How did you gain the skills necessary for visual effects? Gaining the technical skills was the easy part. The artistic ones, however, are a lot harder because you need to know yourself pretty well and understand the creative direction you want to go for. To complicate matters further, the field of visual effects (VFX) has been moving at breakneck speed for the past 30 years, rendering obsolete knowledge we were proud to have mastered. Once again, it has been the journey back to basics that enables us to keep on top of those changes.
How does your training in architecture inform your work? Architecture has been a massive part of who I am. In particular, my wish to construct physically plausible things, and my wish to create stylized yet realistic animations that are accurate from a physics point of view and embrace the physical limitations of the world we live in, enable me to understand my work in a way that resonates with me.
What are the biggest differences between working on visual effects for clients in the advertising industry versus the entertainment industry? The main difference is that we have a product to showcase in advertising projects, although I strongly believe there is a happy space where entertainment and advertising become one. This elusive “holy grail” requires many factors and elements to happen, but when it does, it’s more powerful than advertising or entertainment existing in isolation.
How have visual effects unfettered storytellers across the advertising and entertainment industries? Although CGI and VFX have been misunderstood and overutilized, when these tools are in the right hands, they are a liberating force for the director’s creative vision.
The advertising industry has naturally embraced VFX because ad agencies are in the business of grabbing your attention and taking you on an immersive journey in a limited time frame. But we have moved from the escapist and bombastic VFX to a deeper psychological space where VFX tools are utilized in a more powerful, realistic manner.
In the film industry, we are now creating experiences we previously thought were impossible and, in some cases, we are fooling audiences altogether. Those tools and techniques, combined with a larger workforce and the ascent of streaming, are now enabling TV series to incorporate advanced VFX as well—VFX that was too expensive before, but is now within reach. Therefore, the impact of VFX on the film industry has been extraordinary, to the point that I compare it to the transition from silent movies to talkies.
How do you balance realism and imagination in your work? The reality of the world goes through the lens of my culture and training to bring the director’s vision to life. A perfect example is a project I did for Carlsberg, directed by Juan Cabral, in which the endless emotions of the Premier League are visualized as a rollercoaster with an endless number of carriages. It was a build that would normally have been shot in a studio on green screen and would probably have looked terrible. Instead, thanks to Juan’s always novel and challenging vision, we worked hard to invent the necessary techniques and tools to be able to execute it for real. The artists cried and didn’t sleep! But we cracked it and the end result looks terrific, precisely because Juan didn’t want to shoot in a studio. We made it happen.
What is the most exciting ad campaign you’ve seen recently? Nike’s Dream Crazy campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. The fact that a brand has recognized the power it has to change the world for good by associating itself with difficult political issues, putting its money where its mouth is, has been the most refreshing and emotional part. I am certain that in the future, this campaign will be remembered as one of the most important pieces of advertising in history.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on the visual effects industry in the next few years? High dynamic range (HDR) is going to help us produce super realistic, higher contrast and superior looking images that, side by side with competitors, are going to stand out in a way we haven’t seen before.
What has been the most difficult image you’ve created using visual effects for a campaign? The Honda short film “Endless Road,” directed by Chris Palmer, is still the most challenging project I have been a part of, mostly because Palmer’s vision was to build the environment. The amount of research, design and planning was extraordinarily difficult despite initially seeming simple. Palmer’s vision was so sophisticated that it took us a good month to understand what he was even asking us to do. From model-making costs, visual repetition, light switching, motion control design, environment visualization and designing the set on the fly, it required a lot of time to do justice to his vision.
What excites you about visual effects right now? It has always been about having the freedom to come up with solutions that nobody has thought of. When clients are curious to know more, engaging and asking lots of questions, then I know I am doing my job well. I enjoy making the whole experience feel effortless and interpreting those questions at the earliest stages to bring out the most appropriate solutions. Therefore, I can bring something to the table on every single job. I am also surrounded by amazingly talented artists I trust, so I know that anything I throw at them, they are going to help me make it happen. In the end, this is a team sport.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? Make sure you are seen as an honest and trustworthy individual, eager to be part of the solution, who listens, interprets, is committed and works cleverly. We don’t need robots; we need artists who truly make a difference, so be a part of it.