Since joining The Mill/MPC’s Los Angeles studio, Morten Vinther has directed a wide range of impressive films including the award-winning launch film for Sony PlayStation’s “The Last of Us II” and Dell Alienware’s global campaign “Where Human Meets Machine”, both of which feature fully CG human characters.
Aided by his diverse creative experience, Morten is constantly pushing technology to breathe life into believable characters and worlds. A visual storyteller at heart, his passion is to move people through his films and challenge their senses. Morten enjoys drawing out emotional performances from real-life actors and synthetic humans alike.
We sat down with him to find out more about his personal journey that led him into directing.
What work has influenced your own style of filmmaking?
I think that every single director I’ve ever worked with through my career as a VFX artist has in some way influenced the way that I look at a script or a concept. I learnt pretty quickly not to get too comfortable with any kind of ‘style’ or a particular film-making process. I look at that as a trap. For me, it’s important to continuously evolve and get out of my comfort zone, because that’s where interesting ideas ferment. I try to keep an open mind and let instinct drive.
Can you talk through your personal journey that led you into directing?
I was 21 when I got a job as an assistant editor at a documentary production company in Copenhagen. The company was at that time transitioning into a VFX boutique and the vibe was a great cocktail of storytelling and visual effects. I spent 10 years getting sucked into the world of visual effects and design, leading me to jobs all around the world. I was working for a small studio in Ireland when I first got the chance to direct commercials and I really loved doing it.
You’ve directed many commercials over the years, what’s your personal fav and why?
I find that the hardest jobs to do are the most rewarding. I’ve made a few films featuring digital humans, amongst them include the launch film for PlayStation’s “The Last of Us Part 2”, which recently won a Clio Grand Award for Best CGI Trailer and another Gold Award for ‘Spot’, I’m also super proud of Dell Alienware “Where Human Meets Machine”. I’m proud of them because they were very difficult to create, and the audience response was overwhelming. The process of motion capture, facial performance capture and recording virtual cameras is equally exciting and exhausting. Unlike traditional film making where what you see is what you get, the process of digital film making is much more cumbersome and it takes a huge amount of time before you can see what you’ve captured in its entirety. You have to always think 5 steps ahead and trust your instinct. It’s a huge challenge to extract authentic, emotional performances out of digital humans and I get a lot of enjoyment out of working closely with the actors during this process. I think that I got close in regard to human authenticity in “The Last of Us Part 2” and the “Where Human Meets Machine” campaigns.
What elements of a script set one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I love creating story-driven content. I’m drawn to simple concepts – the scripts that have been reduced to present the absolute purest form of the idea. I get excited about scripts that trigger some sort of emotional response, whether it’s anger, laughter, frustration, or a combination of these. Misdirects are always interesting – when you can lure an audience into thinking that they know what’s coming next.
What type of work are you most passionate about – is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
I enjoy making game cinematics because they are essentially a window into a much bigger story. Gamers (like myself) are so incredibly passionate about the titles, and we are heavily invested in them. For a short moment, I am the custodian of that story and it’s a huge responsibility that I really enjoy. And if the script happens to take the audience on a fun journey packed with stunts, gunfights, explosions, car chases and edge-of-your-seat action – I’m all in!
Your work is now presented in so many different formats – to what extent do you keep each in mind while you’re working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
For the longest time, we’ve been used to only catering to one format and the world is very different now. I always encourage having these conversations up front, so that we can plan ahead. For example, it’s a challenge to create engaging cinematography that fits every format. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, I’m not a format purist and I think that we must meet people wherever they are. If you know your format, you can play into the strengths of it rather than looking at it as an obstacle.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work? Any example footage?
I’m constantly looking at ways that I can elevate the quality of my work and make it more realistic – especially when it comes to our digital creations. As an example, the Lidar scanners that we carry around in our pockets have made it very easy to create realistic and authentic feeling virtual cinematography. Machine Learning has made marker-less motion capture a possibility, giving us new levels of creative freedom and authentic performances. And new ways of accurately scanning the human face many times per second for facial expressions means that believable performances are becoming the norm.
What are your views on the Metaverse & what impacts do you think it will have on the industry?
I welcome any tool that will bring us closer to each other as human beings. Will the metaverse achieve that? Maybe. Call me an open-minded skeptic. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the Metaverse will quickly become another canvas for art, entertainment, and great storytelling. I’d like to contribute to that.
What are the key differences between being a Creative Director and a Director?
There are so many differences between the roles of being a Creative Director and a Director. In short, I sum it up like this:
As a Creative Director, my job is to realize the vision of the Director.
As a Director, I’m the custodian of the overall story and creative concept.
I love doing both!
Want to work with Morten? Get in touch with our team in Los Angeles here.