Lucía Peralta has more than 10 years of experience in visual effects. She has worked in many studios such as MPC, Iloura and Method Studios before joining Deluxe Spain in 2019. She has worked on projects such as Game of Thrones, Tomb Raider, Christopher Robin and Aquaman.
What is your background?
Curro Muñoz (CM): My background is in photography. More than 35 years ago, I started learning optical processes and photochemical developments. At that time, there was no internet or personal computers, so learning was more by intuition, visiting libraries and trial and error. I was very self-taught. Around 2000, I started combining optical and photochemical with digital processes. A few years later, I started the great challenge of leading the digital VFX department at Deluxe Spain as VFX Supervisor for several international films and TV Series.
Lucía Peralta (LP): I have working in VFX as a DMP and 3DDMP artist since 2010, both in Spain and abroad. Prior, to that I was part of the art department crew in several films and commercials.
How did you and Deluxe get involved on this show?
CM: It has been a seven-year run for Alex and me already, we’ve worked together on several of his projects. It was a very natural process, and he was comfortable involving me again in this show.
LP: By the end of 2018, I was living in Melbourne and working as a lead DMP artist in a VFX studio over there. I was starting to consider moving closer to home but had no real plan as to where. Fortunately, I had already met Curro Muñoz, the VFX Supervisor of Deluxe Spain, on a trip to Madrid and he got wind of me thinking about coming back. He gave me a call and told me about 30 Coins and what he was putting together at Deluxe Madrid. I really liked the project and five months later in May 2019, I started working in Deluxe Madrid, first as a DMP lead and later supervising the CG part of the environments as well.
How was the collaboration with Director Álex de la Iglesia?
CM: I had a very direct line with Álex de la Iglesia regarding all things creative, showing him concepts and discussing ideas from the very beginning of the show. He has an incredible creative mindset and a very deep technical control of VFX and post-production processes. Communication at all levels has always been fantastic with him. I have to say that I have profound respect and admiration for Álex as a professional and as a person. I have seen him work on all these projects and I find it fascinating how he faces the different sequences every day.
LP: Personally, it was a positive one. 30 Coins turned out to be a rare opportunity where I was able to become part of the team three months before shooting started. That gave us the chance to help create and design most of the environments along with Álex and the art directors before the actual shooting.
What was his approach and expectations about the visual effects?
CM: He does have remarkably grand expectations about VFX. Alex comes from a very visual background, being a very accomplished artist himself, and has an incredibly special and bold visual world. He knows what he wants, and he encourages his team to accomplish that view. Sometimes when the VFX he had in his mind was too abstract to be put into words accurately, he would just draw what he wanted and hand it to us. We still have a bunch of those drawings decorating the walls of our VFX studio.
How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer?
CM: In this show there were two main challenges. The first was logistical, assembling the necessary equipment, both human and technical, to carry out the vast number of shots. The second was to manage and produce such a huge number of shots while keeping the high-quality standard that we had set from the beginning.
Dario Basile, the VFX producer, accepted to jump in and help me with hiring and managing the incredibly talented team of dozens of artists to achieve these goals. We significantly increased our resources for this show; we grew in terms of infrastructure, storage capacity, and processing speed. We worked towards creating a work environment where production supported and cemented the role of each department.
From the very beginning until the last shot was done, it felt like running a two-year marathon. The intensity and creativity levels were always high but we – Dario and I – had to keep in mind this was a very long project, so patience, long-term planning, and commitment also played very important roles in its completion.
How did you set up the teams at Deluxe for this series?
CM: 30 Coins is a show in which each episode is a new challenge in VFX. You could almost consider it as making eight movies at once, with the considerable workload of visual effects. The most important thing was to hire the best possible team of artists. This is essential since every VFX shot is a team effort and you need everything to be tuned in for the result to be optimal and on time. To achieve this goal, we also looked for Spanish talent that was working abroad. We contacted them to bring some back home, aiming to build the best possible team both creatively and technically. We found amazing artists in Spain and around the world in Melbourne, London, and Montreal. We wanted to bring all the knowledge they acquired working in big VFX facilities around the world to a smaller and more dynamic studio with the highest standard in VFX design.
How did you create the various environments?
LP: We had a very bespoke approach to the different environments, since each of them posed a very specific set of challenges. However, there we some aspects that all had in common. During the first four months I was in 30 Coins, we worked through conceptualizing as many environments as we could while the shooting was going on. When we started receiving the first off lines, we spotted the most challenging ones and started production straight away while identifying which ones were CG environments that needed to be built and rendered, and which ones could be tackled as DMPs and camera projections in Nuke and Photoshop.
Can you tell us more about the underground cathedral?
LP: The first time I read the script for this show, this environment was already there and poised to become one of the big ones, both in design and execution: a derelict cathedral hidden underneath Belin’s underground network.
First thing we needed to achieve was locking in a concept and the look for this piece. We worked closely with Alex, first referencing existing places that could be the base for our environment, and later working on making the image he had in his mind come to life. He had a truly clear idea of what he was aiming for, from its massive scale to its dramatic lighting. Once the look was finally approved, it turned out to be an ambitious set. The art department was having an interesting time looking for a real-life location that could work for us to build the rest on top.
Eventually, the decision was reached to go full CG: they shot the ground and the head of the Christ and we took care of the rest. The final location for the shooting were the steps of a park here in Madrid at night, and a sound studio for the characters descending the shaft tied to ropes. From there on, we worked closely with Alex to make sure we kept true to the vision he had and finished the environment for the underground cathedral.
How did you create the hall of magic mirrors?
LP: This whole episode is set around mirrors and dark reflections. The sequence of the hall was one of my favorites to make. Visually, it was a very enticing briefing and the technical challenges we came across were remarkably interesting to figure out.
When Elena and Paco cross into the other side of a mirror, they enter a world where dark reflections lead to different realities. As part of this piece, Alex shot a sequence in a wonderful mirror hall in a palace here in Madrid, where his idea was to turn each mirror into a magic gate to another place. We discover the magic hall hand-in-hand with the main characters and recreate them in front of some of those mirrors and the worlds they lead to. Right off the bat, this posed a few challenges. We had 10 mirrors leading to 10 different worlds in a hall where everything was designed to look the same (furnishings, drapes, etc.). First, we had to design a ¨road map¨ so viewers will not get lost. Once we figured out with Alex which locations would be placed behind each mirror, we had to make sure continuity was working between shots. All the mirrors lead to places in the real world so once we figure out which location was placed in which ¨door¨, we moved on to figuring out the technical side and the look.
We wanted something efficient in terms of execution and agility if we needed to change something, so we set up 10 master projections that could be placed and adjusted in each mirror of each shot with the help of a color-coded “road map”. First, we went through the sequence and color coded each mirror for each shot and assigned said color to the world we were supposed to be seeing through it.
Once this part was up and running, we needed to figure out the look of the sequence. A mirror that leads to another place can very easily be confused with a window, which we wanted to avoid. Once we had a couple of shots projected in comp, we started playing around with different approaches until we finally settled for the one you can see in the episode, where we kept the main reflections and features of the mirrors and made the other side more present the closer you get, including some interaction when Paco touches one of the mirrors.
Which sequence or shot was the most challenging?
CM: The whole show was full of challenges which involved many artists. One of my personal challenges was to provide Álex with the best on-set supervision during the 6-month shooting. Another big one was to make sure that during the post-production, everything worked smoothly.
LP: Talking about the DMP and environment challenges, if I had to pick a shot, it would be the underground cathedral hero shot. There is a lot of time and effort put into that shot by the 3D team. Sequence-wise, the final sequence of episode 108. We had to paint blood, DMP, and do set extensions in 150+ shots. The sheer volume of work make it quite challenging.
Did you want to reveal any other invisible effects?
CM: We worked on many invisible effects. We supported the art department when they could not apply changes on protected buildings or specific location sets. We have many others on make-up and prosthetic enhancements.
LP: Sure, there are two that come to mind: in episode 102, we see the reveal of the castle´s courtyard. The main tower wasn’t tall enough for the effect the director was looking for, so we needed to extend it. Also, throughout the series, we see Vergara boxing in his house whenever he needs to clear his mind. There are a couple of those boxing sequences that were shot against a blue screen and we had to bring back the whole room.
Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?
CM: Lockdown. When it hit –operationally speaking- the pandemic was like an earthquake for our industry. We were going full steam ahead with 30 Coins when the pandemic hit and Madrid went into lockdown.
We faced two main challenges: The first one was to build a new workflow delivering shots remotely with no security issues compliance. Thanks to the earnest effort of our IT department and the collaboration of the entire team, we were ready to deliver shots in a few days.
The second one was changing our mindset. We developed new communication skills and started using new tools. We went through a huge paradigm change in the way we understood VFX workflow while working and meeting deadlines, so we created a new working environment for the artists at that time that has been in place ever since.
That’s when a new era in VFX management was born in Deluxe. No one really knew how that would work out, but fortunately the team pulled through – remotely, semi-remotely and in house all mixed together- and by autumn, 30 Coins was in the bag.
What is your favorite shot or sequence?
CM: Some of my favorite ones are the bell tower from the first episode, the maelstrom from the second, the magic mirrors from the third, the underground cathedral from the fourth or the Vatican library from the fifth. But there are many more sequences who deserve to be among my favorites.
LP: I am afraid I can’t pick up just one. 30 Coins has a lot of different VFX sequences in each episode. I often describe the show as eight independent VFX movies rather than a series because of its complexity, so it’s like picking your favorite sequence out of each feature films.
What is your best memory on this show?
CM: There are a lot to be honest… And each of them is related to the fantastic team that believed in the project and worked with us in this adventure.
LP: For me too, the crew. A lot of very talented people worked in 30 Coins throughout all its length and those are my best memories of that time.
How long have you worked on this show?
CM: Almost 2 years.
LP: From May 2019 until October 2020, so almost 18 months.
What’s the VFX shots count?
CM: We delivered more than 2000 shots.
What was the size of your team?
CM: We were more than 90 people, including artists, leads, TDs, production team and VFX coordination.
LP: We were four DMP artists in my team and another four in 3D, who were responsible of the build of the CG part of the environments.
What is your next project?
CM: At this point we are developing some new projects, but unfortunately I cannot talk about them at this stage.
What are the four movies that gave you the passion for cinema?
CM: I can give one, the most important in my background. We are talking about 1977, I was a kid when my parents took me to the premiere of Star Wars. The possibility of creating this whole universe to tell stories was particularly important to me and I said to myself: “I have to do this for a living”. From that moment on, everything was directed towards this end.
LP: I have quite literally grown up in a moviemaking household and started working in film in 2002 when I was still a teenager. Having been exposed to movie magic since I was a child, I cannot name the one title that made me go into movies and art direction. However, there is a movie that influenced me deeply into changing career paths and getting into DMP. I am talking about the first Lord of the Rings movie, The Fellowship of the Ring.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Deluxe Spain: Dedicated page about 30 Coins on Deluxe Spain website.
© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2021