Standing out From the Crowd
Academy alumni team wins an Emmy for their work on Gotham
Academy of Art University alumna Ryan Bauer (center left) with her mother, Linda, and alumnus Alex Gitler (center right) with his wife, Galit. Photo courtesy of Alex Gitler.
While the “Lead Actor, Comedy” or “Best Drama Series” awards highlight the ceremony and broadcast, the Emmy Awards recognize excellence in all facets of television, even the aspects that often go unnoticed by TV fans. Visual effects, sound editing, etc., are all integral elements of storytelling, but many VFX artists especially, including Academy of Art University alumna Ryan Bauer, tout a general hallmark: “Good visual effects are often when you don’t know they are visual effects.”
But the Emmys definitely took note, which is why they awarded Bauer, fellow Academy alumnus Alex Gitler and their parent CoSA VFX team the “Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Support Role” trophy for their work on drama series Gotham. The show’s specialized VFX crew won specifically for their work on the season three episode, "Heavydirtysoul,” which Bauer believes stood out because of the diversity of the work they presented, which included “set extensions or makeup fixes” but also featured “very specialized, well-developed effects.”
“Scope is one way we stood out, and doing the volume and breadth of those shots to a great level is what clinched it for us,” she explained. “The visual effects we did for Gotham supported the narrative in a lot of different ways and not solely just creating the environment, but also to help tell the story.”
Gotham was chosen over The Crown, Genius, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Taboo; CoSA also won the “Outstanding Special Visual Effects” Emmy for their participation in “Westworld,” though Gitler and Bauer were not accredited for that win. Most shows commission multiple VFX teams for a series—or even a single episode—but as the singular vendor for Gotham, Bauer said, “[It was] really unique for us to be a part of that from page to screen, full-process.”
“As sole vendor at that show, we are in every aspect of the process of the VFX work,” Gitler added. “That goes from the concept talk based on the script in the initial stages, making sure that shots and instances that have [the required] VFX work in them. We have a say and input so that they can be done to the best of our abilities for our client.”
Academy of Art University alumnus Alex Gitler and his wife Galit with his “Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Support Role” Emmy for his work on Gotham with the CoSA VFX team. Photo courtesy of Alex Gitler.
CoSA VFX has also done work on shows such as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Person of Interest and Roadies and continues to grow. According to Gitler, CoSA is considered a “medium-sized company” in the industry, employing around 140 people, a considerable growth spurt from its starting roster of just four people operating out of a garage in 2011.
“That kind of growth is a testament to where we’re at,” Gitler claimed. “It’s growing quickly and taking on bigger and better projects.”
Gitler, who was born in Israel and initially earned a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry from the University of Jerusalem, graduated from the Academy in 2005 with an M.F.A. in computer arts. After graduation, he briefly did animation, commercial and gaming work before switching to feature films in 2006. Gitler eventually moved on to design for the company now known as Method Studios in Los Angeles for eight years before getting hired at CoSA in 2015: “As a supervisor in a company like CoSA, you do get to have a lot more of seeing the process in the pipeline and as the company grows, you grow with it.”
Bauer, an Academy 2012 M.F.A. 3-D animation and visual effects graduate, initially majored in theatre at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. From there, she earned her master’s in lighting design at the University of Virginia. Once done with school, she began working as a compositor for a number of studios, earning credits for titles such as Pacific Rim, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mad Max: Fury Road and Thor 2: The Dark World. She started at CoSA on a 10-month contract then was plugged in full-time.
“I was really excited about the opportunity,” said Bauer. “The size of the company is appealing as well to me, and that feeling each person isn’t just a small part of a huge machine, I felt like I could really form a second family here.”
Both Gitler and Bauer attest to their time at the Academy as crucial experiences that laid out the foundation of how to be a professional creative in a highly competitive industry. Bauer said School of Animation & Visual Effects instructor Catherine Tate’s compositing collaborative—better known as Studio X—was instrumental in learning how to collaborate using real footage from real clients.
“[The class] was pretty invaluable in getting a taste of what a studio pipeline would be and having people you’re beholden to and a team you work with,” she remembered. “And it’s not working in a vacuum in your dorm or apartment, projects only you and your instructor might see. Having that kind of exposure early on was really unique and special.”
Academy of Art University alumna Ryan Bauer with her “Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Support Role” Emmy for her work on Gotham with the CoSA VFX team. Photo courtesy of Alex Gitler.
For Gitler, these types of hands-on, real-world scenarios wouldn’t be possible without the high-caliber instructors the Academy brings in to teach its students. The newly-minted Emmy winners relay part of their success back to their education and the instructors who were models on how to perform and navigate a cutthroat field.
“Getting to see how industry professionals work and how they think is much better than someone just teaching you how to push a button to get something to work,” he reflected. “At the end of the day, you really want inspiration out of the people you work with to want to be better and learn new things and I think that starts at school. If you have teachers and your department heads that inspire you to go further and do better, then you will.”
“School is not only a place to learn how to do the art but it’s also learning what to expect once you get into the industry,” Bauer added. “Having people who have been in the industry as your instructors is crucial so that you know how to not only be good at your art, but make yourself a useful employee that companies will want to bring you back time and time again. Not just because you’re good, but because you’re a great teammate and you’re a good collaborator.”