most fascinating was the VFX department .

Once Outer Limits wrapped up, I progressed onto the Stargate SG - 1 pilot as onset PA. As I watched them set up for the big ‘kawoosh’ scene (from the unstable vortex) , I was in awe! I started bugging the team to see if they needed a VFX PA. In the end , I think they gave me the job because I was so persistent – but nevertheless, it was the start of my career in VFX. 

After the Stargate SG-1 pilot , I became the VFX coordinator on Poltergeist, and then moved onto my very first film – Final Destination. The VFX supervisor on that project, Ariel Velasco-Shaw, gave me my first break in the VFX film industry. My education has come from working with people like Ariel – I’ve met some of the most amazing VFX supervisors and producers throughout my career. I’m still friends with them today!

What do you think makes for a great VFX studio in 2016/17?

Culture, respect, communication, and mentorship are vital for a great VFX studio. Ensuring everyone feels as though they are a part of the decision-making process is really important, too. To give a team the feeling that they, their family, and the time they invest is respected – it’s something that’s crucial for a great VFX studio.  

What VFX projects really excite you right now?

I love all the projects we are working on at Image Engine. The most memorable so far has been Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – our creatures just look incredible. Our work on Logan was mind-blowing; what the team achieved was simply amazing. Photoreal humans are one of the VFX industry’s most challenging tasks; there is no way to get around the hard work and dedication it takes to achieve believable results. The team here certainly delivered on this front – the VFX in Logan are seamless. It’s some of most high-end, complex VFX work we’ve done, but it’s invisible to the naked eye.

What would you like to see more of from the industry in 2017?

I would like to see more women receive recognition for the hard work that they do. There’s certainly been an increase in women taking on supervision roles over recent years, which I love. More women are moving into sequence lead, lead, and supervisor roles – it’s fantastic. 

Women in VFX are integral to the industry, which is why we need to witness more being recognized and appreciated by the community, and collecting more awards. At the end of the day, we still see more men than women on stage receiving recognition. 

How often do you find vendors collaborate on the projects you work on? Do you find this a beneficial approach?

The benefits of collaboration depend on the scope of the work, but there are always tasks that can reap the rewards from having more vendors involved. Sometimes, one vendor will have more experience or know-how in a particular area. In that instance, it makes total sense to share the work and get the people best suited to the task working on it. It makes sense to put ego aside and for studios to come together, collaborate, and bring their varied strengths to the table. The result is better work all around.

The smoothest collaboration we had was when we were sharing shots in Newt’s suitcase on Fantastic Beasts. Each team was professional and wonderful to work with, and I think that was showcased in the final product and how amazing it looked.

What excites you most about the VFX industry?

The most exciting part of VFX for me is its continual evolution. Being there as it develops and being able to learn from some of the greatest talent in the industry is such an amazing experience. You can witness your closest friends winning huge awards and moving up the ladder – it’s like nothing else. 

VFX is an amazing career path. It takes a dedication like no other, but when you’re on a project from beginning to the end like we are at Image Engine, it can be a truly amazing thing to be a part of.