Visual effects play a key role in the Amazon series Tales from the Loop, and leading the VFX team – which must maintain a balance between science fiction and naturalism – is Andrea Knoll, who oversaw the work by Rodeo FX. As the lead VFX vendor, Rodeo FX crafted more than 700 VFX shots to compose a world that feels painterly, humanistic, and lived-in, yet sharp, technologically forward, and brand-new.
Here, we roll back the screen to introduce Knoll, hardly a newcomer to the industry.
Was there a film/tv show you watched growing up that got you excited about VFX?
Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films and a great example of blending practical special effects with visual effects. What I love so much about the original film is how life-‐like the dinosaurs appear and it’s because they built animatronic dinosaurs – they not only looked real but they also contributed to the actors’ performances since they were interacting with physical dinosaurs. It was early days for CGI and the visual effects work was beautiful, very cutting edge at the time – and it still holds up.
We actually approached the robot work in Tales from the Loop the same way by blending practical with special effects – and we were very fortunate to work with Alan Scott and his team at Legacy Effects-‐who worked on the original Jurassic Park dinosaurs. He’s brilliant.
Where did the interest begin?
I’ve always been obsessed with film and television since I was a kid. My mom exposed me to so many classic films at an early age and really didn’t limit what I could watch. It has always provided escapism for me. Innately I always wanted to help others and what better way than to provide the same escapism for others through film and television.
How did you get involved in visual effects?
I graduated from Boston University with a film production degree. I worked my way up in production until I became a producer. As an overall producer at Dreamworks and Sony Pictures, I was exposed to visual effects and worked closely with all departments. I had over a decade of experience in production when I started on Stranger Things, and that’s when I took on a hands-on role in visual effects specifically.
Who has been the most influential in your career?
Martin Scorsese. He is an incredible artist, who has always been able to showcase character based stories without huge budgets. He is a genius storyteller – each shot and element is purposeful, including the seamless editing.
What's the biggest misconception about working in VFX?
In many ways, I think when people think about visual effects, they think explosions – noticeable CG work and there’s less of an understanding that it can be subtle, artistic, and can be really an extension of production design and cinematography.
When visual effects are done right, you can’t tell that anything was done – if the project calls for it, like Tales from the Loop, it should be photorealistic, subtle, enhancing what is already there, to some extent. That’s what we aimed to do on this show, and we were successful.
What's the best advice you’ve received?
The best advice I’ve received is from my mother who told me Where you see yourself is where you will be. I practice this and have found it to work.
What were some obstacles you’ve faced in your career?
To be honest, most of the obstacles I’ve faced came from the previous generation of women who weren’t very supportive and I felt held back. I was told by a woman producer “You are too ambitious.” I’ve turned this into a positive by making it a point as I moved forward with my career to mentor as many women as I can which has been very rewarding. In 2020 women are still not supportive of each other and that needs to drastically change for there to be an actual substantial change in the industry.
There are women in VFX but not many VFX supervisors, what would you say to that point?
There aren’t a lot of women specializing in Visual Effects across the board, whether it be as Visual Effects producers, supervisors, compositors because they’re not given the opportunity. We’re still behind in this industry in terms of how we treat women – especially women in roles behind the camera. A woman has to spend years proving herself to “earn” an opportunity, she has to have experience under her belt to be hired as a department head or as a director, for example. But for a man, if he says he wants to try something, he will be given that opportunity. If someone has intelligence, leadership skills, creative talent, they will excel in any situation and women should be treated with the same trust and respect as men – and, in my experience, we’re not.
What did you love about working on the show and the VFX for that show, can you break down one or two scenes?
Since Tales from the Loop is based on Simon Stalenhag’s paintings, our goal was to maintain a painterly quality. We interrogated every image with Nathaniel -‐ Every shot, every frame, we treated as a painting to preserve that look throughout each episode and collectively the full season. What I love about this show is that, when you watch it, it’s not obvious whether something was accomplished practically with the production design or through cinematography or special effects – or if it was enhanced or done entirely by visual effects. It was a true team effort and a combination of approaches working hand in hand with Legacy FX and their outstanding puppeteers and to really create a hybrid of sorts, and to marry the best of both worlds ‐ practical and CG.
A great example is the pilot. We touched almost every shot in the pilot but a viewer might watch and think it has minimal visual effects aside from the more magical shots of the snow floating up in the cabin or the house destruction shot. when the two kids are on the pier, the frozen lake behind them is a cg frozen lake – it was just snow in the background in Winnipeg on the shoot day. There was no lake. And the vane turbines you see, which are based on Simon’s art, Phil Messina’s team build one partial vane turbine and we added the piece to the top and all of the other vane turbines are full CG. It’s so beautiful.
Working on Tales from the Loop is one of the best experiences in my career. I absolutely love the team that was put together on this show. Everyone was always respectful, supportive and collaborative during the whole process especially the showrunner, Nathaniel Halpern and the producer Rafi Crohn. Also, it was a dream come true to work with Jodie Foster. Amazing to work one on one with her and see her in her element. She is one of the first female directors in Hollywood and one of the best directors out there. She’s a huge inspiration to me.