The Renfield interview with VFX Supervisor Andy Byrne directly inspired an entire series about the incredibly diverse spectrum of practical and CG blood styles. Read the companion piece “What’s your blood type? A lesson in the stylistic spectrum of movie gore” here.
CNN’s Renfield review: “’Renfield’ sinks its teeth into gore at the expense of its Dracula satire”.
The Boston Herald’s Renfield review: “Tepid spoof ‘Renfield’ big on violence & gore”
Renfield VFX Supervisor Andy Byrne: “Yeah, this is probably one of the funnest movies I’ve worked on.”
Um…this is a film about a centuries-old bloodsucking neck fiend. Critics, did you not expect blood?
For those who are here for the blood, we talked with one of the best at doing it. VFX Supervisor Andy Byrne of Crafty Apes has been making movies look awesome since pre-Youtube days, and has applied his 3D and particle effects mastery to projects like Stranger Things, Creed III, and Where the Crawdads Sing.
Renfield VFX Supervisor Andy Byrne
We talked with Andy about his experience on Renfield, reflections on everything from mental health to technique, and yes – about a film that wanted Red Sea levels of blood.
On the excitement of learning he was working on Renfield, a movie with one of his favorite actors of all time:
Even when I heard we were getting it, I was like, “What a dream movie”. Because my whole background is effects simulations, and I love Nicolas Cage, and it being like a comedy-horror movie – him as Dracula – hell yeah, this is gonna be amazing. Yeah, this is probably one of the funnest movies I’ve worked on.
On his love for Nicolas Cage:
Even some co-workers I have, before this movie came through, I got a package and it’s a pillow of Nic Cage’s face.
On decompressing between jobs and incorporating self-care into work:
When you finish out a project, it’s kind of like an unspoken thing, like, “Alright, no one bug that team for a while – for a week or two – let ‘em get their bearings back and chill out a bit”. Maybe go for a run again, start working out again or something, you know?
On the timeline and volume of shots for Renfield:
I think we started in June or July of last year (2022), last summer…We started with – I think it was a hundred and eighty shots, and we ended with just over 300.
On doing the quality of work that prompts a production to invite you back for more:
They just kept coming to us (Crafty Apes) – everyone’s been so busy – it’s like, “Hey man, we’ll take it on.” So yeah, we took on almost an extra hundred shots and got it out.
On Crafty Apes growing a presence in Oregon:
I think there’s about eight of us now in Oregon. We’ve been up here about five years and a couple other people have moved up here in the last couple of years, either just leaving L.A. or wanting to do something different.
On stepping aboard Renfield as a VFX Supervisor and how he executed:
Every supervisor kind of has a different style. I like to be very organized, especially on a project like this to where I might care about it a little bit more because it’s Nic Cage and there’s a bunch of effects stuff. So, it’s kind of talking to your managers that might run the land location, so I’ll say, “Hey, we’re gonna need this, (and) this” as far as people – so we’re gonna need a CG Supervisor who manages if we have to make a digi-double of somebody, one of the actors, if we have to make a certain object, an asset that explodes, or something that’s not there like a CG car or something.
So it’s just kind of going down the list of looking at the work that you bid and got rewarded and just kinda building your team. It’s kind of like fantasy football in a way (laughing). You just kinda pick your team. That all goes along with what other jobs we have, are these people on that job, because you don’t want to overwork people. Okay, that one’s ending in a month, so that means we can grab these people, then they’ll be on Renfield, etc.
He continued on the aspect of preparation:
Usually, the client kind of gives you dates for temps. “We wanna see a version of these shots first versus all these other ones – these ones can wait for a couple months”. That’s basically the starting ground and as a VFX Supervisor, you’re kind of just managing internally, making sure things are going smoothly, and people have what they need to keep working.
On what it was like working with the creative team behind Renfield:
I really enjoyed working with them. Jamie Price (Second Unit Director James E. Price) is a pretty well-known VFX Supervisor, he’s done some pretty kick-ass projects – he was awesome. He definitely gave us the freedom to kind of make things as gross as we wanted to.
As an effects guy background, some of the projects I’ve worked on, you first get this task and, say this movie like San Andreas – typical Roland Emmerich end-of-the-world kind of movie with The Rock in it – all this buildings crumbling and everything, you think, “Finally, I get to work on something that’s just gonna be chaos.” After maybe the tenth version, you get so whittled down by clients or the director or maybe they need to keep it under a Rated R/PG-13…
This was a project where it was like, “No, we want more.”
On the early discussions around what kind of blood and effects were needed:
Starting any project, more film than episodics like Shadow and Bone – it’s so fast – from the starting line it’s off to the races, get going on it. But film, you usually have a little bit of ramp-up time to kinda – you have to build these assets that you’re gonna be animating or blowing up or whatever.
So as the CG team was prepping all their stuff, I just took the time to just start making arbitrary tests and renders of blood and – working on things like Walking Dead and stuff in the past, you hear “blood” and you just think, “Yeah, blood – it looks like blood.” But man, there is such specific blood that people want all the time.
This quote directly influenced the birth of the WFIIP companion piece deep dive into blood types:
I’m trying to remember, like Walking Dead wanted more like blacky black-type goop-looking blood. Then you think of like Kill Bill, and it’s more like spray. So it’s all over the board. You’d be amazed at how many different blood types there are.
On the creative satisfaction of retaining the early over-the-top “blood and guts” shots into the final cut:
It was kind of a little bit of luck there of just – I think after the second or third version, they’re like “Yeah, this looks awesome – let’s start putting it in the shots.” It’s also kind of the same blood stuff I was doing for Zombieland 2 that we worked on a handful of years ago. If I’m remembering correctly, I think that’s kind of why our name came up for Renfield, because people saw what we did on Zombieland 2 and said, “Hey, that looks great, so let’s see what these guys can do for Renfield”.
He described the nature of making sure blood splatter was where it needed to be for continuity. And of course, if you don’t have continuity, you will hear it from those that live on the internet:
Whether it’s continuity for various other shots – something blows up and is on fire in this shot, and then five shots later we come back and there’s no fire, well obviously we need to put something there because continuity, and all the nerds on Reddit will be like, “He was wearing a red shoe and now it’s a blue shoe.” Or what was it, Game of Thrones with the Starbucks cup?
On the most challenging aspect of the Renfield VFX:
As far as effects shots, I think we had about 70, where that requires simulation or various things – where it’s dust, a bullet hits, or blood or guts, and I sought out when we started to be like – I’m gonna pick and choose – I’ll do like, six shots. I ended up having so much fun on them that I just kind of decided to do a lot of them. I just kind of work that way – I kind of do it to myself where I just kind of load myself up with more than I need to. The hardest part was managing all of it, myself and also having to do the VFX Supe responsibilities, so there was a lot of late nights, but I just kind of looked at it – this is some of the most fun shots I’ve worked on in my career, so I wanna do ‘em.
On the creative freedom to try anything, including extreme gore:
That’s pretty damn rare. And that’s what was really cool. Even Jamie Price, the client supe over there, he has a really good relationship with Mckay (Chris Mckay), the director, and there would be shots where they were kind of getting close to being approved early on, sooner than expected, so we kinda had room for me to say like, “Hey, well what do you think if I add this in here on top of it.” He’s like, “Yeah, go for it – let’s see what it looks like.”
As long as we had the kind of bandwidth or budget to keep adding to it, they totally gave us that opportunity. A lot of times, it ended up being the final thing, so it was really cool.
On the most creatively fulfilling VFX shot in Renfield:
So I have a pretty extensive background in CG and 3D in general and there was one shot where – just a little bit of destruction, like on-set destruction where people are getting thrown into things – and if you have to do something, blowing up or adding dust to it, you have to take a 3D model, say as a coffee table or something, right? And it’s reacting to an actor falling on it, so what we have to do is tracking or called “match moving”. So you have to take a model of it and animate it so you have something in 3D space to do dust and all that stuff.
At the time, I think we had to do a temp trailer in the fall. At the time, our trackers were really busy. I was like, “Oh, I know how to track.” I just wanna get this kind of done, so I did tracking, CG rendering, did all the effects.
On the one aspect of VFX he doesn’t do…
Compositing, which is kind of integration into the footage and everything, I don’t do that (laughing). That’s where I hand it off and let those guys make it look good. You can make something look great in 3D, but you always need a good compositor that sandwiches it all together and integrates it to make it look like it’s actually real.
What kind of advice might you have for an aspiring filmmaker who wants to get into VFX?
As far as 3D, it’s not an answer anybody wants to hear but, learn everything as best as you can. Starting out, I learned tracking – kind of what I was just talking about, match moving – and that’s generally how it goes. Most people that are CG supervisors or senior supervisor level, they usually started out in tracking/match moving. There’s a select few people that are very good at it and make it their career, and those are special people that really love it.
Tracking, modeling, texturing – all that stuff – animation’s also another beast, I think you kind of know right away if you wanna do animation or not. Also, their job is extremely difficult, for me and a lot of people, at least. But those guys that are actually animators, they kill it. They’re amazing at it. They’re there with their mirrors and acting out poses and stuff.
I would start there – animation, modeling, tracking – as soon as you get your bearings on that, you’re off to the races where you can create things.
And his love of working in effects:
The other one obviously is effects. If you are good at effects, you will always be employed. If you are fast and efficient, everyone is always looking for effects people…I’m biased, of course, but I love effects. It’s usually what everyone talks about when they see a movie, right? When they see like, Avatar, right? They’re not talking about all the mo-cap stuff, they’re talking about, “Look at that water – that water was CG water?”
Look for Andy Byrne’s bloodwork, effects magic, and generally awesome artistry in Renfield, which is now theatrically playing nationwide.