Andy is Hollywood’s unseen action hero

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IT’S quite a leap from Wincobank to Hollywood but Andy Proctor has more than made it.

In fact, fans of two of the biggest action films of the past two years have a lot to thank the Sheffield lad for.

Screen effects guru Andy Proctor

Screen effects guru Andy Proctor

Andy’s handiwork provided some of the pivotal moments in the third Transformers instalment and more recently in summer blockbuster Marvel Avengers Assemble – out this week on DVD and Blu-ray.

As a digital matte artist Andy’s role in the latter was to help create a digital New York for the end battle scenes to leave cinemagoers yelling for a sequel.

Such scenes are a dream come true for the man from Wincobank, who moved to the USA almost four years ago.

“My family is incredibly proud,” says Andy, who works in San Francisco for Industrial Light & Magic, the Academy Award-winning motion picture visual effects company founded by George Lucas.

“They go and watch the films I’ve worked on, and they are thrilled when they see my name on the screen. That’s always nice.

“This career is something I’ve always wanted to do, so I think they are really happy my dreams have come true. However, they have no idea what I do for a living. My mum still tells people that I animate. I’ve given up trying to explain that I don’t, I’m a digital matte artist.”

Andy began his career in video games in the UK, but wanted to work in animation.

He joined Bristol-based Aardman, the team behind Wallace & Gromit, led by former Sheffield University graduate Nick Park.

“I worked on movies including Flushed Away, their first computer-generated film, but California has always been enticing because of the really nice weather and great lifestyle.

“I came to Los Angeles to work on Flushed Away and was offered a job at Industrial Light & Magic in 2009. I’ve been here ever since.

“The digital matte department was born out of the traditional matte painting department at Industrial Light & Magic. A traditional matte painting is a painted representation of a landscape, or a set, used in the background of a movie.

“Artists used to create these ‘set extensions’ on glass but it’s now completely digital; we create these fully-3D digital environments. For Marvel Avengers Assemble, we created a completely digital New York City.”

While Andy is proud that his efforts will be seen by millions in thousands of cinemas across the world, he says he doesn’t want them to “notice” his work.

“It’s awesome, but it’s a strange feeling because the nicest compliment is that our work becomes invisible.

“You don’t want people to notice the fact many of the scenes in New York weren’t actually shot there and that buildings and the environments are completely digital.

“You want the audience to notice the characters and the story, but not the fact the shot is a special effect.

“You just want them to see that characters are in New York, even though they’re on a green-screen soundstage miles away from the city.

“It’s really cool, but at the same time it’s all quite understated because it’s just a background that blends in.”

The extent of the input from Andy and his team can be appreciated when you consider only around six shots were filmed on location in New York City, compared with more than 300 digital shots.

“I worked primarily on the sequence at the end of the movie where the Avengers land on Park Avenue overpass, right in front of Grand Central Station. At various points, the Avengers fly off and meet back here. It’s like a hub for them.

“It was a huge project to undertake, particularly because it’s a big, long sequence with hundreds of shots. We started with a location shoot in NYC where we took lots of still photography to gather reference material. We knew the area within midtown Manhattan where we were going to stage the action, so we adopted a shotgun approach and we covered as much of the area as we could with photography.

“We shot what we call ‘panoramic spheres’ where you have a camera and spin it all around so it catches everything from that particular viewpoint. It’s similar to Google Earth images you see online; you can turn the shot around to see a 360 degree view. We shot more than 1,200 panoramic spheres, which captured all details of the buildings and the environment in super-high resolution.

“Once we got our data back to San Francisco we realised how big a challenge it was going to be to recreate all of these images in the computer.

“I worked on the movie for a year and it was a great experience.

“We’ve done work like this before. We did it on Transformers and other movies where we went on location, shot a bunch of photography and then recreated sections of cities – but this was the biggest we’ve done by quite a way.”