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An Interview with Professional Artist, Mary Poplin (Part Two)

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What are your proudest achievements? Is there anything you would consider highlights of your career thus far?

I painted the matte paintings for Salazar Slytherin, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, and Godrick Griffyndor that are in the Great Hall in Hogwarts in Orlando and Los Angeles. It's a super dorky thing to be excited about, but when my friend Adam Howard called me about it I essentially yelled into the phone like an over-excited kid about painting Hogwarts matte paintings. He was trying to be secretive about the project, how I would be painting a castle and the people founding the castle. And, even though he tried not to tell me too much, I still knew exactly what he was talking about. Every time I go to Hogwarts, where I totally don't pretend to be the brightest witch of my age, I beam up at those paintings. You can't even see the detail in the dark projections, but I know it's there.

Tell us about your work for Imagineer Systems. How did you become their Product Specialist?

I love working at Imagineer Systems/Boris FX. I met their previous Product Specialist, now Product Manager, Martin Brennand, at an onsite visit he had at a studio I was working for. We hit it off like old friends, went and grabbed a beer, and he told me I should apply for the position as he was moving out of it. I did, and I was able to interview with Ross Shain, and the rest is history. Ross is a great artist himself, a former Avid demo guy, and a seriously talented editor and designer, so we had a lot in common. We are a tight crew, and the part I like best about our company is how we can all sit at a table and have a voice. We are into making the product as good as it can be, and that means listening to feedback from everyone. Since Boris FX acquired us last year, I have only gained more skilled colleagues, without losing the things I really love about Imagineer.

Being totally honest, every time I hear about a new mocha update, I look for your video presentation / tutorials. But, if I could ask, what is your favorite, and perhaps most overlooked, feature of mocha Pro?

My favorite feature of mocha Pro, and the one I think is the most overlooked, is the Grid Warp tool in the Insert Module. If you just asked yourself "what warp tool?!" try going to the insert tab and looking for the checkbox marked "mesh warp." It will change your life. Everyone thinks that the remove is the best for paint, but some things can't be removed as well as they can be patched over, especially when you factor in motion blur and organic movement. The Grid Warp tool allows you to do things like replace logos on clothes with animated spline warps that move with your track. I can't believe it isn't used more. I know there's a great mesh warper in Nuke, but I personally find this easier as it moves inside the software with my track. It's actually wonderful for puppet wire removal and replacing logos on curved surfaces, too.

Do you still do much traditional art?

I actually just got off the phone today with a guy who wants to feature one of my paintings in a publication, but not as much as I'd like, honestly. I create much more costumes and props than paintings lately. I have a hobby called LARPing that requires a lot of custom creations, and I spend more of my time and budget than I should making what are essentially "play pretend" toys for my fun and ridiculous hobby.


LARP character, Hergeir Heri; Playboy Adventurer

Any future goals? Is there anything you'd like to do that you haven't already?

My future goals involve trying to find that perfect, unattainable balance between work and life. But, I'd like to make some bigger personal projects than the scale I have been working on. I'd love to make the next Knights of Badassdom. That's a life goal. Currently, I have remodeled my garage so I can have my own work space to create fantastic beasts and monsters of all kinds. Me and my husband did the bulk of the remodel ourselves, so I can add drywalling to my skill set. That's my next big project; a creature shop. I don't know where it will go.

Is there a particular genre of film you most enjoy? Anything you'd love to work on?

I enjoy the fantasy/fairy tale genre more than anything. I want to see a Dresden Files movie with a screenplay by the original author, Jim Butcher, with James Marsters as Harry Dresden, I'd work on that movie no questions asked. Make it happen, Hollywood. Make it happen.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

With my public facing position, I have to deal with a lot of people from all walks of life and all temperaments. The best advice I have gotten has been "When someone doesn't like you, 'kill them with kindness' and don't worry about it." I have found this to be super effective. Not everyone is going to like you, not everyone is going to get along with you in every situation in your personal and professional life, the best you can do is be kind anyway. It doesn't feed the negativity, it makes you feel better, and it has the power to bring them around to your way of thinking way more than being abrasive or unkind. Better, it diffuses situations and lets you get back to what you were doing quickly and without a hassle.


Past LARP characters, the half-troll necromancer and the badly-singing bard.

Any personal projects, or future plans for short films with your film group 'Nerds Making Shit'?

"Nerds Making Shit" is on pause while some of the writers in the group decide what to do next. But, we are probably doing a horror short next. We will see. It's not a high priority for me at the moment, but I like to help out where I can with it!

Outside of work, what are your other passions? And, please do tell us about your work in Dying Kingdoms.

Dying Kingdoms is definitely a passion. It's a Live Action Role Playing game, but it's essentially Dungeons and Dragons with foam weapons instead of dice, and costumes instead of character sheets. I used to be on the board and helped with logistics and some writing, but it ate too much time. Now I have returned to the ranks of player. I currently play a gender-bent viking character named Hergeir Heri who gets into a lot of trouble a lot of the time and is a real "playboy adventurer." If someone out there is interested in LARP, I'd recommend checking out some of the local LARPs available. There's one in every city at this point. Back East, I played SOLAR when I was a kid, DK is a high fantasy game in the same genre as SOLAR. There's also NERO, Live Effects, and a whole host of other games to pick from ranging from space cowboys to elves and orcs. It just depends on your preferred genre and your lack of personal shame as to what you'd like to play. I don't have an embarrassment bone in my body, so I tend to play out there characters like bards who can't sing and half-troll necromancers.

Other passions include horseback riding and fishing, which I don't do enough of, and hosting events for my friends in the LARP community.


A wild hunt fey costume

Are there any words of advice you would give to those looking to get into post-production work?

Yes, do the work on time and well, but there's nothing more important than making connections. The best advice I can give people is to "Go get a drink with your coworkers, even if it's just coffee or tea. Even if you don't feel like it." The webbing in this industry is made entirely out of social ties and it doesn't matter that you do the job. That's the base level expected of you, just getting the work done. The part of the work that requires interfacing with humans, requires that even if you're shy, untested, anxious, or under confident is made better by you being present with your team and being a part of it. Everyone thinks I am an extrovert, but I have worked very hard at being that way. I am really an ambivert, and so are most folks. I lean towards extroversion, but I need quiet time to myself like anyone else. I understand that need. But you have to be part of the rich tapestry that is the VFX community if you want to get into it and stay in it. That doesn't mean you need to force it, make cool stuff with people you want to work with. But, make sure you also cultivate a relationship with those people, too.

If you want more advice, I have "A Distillation of Advice" on my Linkedin. Look for embarrassing typos and run-on sentences, and pick and choose what works for you from it.


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