Wed, 01 Feb 2023 15:21:26 GMT
Back in 1986, Stephen Pepper spent a day watching the artist Charlie Whisker in Windmill Lane, Dublin. Fast forward to 2023 and Stephen arrives back at Windmill with a career and filmography that would be the envy of most in the media sector. Working across Film, TV and Commercials and having lived in Canada, USA, the Netherlands and Ireland – Stephen has perfected his craft and is keen to put his stamp on Ireland’s longest running Post Production house. Windmill Lane sat down with Stephen to discuss his career so far.
I was keen to find out how Stephen became interested in VFX in the first place.
“I was 16 when my Dad (who worked in advertising) got me a gig shadowing Charlie Whisker in Windmill Lane working on a Bosch FGS-4000. It was for a music video by Steve Winwood (Valerie). He was basically painting frame by frame and animating paint strokes around characters on the plates. I thought this was awesome.” [laughs]. The following year, having just finished my Leaving Cert and having a potential placement in college, I spent the early summer creating some portfolio work on my Commodore Amiga with Deluxe Paint. It got me a job at Agtel Communications (which would become Picture Company in 1990 and later Piranha Bar).”
As you can tell – Stephen took a shining to creative software from day one and was surprised with how quickly his professional life evolved from that formative summer.
“By the end of that summer I had the option to go to college but loved what I was doing and was earning money so decided to dedicate myself to the role. For the first few years it was mostly TV graphics and commercials at Agtel. Initially we worked on Quanta Paint hardware but then moved to Apple hardware, running photoshop. And then we purchased the Quantel Hal.”
After moving to Vancouver Canada, and meeting his wife, Stephen formed The Embassy with a group of VFX professionals he had worked with before; Neill Blomkamp, Winston Helgason, Simon van de Lagemaat, James Hebb & Trevor Cawood. They started off doing commercials and some episodic work, and the launchpad for the business was in 2005 having worked on Citroen’s C4 campaign ‘Alive with technology’.
“That ad put us on the map and from that ad – we got the call to work on Ironman which was a game changer. We worked on the entire cave sequence where Tony Stark is building the suit to escape captivity. It was our first feature. The closest thing we had done prior to working with Marvel was Stargate sequences. But we learned pretty fast which is always the best way I feel.”
All of a sudden Stephen and his colleagues were the talk of every major studio across North America. So much so that it wasn’t long until District 9 was greenlit in production. District 9 became a global phenomenon earning over $215 million against a $30 million budget and blending (some may argue) VFX and social realism together for the first time. This was a fascinating and experimental period for Stephen and his colleagues. Stephen explains:
“It was great. The film was mostly shot on RED cameras but they were at the very early stages of their development. The film was also shot on Sony prosumer cameras and it was a multitude of different formats and quality. For example one issue with digital cameras at that time was that any large horizontal movement would result in rolling shutter artifacts – which made compositing tougher. But it was a really creative experience and time.”
District 9, 2009
In late 2013 Stephen made the leap to Amsterdam, Netherlands where he lived for 9 years. Here he worked for the world renowned Ambassadors – a creative production studio founded in 2007 with studios in Amsterdam and New York. Stephen notes that one highlight of this period was when he was asked to judge ‘Film Craft’ at Cannes LIONS in 2015.
In 2019 Creativepool decided to lean on Stephens expertise and insight by asking him to be a post-production judge at their Annuals. It’s fair to say that The Tens was a period of acclaim and reward for a career dedicated to craft and learning. Since shadowing Charlie Whisker aged 16 Stephen’s inquisitive nature means he is always learning – a key trait for someone working in VFX where change and evolution happens daily. This admiration is shared by John Kennedy – head of VFX at Windmill Lane – who shared his joy at bringing Stephen onboard;
“It’s fantastic to have someone of Stephens calibre, reputation and experience join our team. His work across film and advertising speaks for itself. He brings with him the reassurance of great creative leadership that’s going to be of immense value to our crew and growing client base.”
District 9, 2009
Throughout our conversation there is a constant emphasis on learning. From Stephen’s desire to shadow artists at the age of 16, his willingness to adapt to emerging hardware & tech, the bravery to take on major Hollywood productions with modest experience – it appears this is a key trait of his. What would he advise to the next generation of talent who wish to work in the industry?
“My advice is to throw yourself into the deep end and figure it out as you go along. When I graduated from secondary school there were not many courses available in Dublin so if you need that base – great. But practise makes perfect.”view more - Hires, Wins & BusinessWindmill Lane, Wed, 01 Feb 2023 15:21:26 GMT