Local grad worked on ‘Batman v Superman’

Visual effects artist lives in Los Angeles.

Contact this contributing writer at PamDillon@woh.rr.com.

If you’ve seen the movie “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” then you’ve seen the work of Springboro High School graduate Lee Johnson. The visual effects artist was hired by DC Entertainment to create background work in the movie.

“So much of movies and TV nowadays are enhanced with computer graphics. When you see shots of Batman and Superman careening off buildings, they don’t have capes on during filming,” said Johnson, 33, who currently lives in Los Angeles. “It’s a weird land between animation and engineering.”

When Johnson was growing up, he remembers his mom, Pam, bringing home huge stacks of computer paper from her job with General Motors. The backsides were white and primed for creativity.

“I would sit and watch cartoons and draw. Especially during Ohio winters, you don’t get out much,” said Johnson, an SHS 2001 graduate. “It’s what I liked doing when I was younger and it stuck with me.”

As a child, he devoured X-Men comic books. As a teenager, his superhero was Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions. Johnson played football for SHS as a fullback.

He was asked what he would do with superpowers if he had them: “Who wouldn’t want to be a superhero; that would be amazing,” Johnson said. “I would use my powers to help people.”

Johnson took a circuitous route to get to where he is today. He had a short stint at Ohio State University and then quickly transferred to Texas State because of its prestigious design program. He graduated in 2007 and moved to Canada to study 3D/VFX at Vancouver Film. He earned a graduate diploma of animation and effects in 2009.

“There were a lot of nice things about Canada,” Johnson said. “People have a general friendliness and politeness about them, and the mountains were amazing.”

He left the North Shore mountains for peaks such as Mount Hood and Three Fingered Jack in Oregon, where he worked for six months with Adidas. Then it was off to admire Diamond Head in Oahu for two years with Hawaii Animation Studios. There he contributed visual effects for the “Veggie Tales” series and dinosaur shows on the Discovery Channel.

At that point, he felt he had enough experience to try freelancing for awhile. He moved to San Francisco and then to Las Vegas.

“Freelancing was a lot of fun and all that, but then there was a stagnation in hiring and I took a step back,” Johnson said.

He was hired as an artist for Petrol, an advertising company based in Burbank, Calif. He also did visual effects work for Side Effects Software, based in Santa Monica, Calif.

Then, like the name of the first movie he was to work on, his career took flight. He moved to Dallas to be a character effects artist for the 2013 Reel FX feature film “Free Birds.” That led to another feature film for Reel FX, “The Book of Life,” in 2014. Then, the most current film for DC Entertainment, “Batman v Superman.”

“It’s a fun job but not easy because of the long hours; some weeks I’d work as much as 105 hours,” Johnson said. “But the co-workers are fun and we help each other out. It benefits everyone, and we can all get out sooner.”

Like a real superhero.