- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

WILSON, N.C. (AP) - Visual effects artist Brad Kalinoski knows how to add drama, action, comedy and a lot more to Hollywood movies and TV shows.

And he does it right here from Wilson with a complex series of computer hookups, shipping the completed work quickly via a Greenlight gigabit connection from his home.

The fast, fiber-optic service lured him and his wife, Tina Wallace, to Wilson.

Kalinoski’s film credits represent some of the most recognized titles of the past 16 years, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” ”The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” ”Fantastic Four,”

“War of the Worlds,” ”The Bourne Supremacy,” ”Spider-Man 2,” ”X-Men 2,” ”The Matrix Reloaded,” ”Men in Black II” and numerous others, including TV titles and commercial work.

He can take shots of actors and place a burning building behind them or place a crowd of thousands behind an actor, seemingly listening to their every word.

He does this work via computer by putting them on green screen. He can do other things as well on film such as elongate an actor’s fingers or add a skin rash.

Making the digital shots is tedious work. But everything today - movies, TV and commercials - requires visual effects shots.

The Academy-award winning film “Black Swan,” which garnered Kalinoski a BAFTA Film Award co-nomination (the British equivalent to the Academy Awards) for best special visual effects, took 350 digital shots.

Kalinoski is largely self-taught, a process that took him six months while he abandoned a career as a nursing assistant, something that simply wasn’t his calling.

“I was always an artist. Back when I was in high school I was always taking art classes,” Kalinoski recalls. “I also always had an interest in film. But the two were never married together.”

His interest in computers was what managed to meld the two into a dream career.

“My first computer was when I was 10 years old, an Atari 400,”

Kalinoski said. “I was programming and writing code when I was 11 or

12 years old, and in the ‘80s when the computer and the art came together I found my niche and I was at the right place at the right time. It took me about six months. I was a nurse (assistant) at a hospital for 10 years, and I quit and it took six months to go through every book and every piece of software that could teach me exactly what I was getting myself into and then I went to LA.”

At the time it was all new. There just weren’t a lot of reference points from which to learn. But there were opportunities.

Kalinoski’s work is what’s known as post production and compositor work. But one shot can take up to a month to do.

He did 10 shots for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3.

“It’s tedious work,” Kalinoski said. “A lot of my shots were the Kraken, a lot of tentacles in Pirates 3. There are a lot of passes; you have to add light, shadow, a consistent and constant change.”

But that’s not the hardest challenge.

“The hardest thing to do is to read the director’s mind, making sure you get exactly what he wants,” Kalinoski said. “There is a high probability of missing.”

A 20-hour day is not unusual.

His credits also include “Snakes on a Plane,” where unsurprisingly he added snakes. They were all computer generated.

Different movies bring different challenges.

“‘Pirates’ is pre-planned out, has a lot of money put behind it,”

Kalinoski said. “‘Black Swan’ was cheaper and wasn’t really planned for a lot of visual effects. The studio liked the film, the rough cut of it, and kept adding and adding.”

In “The King’s Speech,” another film he worked on, they added the crowd so the king had someone to hear his speech.

“Anytime he walked out to the balcony it was CG, all green screen,”

Kalinoski said.

They recently completed visual effects work on “The Librarians,” a popular show now airing on TNT.

The couple founded Exodus FX, a visual effects company in Wilson.

“It was born out of the simple fact that in California the dynamics of filmmaking was changing so rapidly because the incentives for other countries and other states - not North Carolina anymore - that the work was expanding out, that there was this mass exodus of work and people leaving California, and we decided to form this company called Exodus FX simply because all the special effects were leaving and we could do it. And the technology has caught up to the point where we could work anywhere we want as long as we have a decent broadband option,” Kalinoski said. “That’s one of the reasons we moved to Wilson because the cost of living, cost of doing business and the Internet infrastructure they had was the best around.”

The two scouted out places from Japan to Austin, Texas.

“In Hollywood the overhead and cost is astronomical,” he said. “We just did a Google search and googled for cities and municipalities that had fiber to the home.”

Kalinoski has to fly to LA sometimes and visit the studios. He was there long enough to make the connections he needs.

“They know me and know my work,” Kalinoski said. “It’s all about contacts. That’s the way it works.”

Kalinoski is concerned about the General Assembly’s decision to abandon incentives for filmmakers in the state. It has gutted some of the areas once thriving for filmmaking.

“Productions we were depending on coming into North Carolina, now they are all gone,” he said. “If they would have kept it, it would have helped us expand or bring other companies here because there was a lot of work being shot in North Carolina for years, and we were looking at that when we moved to North Carolina.

“There is a ton of work in Wilmington, and the tax incentives have been there and suddenly they disappear,” he said. “And for us, it really doesn’t hurt us too much as a visual effects company; we just find the work that’s shooting wherever and provide that service. But in order for us to expand and get bigger, we were relying on some of the productions that were going to be here in North Carolina.”

He noted the incentives worked for years.

“How many years have they had film production in Wilmington and it was only expanding, about 6,000 people had jobs,” Kalinoski said. “Film incentives work really well when you have television productions actually set foot in your state and stay here and keep those people working. Those incentives work. TV shows and video game companies can be very lucrative.”

Now there has been an exodus of sorts from North Carolina as those incentives dried up.

“They didn’t see there was any promise of them coming back,” he said.

Lawmakers are expected to revisit last year’s controversial decision to dismantle the state’s film incentives, leaving it a de-facto grant program.

Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing dismantling state laws to allow the expansion of municipal broadband services such as Greenlight.

It also puts Wilson at the center of the national broadband battle as policy-making develops. Wheeler issued a statement Monday indicating support for the request made by Wilson and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Wheeler said that communities know broadband access is a key to economic development. A vote is set for Feb. 26.

The fact that Wilson is at the center of a national broadband battle isn’t lost on Kalinoski, who has followed the city’s efforts to expand and is supportive.

“We want to be as proactive with that as possible,” he said. “Comcast told us Greenlight was a joke - they are using old copper wiring and when it rains the speed is going to drop, and I’m like, ‘I’m not an idiot. I’ve been involved in this for years.’”

He’ll give Greenlight officials speed updates on how things are going from his pretty impressive, complex computer setup at his home.

“It takes a lot of horsepower to complete what we do,” he said.

They have four PCs, two built by him and two purchased from Asus and Alienware.

They have two tablets for “mouse” control. There are three iMacs just for basic data use.

“Our software is specifically designed and made for this type of work,” he said. “All the equipment would take up one regular size closet, along with switchers, routers and server. It’s not as bad as it was in the 1990s when I would need one entire room and 20 computers to do what we do, and it would take twice as long.”

Luring people to Wilson for the Greenlight service has been part of the plan to support the economic health of the community all along, said Will Aycock, Greenlight’s general manager.

Aycock said Wilson’s recent fight hasn’t been by chance.

“We are doing what we are doing right now because we were paying attention to the conversation,” Aycock said. “When Wheeler came out and started talking about promoting competition and municipal entry, our ears perked up. Here is the chairman saying competition is good, and municipal entry can be a positive. That gave us reason to say we have a good story, we’re succeeding, and we’re bringing value to this community and we’re going to participate in this conversation and tell people what we’re doing.”

Kalinoski has gotten to know Wilson officials including Mayor Bruce Rose.

“Brad is a great friend to us,” Aycock said. “Brad is a member of this community and wouldn’t have been otherwise. There are a few other businesses like that now, but it was also a general goal of Greenlight to improve quality of life and infrastructure.”

Kalinoski and his wife met in Huntington, West Virginia, where he grew up.

“She’s a genius,” Kalinoski said.

They’ve been working together for 16 years, and she has her own list of impressive film credits.

“It’s all hard work,” Kalinoski said. “If it wasn’t hard everybody would be doing it.”

He broke into the industry through family and industry connections.

His best friend worked as an apprentice for Christopher Tucker, who did prosthetics for the Cantina sequence in “Star Wars.”

They flew out to California to meet one of his friends in the industry. His friend did interviews and got hired to work on “The Simpsons.”

“After he did that for about a year, he was like, ‘Dude, just do it,’”

Kalinoski said. “My wife was like, ‘Screw it; just do it.’ My wife and best friend pushed me into making that leap. My mom’s and dad’s advice was, ‘Son, if it doesn’t work out promise us two things: don’t go into porn and don’t sell drugs.’”

The couple lived in Hollywood 16 years. They have been in Wilson about two years and bought a house.

“We think there is potential because of the broadband to bring a lot of other companies here, a lot more interest, not just films and TV, but for content creation, the Web. I think there is a big opportunity there,” Kalinoski said.

But he worries the loss of film incentives and other tough losses such as Historic Tax Credits could thwart promising potential.

“We’re happy,” he said. “If they’d bring back the incentives we’d be more happy.”

___

Information from: The Wilson Daily Times, https://www.wilsondaily.com


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