Universal Production Partners

5 Minutes with UPP's VFX Supervisor Jan Malíř

Q&A with VFX Supervisor and Producer Jan Malíř

With teams in Prague and Budapest, creative studio Universal Production Partners (UPP) is a growing studio, frequently achieving nominations in the VES Awards, Emmys and even the Oscars. Most recently, UPP received recognition for its stunning VFX contributions to Robert Zemeckis’ Allied and The Walk. We caught up with UPP’s VFX supervisor and producer Jan Malíř to learn how Frankie helps him and the studio stay true to each production’s vision.


Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.

I rose up from being 3D artist to Flame online operator.  I spent 12 years in this position and I learned a lot there from DOP’s and Directors. After my Flame online artist experience, I became VFX supervisor and a partner in Universal Production Partners (UPP) – Prague’s biggest postproduction house. A couple of years later, I became head of the advertising department and now I lead a team of about 50 employees, which includes other talented supervisors.


What have been some of the most exciting and unique projects of your career?

I always loved to be involved seamless, VFX-heavy jobs. A couple of times, I shot with great directors such as Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours, Unites States of Tara) or Daniel Benmayor (Tracers), and with football stars such as Lionel Messi. Having to create projects despite minimal time with these football stars, which requires great preparation, made these jobs challenging and more interesting for me.

My team of supervisors works on a range of great jobs as well. In general, I think we like projects best when the visual effects look real and are important for the story. These are also the jobs where Frankie becomes indispensable.


How important is remote collaboration to your pipeline?

Crucial. Clients these days use the benefits of fast internet to work remotely all over the world. We mostly produce projects for foreign markets, in both the film and advertising sectors. cineSync is a great tool for the feature film department and Frankie is the best tool for the advertising department.


On what project did you start using video review tools?

We started using cineSync many years ago, and started using Frankie on our Holcim project. We needed a means to effectively communicate with Director Andrew Hardaway who was based in LA, as well as the production house, agency and clients who were based in Indonesia. It was about 2012. Since then we have used Frankie daily.


Was there a specific feature of Frankie that you immediately responded to?

In our opinion, Frankie’s key feature is how easy it is for clients to pick up and use. Very often, our clients will be using this tool for the first time, but they don’t need to fiddle about with installation since it’s all based online. Clients can access Frankie from tablets or smartphones, any OS, and they don’t have to know anything technical – they just click the link. In the advertising world, this flexibility and simplicity is especially important.


What type of project is the most challenging to tailor to a client’s needs?

Generally, what a client wants is flexibility; the means to change all assets up until the very last stage in production. That is fine for some projects, but doesn’t work with heavy simulations, continuity, stop motion, animation, etcetera.

If the client, agency, production house and director can describe to us – and most importantly among themselves – what they want to achieve, it helps us a lot.  Although it might be technically difficult, we can imagine what the client wants, and then our part is to recommend what looks good. An interactive tool like Frankie is effective for communicating the client’s vision succinctly at all stages of a pipeline, catching the need for tweaks as early as possible. Once we have this understanding it’s much easier to guide them fluently through the process – everyone’s happy.

Frankie helps us avoid tangled, contradictory communication – a VFX supervisor’s greatest challenge, as they need to get everyone working towards the same, common goal! Sometimes agencies will want a completely opposite result than the director. Also, if the client needs to see the final film to be able to comment on the first version of shaded animatic, simple jobs can become very difficult. Frankie nips these misunderstandings in the bud.


How accessible do you find working via browser?

I think that working online is the key advantage of Frankie, removing the need to install software, plugins and other hassles. Frankie is the most accessible tool on the market. In fact, I would say that working via a browser is the main reason we use it.