An Interview with Hayley
Interview Hayley Easton Street


In the ever-changing world of visual effects, one development has been of greater importance than most: the closing of the gap between the pen-and-ink traditions of the art department and technology-led VFX teams.

“I’m there to make sure that the production designer’s vision is carried over into visual effects.”

Hayley Easton Street, VFX art director

Overseeing that partnership is the responsibility of VFX art directors such as Hayley Easton Street, who has worked on effects-driven blockbusters including Thor: The Dark World, Edge Of Tomorrow and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Although she works with cutting-edge technology, the most crucial element of Street’s role is facilitating that relationship and ensuring visual cohesion. “Whenever the physical set build ends and digital extension begins, that’s my domain,” she says. “I’m there to make sure that the production designer’s vision is carried over into visual effects.

“Everything I do is laid out in 3D,” she continues. “I produce a lot of concept art, which may include the practical sets, and then build a basic 3D model and set up cameras to simulate whatever we’re shooting on. We can then determine how much of the set should be practical, how much should be visual effects and where we need to put the green screens. It’s all about working out the technicalities of how those visual-effects shots might be executed ahead of time.”

Translating those ideas to the VFX teams is the next stage of the process, which can take up to a year depending on the size of the project. “When visual-effects work is done, the production designer is often no longer on the project,” she says, “so I do a handover for all the visual-effects elements, from a view out of a window to a fully computer-generated shot.

I will give the VFX team a pack of information so that when they start the visual-effects shots, there’s no doubt about what should be included.” The sheer number of VFX shots in blockbuster titles such as Wrath Of The Titans, Street’s first as a VFX art director, means it is essential to have someone overseeing them from design to completion. “With all of the big films, like Star Wars and [forthcoming JK Rowling adaptation] Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the most important thing is making sure the pre-vis teams start off on the right foot, because so much work is done at that stage.”

While old-fashioned communication remains vital, tech developments have increased proficiency across the board. “When I started, you couldn’t do a course to learn visual effects; the only way was to get a job as a runner and work your way up, which I did,” she says. “Now, people expect their art department staff to have some sort of 3D or digital drawing skills.

“That shift happened quickly and brings massive benefits,” she continues.

“There are still instances where there will just be 2D drawings, but usually we’re giving VFX a 3D model, which makes the process so much more efficient. It feels like we’re all finally on the same page.”