2023 is off to a fast start over at Heckler. The new year sees globally renowned VFX & Flame artist Julian Ford join the team as VFX Supervisor. Known for his creativity, technical skills, and attention to detail, Julian brings with him a wealth of experience and an impressive portfolio having worked on projects with the likes of MYOB, TAB, Apple, Audi, Pepsi, Nike, and Harley Davidson. We sat down with Julian to discuss his motivators, market trends, VFX technology, and taking opportunities when they present.

What prompted this move and made you want to become a Heckler?

I have known founding partner Jamie for a few years now. We had been talking on and off about what makes a good VFX process and how that can empower creativity. After yet another conversation, I realised I wanted to play a role in making this vision more of a reality.


What made you want to become a Flame artist?

Honestly what got me into VFX was the first time I made a split screen video. I worked on a project at University where I was talking to myself. We managed to shoot the two scenes with different lighting setups and when we put them together you could see the line down the wall. When someone told me to soften the matte line and the scene suddenly sat together “properly” I was like “woah! This is something I can get behind!”


What was your pathway and motivators to becoming a Flame artist?

I am a rather competitive person internally. That’s not to say that I want to prove to everyone that I am the best, but rather that I can bring value to the collaboration process, resulting in an improved product.

I don’t come from an art or filmmaking background per se, I made my way into VFX by taking my one opportunity and making sure I put in the hours. I didn’t have that “eye” when I started. Initially I didn’t really understand what they were talking about when they said it! I was however very lucky to be given the opportunity to develop over time and to see how my role fits into the director’s visions and treatments.

I love it when a project has the time/space to incorporate everyone’s ideas. I am all for the most complex workflows if that is what is needed or indeed the elegantly simple solutions that allow the project to reach the finish line. 


In recent years, roles have become more or more specialised, how do you feel about collaboration in your space?

I love it! Growing up learning flame and aspiring to run a room of clients seamlessly while furiously working away behind the screen means that there are loads of things you need to be familiar with across the course of a day. I could never claim to be a specialist in any one part of the VFX pipeline but I know the right amount about a lot. This allows me to pull in specialists as I need them. Particularly with on set supervision, I know when I will need help further down the line when the project gets into Post. I make sure that I work with those people prior to shooting to make sure I bring them what they need to perform their specialist VFX roles.


What VFX trends do you see emerging in the coming year?

I think it’s already more established than a trend but shooting more and more commercials on LED arrays and an emphasis on pre-visualisation. The ability for more “in camera” shooting at volume is a welcome development. Committing to an idea and trusting in its execution is always going to yield better results.


What are the important factors for you in post-production software and which products get it right?

Being a flame artist I am always going to sing the praises of any software that allows you to trial solutions quickly and interactively. Having clients in the room and being able to talk through while showing them on screen the relative merits of an idea in as close to real time is a powerful tool to have at your disposal. For the longest time Flame has been peerless in that category.


What advice do you give aspiring Flame artists in your space or creatives wanting to transition into the VFX space?

Try to be open to new ways of thinking about how we do what we do. The privilege of working closer and closer to the top is gaining perspectives on many skill sets, the creative ideas, and the people who generated them. With this comes an understanding of how to utilise these ideas to their maximum potential. Ultimately if it looks good it is good, but you would be surprised what it does or doesn’t take to get it there sometimes.


What inspires you as a human and a creative?

It’s funny, with all the talking, negotiating, and cajoling that goes into this job, I find that I need a very quiet space away from anything too stimulating or social. Often at the end of an intense job, I will book in for a sensory deprivation session in a float tank or the like. I guess it’s a form of meditation to help declutter your mind ready for the next demanding chapter. I also love mountain biking and found that being able to get out on the mountain by yourself and choose your own adventure for a couple of hours is a wonderful way to reset for me.


Julian, Thank you for your very limited time.

No problem.