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Visual effects wizard had his fill of prawns

Mount Doug grad Andrew Millard worked on sci-fi social satire

Chances are Andrew Millard won't be ordering prawns Provencale or any other such dish any time soon.

The Victoria-raised visual effects editor had his fill of prawns working on District 9 for eight months.

Millard, 29, was Image Engine's visual effects editor on Sony Pictures Entertainment's $30-million sci-fi thriller about crustacean-like alien refugees -- or "prawns," as they're derisively described -- whose spacecraft stalls over Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Mount Douglas High School grad was an integral part of the Vancouver company's team that did extensive computer-generated alien animation. They also created effects for helicopters and the monstrous alien mothership that for 28 years has hovered like a thundercloud over the vast, gritty township of the title, where tentacled refugees are segregated.

Image Engine, which also did effects on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, X2 and The Incredible Hulk, worked in partnership with Peter Jackson's New Zealand company, Weta Digital, and two other B.C. companies -- Zoic Studios and the Embassy.

"We did all the Christopher stuff, the lead alien, and his son and every other walking alien," Millard said.

Christopher is the homesick alien leader with a secret agenda who lives in a cluttered bunker with his frisky son. He figures prominently in the most emotionally involving sequences of Neill Blomkamp's portrait of alien and human co-existence in a milieu rife with urban decay.

It's during Christopher's exchanges with Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a bureaucrat with a Halliburton-like company contracted to move the aliens to a concentration camp-like settlement, that the film's social satire really kicks in.

Visual effects editing is a detail-oriented process, Millard says.

"It's very much about quality control and organization," he said. "If they want to see version 29, you have to be sure it's available and know where it is."

Millard, using Avid editing software, worked from a clean slate -- shots with just the actors and background.

"We take those and make sure they match the edit we've been given for production, and then it goes to animation and visual effects," the Vancouver-based editor said.

Every time something is updated in the animation process, Millard does "review sessions" with the visual effects supervisors.

"Continuity-wise, it should all match."

Since he didn't get to see an entire cut of District 9 until it opened, Millard said it was nice to be able to finally see "all the parts in between" the visual effects they created and "how the characters had progressed."

Born in Vancouver, Millard moved to Victoria when he was in Grade 2. He attended Campus View Elementary and Arbutus Secondary and took transfer courses at Camosun College after graduating from Mount Doug.

He says although he was a prolific drawer when he was younger, his main passion was basketball.

"I grew up playing basketball," said Millard, who coached summer basketball camps at Braefoot Park.

He got his first real taste of production when he edited a high school grad video "just for fun."

It was when he enrolled in the media program at Capilano College and, inspired by his professors Beverly Reid and Peter Kellington, he realized studying media was for him.

"I realized that the way I learned was visually. So I started thinking about what I enjoyed doing the most."

After graduation, he studied at the University of Northern B.C. for a year, and played for its basketball team.

Millard broke into the business working as an assistant editor and production manager, and doing location sound during a Canadian Film and Television Producers Association internship program with Mayne Island-based Coming Home Films.

It was enormously fulfilling, said the filmmaker whose work took him to Nicaragua, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Millard also worked as video playback editor on movies and TV shows such as I, Robot, Catwoman, Scary Movie 3 and several productions shot in Victoria, including Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Charlie's Angels, Cable Beach, The Survivors' Club and I Want to Marry Ryan Banks.

Before District 9, he worked as storyboard manager on two children's TV shows produced by Bardell Entertainment, Viva Pinata and Zeke's Pad, and was animation editor on Stuart Little 3 and Max Steele.

"Just start working," is his advice to industry wannabes. "That's how I started. I worked as a production assistant -- anything to keep my hand in film. And then you find out who you should align yourself with."

On the web: district9movie.com

mreid@tc.canwest.com