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Kingsport native part of Oscar-winning film crew on 'Ford v Ferrari'

Holly Viers • Feb 24, 2020 at 9:00 AM

KINGSPORT — If you’re a movie lover, you’ve probably seen or heard of the racing drama “Ford v Ferrari,” which earned two Oscars earlier this month for film editing and sound editing.

What you may not know, though, is that a Kingsport native had a hand in bringing the film to life.

Chris Wilson, a graduate of Sullivan South High School, served as lead lighting technical director on the film, which was released last year. A part of the visual effects team, Wilson helped create realistic digital crowds and set extensions, along with computer-generated rain and fog, crash debris and other effects.

“The experience was truly outstanding,” Wilson said of working on the film. “I can honestly say it was the smoothest, most enjoyable project I’ve worked on in my career.”

Beginnings

Wilson was born in Kingsport and attended Rock Springs Elementary School, Colonial Heights Middle School and Sullivan South. It was during that time that he discovered his love for movies.

“One of the earliest Christmas gifts I can remember was the Star Wars trilogy VHS box set from my parents. I remember being fascinated with the world that was created in those films and finding a book in the Rock Springs Elementary School library about how those visual effects were achieved,” Wilson said, adding that he’s now worked for Industrial Light & Magic, the company George Lucas founded in 1975 to create those effects.

Wilson didn’t realize film could become his career, though, until enrolling in the school of digital media at SCAD, an art and design university in Savannah, Georgia. Wilson earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in visual effects there, though he had originally planned a different course of study.

“I loved experimenting with filmmaking and stop-motion animation when I was a kid, but I really didn’t ever think about being involved in film as a viable career path until heading to SCAD,” Wilson said. “I was initially interested in going there for graphic design, but when I learned of their visual effects program, it seemed like a perfect fit for me.”

An impressive resume

After earning his undergraduate degree, Wilson worked for various companies, including Pixar Animation Studios, Psyop, and Moving Picture Company, commonly known as MPC. Now a resident of Vancouver, British Columbia, Wilson works for Method Studios, a visual effects company contracted by film studios.

Wilson has worked on several major films, though the four projects he’s most proud of are “Spectre,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Black Panther” and “Ford v Ferrari.” Other films on his resume include “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Justice League,” “The Mummy,” “Fifty Shades Darker,” “Suicide Squad” and “Goosebumps.”

His role on each visual effects team is usually referred to as “lighting artist” or “lighting technical director,” meaning he makes sure the lighting on any computer-generated elements matches the lighting that was filmed on set.

“There are lots of variables in the way something is illuminated: direction, intensity and color temperature of the light, as well as things like shadows and reflections to consider,” Wilson said. “If any of those things don’t accurately match what was shot on set, you’ll know something looks wrong even if you don’t quite know what it is. It can really take the viewer out of the story if it’s not done well, so it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Guiding influences

Wilson credits his experience at SCAD for preparing him for a career in the visual effects industry. But even before that, he said one of his high school teachers made a big impact on his life.

“Danny Arwood teaches the graphic design vocational program at Sullivan South,” Wilson said. “I took as many classes with him as I was allowed to take and also worked with him in after school programs. … He’s a fantastic teacher and I know many others whose education and career paths were affected by him just as much as mine was. I’ll always be thankful for his time and dedication to his students and also that Sullivan South invested in the resources to provide great vocational programs.”

And while Wilson originally got into visual effects because of his interest in the work itself, he feels most rewarded by the places he’s visited and people he’s met along the way.

“It’s an extremely diverse industry with people from all over the world,” Wilson said, “and the exposure to so many different cultural backgrounds really is enjoyable.”

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