Randy McEntee is an award-winning Flame artist, VFX Supervisor, and founder of The Department of External Services in Chicago, IL. During the day, he helps directors, companies, agencies, and visual effects studios with invisible retouching of people, places, and things. He has collaborated with directors Jon Favreau, Spike Jonze, Harold Einstein, and many more, and his clients include Allstate, Apple, BMW, Coca-Cola, Disney, Google, and Wieden & Kennedy, to name a few. At night he builds community, content, contests, and career tools for Flame artists at Logik.tv.
Where are you from? How did you get your start in the industry?
Originally from Ohio, I convinced my high school principal to let me skip class to teach myself editing and start a weekly news show. During the summer, I made training and marketing videos for marching bands and fire departments. I loved video and editing but, for some reason, never considered it to be a career option In college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but ended up flunking chemistry and instead switched to philosophy and medical ethics. I had a few minorly successful careers in recruitment, web design, and food service when I should have been going to class. Hungry for adventure, I left school a second time and moved to Chicago, where I was cooking full-time in professional fine dining kitchens and even had a short stint as a personal and private chef for the toilet king of Chicago. Not joking.
After cramming four years of school into eight and a chance encounter with a professor/commercial editor, a video editing class rekindled my love of moving pictures. My college professor did her best to introduce me around town, but I was a terrible editor. The only thing I had on my reel was a few trailers I cut from ripped DVDs. I finally found my shot at a small design and edit shop that primarily worked in political advertising. I think they only hired me because the guy I replaced complained about working too many hours and wanted to be a director. It was a dream job coming from cooking professionally. I was there for a few months but was let go after all of our candidates got trounced in November. Desperate for work, I had heard of this tool called Flame but had never seen one in person. So I made a list of all the post houses in Chicago that had Flame, applied, and then took turns waiting outside all of them so I could run into the hiring authorities. A month later, I got my first gig as a Flame assistant.
What Boris FX tools do you use? Which effects/features do you rely on most?
I use Mocha Pro on almost every shot. I don’t know what secret sauce ya got yourselves under that bun of yours, but the planar tracking is legendary. Oh, and the occlusions? I don’t know how it’s so good, but 99 times out of 100, I can set up a couple of splines, hit track, and do something else for a few seconds, come back to it, and it’s perfect. Export that shape into Flame’s Gmask Tracer and Fran’s your Nan.
I work on a ridiculous amount of user-generated footage. For example, in Google’s The Year in Search (2021), almost every scene had some sort of major removal of tattoos, hats, facemasks, clothing, streets, cars, airplanes, and billboards. Even crummy phone compression and overly aggressive skin filters can destroy skin detail, making people feel otherworldly, so I used Mocha Pro's Powermesh to rebuild and add skin detail and texture, so they felt human again.
Since almost everything I do is about hiding my involvement, I use a metric ton of Sapphire S_Glows and S_EdgeBlur. Ooh! S_TVDamage and S_FilmDamage are amazing at degrading tracked patches and selling time travel. For the Uber Eat’s Wayne’s World Super Bowl campaign, we auditioned dozens of 90’s public access analog video looks with the agency, largely based on the presets.
What project are you most proud of — and why?
A very good friend of mine once told me that you can typically only expect a great shot, a great spot, or a great relationship with any given project. The work itself isn’t necessarily the barometer with which I measure success. It’s relationships. Sure it’s rewarding to see your work on TV, on the big screen, and in between swipes on my phone. But that work isn’t my purpose. Nobody is gonna care about 99% of the work I do in 5 years. It has such a disposable shelf life. Aside from the client relationships, what’s truly lasting is the community of Flame artists I’m building. Those connections for me are timeless, a worthy legacy of which I am most proud.
How do you prep before a big project?
Besides making sure I’m running the latest versions of Sapphire and Mocha, there’s a ton of tech stuff that needs to be sorted. A lot of my clients have particular security protocols. I’m always making sure that physical and network security is on point. I also spend as much time researching whom I’ll be working with and making sure I know who’s who. Occasionally I’ll be in the loop more as I’ll be on set, so working with the director to understand her vision is paramount. On the agency side, it’s critical to understand what defines success for them and their clients as well. And, of course, if the visual effects team can’t keep their promises, well, it gets ugly for everyone. That’s the uniqueness of my world, where you have brands, agencies, production companies, and visual effects studios, all wanting more for less and faster than last time.
What's a keyboard shortcut you can't live without?
All of the Smoke hotkeys are the best hotkeys.
How do you keep yourself fueled/your favorite snack when you're in an epic session?
I’ve found that working on a lighter stomach really helps me remain focused and work quickly. Hungry tigers hunt best, right?
Where do you turn for artistic inspiration?
Ha! There’s a rather heated discussion happening in my professional circle where some of us aren’t convinced that what we do is actually an art. I don’t have any training in art. I can’t draw. I don’t paint. I can’t sculpt. Heck, I can barely even tell a dad joke. Remember that rather dedicated Terminator, the T-1000, that creepy cop one, ya know, the shapeshifting assassin one? I’m probably more like him than any artist I know.
At a molecular level, he’s a doer. A grinder. A chaser. He has a singular goal or purpose or telos. Does HE need inspiration? I don’t think so. And that’s how it feels to be a Flame artist for me. 300 days a year, I am served a problem that I need to solve before I get to go to bed. So for me, it is far less about being inspired and far more about knowing all the tools out there that might get me to bed at a reasonable hour. So I suppose it’s more about learning for me. I’m constantly on our Logik.tv forums, lurking and trying to absorb my community’s collective wisdom. Whether it’s learning just enough about a new machine learning tool or knowing there’s some random new issue facing my comrades. Sometimes that awareness is all it takes to be clever enough to ask a silly question that makes a project possible.
What do you do when you start feeling creative burnout?
When I’m out of gas, I look for something new. It could be a video game, a restaurant, a film, a book, a podcast…anything to help me see something new or think about something differently.
What's your favorite film and/or TV series?
I’m addicted to Chef’s Table. While the photography and food are unbelievable, the vulnerability of each chef’s story is truly compelling and restorative. Seeing their perspective and challenges is invigorating.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Harold Einstein. He’s a genius commercial director with a heart of gold. He does the silliest stuff, and on set, he’s always muttering to himself, “this is so stupid,” but in a good way. He’s so self-aware and comfortable with this ridiculous little piece of the world we all live in. He’s a gem of a human.
I’ve also always wanted to work on one of the old Top Gear episodes. (Ya know, the ones before that guy said they thing about that place?) The early ones were so elegant, crafty, and full of eye candy. I suppose I’d need a time machine, then. That’s a Boris FX plugin, right?
What career and/or life advice would you give your younger self?
Work less. Go outside more. Eat more vegetables. Travel more. Drink more water.
And when in doubt, blur it out.