[quote style=”boxed”]Don’t make flippant decisions. Something might feel good instantaneously, but think about it. Sit on it. Only when you’ve given a thought some serious consideration should you act. Sometimes slower is faster.[/quote]
James Knight is a Los Angeles based Virtual Production Manager/Consultant. He was born just west of London in Windsor, England and moved to Atlanta, GA when he was 16. As a result, he often refers to himself as a “Southern Fried Englishman”.
Knight is most recognized for his work as the Performance Capture Supervisor on Columbia Pictures’ The Amazing Spiderman and the four years he spent overseeing the project management of performance capture for James Cameron’s Avatar.
Additionally, Knight has done Performance Capture for films including I Am Legend, 2012, The Hulk, and Prince Caspian and various video games including, Batman Arkham City, Scene It, Star Wars The Old Republic, and Gotham Racing.
He got his start working on music videos in Atlanta before making it big in Hollywood.
Knight, along with several of his colleagues from Avatar, started their own performance capture company, BluStreak Media, based at Universal Studios, in 2014. With more than 15 years of experience in production and visual effects, Knight and the team at BluStreak Media provide Development, Design, Visual Effects and Virtual Production for film, television, music videos, commercials, and games.
Today, James is an active member of the Visual Effects Society (VES), on the Board of Directors at the British Academy’s Los Angeles chapter (BAFTA-LA), and a member of the Scientific and Technical Achievement Committee at The Academy (AMPAS).
Where did the idea for BluStreak Media come from? What does your typical day look like?
A group of us had worked on ambitious films together (Avatar, I am Legend, etc.) and we were thinking we’d love to go away and do our own thing.
There weren’t many jobs in my field being offered by, say, SONY or DreamWorks at the time, so we left the company and started what became BluStreak at Raleigh Studios. After seven months of working there, we got approached by Universal Studios and moved our production team over to their lot. We’ve been there ever since.
The idea for BluStreak was born out of survival and wanting to create something.
On a typical day, it really depends if we’re on a job or not. Last week, for instance, we were creating virtual environments for an unannounced project and a couple of CG characters. We’ll spend days giving them motion, rendering that out. Liaising with the studios. There’s a lot of communication – back and forth. A lot of stuff is under NDA for us so we can’t really discuss it in much detail. In total, there are 7 of us at BluStreak and we are truly humbled to work on these incredible films. I work with a great group. It’s refreshing to work with people in Hollywood without attitude. It sets us apart. It’s quite pleasant.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A few different ways. Sometimes people will come to us with a project and they already have a rough idea of what it’s supposed to look like. We brainstorm, collaborate, and present them with a few options. They know it when they see it, select their favorite render or interpretation, and we move forward from there.
In other cases, a client comes to us with all of their digital assets and their characters and environments built. We put their designs into our software and give the director the ability to see things in real time. In this version of events, we breathe life into their creations. We help them create the vision they see in their heads
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I really love how everything is becoming more instantaneous. When it comes to filmmaking, it’s more instant than ever. There is truly a blending of pre-production, production, and post-production. On a movie set today, you can see computer graphics characters in real time as you’re making your film.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I don’t know that I can’t do something. So, from time to time, it means I can just do it. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing all the time, but then I’ve just gone and done it. (You won’t find many people in this business admitting that, but they know they feel the same) If I knew the truth and had a sense of what to expect, I probably would’ve just tried to get a job at a studio instead of starting my own business. But, being ignorant actually worked in my favor.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Selling wall coverings. Wall coverings are different from wallpaper, you know. It was just a day job and it was horrible. What did I learn? I learned that I shouldn’t be selling wall coverings. I never made a single sale.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
My first response is, I suppose, nothing. If I started over again, I don’t think I ever would have been able to stumble my way to where I am now. But, if I could do things differently, I’d certainly be more careful about hiring the right people.
I’ve had to part ways with people I was on good terms with, but in this business especially attitudes can be bad and things can go sour. Make sure you hire the right people.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Don’t make flippant decisions. Something might feel good instantaneously, but think about it. Sit on it. Only when you’ve given a thought some serious consideration should you act. Sometimes slower is faster.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Networking – and always following up.
My father told me when I was younger that business is, first and foremost, social. So, no matter how good you are at something, if you’re an asshole the client will go to the second best guy every time. In Hollywood, the barrier to entry is high. People have attitude. At BluStreak, we don’t, and that’s served us well.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Hiring the wrong people. That, and telling people too much. Check back with me in five years to find out how I overcame it.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone will make a million bucks off of this one! I think we need a Fantasy sports / Delayed sports newsfeed. So, for example, I’m English and live in America so I’m nearly always watching sports delayed. And everyone has TiVo now so we’re often watching a game not in real time. There should be a website or app that you log on and the first thing is what date and time would you want the news for. So at the start of a football game, you could see the current score and any injuries. I think this app shows promise.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
My first word was “Batman”. I’m scared to death of snakes. I hate people crunching ice. I’m intimidated by professional soccer players.
What software and web services do you use?
I use a number of programs on a daily basis but there are a few specific to my industry that I can’t live without. They include: Zbrush, Motion Builder, and Shotgun. Zbrush is a sculpting software, Motion builder is a real time motion graphic display software, and Shotgun is asset management software for CG. I also use a program called “Maya”, which is 3D modeling software. These are all a bit technical, but it’s how we produce our best, most creative work.
I love the organizational aspects of these programs. Also, the ease of use. Even though these platforms are all user-friendly, there’s also a depth and power to them. They allow us to deal with projects in a real time nature. Being able to make mistakes and tool around as much as you like is incredible. In our industry, you used to have to do everything by hand and an error would cost you. Now, you can make a plethora of mistakes and no one cares.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Catcher in the Rye.
This was the first book I ever really read. It’s a valuable story for any businessperson because it tells the tale of one person’s journey through a screwed up world.
The world is screwed up. I think that this is a great book that teaches you how to cope. The feeling I got while reading it stuck with me. As a young person, it was fascinating. You can’t be taught the feelings you get from Holden Caufield’s struggle. You need to experience them yourself or glean them from his journey. Definitely recommend.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
My dad. No question. He always told me, there is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t mind who takes the credit. That outlook has helped me a lot in my career.
Paul Lombardi. He’s an absolute guru when it comes to practical special effects. He did The Godfather, The Last Samurai, among others. He taught me a lot about how to be, how to conduct yourself in the film business. He taught me not to take things too personally, and how to not hold grudges. These are good lessons for any entrepreneur. LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/pub/paul-lombardi/16/197/183
Richard Edlund. This man taught me so much about visual effects. He’s also the reason I’m on the Sci-tech committee at The Academy. Being a member of BAFTA has affected my business in a positive way. In an association like BAFTA LA I’ve met several producers and talented artists that I’ve been able to work with and for. In a way, I could say I would not be where I am professionally if not for BAFTA. Like any association, it is what you make of it. As in, you get out what you put in. I’ve done a lot for BAFTA and in turn, it’s done so much for me. Richard is a BAFTA member too. From early on, he propped me up and helped me become ensconced in the visual effects community in Hollywood. His website is here: http://www.richardedlund.com/
What was it like to start a business in Hollywood?
Starting a business in Hollywood is not easy. It helps that we had worked on some great, successful projects. We leveraged our previous experience and the big names of those films to get work. Starting BluStreak and making it in Hollywood was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it’s also been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.