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The VFX Factor: Maria Carriedo on an Unquenchable Thirst for Perfection


Freefolk Studio’s CG lead on the future of Unreal Engine, her love of game cinematics and the joys of bringing out the best in each other

The VFX Factor: Maria Carriedo on an Unquenchable Thirst for Perfection

Maria Carriedo is CG lead at Freefolk Studios. Maria has built up an impressive body of work from her start at Digital Domain in LA to CG lead at The Mill for high-profile brands including Smart Energy ( AMV), Direct Line (Saatchi & Saatchi) and the multi-award-winning Heathrow Bears Campaign (Havas).

LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum - the invisible post and the big, glossy 'VFX heavy' shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those? 

Maria> I think this spectrum is what makes VFX so great. For instance, invisible VFX can be incredibly challenging because it has to be undetectable, meaning that if the audience can spot that we have added something in the shot, it breaks the illusion and ruins the magic. Hence, we have to carefully find a balance where anything that we add makes the story better and the shot believable, sometimes details so small and so subtle they can be imperceptible on their own, but when you put everything together it really makes a huge difference.

On the other hand, those big glossy VFX shots, can sometimes be a case where ‘more is more’. You want to bring all the big guns out and make something that, while still balanced, is as big and as crazy as the story allows you to be. These types of shots can be really fun to work on, they really push the creative side of artists and add some really interesting challenges along the way. 

LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them? 

Maria> That we are there to help them bring their vision to life, and that in the end it's all about teamwork. Sometimes in shoots, everyone is so laser focused on their task that VFX is a bit forgotten about, but we have to remember that we need each other to bring out the best in the final shot. 

LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Maria> I studied VFX in Gnomon School of Visual FX in Los Angeles, California, and I did my BA in design in IBERO university in Mexico city. 

LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Maria> We usually get a script, or sometimes just a few pages with the general vibe, story and visual language from a potential client. Our job at the start of the project is to help materialise some of the most abstract concepts and make an estimate on how long things will take and what resources we will need. 

LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Maria> This one is a tricky one! As an artist I think I struggle with detaching myself from the piece and calling it done. There’s always something that could be better or that I wish I could go back and fix. It’s that unquenchable thirst for perfection that is so hard to resist when you are so passionate about a project. 

LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Maria> I’m really looking forward to seeing where Unreal Engine goes, especially with virtual production since I think it opens up a whole new world and makes collaboration between Pre and post production a lot easier. Sometimes it's hard to imagine what the VFX will look like but this would really help bridge that gap.  

And of course I can’t not mention Houdini from Side FX. I think it’s the most exciting software and I can’t wait for it to become the standard in a lot of post houses…. Also, Houdini + Unreal = Powerhouse!

LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Maria> To be fair, I think VFX is one of those professions where we are lucky we can do almost everything remotely. I don’t think productivity was affected by that shift and in a way it has proven that it works and it’s a possibility to have a hybrid workflow. I do think it can make things difficult for new starters and recent graduates since you sometimes need a bit more hand holding at the start of a new studio to get a grip on the inhouse tools and getting to know everyone.

LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Maria> Like I said before, that we can do it! But also that as a team we need to stay in touch and make an effort to hang out and touch base with everyone. Even though I love my days working from home, the team needs to get together at some point and really build that camaraderie and rapport that in the end is only going to help the project. The last thing you would want is to feel like a cog in the machine, and sometimes being isolated from workmates and the office can feel a bit like that. 

LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time? 

Maria> I was fortunate enough to be taught by active professionals at Gnomon, which meant that when I graduated I got my first internship at Psyop in LA, thanks to my teacher Stephen Dellala, and my first official job at Digital Domain, also thanks to my teacher Matt Rosenfeld.

Biggest lesson from this is that VFX, as an industry, is pretty small. People will notice if you are a hard worker, if you are willing to learn, and unsurprisingly, if you are nice to work with. You can be super talented, but if nobody likes you, you are not going to get the job. 

LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of? 

Maria> I love game cinematics, so working on ‘Varus’ for  League of Legends was so much fun. We really tried to push the creative and I think we succeeded in getting some really beautiful shots in the end. My most recent milestone project would be the one for Smart Energy Einstein, which went to win a VES for best character animation! 

LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why? 

Maria> Skoda - Freefolk: A simple concept done so well, beautiful lighting and animation and bringing some much needed storytelling to car adverts.

Anchor - Butter The Food Butter The Mood - Freefolk: Just a bit of crazy camera work and some CG trickery to get a really fun result.

Rocky Balboa - Ladbrokes - Selected Works: Bringing back to life a classic in such an elegant way. Really love how the guys at SW integrated original footage with a very complex shoot so seamlessly. 

Burberry - Mill/MPC: I think we are sensing a common theme here for my love for storytelling through camera work. Mill/MPC advertising did an outstanding job delivering this beautiful film, with invisible VFX that really took it up a notch and pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with a good rig and a talented team. 

Pharrell feat 21 savage - Cash in Cash out - ETC: Not exactly advertising, but some of the most creative use of CG I’ve seen in a while! The artists at ETC really delivered into making such a creative piece that I’m sure we’ll see it referenced again and again in the future.

Frito, Lay Push it - Untold: Untold has been really ‘pushing it’ when it comes to creature work in advertising, just some beautiful work and really setting the standard for this type of work. Goes to show that when an artist knows their stuff they can break the rules of reality and still make the audience believe it. 

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Freefolk, Tue, 23 Aug 2022 11:28:45 GMT