Culley Bunker’s studio, Skulley Effects, is like a clubhouse for visual effects artists. This two-story postproduction facility is located in the heart of Los Angeles, and is outfitted with a plush client lounge, multiple workstations, and enough audio/video toys to produce high-end effects for feature films, television, and music videos.
“It’s my baby,” Culley says. “I pretty much built this whole place by myself, and am always trying to think of how I can make it better. What if I rebuild the server? What if I buy new parts and bigger hard drives? It’s all about efficiency and making this a better place for my clients.”
Culley is a 1998 graduate of Full Sail’s Digital Media program, and started the company in 2005, after developing a reputation as an skilled effects artist with his work at popular studios like the The Post Group, Rhythm and Hues, and Hydrolux. During that time he’s racked up an impressive credit list that includes work on films like Spider-Man 2, Minority Report, and Donnie Darko, as well as music videos by artists such as the Killers, Marilyn Manson, and Britney Spears.
“I really believe in karma, put great energy into it, do good work, and it comes back to you one way or another,” he says. “You make your own luck in this industry, and I’ve been very blessed. People respect my work, and I feel like I’ve become a go-to guy.”
Sitting in on one of Culley’s sessions, you soon learn that most audiences have no idea how much effort goes into making the images you see on screen – but that’s actually the point. The subtlety of his work is what really sells an effects shot, techniques like wire and rig removal for stunt scenes, digital matte painting, and “beauty work,” which involves cosmetic fixes and body contouring on actors and musicians to help smooth out their appearance.
“I just love the way it all works together,” he says. “Making the artists look perfect, and taking the years off them. I wake up every morning at 7am without an alarm, because it’s just fun, and I’m ready to do whatever I need to do that day. This isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle, and I just love the challenge of trying to find solutions for different problems.”
His recent work on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video offered just the kind of challenge Culley thrives on. He collaborated on the clip with director Francis Lawrence, who previously helmed the features Constantine and I Am Legend. Like those films, the Lady Gaga video demanded heavy effects work, and one of the major set pieces was a sequence that was supposed to feature diamonds raining down on the singer. They spent hours troubleshooting the shot, and almost had to cut it, but Culley eventually found a solution for what turned out to be a showpiece of the video.
“I didn’t want to lose something that the director wanted, so we tried all of these different solutions,” he says. “We were eventually like ‘What if we froze the diamonds in the air?’ We showed it to him, and he loved it, and it all just worked out. Some people might have given up and moved on, but I wanted to give him more. And that’s one of the best parts, it just looks awesome.”
Creative solutions like those have helped Skulley Effects stand out from the other studios in Hollywood, and Culley continues to stay active in the effects community in order to keep on top of the latest tools for his clients - even heading to a Q+A session with director James Cameron right after our interview to learn from an industry pioneer.
“You're always a student, you have to be in this industry," he says. "When I started it took a week to do one music video, now it takes a day. Things will get more realistic, faster, and they’ll come up with cool tools to give you different choices when you’re working on a scene. I think we’re getting to a point where it’s like ‘What do you want to do? We can do it.’ So I can’t imagine how things will be another ten years from now.”
* Visit www.skulleyfx.com to see Cully’s latest credits and demo reel.