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VFX Genius: An Interview with Nina Unlocked’s Martin Hall, part 1

When we say Armageddon, you say… Asteroids, of course! It’s impossible not to think of that movie, and so many others, without remembering the impressive visual design work that drives them. And it’s skilled, creative professionals like VFX supervisor and director Martin Hall, who currently directs Recursor’s Nina Unlocked sci fi series, who make it all possible for filmgoers to enjoy.

Martin Hall, Nina Unlocked director, Recursor.tv

Martin Hall

Visual effects teams are vital to today’s big blockbuster sci fi and action films, and Hall has been a part of the ride since the 1990s. “I’ve always been artistic and creative, drawn to that realm,” says Hall. “And I’ve been doing this a while now.”

That’s an understatement. Hall’s IMDB profile includes blockbuster successes like X-Men, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Bourne Identity, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Serenity, The Amazing Spider-Man and many others, including Armageddon and its famous big-screen asteroid.

American Horror Story twins, credit: 20th C. Fox TV, Recursor.tv

American Horror Story twins, credit: 20th C. Fox TV

One of Hall’s most memorable achievements is his work on the Emmy award-winning American Horror Story: Freak Show. Hall helped bring to life the two-headed conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler, no easy task. All of the technical VFX aspects had to blend with actor Sarah Paulson’s dual performance to bring to life the characters’ two different personalities.

“It was a very interesting technical and acting performance,” says Hall. “We were under the gun, on a time table. It was ridiculously challenging taking two performances by one actor, and helping them become one character. There was an incredible level of nuances, both technical and performance-wise, including body performance.” Paulson’s performance won awards from Fangoria, Critics’ Choice, and Satellite.

Like many VFX artists, Hall credits Star Wars as a huge influence on his choice of career. So, naturally, he has plenty to say about Rogue One and indie filmmaker turned Hollywood blockbuster director Gareth Edwards.

“It’s a Horatio Alger story, really,” he says. “His indie film, Monsters, uses just enough VFX to tell the story. You get the feeling Edwards had just enough money to make it all work. I’ve heard that he was blown away when they asked him to direct Godzilla and almost told himself it was too big. It’s a pretty astronomical leap.”

Martin Hall, Lighting miniature planet-killer asteroid, "Armageddon" (1998), Recursor.tv

Lighting miniature planet-killer asteroid, “Armageddon” (1998)

The lesson for filmmakers? “You’ve got to jump in when you’ve got the opportunity,” Hall says. “I think all the stuff you try to do as an indie filmmaker — the prep work, the planning — pays off.” It translates to future projects. In Edwards’ case, Hall says it makes sense that he would direct a film like Rogue One.

Rogue One works in a very similar way to Edwards’ past work. It’s a very organic story, more gritty and less sexy, perfect and cool. What Edwards brought into his other projects fits here. It hearkens back to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s also rough and tumble, a war movie, a lot like what Edwards did with Monsters. That’s why it’s that guy.”

Edwards’ ascension from indie to Hollywood is something all filmmakers can look to as inspiration. The good news, says Hall, is that it’s possible to do a lot with creativity and the current technology.

“As an up and coming filmmaker, the struggle is what is the story you want to tell and what is different and new,” Hall explains. “A bigger budget project may mean you are less daring than you’d want to be, which can be counterintuitive to creativity. But today’s filmmaking tools now allow us to tell a story without huge funding. It’s an interesting time.”

Next week, Martin Hall shares more about his turn as director for Recursor’s original interview series, Nina Unlocked, creating the character’s signature appearance, and taking on Nina’s irreverent style in part 2 of this interview.

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