CalArts Alumni Magazine
Visuals Effects and Title Designer Randy Balsmeyer, Courtesy of the Artist Visuals Effects and Title Designer Randy Balsmeyer, Courtesy of the Artist

‘I heard you paint houses’ in 29 Languages

Visuals Effects and Title Designer Randy Balsmeyer

There’s a sequence in Martin Scorsese’s film The Irishman that consumed Randy Balsmeyer (Art BFA 73) for weeks. It’s a seemingly simple series of text seen a few minutes into the film. White block letters flash on black:

I HEARD (then a shot of a moving road)

YOU (more moving road)

PAINT HOUSES.

It’s code for “I understand you do assassinations.” But because this movie was released on Netflix, and would play in more than 190 countries, the text needed translation. As title designer for The Irishman, that fell to Balsmeyer, who worked with Scorsese’s editors and Netflix translators around the world. “My job is to make it all get on screen, make sense, and look good,” he says. “It was 29 languages that we did it for.” The back-and-forth to adapt that sequence, and others with text in the film, took two months.

For Balsmeyer, globalization is simply the latest adjustment in the ever-changing film industry, where he’s worked since the 1980s, doing title design, visual effects, cinematography, and directing alongside notable filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Joel and Ethan Coen, Jim Jarmusch, and Scorsese.

Right now, he’s wrapping work on Spike Lee’s latest film, Da 5 Bloods, about four Vietnam veterans who return to Vietnam 50 years after the war to find the remains of their platoon leader and dig up a chest of gold they’d buried. Balsmeyer, the visual effects supervisor, is overseeing more than 400 visual effects shots, including a helicopter crash, battles, and landmine explosions. In addition to the whizbang effects, he says that technology today allows him to do a lot more refining in post-production, such as removing a blink here or changing the angle of an arm there. “Thirty years ago, you would not have considered doing something like that. You’d just live with it,” he says.

Balsmeyer describes his career path as a “series of accidents.” A few years after graduating from CalArts, he was hired by a small film company in Seattle called Alpha Cine, where he used an early computerized animation camera called the Oxberry to experiment with visuals and title design. He moved to New York in 1980 to work with R/Greenberg Associates, a leading new company in title design, and then opened his own visual effects and title company, Balsmeyer & Everett, Inc., with his now ex-wife, Mimi Everett. In 2001, he became its sole owner and changed the name to Big Film Design.

His filmography includes such recognizable titles such as Shutter Island, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Wolf of Wall Street, Spotlight, and The Dead Don’t Die. That list continues to grow—as he’s also working on the title sequence for Ron Howard’s latest film, Hillbilly Elegy. “It’s been a long, crazy ride,” he says.

After that film’s in the can, who knows? His life, like the movies, is a narrative full of surprises. “I’m still working on the script,” he says.