Martin Furness ’01, M ’11

Dramatic Effects

By Sara Ann Hutto Grant ’17
Photography by Anita Lee

Furness, a visual effects artist, made a splash with his work on Sony’s Vivo

A vivacious, golden-furred kinkajou must deliver a love song from Havana to Miami to fulfill the final wish of his late owner. A colorful adventure, spurred on by the songs of Lin-Manuel Miranda, ensues.

This is the premise of Sony Pictures Animation’s Vivo, a film Martin Furness worked on as the character effects (CFX) supervisor. For the project, Furness and his team earned an Annie Award nomination earlier this year in the category of Outstanding Achievement for Animated Effects in an Animated Feature.

Vivo was a fun project,” says Furness, who is based in Vancouver with his wife, Alicia (and dog, Rupert). “I’d led teams before, but this was my first time being a supervisor, and it was nice to build a team from the ground up.”

As the CFX supervisor, Furness oversaw the development of all the characters’ wardrobes and hairstyles, making sure the secondary animation of a skirt, for example, or a strand of hair complemented the primary movement of the character. Of course, Furness worked a lot on the hero character, Vivo, which he says originally began as a capuchin monkey and was later changed to a kinkajou, a tropical rainforest mammal known as the “honey bear.”

“That kind of stuff happens,” he explains. “You could be deep into production, and then suddenly there is a creative call. You just have to roll with the punches and start from scratch. In the end, it’s always about achieving the client’s vision.”

Furness is no stranger to starting over. Born in Manchester, England, he moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, as a teenager, which he calls a “massive culture shock.”

“All I’d known were the suburbs of Manchester. To move to South Carolina where there was so much space, and things were so spread out — people talked funny to me, and I talked funny to them,” he laughs. “It probably took three years to adjust properly.”

Furness earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture at Clemson. After a couple of years working at an architecture firm in Columbia, South Carolina, he decided to return to the University for his master’s in architecture. But something wasn’t quite right. Furness found himself questioning his creative freedom.

Inspired by the cutting-edge visual effects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the time, Furness applied to the digital production arts program at Clemson — a decision that would take him all over the world, working on films like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Tangled, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to name a few.

As a Brit, Furness says working on Harry Potter was particularly special, largely because it meant living in London for a while.

“Being back in the U.K. made it feel like I’d been gone too long,” he says. “[Harry Potter] was a rare case where I could say I did it for the project. It was great to just touch it and say that I played a small role in the franchise — it didn’t really hurt the resume either.”