Victor Perez is a Spanish film director, producer, screenwriter and visual effects artist with more than 20 year of combined experience, and has worked on a number of Hollywood films, including ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, plus many more. His latest short film ‘Echo’ (2017) uses pioneering, never-seen-before motion control technology and was shot in just five long takes. The film as already won 14 awards worldwide. Victor’s passion for story telling combined with his award-winning directing and visual effects artistry has positioned him as an up-and-coming film director and a one-to-watch in the industry.
Today, people know you as VFX artist, lecturer, director, screenwriter, and producer, but you’ve started your career as an actor. Can you tell us something about these beginnings? Your first steps in this industry?
Sometimes, depending on the period of my life, I felt more comfortable doing a certain way of expression instead of another. I have to say that from the very, very beginning, I was very attracted to being an actor. I loved to be the protagonist of the story, let’s say.
I was always fantasizing, and playing, and imagining things. Doing quests in the middle of the forest. That was actually kind of a game for me. So, it was playing. The thing is, from a very early age, I started doing both, playing and imagining things and reading stories.
And also, on the other hand, I had my brother that, at that time, he was studying photography and he was crazy enough to share the material with me. So, he’d lend me the cameras when I was six. So, he showed me how to do stop-motion animation and he gave me a bit of things to play with cameras and also with the computer. Because he was a photographer, and he was very interested in the digital side of photography. And we are talking about the mid 80s, late 80s, something like that. So he had like the first computer with graphic software, something, I remember it was the Amiga 500 or something like that, with Deluxe Paint.
For me it was, from the very beginning it was a game. Then, of course, I started studying Drama Arts and Performing Arts, and I was performing since I was 14 years old. What I mean, performing as a professional, so I was paid and I was working in theater, then later I was also doing TV and cinema as well in Spain. Not much, because I was mainly focused on theater, because I enjoyed that way more. And I liked also theatre masks, and that was my start with my contacts with Italy, it was because of Commedia Dell’Arte. You know, I was always busy doing this kind of art – photography, or VFX, or directing plays, or writing the plays, or whatever.
For me, everything, VFX artist, director, screenwriter, producer, you know, at the end of the day, it’s all the same. It’s a different language of doing the same thing. And even for lecturing. For me, lecturing is also, you know, it’s another way of learning. So, you teach and by the way you are teaching, you have to research and to learn, as well. So, you have to be a step ahead of everybody else. So, I mean, in short, it’s just, I was playing (laughs) from the very, very beginning.
After working for while as an actor, you’ve become VFX artist. How did that happened? What was it like for you to experience such an interesting crossover?
So, for me, doing the acting is really hard. I think actors are very, very strong characters. You need to be very constant in what you are doing, because, something that I don’t like from that job, sometimes you are judged not for the content of your professionality, or for your knowledge, but for your aspect. And that was something I didn’t like. I wanted to be like an actor able to perform everything. But there is no such an actor that can perform– because I love characters that can be played by, you know, an old man, or a young man, or a woman, or a different skin color, or whatever. So, you are limited by your shape. So, I didn’t like that.
I wanted to get something that can be aseptic, something that anybody in the world can be related. And I think images are like, a thousand words, as they say. I love the power of images, but not any image.
I started studying cinematography. So I was studying also, after finishing my studies as an actor at university, I started in the film academy in Italy, studying cinematography. I understood there the power of storytelling in the cinema form. Mostly, the power of images. For me, the real world is something that is not interesting. It’s not that it’s wrong to tell a story about the real world, but I certainly perceive that the real, real world is way more interesting than the story about the real world.
So, my way of storytelling is, of course, I want to shape the world. So, you know, I never meant to be a VFX artist. I just liked to play with images, and then one day, I discovered that it wasn’t that bad (laughs). So, I was doing it, and, I was always trying to make it more realistic, you know, the extra mile. It’s a challenge, and again, it’s a game. So, you always want to be better at that game, to be a better player. So, that is the idea of becoming a VFX artist, of course. I want to be able to represent the impossible. But, by the way I transmit the impossible, maybe I am going to inspire someone to make it possible.
So far, you have left your mark on some of the biggest blockbusters made in Hollywood. Can you tell us more about that experience? What came across as the biggest surprise to you?
The experience of working with big Hollywood blockbusters is like, it’s made of people (laughs). It’s made of many, many people. So, what you learn is, you know, when you start and you are very little, you see yourself like insignificant in relation with the rest of the industry. And then when you work in the industry, you realize that everybody is struggling for life. Like, everybody else. So, it’s just people, just trying to do their best. And sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t, but at least you are always trying to do your best. It’s like a very complex machine. So, being able to understand how the machine works is precious, it’s priceless for me.
And yes, it’s so amazing, when you see people joining forces and doing beautiful stuff. Because, you know, I don’t believe human beings are just being able to destroy and to be mean. I mean, we are artists. And, you know, for artists, sometimes, we just forget that we are doing the most beautiful job ever. We are creating! The act of creation belongs to gods. So, we are kind of miniature gods.
So, I love that, I love being a team together with many people from different backgrounds, from different countries, different cultures. And being able to tell one story, in one direction, I love that! And that’s why I love big projects, because it allows you the room to vocalize so much in something that you like, and you can grow up and become specialized, like super-specialized. That was one of the things that I like the most.
But, at the same time, if you don’t make room for yourself, and don’t respect the dynamics, it can be quite alienating. So you can be like in the middle of a machine, just asking yourself where do you fit . And I guess it’s also part of the research of who you are as an artist, also. To find your way, to find your expression. For a long time, I couldn’t feel like I was fitting in the industry. Yeah, because I needed space to research, and once you decide that, you understand that, okay, you cannot be like 24/7 just working, producing. You need also to experience, to test, to allow yourself to make mistakes. Because from the mistakes, you are sometimes going to get something meaningful. So, it’s, the big blockbusters is where the best people are going to do their best for everything, but it doesn’t mean that it’s the only way. So, yeah, I love putting things together.
You have worked with some of the most famous directors out there, from Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle to David Yates and Rob Marshal. Which collaboration was the most challenging and why? Who was the easiest director to work with?
I was mainly working for the big, big blockbusters. I was working mostly in the compositing department. So, I wasn’t in direct touch with the directors most of the time. Maybe the one that I was working most closely was Danny Boyle, because the film, 127 Hours, that I was working at, it was small enough just to keep the team more constrained.
And we were working closely with the director. And when he was coming to the monitors, and I was saying, “Hey, what do you think about that?” And he was, you know, why he loves what he loves. Sometimes he was accepting your suggestions, sometimes he was arguing with your suggestion and explaining why it’s not a good idea, so you understand more his point of view of the story. Because at the end, we are telling his story. That is the main thing.
Aside that, it’s a very big, big, big machine. So, yeah, I have been working with others. I love my work with The Dark Knight Rises, for instance, because at that time, it was the most technological challenge I could ever get. It was visual effects on IMAX scans, so from IMAX footage. And it was like a huge amount of resolution, and it was like green screens, so a lot of expectations after the first, The Dark Knight. I love Christopher Nolan as well, so I was never retiring, I was delivering. Sometimes we’d get comments for things that you never expect.
For instance, I remember getting a comment from Chris Nolan, from one of my shots, and it was regarding a, it was like a flickering light or something like that. So it was something very technical. But the answer I got to my question was not technical, it was about storytelling. So it was the implications of storytelling on that particular decision in visual effects, and why that wasn’t a good idea because it wasn’t characterizing the character the way he wanted to do. So, what I learned the most working with those directors is, they are so focused on the story. The technicalities, well, the technicalities and all day, the obsession with quality of the effects and stuff, that is for us as technicians, but they want to tell a story.
And, by the way, I really love to work with Danny Boyle. He’s a very nice guy. Very funny to work with. We were even pulling pranks (laughs), doing the thing with keys. I remember we were also watching the World Cup with him, at the studio. It was 2012, if I recall. No, 2010, yeah, the World Cup. And it was the one that Spain won, so yeah. I remember, they were insulting me, because England was getting worse than Spain. It was very human. We bonded, and that helps a lot.
You have also took a seat into the director’s chair and did some writing, too. When did you choose to fly on your own and why, since you’ve already achieved that much in Hollywood working with other artist?
I always wanted to be a director at the finish. And also, it’s related with the thing of writing. I always wanted to be a director and to write the stories, but for a long time, I thought I didn’t have anything to write about. So, I always said, “If I’m going to tell stories, and I’m going to tell stories at the big scale, because I want people to hear my stories, it’s because I have something very bold to say. So until that moment that I have, and I feel that I have the experience in my life to tell a story that is going to worth someone else’s time to watch, until then, I’m not going to do it. So, I’m going to do it only when I feel like I have something to say.” And you know, it was a few years ago that I started feeling like, “Yeah, I probably have things to say that the world should hear about.” And it was like that.
I had the preparation for that because I was studying in film-making, and, as an actor, I believe the acting process gives you a very good overview of how characters work. Of course, as an actor, you know how to create the mechanism once the script has been created. But, it helps a lot to shape a character when you are writing. So, yeah, it’s kind of, I guess, a natural evolution.
So, yeah, now, the thing, the problem is that I like it so much that I’m committed for doing more and better. So that’s why I’m preparing now my first feature film. Yeah, that’s it.
What are the pros and cons of working with other directors? And what is the hardest thing when you’re the one being completely in charge of the project?
If you are not the director, you have someone else with fresh eyes that is going to tell you what to do. Because the idea is, what to do and how to do it in terms of keeping the story. That is the nice thing.
The worst part is the same thing. Because sometimes, you want to tell the story in your own way, because as an artist, your creativity is like, “Yeah, I want to tell this because I love to say that in that way.” But maybe the director doesn’t agree with you. And sometimes, just, you know, being humble and telling someone else’s story, and understand that it’s not your own story, so you are at the service of other directors, that is a part that, yeah, it’s not always easy (chuckles). Because you are an artist, and everybody has a heart, and sometimes directors, they understand that they are working with artists, some other times they don’t and it’s way more difficult.
The good thing is when a director knows the language of visual effects. It’s really, really nice. When they don’t understand the process, it’s kind of difficult because they don’t know how to use the tool properly to tell the story, and not to technically solve problems. So, what we want to serve is the storytellers, not technicians, I would say. At least it’s my point of view.
From the perspective of VFX artist, how does it look like to work with some of the biggest actors we have at the moment? How much time do you spend working with them (while working on one movie)? Who was the biggest surprise for you and why?
I don’t even care about the actors. For me, they are just pixels on the screen (laughs). So, of course, it wasn’t like that in the very beginning, so I got very excited to work with Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribbean. And you know, working, having pixels of Batman on your screen, that is really cool.
I don’t have that much contact as a visual effects artist with actors. So, yeah, maybe, when you see Batman with the work that is still not done, it looks fake (laughs). Well, it looks as it is. It looks like an actor in a costume. So, yeah, that is something – at the same time it was very cool to be part of. I didn’t want to work on the movie ‘cause I want to enjoy the movie, ‘cause when you are working on the movie, you cannot enjoy the movie, because it already destroys. Like, when someone tells you the spoilers of something.
You also have an impressive career as VFX lecturer. Based on your experience so far, does one need to have a proper VFX career to be a good lecturer? What else does it take?
I guess a career helps. Because, of course, you have experience on the field. I guess, if you have no experience, what can you teach to other people? How can you teach how to do something you never did? So, it’s not having an impressive career that is going to make you a proper VFX lecturer, but you need to know very well. And the only way to know the thing is just getting on the mud. So you need to get inside and learn how the things work.
Because in theory, things work in a certain way. But in the practical side, things are very, very different. And also to experience. I need to experience what my students are going to experience, because I want to prepare them psychologically also. Also to put them in the mindset, to help them understand from the critical point of view what they are doing.
So, I would want them to be what I wasn’t able to be. So, I’m going to give them my experience, so they are going to start with 20 years of experience. So, that is my goal, they are going to start on the first day with all my experience. So, from there they have to build. I’m teaching them to be better than me. I hope someone else is going to take that, and is going to teach someone else at the same time, when they get the proper, when they feel ready for doing that. And just to some, my experience and his experience. So, you don’t need to be like a superstar. But you need to know very well how things work, and the only way is to spend time doing it.
Your movie Echo was very challenging project due to its technical performance. Can you tell us something about the film itself and its production?
For this, there is a press book that you can find many pieces of information and more technical. There is also a documentary that, in there, you can see it. Because, without images, it’s quite abstract. But I can say that the most challenging thing was the effect of creating a mirror, what we call the time displacement – which is having a reflection in the mirror with moving cameras, that is going to display 10 seconds ahead of the time, so the reflection is going to be 10 seconds ahead of the time of the main camera, or 10 seconds behind, or changing in time. So, it is like a hundred reflections. And to get the proper alignment from the cameras, in terms of the angles of reflection, but in different points in time. So, you can see the future in the reflection.
So, just imagine and conceptualize that. That was really, really complex. But I’m very, very pleased we did it, because it opened my mind like crazy. And now I’m a better artist thanks to that project. I would recommend you to see the making-of of the film that I already sent.
While watching Echo, we can see that the technology today makes possible even some of the most complex ideas. Does the progress of technology make film production less expensive and to what extent? Do the directors need to be aware of the possibilities of the technology they use in their films to express their ideas?
The progress of technology, of course, that is going to help to tell new stories. But, you know, it’s like, pioneers and followers. You know, pioneers are going to spend so much resources just to get something done, just by using technology in a way it has never been used before. So, you source your knowledge from technology to invent technique. And then, once the technique has been invented, followers can research on that and create like the same process in a more cost-effective way.
But it doesn’t mean it’s going to be less expensive. It’s maybe going to be more optimal, for the way you want to tell the story. Of course, the technology, the more that it evolves, the more it is going to be easier to produce. But it’s not like, I don’t believe less expensive is going to be the right mindset. It’s just going to be like more freedom. Freedom, sometimes, is expensive.
It’s like, sometimes, directors become a bit lazy, because they know it can be done in CG. So, they don’t spend much time trying to figure out how to do it in another way. That’s why I admire, for instance, Christopher Nolan, that he tries always to get like a practical way of supporting that issue. But, sometimes, not. So, it depends.
For me, the model of this kind of directors that know the technology is, of course, Mr. Steven Spielberg. He knows very well how to work with visual effects. You know, if you watch his movies, it’s very clear. So, he knows how to use that in the narrative. So, it’s to integrate the language as cinematography. It’s just another tool to express the idea.
Do directors need to be aware of the possibilities of the technology to use these things to express their ideas? Yeah, as I said before, yeah, it’s a good idea. It’s like a director that has no idea of photography, that is a disaster. Well, with visual effects, if you want to tell certain stories, and you have no idea how visual effects work, well, good luck.
We are aware that there are more and more CG’s human characters in movies. Can we expect, e.g. during next few decades, that the CG’s actors will replace the real ones on the screen?
I mean, artificial intelligence actors? No. It’s very difficult for me, because we need to tell stories about humans, because we are humans. Even when we are telling stories about aliens, we are talking about humans. Let me put an example. District Nine. District Nine is a film about aliens that come to the Earth. Well, it’s not true. Well – in a certain sense, it is, but just in form. Because it’s a film about racism. It’s about the “others”. It’s about to push someone that doesn’t belong here away from us, because they are dangerous. We don’t know what’s gonna happen, so at the end, we are talking about human characteristics, even when we are talking about something that is just in shape not human.
But those aliens are made by people, are written by people and are acted by people. I mean, we’re going to see CG avatars, let’s say, of course, very, very soon. And even in movies. But, at the end, it’s just going to be like a technique of animation. In the very, very, very last row of the storytelling, there is always going to be a human brain that is going to control that.
You have worked as VFX artist, director, writer and producer in the industry. You’ve been pretty much on every important position. How did you manage to do all of this for such a short period of time? What’s the most important thing for you? Good plan? Organizational skills? Long working hours and sleepless night?
Let’s say that there’s a trick. I started very, very, very young. I was very lucky to have a brother who was in the, let’s say, image business because he was a photographer so I was introduced to the art of manipulating images by him. I started using Photoshop, and a couple of years later I started helping my brother doing a few tasks, because I was spending so much time on it that I was becoming good at it. I was just, you know, using it. By the age of 14 or so, before I finished school, I was already helping my brother doing a few things with the computer, so that gave me a very good overview. And by the age of 16, I was already working as a graphic designer.
In the meantime, I was using my graphic designer skills, my manipulation skills, to pay my studies as an actor, because I went to the university. Because my parents were kind of poor, I mean not poor, but humble, so they couldn’t afford everything, so I had to find my own jobs. Because I am not good as a writer or something else, I was good at images, so I was helping people compositing, or something like that, or even in video, so yeah, I got good fundamentals.
It’s not happening that often, I have to admit, because I believe after six, eight hours, I am done. I mean, whatever I am going to produce after eight hours of work is going to be kind of useless. I don’t believe working more is a good strategy. I will say, working better, instead of working more. I can produce way more in six hours than in ten hours. Because whatever I am going to produce after six hours is going to be kind of rubbish, and the risk of that being worthless is quite high. Sometimes you do, eventually, sleepless nights, but I tend to do that for my own projects. When I feel the shot or the job or whatever, when I feel it mine, my own responsibility as a professional and as an artist is going to make me detach from it only when I consider is done. You know, you never finish a piece of art. You just abandon it. When? When the time comes.
You’re coming to Belgrade this fall to share your experience at CGA Belgrade conference. What can we expect from your lecture? Is this your first visit to Serbia? What do you expect?
I am going to share my experience. I am going to share two projects this time. I am going to talk about The Invisible Boy: Second Generation which is an Italian film. Of course, if you compare this thing with the big blockbusters of US, it’s going to be very, very, very small.
I am going to explain how just a group of friends, we produced that and it’s a massive amount of work. It’s quite funny because in terms of visual effects, it’s more or less, more complicated to do that short film, than the feature film of the Invisible Boy. Because with there I had a proper budget, and with Echo, I was on my own with a few friends. But, you know, I am going to talk about how we pulled the short film and we are going to screen the short film on the big screen. I am very happy with the results of both projects.
I expect to meet amazing people and to have fun, and I am sure that is going to be granted (chuckles). I know a few people that are from there and I just want to meet more people to make more friends. At the end of the day, we are a big community, so I want to meet everybody.
You have had an opportunity of already working with some of Serbian studios. Crater mainly. What was the project and experience working with remote teams?
I worked with Crater for the Invisible Boy: Second Generation. It was so easy to work with them remotely. I didn’t feel, like, any gap. We were working quite closely, and having dailies, and the guys were delivering all my requests, and having the comments on the fly. I was working with different studios for that project, they nailed it. It was the first time I was working with them, and it won’t be the last, because it was a very, very good experience.
Can you tell us something more about your future projects and plans.
Well, I am now working in developing my first feature film as a director, which is also as a writer and it’s a project I have been working on since, I guess it’s four years now. It’s not something that is immediately coming, because I have to finish writing and because I was doing so many things, something like this, that is very, very close to my heart. It takes time.
Also, I have to admit that Echo took me way more resources than I expected. When I started doing Echo, I just realized it was way more complex, so it was going to need more time. So, I had to steal that time from this feature film that is called Ensemble.
For the moment also, I am supervising a Netflix series, drama series with lots of visual effects that are going to be released in 2020.
A participation of Victor Perez in CGA Belgrade is supported by Accion Cultural Espana