VFX Interview 003: Alarich Alvarez Mahl: Compositor / Roto Paint Artist

How did you first learn about VFX (Visual Effects)?

I started by making my own videos. Like a lot of other people, I wanted to know how to make the lightsaber effect. The program I used for that was After Effects. There were lots of tutorials for After Effects online that I watched to learn about VFX.

Alarich Alvarez Mahl

How did you choose a school to learn VFX?

Most of my research was done online. I looked at student reviews of schools on message boards. Student work was also really important. Everything I saw pointed me to Lost Boys School of Visual Effects.

What did you get out of your experience at Lost Boys School of VFX?

I learned a lot. After graduation, I had a well-rounded education and set of skills. Lost Boys helped me get a foot in the door at a studio. From that, I was able to get my first job in VFX. I also made good friends that I still hang out with today.

What led you to pursue work in VFX?

My goal was to get into the film industry, to write and direct my own films. Knowing about visual effects is a skill that will be helpful for my future, not only for my current work. A director with a visual effects background can communicate easily with that department.

As a filmmaker/director with experience on set, how would you compare working in post-production to production?

They are very similar. You encounter many of the same problems and solutions, even if production is more physical. Both jobs can be very draining, but different types of energy are required. You still have to make judgment calls regardless.

Okja

What are some of your credits?

My recent ones are: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Okja, Power Rangers, and Doctor Strange. The others haven’t been released yet.

Could you tell us about your experience working on Okja for Netflix?

For that film, I did so many things: paint, roto, vendor fixes, and even a bit of matte painting. Okja was probably the most complicated job I’ve ever done. Most of the shots I worked on were above 600 frames, each at 4K resolution.

What was your favourite film to work on and why?

My favourite film to work on so far has actually been Power Rangers. Many of the stunts were done practically, so there were a lot of shots that needed wires removed and clothing recreated. I found that kind of work fun because I had creative control.

Power Rangers

What has been your favourite studio to work at so far?

Method Studios. They get all of the big Marvel movies, the work schedule is reasonable, and the pay is good.

What software did you use while at Method?

I used Nuke for roto and paint and mocha Pro for tracking.

How do you explain your job to your family and friends?

I always say it is like Photoshop but for video. Then instantly, they get it.

Did you ever work on a shot that seemed impossible? How did you deal with it?

I complained. (Laughs). Just kidding. I asked for help. I worked with a paint lead who was really good at breaking down a shot into individual tasks. That process makes it much easier to manage the workflow. Now I use that skill whenever I start a new shot to plan ahead.

What do you like most about your job?

It is seen by everybody, at the movie theatre, on a giant screen. I can point and say with pride that I worked on that shot.

Is there a film or series you would like to work on in the future?

I would love to work on a new episode of Star Wars.

Doctor Strange

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in the VFX industry?

Pick up the software and start learning. There are trial and non-commercial versions you can download at home for free. Once you get a job in a studio, always ask for help when you need it. Try to learn from people who are more experienced. Be active, not passive.

Thank you for your time, Alarich.

My pleasure.

Interview by Andrew Zeller. August 2, 2017.

Connect with Alarich Alvarez Mahl on Linkedin.

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