“My name is Freddy Chávez Olmos. I’m a Visual Effects Supervisor currently working at Barnstorm VFX in Vancouver. I also write and direct short films mostly in the horror and sci-fi genre.”
Tell us about the first person or studio who paid you to do VFX. How did the opportunity come about?
It was Zoic Studios, after trying to land a VFX job 4 – 5 months after graduating from school with no luck. I almost gave up but they opened the first door with a 4-week contract which I will always appreciate as that opportunity led me to a long contract, salary increase and a long relationship at Image Engine afterwards.
You’re one few people I know who sets out to make their own films outside of work, and one of even fewer who actually completes them. Would you say you’re always motivated or unwaveringly disciplined, and what steps can others take to cultivate these traits?
As you mentioned, there’s a lot of people who will tell you that they have an idea for a film project but very few execute them and just a handful of those will ever get to the finish line. I’ve always admired those who did and I wanted to be part of that club. I love storytelling and I enjoy creating content even if it’s just intended for a video blog or a small family video. I enjoy the process of coming up with ideas, putting all the pieces together and executing them. At least for me, getting into the habit of creating content no matter how small it is, is a good way to cultivate these traits.
Speaking of creating your own films, you do so alongside a busy VFX Supervisor schedule & having a family. How do you manage your time to ensure you pay adequate attention to each?
When you have a baby, you learn a lot about time management. I used to stay up very late quite often (3am) doing side projects but that started to affect my health as I felt I couldn’t fit in time to sleep well, exercise or have healthy eating habits. After my first daughter was born, I learned to work smarter and have a schedule in place for everything. That changed my life completely as I felt I could do more things in my day.
Working long hours doesn’t mean you are more productive. That’s a mistake we tend to fall into quite often, especially coming from a VFX background. In my VFX supervising role I try to keep my production meetings and daily sessions short and right to the point. I have experienced other people spending 30-minutes giving notes on one shot, or having a production meeting for more than an hour and going in circles. At least for me, that’s a waste of time.
The same rule applies for all my side projects. I try to keep my reviewing sessions short to allow more time to do creative work (writing, editing, shot lists, etc). I find using tools like Quicktime’s Screen Recording option or even WhatsApp’s voice messages have been immensely helpful to communicate with other artists and departments in a very time-effective manner. In my latest short film “Duérmete Niño”, these were the main tools we used for communication with my co-writer, sound designer, music composer and visual effects studios.
Do these time management skills translate on a more macro scale, in terms of how you organize your own workday and your team’s schedules?
I believe they do as having a schedule has helped me manage my time in and out of my VFX job. Regarding my team, I always try to make sure they have a manageable and balanced workload. I tend to shuffle things around every now and then when an artist is struggling with one particular shot. That way, he/she doesn’t fall behind and makes the rest of the team look after each other. Avoiding unnecessary overtime has always been a priority in my role and having a supportive production team behind this mindset is also an important factor I look for in every job.
Who inspires you, and what valuable lessons have you picked up from them?
Years ago when I started doing my own films I got a piece of advice from Gareth Edwards (Star Wars: Rogue One, Godzilla) that has been very valuable to this day and I still keep it by my desk. It says:
“Thanks Freddy, yeah, I worked with so many people in VFX who kept talking about making a film and no-one ever did. Glad to hear you are going to just go for it. Hope you’re able to get some financing to help you, even if its just for the psychology of knowing you have to deliver something on a certain date. I know if I’d ended up spending my own money I would have either given up, or still be cutting it now, but that’s just me… Anyway, best of luck with it all, maybe our VFX paths will cross in Vancouver.”Gareth Edwards
Other directors like Guillermo del Toro and Neill Blomkamp have been also a huge influence in my career as they all come from an FX background (Guillermo in Makeup FX and Neill in VFX). They show what you can achieve if you’re focused, persistent and determined in what you do.
Being a VFX Supervisor at present, and running a VFX school in the past has given you a lot of experience in teaching & mentoring junior VFX artists. What advice do you give junior artists who want to rapidly progress their careers? Additionally, what advice would you give to more-senior artists wanting to effectively mentor their junior colleagues?
I can honestly say that the opportunities I have been given to step up in my VFX career have come from everything I do outside my VFX job. There was a time in my life when I felt stuck in a senior comp role and I wasn’t progressing anymore. I wasn’t given the opportunity to prove I could do more in the studio I was working for either. I really wanted to offer more than that.
It was then that I decided to create opportunities for myself to prove it. What kind of skills does a lead or supervising role require? Client relationships, time management, leadership, bidding, good communication with other departments, mentorship, team support, creative decisions and execution. Having this in mind, I was motivated to open a visual effects school in Mexico and team up with two people I admired as comp supervisors and learn from them while doing that, Shervin Shoghian (comp sup at ILM) and Alex Llewellyn (comp sup at Method). Having our graduates landing jobs in big studios proved that I could guide and mentor other artists and develop entrepreneurship skills I didn’t know I had.
I also started to direct my own film projects around that time. This helped me immensely in terms of learning about time management, communication with other departments, budgets, creative decisions, execution and client relationships. For the last 5-6 years, all the job interviews that have landed me leading, comp supervising and VFX supervising roles have been about describing the stuff I do outside my VFX job and that feels great!!!
When you get stuck on a problem, what does your thought process or inner-talk sound like? What’s your process for starting to solve said problem?
All the creative stuff I do becomes at some point a problem-solving task. From re-writing a part in a story that doesn’t work, editing a scene that doesn’t flow or trying to hit a client note that is ambiguous. Whatever the issue is, I tend to tackle it the same way: by trial and error. If I ever find myself going in circles, it’s always a good indicator to take a little break and discuss with my peers about other possible solutions that I haven’t thought about. I think it’s essential to be collaborative with your team when finding solutions to a problem.
Tell us about your most productive failure — something that didn’t quite go to plan, perhaps in a negative way, that you ultimately learned from.
I have a whole one-hour presentation about this topic, lol. I think you need to fail in the process of accomplishing things. The first time you give a try at something will never be your best. I remember 10 years ago when my wife got me to start running as part of our exercising routine together. I sucked at it big time. I also hated it because I felt I wasn’t good enough to even run 5K when she had already accomplished a full Iron Man. But I used that as part of my motivation to keep trying and slowly I started going from 5K to 10K, from half marathons to full marathons. I love running now and part of that is the feeling of accomplishment. This has allowed us to travel together to other parts of the world while doing this sport.
Another example related to our field, was back when I graduated from VFX school and I couldn’t land my first job. I sent out my demo reel to all the studios I knew about in Vancouver (Zoic Studios, Image Engine, Frantic, Stargate, Rainmaker) but no one called me. I was very disappointed but I remember my parents encouraged me to keep trying so I did. I kept working on my demo reel on my own and decided to apply to the same companies again. A week later, I received a call from Image Engine and Zoic Studios for job interviews and that’s how it all started.
Are there any books / podcasts / documentaries / TED talks, etc. that you have recently consumed, that have had an impact on your life?
There are a couple of YouTube channels that I have been following for the last couple of years that are very inspirational and give you an honest insight into the creative and frustrations of the filmmaking process.
David S. Sandberg (director of Lights Out, Shazam and Annabelle Creation).
Creative North (Documentary Filmmaker)
Where do you think the VFX industry is headed in the next 5 years, and how do you think we’ll get there?
I really hope the desire to create IP content grows up more in VFX studios. I really believe there are business opportunities to be explored there. Focusing on creating IP during downtimes and making use of their own talent pool and resources in a different way could potentially give them the chance to have more control of the outcome. With that being said, they also need to be willing to invest in a sales department that could help them land distribution deals.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
For any of my work: www.freddychavezolmos.com
I also have a new horror short film called “Duérmete Niño” coming out online this Halloween. Stay tuned…