Sony Pictures visual effects producer Michaela Dehning ’08 will return to Stephens next week as a guest of the Citizen Jane Masterclass series. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at Charter Lecture Hall in Helis Communication Center on the Stephens College campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Dehning has worked on more than 40 television shows and films, including "Better Call Saul," "Outlander," "The Blacklist," "Preacher," "Electric Dreams," "The Good Doctor," "The Tick," "Sneaky Pete," "The Goldbergs" and "The Boys." During her talk, she’ll discuss the art of the invisible VFX shot, show before and after clips from episodes she’s produced, and discuss her experiences in the entertainment industry.

In her interview with Stephens College, Dehning reveals how the digital filmmaking program at Stephens opened doors for her, as well as her career aspirations and her hopes for the students attending her master class.


Stephens College: How did your experience at Stephens prepare you for your job at Sony?

Michaela Dehning: I spent my first two years of college at a state university, going through the motions of getting general education credits done. My interest was already in post-production in film as I had done a film project in high school, but there was a lot of doubt about making a real career out of it. My family was very supportive, but they also didn't know anything about it. I didn't know anything about it. A career in filmmaking still seemed very out of reach.

Transferring to Stephens and being able to learn from professors who knew what they were talking about, who were filmmakers themselves, was brand new to me. Being around people who loved what I loved about films and television shows was incredibly motivating. I took inspiration from each film we analyzed in class and gained insight through every assignment. 

The film professors at Stephens validated my passion and made me believe it was a realistic future.

 That is what made me fully commit to the path that led to Sony.


SC: What's a typical day like for you at work? 

MD: It's a little easier to describe what a typical project/TV episode looks like than just one day. We receive a list of VFX shots from a show, and an inquiry into how much it would cost to accomplish those shots. It can be something like, "remove the reflection of the crew in the window.” After we are awarded shots to work on, we schedule VFX artists to come in and work their magic. Typically, we have six artists on hand every day but can find more during the busy seasons.  

Since we are a small department, I'm not just a producer handling the administrative side. I'm also an artist and help out if we fall behind schedule. Once we finish the shots, we send them to the show for approval. We may receive notes back or they may be approved and delivered for final color (one of the last steps before a show airs on TV/streaming release). Each shot can take anywhere from five minutes to 100 hours to finish, and a whole episode of a TV show can take anywhere from a day to three or four weeks. We can also have multiple episodes going at a time, each with a different start and delivery date.


SC: What's your favorite project you've done?

MD: My favorite project has to be "Preacher" for AMC (which, unfortunately, is in its last season). Not only am I a fan of watching the show, but the type of visual effects we do on "Preacher" can be anything. We've had to fix Hitler's mustache to be more consistently groomed throughout episodes, added fire effects, removed wires keeping actors safe during stunts, enhanced blood and vomit . . . the show always kept us guessing about what we’ll be working on next.


SC: What are your aspirations and career goals?

MD: I have so many aspirations, sometimes it’s hard to narrow down. At Sony, I'd like to combine more 3D elements into my visual effects work. What I do right now is 2D compositing, taking flat layers of video and images to recreate parts of a filmed shot. But there are times when 3D modeling an object, texturing that model, and tracking and compositing it into a shot would be helpful.

On the freelance side, I've been working on stocking an online store of 3D objects. People (mostly cosplayers looking for parts to 3D print for their costumes) can purchase the 3D objects for their use. My latest model is an X-Men Cyclops visor as seen in the House of X comics.

And, I always have one weird side hobby: I'm looking forward to learning how to play the hurdy-gurdy in the coming year. Bear McCreary talks in a video about how he used the musical instrument to create the theme song for the TV show "Black Sails," and I was fascinated.


SC: What is your hope for the students who attend your master class at Stephens?

MD: There are two methods of learning that combine to have a full understanding of any skill. One is theory, which can be taught by someone with the knowledge of that theory. Processes and methods of solving a problem. And the other is struggling through and constantly learning by trial and error on your own. The practical side. I hope that I can give students the basic theories of visual effects so that they can be free to work through the technical side on their end a little easier. Even for those students whose interest isn't in visual effects, there are many cinematographers, directors, etc. who can benefit from having that knowledge in order to plan for post-production.

Tags : Alumnae Achievement, College & Campus, School of Creative & Performing Arts, Digital Filmmaking

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