Q&A with Grainne Dooley - VFX supervisor

Grainne Dooley, VFX Supervisor, began her career with a pact that brought her from her Irish homeland to New Zealand to learn the art of filmmaking. Now, 18 years later, she has earned credits on high-profile and indie productions, including “Foundation,” “The Old Guard,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Vikings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and numerous others.

We spoke with Dooley about her use of Setellite and the challenges of collecting and managing onset VFX data in an organized and effective way.

S: Where are you based?

GD: I’m currently based in southeast Ireland, though I’m technically a hobo living out of suitcases following each production.

S: You got your start in filmmaking in New Zealand. How did that come about?

GD: Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” films put New Zealand on the map as a filmmaking center. I was interested in gaining experience in the camera dept and knew I needed to leave Ireland as the film industry was very small at the time. So, I booked a one-way ticket and told myself I wouldn’t come home until then.

S: How long have you been working in the visual effects industry? And how would you best describe your role as a VFX Set Supervisor?

GD: I’ve been working in various aspects of the visual effects industry on-set for nine years.

Earlier in my career when I first arrived in New Zealand, I was fortunate to have met a number of lighting/camera crew. I got to shadow a gaffer, Andy Rennie, observing how commercials are shot, which led to a craft services position on “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Moving to Australia, I visited Panavision in Sydney, where I learned how to load film from Peter Stott, an accomplished focus puller, who gave me my first camera loader job. Following, I returned to Ireland and held various camera and video assist jobs.

I studied animatio in college and have always loved the art of cinematography and how light interacts within its environment and can be manipulated to create emotion in the viewer. I was looking for a change and an opportunity came up on “Vikings” Season 1 to train as a VFX data wrangler. I had admired the VFX crews on the other jobs I had been on, so this was a dream come true! I’ve been honing my skills ever since.

As a VFX Supervisor, I support the director’s vision of how they want to do a VFX shot but guide them so it can be technically achieved in post-production in the best possible way.

S: How did you first hear about Setellite. When did you first start using it?

GD: I first heard about Setellite from Dave Jones, the Lead Data Wrangler/Set Supervisor on the Netflix film, “The Old Guard”. He decided to give it a go. I loved it and have continued using it.

S: You’ve worked on many memorable high-end film and television productions, including “Foundation” and the upcoming films “Disenchanted,” “Starve Acre,” “Evil Dead Rise,” and “The Banshees of Irisherin.” What are the biggest challenges you face in managing on-set VFX data? How does a tool like Setellite help to meet them?

GD: One of the biggest challenges on-set is staying focused and not panicking when cameras split up and shoot quickly. This means you must keep on top of what’s happening, which requires you to be quick and efficient and have a database you can trust and rely on. One of the best features in Setellite is keeping track of what your colleagues are doing, especially when there are multiple wranglers on-set.

S: At what point in production do you bring Setellite into your VFX workflow? What other teams in production are you collaborating with using the software?

GD: In my experience, I use Setellite in production and follow on into post-production. For example, on “Foundation” Season 1, we used it from the first day of the shoot. The VFX coordinator, who continued after we wrapped, followed through with Setellite for the rest of post-production. As with any database created during the shoot, Setellite collects such valuable information that it is sometimes used as a backup.

S: Can you talk about a past or current project where Setellite’s productivity features helped meet a specific production challenge?

GD: On “Foundation,” it was great to sync up once back at our hotel and know what shots the other wranglers had completed or any additional production notes about technical surveys, etc., that had been documented. This also requires a good Wi-Fi link, and though there were times when some shots didn’t sync, we found a go-around to make sure everything was on the cloud.

S: Why is collecting onset VFX data important in production? What are your favorite features in Setellite?

GD: I love the ease in Setellite of entering lens info into the gear list. It’s very detailed and easy to use. You can add the data to your Setellite library and build

S: What essential skillsets do professionals need to best collect and export on-set VFX data?

GD: There are so many, but it’s key to know how a set works, to whom you can ask info, and when it’s a good time to do so! You can gather much information by standing and observing a set during a shoot. Of course, you need to understand.

S: What advice would you give others trying to enter the field?

GD: My advice is to get yourself onto a set whatever way you can; then you’ll learn about all the other departments and eventually choose the best one…VFX!

“As a VFX data wrangler, you’re constantly striving to improve your technique and efficiency while gathering data on a live set,” said Grainne Dooley. “With Setellite all the tools and options you need for collecting and managing data are already there for you! However, unlike other databases, the Setellite user interface is easy, very visual, user friendly, and allows you to gather and export your data just how you want it.”

Grainne Dooley, VFX Supervisor

Grainne Dooley on the set of ‘The Old Guard’, © Amy Spink Photography