Posted Apr 29

Lindy De Quattro: ‘I’m not just a VFX supervisor, I’m a filmmaker’

by Jane Bracher
Lindy De Quattro: ‘I’m not just a VFX supervisor, I’m a filmmaker’ by Jane Bracher

Lindy De Quattro, VFX Supervisor for MPC Film, tells us more about her artist-first approach to supervising and leadership, how she juggles the variety of hats she wears as a supe, as well as what excites her about the current visual effects landscape.

De Quattro, a BAFTA- and VES Awards-nominated supervisor who has worked on films such as Pacific Rim and Iron Man 2, also spoke with us about how unconscious bias is detrimental to women in VFX.

Read our Q&A with her below and read part 1 of our chat with her here.

As a VFX supervisor, you're managing a bunch of different hats as a creative, a leader etc. But focusing on the creative aspect, how do you maintain your creative spirit and where do you often get inspiration for projects to keep things fresh while working to fulfil filmmakers' visions? 

I was born a creative person. It’s simply a part of my DNA. I could no more NOT be creative than I could stop breathing. Most of us in the visual effects industry are creative people, but we’re also observers of life and the world around us. When I come across interesting visuals anywhere, I save them. I’m always taking photos of things, people, places, and events I see that I find interesting or inspiring or which I feel might be good reference someday. Similarly, I’m always saving videos and photos that I come across on the news, in films, and any other media I have access to. I have folders and folders of images and videos that I collect. I also find inspiration in each project itself and in the collaboration with the director, the production designer, and the other creatives involved in the film.

Film is such a collaborative medium and as an artist, it’s really fun to play off the ideas of other artists. I do a lot of research for each project I’m involved with, and that research can provide a lot of inspiration during look development. I also read a lot of books and I watch a lot of films and episodics, to continue to evolve my understanding of story-telling and how I can use visuals help to tell the filmmaker’s story.

What would you say is your style or approach as a VFX supervisor?

There are a lot of very technical people who work in visual effects, myself included, but I always say that I’m an artist first. Film is art, and if you’re not approaching it that way then you’re not going to get the best result. Yes, we are trying to create things that look real, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’re missing the point. Anyone can learn how to operate a still camera and take a bunch of photos, but a true artist thinks about the composition of what they’re shooting. They choose a lens to direct your eye. They make an infinite number of choices to get you to feel something when you look at their work. Visual effects is no different. I’m not just a VFX supervisor, I’m a filmmaker. I am always trying to figure out the best way to use the visual effects to help the director tell their story, in addition to looking photoreal.

VFX is obviously still a male-dominated industry, and it's clear that it would take a bunch of moving parts coming together in order to achieve real change. What are some of the things you've noticed that the industry at large is already doing right at present, and what, in your view, is missing or potentially being overlooked?

Things are definitely improving if only in that we are all openly discussing the issues of diversity and inclusion. The Academy made a big push over the last couple of years to bring more women and other minorities into the group. I have been a member of the Visual Effects branch Executive Committee for the last couple years and women are definitely better represented now than they were even five years ago. There are a small number of directors and studios who have actively sought out female VFX supes just in the last year but that is a very small number compared to the size of the industry at large, and it’s not enough. This is a really tricky issue.

Most people do not consider themselves to be biased but what they don’t understand is that ‘unconscious bias’ is really the thing that is holding women back. It's not like anyone comes right out and says, 'we don't want a woman'. I'm not sure they even realise that they have a gender bias. The issue is that when most people picture a surgeon, or a senator, or a director, or a VFX supervisor, they picture a white man of a certain age. And anyone that doesn't fit that mental picture, makes them unsure. Are they going to be good enough? Do they know what they're doing? Will I be able to connect with them? Even if I do get the interview, I still have a low chance of getting the job. The director just ‘felt more comfortable’ with the male candidate, they had more in common, it’s a tough show and they felt the male candidate could handle it, etc.

Unconscious bias is only solved in one way and that is by bringing it to everyone’s attention so it’s no longer unconscious. Training across the board for everyone in the industry is desperately needed, especially at the studio level and including all directors. Unfortunately, that’s not happening, so I’m also a big believer in quotas. We should have quotas from all the studios as well as inside the major VFX houses requiring a certain number of female and non-white department heads IN ALL DEPARTMENTS. The only way to jump-start this process is to get more women into the role of VFX supervisor and let everyone see them succeed. Let everyone experience what it’s like to work for a woman.  Once you demystify it, it’s a non-issue.

Could you describe your approach and mentality as a leader?

I try never to forget what it was like to be an artist, so I approach every review with a lot of respect for the work that went into what I’m seeing. I’ve worked with VFX supes and directors who seem to think that yelling at the crew will push them to produce better work. I absolutely do not believe that, and I’d never treat anyone that way. I try to give the artists as much information as I can so that they not only get my direction, but they understand WHY I’m giving the direction that I am. If you give artists a safe space to create and lots of information about the parameters for what you want to achieve, then they can really do their best and most creative work. I feel like the most effective way to supervise is to treat everyone like we’re on the same team, and that includes both the client and the artists. Open communication is the key to a successful partnership and that means being up front about the bad news as well as the good so that we can all work together to find solutions.

What excites you about the current VFX landscape and what it can become in the future in terms of creative and technological advancements as well as diversity and inclusivity?

Certainly Virtual Production is the keyword of the last couple years. The ability to work real time with engines like Unity and Unreal is opening up all kinds of new opportunities. Similarly, the plethora of streaming platforms all creating content has brought in a whole new revenue stream for most VFX companies. There is simply a ton of work out there, and it’s a great time to be working in the industry. I’m very hopeful that new opportunities overall will mean a lot more opportunities for women and other minorities. I am very encouraged by the open conversation that I’m hearing at all levels of the industry regarding diversity and inclusion. I am also encouraged by the number of women that I’m seeing direct this year, and I am hopeful that in future years that success will trickle down to women in other film departments like VFX, camera, editorial, and others where women are terribly under-represented.

Looking back at all your projects, what are you most proud of?

Honestly, I’m proud of all of them. I feel like I get better with each project I complete so the latest project is always my proudest in some sense. There are different things to be proud of though. It’s hard to compare my work on a project with a $60 million VFX budget to my work on a project with a $10 million VFX budget. In some ways, I’m more proud of some of my smaller shows because of what I was able to accomplish with relative few resources. Every project has something about it that makes it memorable. I really enjoyed working with Guillermo Del Toro on Pacific Rim. He is a huge fan of VFX and that made collaborating with him particularly enjoyable. That was also one of my most fun experiences on set. I think Magnolia was one of the best films I ever worked on in terms of my enjoying it as a viewer. My current project will certainly win out as one we completed against all odds as we were shut down by the pandemic for five months however the camaraderie with the directors has been amazing and the film is going to be a lot of fun! –

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