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DMU animation graduate plays part in sci-fi hit's Oscar win

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) animation graduate who helped make blockbuster sci-fi hit Ex Machina’s amazing visual effects, has described how it felt to have the work rewarded with an Oscar win.

Ben Carlson said it was an “incredible honour” to work for Double Negative (Dneg), the tech team responsible for bringing the AI robot Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, to amazing life.

Many reviewers felt the visual creation of Ava was the highlight of the film and on Sunday night the Academy agreed, awarding the Best Visual Effects award to Ex Machina.

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For Ben, the award win capped off an incredible journey, having been inspired to join Dneg during his time at DMU, when members of the team visited the university to give a talk to students.

The 2010 DMU Animation Design graduate said: “It's an incredible honour to be a part of the team that created the VFX that the Academy considered to be the best of the year!

“Even though my name is not personally on the award, in our industry and at Dneg, everyone feels a part of the team.

“Everyone who worked on the film is understandably proud and everyone at Dneg is happy we were able to bring another Oscar home.”

Ben follows in the footsteps of fellow DMU graduate and double-Oscar winner Ben Frost, who graduated from DMU in 2005 with a BA in Multimedia Design. He now works as Lead FX (effects) Artist for the world-famous Walt Disney Animation Studios, helping his team win Oscars for Frozen and Big Hero 6.

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Amazingly, Ex Machina was Ben’s first project after landing the job as Production Co-ordinator at Dneg. He said: “It was a fantastic project to begin with and many artists I've talked to since have said it is still their favourite project during their time in the industry.

“I was responsible for catching up with the team of artists on a regular basis, making sure they had everything they needed to meet their deadlines.

“It was a very interactive role requiring regular contact with lots of people in different departments of the company.

“We became a very close-knit team, largely due to the Supervising Team. Not only are they incredibly talented and intelligent people, they were approachable and willing to help others learn their craft.”

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Ex Machina’s Academy Award is Dneg’s third Oscar win in five years, with previous Oscars for Interstellar and Inception.

Ben knew he wanted to work at Dneg the moment he attended a talk by them at DMU: “The talks by industry professionals were some of the most influential experiences of my course.

“I attended talks from Dneg in my second and third year and after the first, I decided that was where I was going to work - no matter what.”

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It may have taken Ben two years to fulfil his dream, but in 2012 he landed a job at Dneg as a Runner.

He said: “For nine months I did odd jobs and got to know people whose work I admired for so long. I then moved into the Grading department and I was finally working on films! Hollywood films!

“Eventually, I decided that the role of an artist was not one for me. The more I talked to people about their various jobs, the more I realised that Production was where I truly wanted to be.

“I asked to switch departments and I was allowed to begin work on Ex Machina as a Production Co-ordinator. Once that project ended, I knew Production was the department for me and I hope to work my way up to Line Producer one day.”

Although Ben’s budding career in production is a detour from his original plans for animation, he said: “The reason I wanted to do animation in general was the link between creativity and film.

“I was very certain I wanted to work in the film industry and the skills I learned on my course, even the ones I don’t use nowadays, helped me get to where I am today.”

Posted on Monday 29th February 2016

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