Fantastic Four, this summer’s latest big-budget superhero movie, opens in theaters today, and while viewers will assuredly see a lot of CGI on screen, they may not know that even more computer graphics work went on behind the scenes, as part of the “previs”—or previsualization—process. Previs artists are digital cinematographers, they primarily work in a film’s preproduction stage, translating sequences from the script or storyboards to preliminary versions of shots and sequences. This essentially allows the film team to watch sections of the movie before anything is filmed.
Arsen Arzumanyan (BFA 2012 Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects), is a previs artist at The Calvary Fx, in Los Angeles, where he has contributed to such high-profile releases as Pixels, Jurassic World, The Hunger Games series and, most recently, Fantastic Four. (Other program alumni involved with the production include Diana Kim , Kyle Moy  and Danica Parry .) Arzumanyan recently took the time to answer some questions about his work on the project.
What’s it like to work on such a high-profile movie?
It’s exciting, especially being on set. For Fantastic Four we worked on set at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We would get storyboards from the art department, and then we would work on translating those still images into an animated sequence, and once we got our first pass in there, then we could work and inject our own ideas or thoughts to better the sequence. There was one time I was making a prop to put into our previs, and then I would look outside my trailer and see the physical object being built and moved around. It definitely helped encourage me and make me feel like I was part of a larger effort. No matter the final reception of the film, a lot of people put a lot of hard work into making it happen.
How would you describe your role in the production?
As previs artists, we are essentially making rough animated versions of what will be the final image on the screen, so we can help rework, re-edit and sometimes even rewrite a movie based on our visuals. Often something reads well on a page, but when it is translated into images it can lose something or not convey exactly what the screenwriter wanted to convey.
For Fantastic Four, our trailer was next to the director’s trailer, and he would often be in our trailer giving notes and chatting. This is one of the fun parts of doing previs work and is why we work on location: so we can have constant back and forth with the director on a daily basis.
What was the most challenging aspect of the project?
For me, both the most challenging and the most fun part of working on Fantastic Four were the same thing: living in hotel in Baton Rouge for over a month. Being on set every day is definitely fun and exciting, but being away and in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Baton Rouge) can start to eat at you as well. The previs team was great and I liked everyone I worked with. The supervisor, Jason Michael Hall, is great and talented and it was a lot of fun to collaborate with him. With such a big production, the schedule changes often and it was a bit hectic. So you can go from work being kind of slow and quiet to being insane crunch mode at the drop of a hat. But that too can be exciting.
What part of Fantastic Four are you most excited to see?
The part we deal with the most in previs is the storytelling aspect and making sure the sequences make sense, and the section I worked on the most was the film’s final showdown. A lot of sequences in a finished movie will be 1:1 with our previs sequences—by that I mean that they’ll match shot for shot with what we did—but sometimes sequences will change either in editing or through reshoots. I know the showdown I worked on was redeveloped after I left for another project, so I am not 100% sure what it is we will see on screen. One thing I do know, though, is the credits will be great!
Watch Arsen Arzumanyan’s SVA thesis film, The Void, an outstanding achievement award film from the class of 2012.