A Conversation With Cameron Waldbauer: Canadian Special Effects Supervisor and Academy Award Nominee

Photo Credit: Kimberly French

This week in British Columbia, the Province marked the official proclamation of Creative Industries Week with numerous events taking place around the province from February 27th to March 5th. The Motion Picture Production Industry Association of BC (MPPIA) is hosting their 10th anniversary edition of the MPPIA Career Expo – BC Creates Careers today and MPA-Canada was excited to get the opportunity to speak with one of the presenters prior to the Expo, Canadian Cameron Waldbauer. Cameron has had an extensive career in the film industry as a Special Effects Supervisor. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015 for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for Twentieth Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was filmed in Québec.

We spoke to Cameron about his career, how the industry has changed and the opportunities he has had to work on leading movies and television series made in Canada.

You have a very extensive list of films you’ve been involved with. How did you get into this line of work?

I began working in The Special Effects Field when I was 18. Jordan Kidston, A good friend of mine had a job at a SPFX shop in Vancouver and told me they were looking for more people and I would probably be a good fit. Now we own a successful FX service company together.

You’re from British Columbia, which is one of the top production centres in Canada right now. Does that make things more competitive for you in your line of work?

My field is competitive, but in a good way. There are only a handful of Supervisors in Vancouver that are capable of making large scale FX films and we push each other to do bigger and better things. I find there is an increasing level of cooperation among us as we realize that how each of us performs in this city reflects on the FX community as a whole. Each of our successes speaks to the quality of work you can expect while filming in this city.

You have been nominated for a couple Academy Awards for productions you worked on. Specifically, X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was filmed in Québec. What was that film like to work on?

Days of Future Past was a fun film to be involved with. It’s always exciting to combine skills with crews from other cities and I think we all did a great job and came away an amazing product that we’re all proud of.

Was it different in any way from other projects you had been involved with?

There are always a learning curve when you film in places that are foreign to you. Thankfully I had amazing help from the Québec team to get me through it. On this film the director allowed us amazing freedom to help him create new and exciting visuals. This was especially true with the Quicksilver sequence, where we would test various effects and film them in slow motion then present the best of them to be combined into the final product.

How do you feel about the opportunity to work on big budget studio films right at home and what do you feel the value is in having these productions taking place in Canada?

I have had the opportunity to work in various places around the world and with various crews. Having worked with the various crews I believe that our local crews are among the best in the world. Being able to work at home on major motion pictures seems to be a luxury these days. Most of my friends in the industry outside Vancouver spend a great deal of time away from home. I consider myself lucky to spend the majority my career working an hour from my house.

There is a huge value both economically and developmentally to the country. These films obviously spend a great deal of money while they film here. We also push a lot of technological boundaries when we film these large scale movies. This in turn results in a substantial amount of research and training that needs to be done by the technicians in order to make this happen. These new technologies can then be applied to the lower budget productions and the whole community benefits from the things that are learned on the big budget films.

What is the process you go through when you first take on a new project?

The first thing is to read the script and understand the scale of the project. Once you have that and have had initial budget conversations you assemble a crew that best fits the skill sets needed for the script. Then the testing begins until you can present ideas for each gag to the director. Once he signs off on them you polish the idea into a finished gag and wait for the day we film it.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been nominated for an Academy Award?

It was amazing! To have your work included in that small group is very satisfying. The nominations are only voted on by Visual Effects branch members of the Academy which means that the best Visual Effects technicians in the world were impressed with what you were able to create. That in itself is very rewarding.

Last year we profiled a fellow British Columbia native and colleague of yours – Joel Whist – in a project called “I Make Movies”. You are both obviously very skilled at what you do. Do you lean on your colleagues when working on large scale productions or turn to each other for advice / ideas?

Absolutely. Each of us have knowledge and skills that have grown over the years. If Joel has done something in the past that is similar to something I need to do on a film I call him up and ask how he did it, and more importantly what he would do differently to make it better. Learning from each other is one of the ways that we have grown so quickly.

How much has the visual and special effects industry changed since you first got into it?

It is substantially different now than when I started. It seems there used to be a feeling of Visual Effects vs Special Effects on some films. Nowadays it is a very collaborative process. Each of the departments have gained amazing technologies in the past few decades. We can both do things that you couldn’t have dreamed of doing back when I started.