An Interview with Special Effects Artist Assistant Chinatsu Tokuda

Special Effects, also written as SFX, are just about everywhere these days, from big Hollywood feature films to commercials and small-scale online videos. 

Back in the day, SFX meant using props and creative camera techniques to create fantastical illusions. 

Of course, now, despite practical effects still being a viable option, SFX also includes a great deal of computer work as a way of executing effects that just wouldn't have been possible in decades past. 

We recently had the chance to interview SFX professional Chinatsu Tokuda. 

Originally from Japan, Tokuda is currently an SFX assistant in Brooklyn. She has completed work for major international brands, including KitKat, Moen, MAC Cosmetics, and many others. 

We talked to Tokuda about how she entered the field of SFX, how she achieved success in that field, and what it's like to execute SFX for branded content. 

Check out the full interview right here.  

To start out, what sparked your initial interest in special effects?

Tokuda: I am very interested in the advertising industry, which is full of various interesting ideas, and when I thought about what I could do with this desire to be involved in it, I met a special effects artist who is also my boss, and I was really impressed with the depth of making things behind the scenes.

Chinatsu Tokuda SFX

What was your first professional special effects assignment?

Tokuda: It was a KitKat TV commercial. We used a real KitKat and shot the motion of a cookie crumb popping out of the broken chocolate. 

I attached two magnets on the left and right sides of the back of the chocolate and used two threads with magnets, which were hanging on a FISSO. By pulling them at the same time, the chocolate broke cleanly without using our hands. 

After graduating from college in San Diego, I joined my current company in Brooklyn, New York, and on my third day of work, I was the assistant on a project in a shooting studio with a director and clients for the first time. 

I remember I was very nervous and flurried under the pressure but also excited at the same time to work with professionals. I still feel like that three-day project was only like three hours for me. I will never forget the pressure and sense of accomplishment on my first shoot. 

Do you enjoy working in branded content? 

Tokuda: Yes, I enjoy it very much. For example, my first project, KitKat, is a big candy brand that everyone in the world knows, and it was very inspiring. I'm very proud to work with famous brands.

Chinatsu Tokuda SFX

Detail of one of Tokuda's projects.

Do you find it difficult to keep up with technological developments related to SFX?

Tokuda: In my opinion, the convenience and certainty of the SFX I create is evolving at the same time as technology evolves. 

Because special effects are created by our hands, it is possible to express novelty that cannot be created with new technology. I think keeping up with technological development shouldn't be difficult once you're willing to understand and embrace new technologies.

Which of your projects so far has been the most creatively satisfying for you? 

Tokuda: The crystal we made for shooting advertisements in La Mer took a lot of time to make, and I am satisfied with the degree of perfection we achieved. 

Once when I returned to Japan, I saw that advertisement in the cosmetics department of a department store. I was very impressed to see the project I had worked on in New York in my home country.

When watching contemporary movies, do you find yourself paying close attention to the visual effects?

Tokuda: To be honest, I'm more interested in random poster advertisements in the city and video advertisements that you can see on YouTube or in modern movies. 

Of course, I'm also interested in very creative special effects in movies, and I really enjoy watching behind-the-scenes videos after watching the movie. It's inspiring to see the process behind the work.

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