The Yardeners – Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG

  • 2024-07-03
Meet The Yardeners – the passionate team at The Yard, committed to cultivating the seeds of creativity and transforming them into captivating visual effects, fruitful collaborations, and unforgettable stories.
This week, we are excited to introduce you to Tom Fonvillars, our Head of CG. During his career, Tom has contributed to major blockbusters and VFX-demanding films. After spending 10 years working in London and Montreal, he chose to join The Yard in Montpellier, in the south of France, nearly a year ago.

Hello Tom ! Could you please explain your current role at The Yard ?

As the Head of CG, I am ultimately responsible for all aspects of the CG tasks at The Yard VFX. This encompasses structuring, standardization, and staffing of all CG departments, as well as company-wide collaboration with the 2D, Production, and Development teams. This is a broad scope of action, but fortunately, I work alongside a brilliant team of Heads of Departments (HoDs), allowing us to tackle the specific challenges that any production can present.

During active productions, I primarily operate in the background, ensuring we have the best resources to meet our high standards while staying within budget and delivering top-notch VFX to our clients. Simultaneously, I establish processes and methodologies to continuously refine and define what it means to work in any CG department at The Yard VFX.

As Head of CG of France-based VFX studio The Yard, Tom Fonvillars's favorite sentence is "It should be in doc"

What brought you to VFX/CGI ?

To be honest, I’d say it’s been a random succession of events! I’m not your typical [insert famous VFX/SFX-heavy franchise] fan. I initially studied physics and computer science but found myself too immature to pursue such theoretical studies without getting bored.

Since I was having a lot of fun editing on the side, I decided to enroll in art school to study all aspects of image and filmmaking. One thing led to another, and I ended up doing an internship at The Mill in London, where I discovered that I could work for cinema !

From that point on, THAT became my goal. I was so impressed by what was being made in movies—it felt so unachievable—that I wanted to try it out to understand it. That’s how I landed my first job at Mainframe London, and then at Framestore. Having tried both commercials and films, I chose to stick with films as it allows more time to finesse our craft and develop new techniques.

Short answer: Curiosity!

During your career, you’ve worked on various film genres – action films, fantasy, sci-fi, etc. Is there a particular project that stands out to you as the most memorable ? If so, why ?

I’m not going to throw out any of the big names here, I have enjoyed every project I’ve worked on, and famous franchises are always a blast because of how much budget there is. However, what matters most to me in the end is the team.

Jon Wright's "Pan" is one of the most memorable film on which Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG of France-based VFX studio The Yard worked.

For that reason the project that will forever remain in my heart is Joe Wright’s Pan. The VFX were cool and fun to make, though not groundbreaking. What made it so special was the amazing lighting and look development peeps I worked with. It was pure fun, eight hours a day, and I learned so much from everyone.

Disney's live action film "Lady and the Tramp" is one of the most memorable film of Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG of France VFX studio The Yard.

Technically, I had an amazing experience working on Disney’s live-action remake of Lady & the Tramp. Personally, talking dogs is not my favourite thing to watch, but it’s quite challenging to make it so the viewer can’t tell the difference between a real dog and a CGI dog. I worked within a small asset team focused on these fur balls, and it was an awesome experience, once again with great people involved.

"Army of the Dead" is one of the most memorable projects that Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG at France VFX studio worked on.

The project that challenged me the most was Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, again some awesome creature work by the whole asset team and it was thrilling to be part of this adventure as a CG Supervisor.

What do you find great about your department ?

OK, this is where I fall into the classic answer, but it’s true : the magic of it, of course !

With CGI and the ability to create or recreate any asset, effect, or environment in 3D, the once-abstract side of the creative process becomes so practical. 3D is both interactive and sensible, while remaining 100% digital and opening endless doors of freedom. It’s the perfect sweet spot for me, and that’s where I feel at ease.

Could you share the main challenges in your role ?

Artists, Supervisors, and Producers all see things through a slightly different prism. While senior positions have an understanding of the grand scheme of things, timelines and stakes differ, and each perspective is equally important. My main challenge is to converge all these views through a collaborative approach. Sometimes we have to pick our battles, but it’s through adversity that the best creativity emerges!

According to Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG of France-based VFX studio The Yard, the main challenge in a CG department is to align the perspectives of artists, supervisors and producers.

What major evolution do you see upcoming in your field of expertise ?

I think continental Europe has become a strong player in the VFX industry. During my career in both the UK and Canada, I have met many fellow Europeans, many of whom hold senior roles. Europe has plenty of talent, and today there is an opportunity for these talents to return home, be closer to their roots and families, while pursuing their passion and working on great projects. This dynamic has definitely begun, and I couldn’t be happier. I had the chance to benefit from a great education in France, and I’m very happy to give back !

The France-based VFX studio The Yard is featured in the latest VFX Voice special report on Europe VFX resurgence.
VFX VOICE - SPECIAL FOCUS: VFX IN EUROPE Despite setbacks, VFX companies look for year-end bounce.

I also can’t ignore the massive elephant in the room: generative AI. It has made impressive breakthroughs in the past decade, and its recent accessibility to the general public has brought up many ethical questions, fears, and curiosities. This continues to change the dynamic of the industry. I see many aspects of today’s work evolving in the near future toward more interactivity and faster development processes. Companies will have to show that these improvements are not embraced at the expense of work ethics. Time will tell, but we know where we stand at The Yard.

You have worked at diverse studios in UK and Canada. What led you to join The Yard in Montpellier ?

After 10 years abroad, having welcomed two kids and adopted an evil feline creature named Jean-Paul, I felt the need to be closer to my family and my roots. Born in Montpellier, I was looking for an opportunity in the Occitanie region. I already had connections with some people at The Yard. For me, it was crucial to continue working on interesting VFX projects without being fully remote. The Yard was the perfect and only solution ticking all boxes.

Can you tell us about the life at The Yard Montpellier ?

It’s a brand-new office, with a few finishing touches still being completed, and we’re currently a small team of eight. This gives the place a super chill, underground vibe—like a Berlin workshop. We’re all on the same floor, with our YardMtp collaborative playlist blasting through the mini speakers all day long!

The new office is stunning and very central, offering a vast choice of places to grab lunch. Whether we end up at the park or in our eating area, we enjoy a variety of options. Plus, we treat each other to some fancy nibbles a couple of times a week, fostering a true family spirit!

The new premises of France-based VFX studio The Yard, located at the heart of Montpellier, offer greater flexibility to its crew, facilitating exchanges between its Paris and local studios.
© naïri

Any piece of advice you’d give to students who would like to work in VFX ? 

Be curious, search, find, experiment. Dig deep, even if you don’t understand everything at first. Step back and apply what you have learned. Ask for help and support—don’t be afraid to be a newbie; we all start somewhere. Remember, this is a passion-driven job.

Whether your passion is CGI, cinema, animation, modeling, or anything else, you must be driven. Passion isn’t something you can force, so let it come naturally !

Tom Fonvillars, Head of CG at France-based VFX The Yard, advises to students to not fear being a newbie and keep experimenting.

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