I started my VFX career 17 years ago, and since then I’ve worked for different studios in Barcelona, London, San Francisco and Vancouver. Currently, I work at ILM Vancouver as an Associate VFX Supervisor.
Outside of work, I enjoy photography in general, and astrophotography in particular, although I don’t get to practice those hobbies as much as I used to.
Tell us about the first person or studio who paid you to work in VFX. How did the opportunity come about?
I started in the VFX industry in Barcelona, Spain. I took an internship at Filmtel, a small boutique VFX studio, inspired by the visuals they produced for Buñuel y la Mesa del Rey Salomón.
Josep Maria Aragonés was the owner and creative director at Filmtel at the time. He was both the first person to pay me to do VFX and the one who inspired me to pursue that career in the first place.
If you could go back in time to your early years of working in VFX, what advice would you give yourself to get ahead in your career?
Don’t be afraid to ask things you don’t know, or to share things that you do. Early on in my career, I thought by asking questions I would be showing how unqualified I was for the job. Ironically, it was only after I gained some confidence in my own skills and abilities that I started getting comfortable with asking. I could have learned a lot more and a lot faster had it not been for that fear.
What characteristics did your favourite supervisor possess? What have you learned from them that has shaped the way you approach your work, and be an effective leader for your team?
The best quality of my favourite supervisor I’ve ever worked with was the unrelenting ability to get the best out of each artist. The kind of person who would still give you notes at the 11th hour, but did it in such a way that made you feel good about your work, so you were always motivated to do more and better.
After all, one of the hardest things about the job for an artist is that you’re constantly putting your work up for criticism, and it’s easy to see each iteration towards a final as a “failure”. If you have a supervisor that’s sharing that responsibility with you and truly taking in your input along the way, you’re a lot more likely to continue being creative and proactive, instead of just “doing as told”.
Witnessing how powerful that characteristic can be has definitely shaped the way I approach my work. It’s not just about finding things to compliment in each version, it’s also showing respect for the work, taking the time to listen to ideas, etc. It takes a lot of dedication, but the quality of the work gets elevated.
Who inspires you, and what are the most valuable lessons you have learned from them?
There are many people in different fields (sportsmen, CEOs, politicians, filmmakers, etc.) that I find inspiring, but I don’t have a specific one that I look up to or feel inspired by the most.
In film, I’ve been inspired by Scorsese, Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro. Other people that have inspired me recently are Elon Musk, Alex Honnold (Free Solo), Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal (I like tennis) or Bill and Melinda Gates.
The most valuable lessons I’ve learned are from my parents and my wife, though. Be passionate, be kind, be the best you can be in doing what you love.
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.
My first show as a Comp Supervisor was a negative experience for me. I don’t know if it was a failure, but it certainly felt like one at the time.
I spent a lot of time being angry and frustrated at other people. At the time I didn’t know if I should blame the company I worked for, the show, my supervisor and managers, the role, or myself. I thought maybe I wasn’t a good fit for a comp supe role, and it made me rethink whether that was a path I wanted to pursue any longer.
Shortly after an opportunity came up for the same role somewhere else. I needed the change, but it forced me to really think about how to avoid repeating the same experience. It turns out that episode made me reflect and admit some things about myself, learn about how I handled the pressure, my blind spots, the things that triggered me, etc. I figured I couldn’t really control how things would be like in this new show, but I could at least control how I reacted to them.
What is a value or soft skill you wish more compositors would cultivate?
The ability to compromise but also persuade. I find that most great team players are good at both making and receiving suggestions. It’s not an easy balance to strike. It comes naturally to some people, whereas others (I belong to this group) need to cultivate those skills.
One thing that can help develop those skills is to pair up with a colleague (or multiple) and agree to volunteer feedback on each other’s shots. This can be awkward at times, especially if you don’t share the same artistic view. But getting in the habit of hearing different points of view, as well as defending your own, helps build those negotiation skills that I think are very valuable when working in a team.
When supervising a show, what does your thought process sound like when deciding where to draw the line between kicking work back upstream, or committing to improving a shot in comp?
I’d love to say I have a process for that, and that I weigh the costs/time it’s going to take in each discipline, etc.
In reality, because my background is in compositing, I tend to be more comfortable pushing things to comp and trying solutions/improvements there. Every show is different, though, and knowing which departments are shorter in resources also weighs in those decisions.
One thing I do like to incorporate into that process is dialogue, though. If there’s potential for things being addressed in different departments, I like to put those shots in dailies and ask everyone involved to help me find the best way to address it. More often than not I find those discussions yield smarter and more efficient plans than I could have thought of on my own.
What problem or inefficiency still exists in most Compositing pipelines in 2020, and how should we approach solving them?
I believe most of the inefficiencies in any pipeline these days have to do with the review/approval process — and more specifically with the human aspect of it, more than any technical hurdles that we may face in our day-to-day.
We’ve all been on shows that had “too many layers” of approval, and seen how much time and creativity is potentially wasted between each of those layers. On the other hand, higher volume and tighter schedules demand that multiple people are able to provide feedback to keep things moving, or artists would be waiting for feedback for too long.
Obviously different shows will require different strategies to strike the right balance, but I think the key ingredients to addressing this issue are transparency and integrity. As long as everyone is focused on the same creative goal, different aesthetics and opinions are relatively easy to reconcile. When you add personal interests and other politics into that mix, the whole system can grind to a halt.
How do you think advances in real-time rendering & machine learning are shaping our industry?
I personally love that real-time rendering advances, coming mostly from the gaming industry, are not only unlocking new possibilities in the VFX industry, but even putting pressure on classic “production renderers”. Competition leads to innovation, and our industry definitely stands to benefit from that.
On the real-time front, Unreal Engine is already being used to drive content in virtual production stages. There’s also huge potential for real-time (or near-real-time) renderers in previs and postviz. The ability to produce cinematic-looking previsualizations is going to greatly improve how we can share ideas and be creative partners with filmmakers early on.
As for machine learning, there’s so much opportunity in the optimization and automation of certain tasks (machine learning assisted denoising, rotoscoping, etc.). I think we’re just starting to see the tip of the iceberg, though. I can’t wait to witness in what clever ways we can teach computers to render our artistic vision in ways we’ve never seen before.
Where can people find more about you and your work?
I work at Industrial Light & Magic in Vancouver. If you want to know more about recent work or shows that are currently in production, check out www.ilm.com