Behind the Title: OutpostVFX Founder Duncan McWilliam

Posted on 23.01.2017 in VFX

Name: Duncan McWilliam

Company: UK-based OutpostVFX

Can you describe your company: We are a high-end visual effects company with a diverse portfolio across film, broadcast, advertising and VR. Each discipline compliments the other, so we feel it is hugely beneficial to apply our VFX skills to any type of project requiring them.

We are also something of a disrupter. I chose to base our studio in Bournemouth, UK, and not in Soho. We work closely with Bournemouth University, which has a great visual effects program, mentoring and employing graduates. Also by moving out of London we can be more competitive on overhead, which in an industry like ours also seemed the sensible thing to do.

What's your job title Founder and CEO

What does that entail? A lot! Having been a VFX supervisor at MPC I still keep a keen eye on our creative output and ensure the company’s work is creative in bias rather than a run by numbers. On the flip side I spend a lot of time in front of spreadsheets with the likes of PWC to ensure that we are growing in the right direction.

I travel to London and LA a lot to develop relationships and let our clients know that although we are out of town, we are really just next door. In parallel, I have to ensure that each and every employee knows that I am available to chat about anything they need and that I have a vested interest in their career and their happiness. I am still trying to perfect the balancing act between providing world-class visual effects whilst keeping both clients and employees happy and loyal!

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title? Probably the diversity of unseen tasks and roles required to run a company well. I have been executive producer on two films — In the Deep (Weinstein Company) and Under the Shadow (Netflix) due to my involvement in film financing from a VFX standpoint. I’ve been on stage presenting films at Sundance and in grading theatres presenting work to Tom Ford. At the same time I’m deciding on how to best implement GPU rendering technology and oversee the creation of our internal pipeline code. There’s not a square inch of the company I don’t know about, and that’s something I think gives our clients the confidence that whatever happens, their project is in good hands.

What's your favorite part of the job? Without a doubt seeing my team produce incredible work, whether it is a beautiful shot, a more efficient pipeline or a well-managed production. Each employee fulfilling their potential to continually impress our clients is a beautiful thing.

What's your least favorite That is a tougher question. I think it’s when we put a lot of effort into a pitch and prove our skills and value but the client goes with a big name instead — this leaves me with a sense of frustration. I would like everyone to understand how a nimble and hungry young company can outstrip the leviathans. That’s a battle we will continue to fight!

What is your favorite time of the day? Early morning. After 9am the day gets crazy. I once read that one hour in the morning is worth three in the evening, and I’d tend to agree.

If you didn't have this job, what would you be doing instead? Since I stopped actually creating shots in 3D I am definitely missing the satisfaction of making things. So I’d probably buy an old boat and restore it to its former glory. That or train for a round-the-world yacht race. Clearly neither would give me an income, so I’d also be homeless.

How early on did you know this would be your path? I studied mechanical engineering before the fluid dynamics equations got out of hand. So I switched to an animation course and immediately knew that it provided me with both the creative and technical challenge that I was after. Also no one would die if I got the math wrong, which seemed kinda important. I haven’t looked back since. This stuff might be hard work with insane hours but it’s potentially the best job in the world.

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on? I can, with pride! The latest Jason Bourne film, Nocturnal Animals and In the Deep.

What is the project that you are most proud of? I would say In the Deep. It was 426 shots, many of which were full CG, completed in 16 weeks, and we didn’t get picture lock until week 14. It was an insane and momentous task, which everyone thought to be impossible. We nailed every shot, and the team proved themselves to be the best I’d ever worked with in over 15 years in the business.

Name three pieces of technology you can't live without. GPU rendering (it’s mental and hardly anyone seems to know about it!). My S6 phone — I pretty much run the business using it despite its cracked screen. My e-cig; smoking without the cancer, ace.

What social media channels do you follow? I was brought up not to be boastful (although this article does demand a certain amount of boasting, so maybe I am a hypocrite) so I’m not that keen on telling the world how great everything I do is. I think if social media also listed the bad days then I would warm to it more. It looks like everyone else is a beautiful millionaire, though so that’s nice for them.

Do you listen to music while you work? I’m a massive Studio One fan, so pretty much anything reggae-based puts me in a happy place. Not all my colleagues agree though, so it’s been toned down in recent years.

What do you do to de-stress from it all? I live in Bournemouth! London’s a pretty highly strung environment, but in relocating here we now have the calming influence of the sea. Just to look at it takes the stress levels down and, of course, doing anything on it is bliss. So sailing with the kids and blasting around in boats keeps me on an even keel.

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