Creating invisible effects on shows like This is Us and Modern Family, teaching the next gen, and using Sapphire, Continuum, and Mocha Pro.
Ask the Artist: Am Villaindra, Flame Artist
4 minute read
Why she turns to Sapphire to add photoreal looks on compositing projects for the likes of Nestle, Google, and Apple — and the power of never giving up.
Am Villaindra, whose full name is Dayang Amnah bte Abang Ahmad, is a visual effects artist with over fifteen years compositing on projects for top brands including Nestle, Google, and Apple. She works mainly inside Autodesk Flame and Sapphire.
Where are you from and how did you get your start in the industry?
I’m originally from Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. After getting my Bachelor of Multimedia (Hons) in Film and Animation from MMU University, I embarked on a visual effects journey as a rotoscoping artist in a post-production house called MFX in Kuala Lumpur in 2005. This was my first exposure to the visual effects world. Soon in 2007, I started training and working on Autodesk Flame at another post-production facility called Asia Pacific Videolab (also in Kuala Lumpur). And the rest is history.
What are your go-to Boris FX tools, and which effect/features do you rely on most?
Boris FX Sapphire is my all-time favourite. It is the plugin I rely on the most in all my projects from S_RackDefocus to S_LensFlare. Sapphire is always on the top. It has the most stunning organic looks, sophistication, and elegance. It has by far the best lens flare in terms of visuals and parameters. The plugin is super easy to control and achieve the desired look in the least time possible.
What project are you most proud of and why?
I am proud of all the jobs that I’ve done because, as you know in the TVC line, time is very crucial. There has never been a dull moment — delivering material with super tight deadlines, listening to your clients, and tackling various challenges along the way. It has really helped me develop both professionally and personally.
How do you prep before a big project?
There’s a lot of research and references involved before the initial online session to get the desired look and feel right. Communication skills are also important when working closely with the director to get the correct information across. Aside from prepping references, I also prep on execution technique. A number of tests will be conducted to get the best result to achieve the specific look needed with the limited timeframe provided.
What’s a keyboard shortcut you can’t live without?
I’m a very hotkey-driven artist. So all the Autodesk Flame keyboard shortcut keys are very important to me. `( tilde) key in Autodesk Flame would probably be the one I can’t live without.
How do you keep yourself fueled/your favorite snack when you’re in an epic session?
Most online sessions are epic sessions, especially when clients and directors are sitting in making multiple changes on the spot. Nescafe Original coffee and Skittles will keep me fueled. Loads and loads of Skittles.
Where do you turn for creative inspiration?
I watch a lot of TV series, movies, music videos, and TV commercials from all over the world for creative inspiration. YouTube is my best friend. Keeping updated with the latest visual effects and technology is very crucial in this line of work. Watching “behind the scenes” is also super fun too. It is very important to be open to new creative ideas, references, and execution techniques.
What do you do when you start feeling creative burnout?
I turn to music when I start feeling a creative burnout. My playlist consists of Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Mostly classic rock. Recently I started to listen to some Kpop as well just to keep up with the latest in the music industry.
What’s your favorite film and/or TV series?
My favourite genre is sci-fi and fantasy from Star Wars all the way to Battlestar Galactica. I studied film in school and as a movie-goer, there’s a long list of my favourite films. You can never go wrong with classics such as Citizen Kane and Vertigo. But, at the end of the day, I always seem to go back to Star Wars. Star Wars is one of those films that influenced me to become an online artist from a very young age. My favourite directors are Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, so any films by them will always be at the top of my list as well.
As for TV series, I watch everything under the sun from Hollywood, The Mandalorian to Raised by Wolves to American Horror Story. Spain’s Money Heist and Germany’s Dark are good too. I recently started to watch Kdramas as well. You can basically name any TV series, I most probably have seen it. Like Director Bong Joon-ho said, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
If you could collaborate with any artist living or dead, who would it be and why?
Quentin Tarantino, Zack Snyder, and Guillermo del Toro because I would like to learn and experience these brilliant minds in filmmaking. Experiencing their process of translating what’s in their mind — from visual concept to storyboard to the shoot to the edit — the whole process. That would be amazing!
What career and/or life advice would you give your younger self?
It is tough to be in an industry that is dominated by men. Advice to my younger self is to never give up. Criticism is inevitable, it’ll only make you stronger so just be yourself and don’t let people change who you are. You can attend epic online sessions, working nonstop for days with full makeup on, and still get the work done.