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VFX Genius: An Interview with Nina Unlocked’s Martin Hall, part 2

Producing great visual effects that look great and excite audiences isn’t a one-man show. It requires a team that works well together. That’s a truth that sci fi VFX supervisor and Nina Unlocked director Martin Hall knows well. (If you missed part 1 of his interview, you can check it out here.)

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

Hall at work, “Armageddon” (1998)

“Visual effects is a blend of the artistic and the technical,” Hall says, “but it’s also very collaborative. This discipline is a lot more of a collaborative effort (than people may realize). It involves everyone bringing their talents to it.”

The element of teamwork is something Hall enjoys, especially on projects like Recursor’s original sci fi inspired interview series, Nina Unlocked, where the small crew and lean budget produces a driving atmosphere of start-up energy. “I like to do a little bit of everything,” he says. “And I like to get feedback from the team.”

Lana McKissak as Nina in's Nina Unlocked

Lana McKissak as Nina in Recursor’s Nina Unlocked

The team behind Nina is a blend of people Hall knows from past projects as well as new blood, something he also enjoys. He came on board through his friendship with Recursor CEO EJ Kavounas, who he knew from their college days together.

“EJ pitched the concept (of Nina Unlocked) to me,” Hall recalls. “For me, the appeal was bringing a concept on paper to visual reality, bringing the words into visual concept. We asked, what is unique about this character that is going to drive the look? How does the technology behind Nina’s construction work? What is her back story, and how does that build into her look?”

Nina Unlocked via

Nina’s specs

The character of Nina is an android created for military purposes, a concept that Hall and his team factored heavily into their visual effects work. Nina’s design came from the team’s research into existing visual effects for androids, new ideas they wanted to incorporate, real-life technology, and what is currently under development by organizations like DARPA. The results speak for themselves.

“We’d see stuff that would inspire us, but we reigned it back in to her character,” Hall explains of the process of bringing Nina to life visually. “Nina is more of a covert, subversive device, a machine that is also a synthetic person, so we built on that. It’s not a first-generation Terminator look. She doesn’t want to be a Transformer; she wants to fit in. So, she has a softer construction and more synthetic materials that are not traditional sci fi. Her parts are synthetic and clear rather than the hard, rigid, Metropolis style.”

Nina’s journey from military machine to self-aware AI in search of herself is a story concept that lends itself to intriguing possibilities. “In terms of narrative, the cool thing about Nina’s back story  and the show is that it’s unique,” says Hall. “It’s funny, which I like. It’s smart and kind of snarky, but it’s also cool, slick and futuristic. We get to play with Nina’s exposure to other people in a way that we wouldn’t get away with in a traditional interview. We can play with her naïveté.”

Guests of the show enjoy the blend of insightful questions and irreverent, playful humor and approach. It leads to interviews that can go in unexpected directions, especially since the actor portraying Nina, YouTuber Lana McKissak, is skilled in improvisation.

Nina interviewing Dr. Jamie Molaro of NASA-JPL via

Nina interviewing Dr. Jamie Molaro of NASA-JPL

“We come in with a script and ideas, a rough game plan, but some of the funniest stuff comes from McKissak’s improv,” Hall says. “We can push her to do more and suggest certain things. But the interchange between her and the interviewee will determine how the piece directs.”

Martin Hall, Nina Unlocked director,

Martin Hall

The flexible nature of improv is its own challenge, of course. but Hall doesn’t mind. “It keeps you on your toes and brings an interesting energy. It’s a challenge to work that way, but it brings life to it as well.”

Past interviewees have included director Eli Sasich, planetary scientist Jamie Molaro, Saw director Darren Bousman, and robotics engineer Bill Egan. You can view these shows and check out Nina’s AI specs over at our Nina Unlocked page.