Red Deer’s Erik Nordby boldly creates new worlds in the movies

The visual effects supervisor led the team of artists that created the spaceship in Passengers

His Red Deer childhood holds big-screen lustre for Erik Nordby.

He compared his Central Alberta hometown to the “idyllic, family-oriented towns in Steven Spielberg movies — not too big, not too small, with this cosy suburbia …”

With such cinematic sensibilities, it’s little wonder that Nordby grew up to become a visual effects supervisor on Hollywood blockbusters, including Passengers — now in movie theatres, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt.

He regularly puts in 12- to 14-hour workdays, but feels “I’m extraordinarily fortunate to be doing this.”

The 44-year-old, who resides with his wife and three kids in Vancouver, describes his career as “one of the most exciting things you can do … There’s a real family atmosphere on set, and I get to fly all over the world to the craziest places.” He regularly works all over the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada.

Nordby started out making music videos for Sam Roberts and other artists. He later worked as a compositor on The Butterfly Effect (2004) and other films, but wanted more control over the final product, so he become visual effects supervisor for Passchendaele (2008), Clash of the Titans (2010), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and Goosebumps (2015).

The job gives him responsibility for all visuals, from a film’s conception to completion. Nordby decides which effects are achieved with actual set construction, which are computer generated and projected behind actors onto blue or green screens, and which are a combination of both.

On Passengers, which may earn an Oscar nomination for its cavernous, lonely spaceship setting, about a third of the $110-million budget was allotted to visual effects. Nordby supervised an army of specialists, including four or five “CG (computer generation) supervisors,” various lead animators and lead lighting people, and “hundreds” of working artists.

About 800 people were on his visual effects team, but Nordby’s name is in the head credits.

Recalling his Central Alberta upbringing, he said, “I was always a movie buff,” thanks to his parents’ influence. But he was more into music while going to school at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School and playing the drums for the Red Deer Royals.

When Nordby left for the University of Alberta to take philosophy, he was unsure of what career to pursue. It wasn’t until he finished a film course at B.C.’s Simon Fraser University in 1997 that things fell into place.

Of his 37 film credits, he believes his biggest break came on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, when he was mentored by Oscar-winning John Dykstra, who did special effects for the original Star Wars and pioneered computer-assisted film-making.

Nordby, who loves working with “extraordinarily talented” actors, directors and production crews, believes the best quality he brings to the job is flexibility. “You leave work one day, thinking you have it all figured out. Then you wake up and every variable has changed” — from the weather to the location.

“You have to be prepared to adapt quickly and not hold onto things. You have to be willing to build something new from the ground up.”

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