Episode 232 — The-Artery — Vico Sharabani

 

Episode 232 — The-Artery — Vico Sharabani

Welcome to Episode 232! I’m sitting down with Vico Sharabani, the Founder of The-Artery in New York. I’m really excited for this one! I love this Episode.

The-Artery focuses on a lot of high end visual content from branding to commercials, to digital experiences, to art installations, to feature films — and so much more! Vico is one of the most notable Flame artists in the world. I found this Episode to be valuable for myself. I hope you think so as well! Please share this Episode with others.

Let’s dive in!

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[00:43] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[1:06:23] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!

INTERVIEW WITH VICO SHARABANI — THE-ARTERY

Vico Sharabani is a Creative Entrepreneur, award-winning Creative-Director, Director, and Producer. He is also the Founder and CCO of The-Artery, a New York based media production company that creates high-end visual content for brands, feature films, commercials, digital experiences, art instillations and more.

As one of the most notable Flame artists in the world, Vico is the winner of the first ever Autodesk Flame Award recognizing his vast contributions to the VFX industry over the past 25 years. Vico’s portfolio includes a wide range of commercials for fortune 500 companies such as Mercedes-Benz, Nike and AT&T, music-videos for Beyoncé, Coldplay, Niki Minaj, KanYe West, and work on dozens of films such as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ocean’s 8, Tower Heist and Sex and The City, to name a few.

Servicing the advertising and entertainment industries for 30 years, Vico is heavily involved in the management of projects across creative, production and technical endeavors. He is also involved with the TED community “Ads Worth Spreading”, Co-Organizer of TED X East, and completing the EMBA program at the Berlin School Of Creative Leadership.

The Founder of The-Artery Vico Sharabani talks about the evolution of the VFX industry, the importance of acquiring new skills — but not letting each solitary capability to define an artist — and finding your own way of being successful!

The-Artery: https://www.the-artery.com/
Vico Sharabani on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2288491/
Vico Sharabani on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user5180325
Vico Sharabani on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vicoshar/
Interview with Vico Sharabani on Post-Perspective: https://postperspective.com/tag/vico-sharabani/

 

[03:43] Allan: Again, thank you, Vico, for doing this! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Vico: Sure! My name is Vico Sharabani. I’m the Founder and the CCO of The-Artery.

[03:58] Allan: Did you always want to be an artist or a creative? Or was it something you discovered later in your life?

Vico: Interesting! I actually born to a very young couple. They’re very loving but very simple, and the vocabulary of “creative” and “art” wasn’t there until I became 16. They’re the most creative people I know. It’s something that they lived and breathed without having the vocabulary for it.

[04:38] Allan: You mentioned right before the call that you started out as a sound engineer. I’m curious about the origins for you. What was that journey like and how did you explore?

Vico: Sure! I started my career as a professional sound engineer. I studied it and I geeked out from anything from acoustics to electronic sound. Something happened: I grew up in Israel where they recruit you into the Army at the age of 18. Being a sound engineer at that early age, I found myself creating sound for films for the Air Force. That became my film school, basically, as well as my playground where I applied everything I studied in sound-to-picture. Everything I’ve mastered in EQ techniques, I actually applied to color grading. It’s something that people understand clearly, but it went much further: The way I analyzed sound waves bouncing off the walls, it’s exactly how I looked at light when I looked at a scene. Or the aesthetic choice of where to put a microphone was similar to camera. There is a proximity effect called “close mic-ing”. With camera, you would have a close-up or a long shot.

Later on, when I became a compositor, everything I learned in mixing a song, I imagined the rhythm section behind the singer and the orchestra is way in the back. So I’d create a cohesive environment for all those elements to play together was the same aesthetic choice when I composited green screen.

[07:09] Allan: That’s amazing!

Vico: It was really fascinating for me to apply that, but it wasn’t a smart hack. It was just a certain capability and that’s all I knew. So I applied it to a new environment.

[07:31] Allan: You’ve developed a language and applied that language to other things.

Vico: Exactly. It goes back to my parents. When I was growing up, my dad built our home and mom decorated everything. When a table got broken, we acquired a capability to fix it — but we didn’t call ourselves “carpenters”. We went through life by acquiring skills and not getting attached to them, but [we kept] going. It’s like being a fish in water, being in that creativity. I just didn’t know it existed.

[08:16] Allan: I love that! When you mentioned that you were a sound engineer before moving into visual effects, I got excited. After having close to 200 guests on this Podcast, it’s odd how many people come from music or sound and they accredit so much debt to that. I’ve always been fascinated by that. I don’t have a music talent in me, but this confirms: There is something there!

Vico: I find it really intuitive. I also met a lot of people who have versatile talents. All of them say that when you work with a multi-track recording, the switch to multi-layered compositing is intuitive. I think it’s less intuitive to go backwards. For people who started in sound, it’s more intuitive, especially in mid-90s. I started as a Flame artist which didn’t exist before. It brought together different technologies and artists. The new set of tools allowed for all types of people to enter this industry. I was there at that time. And now everyone can jump from one thing to another; but back then, it felt like we were pioneers.

[11:04] Allan: I always look back at my start. I started working back in ’95-’96. For me, it wasn’t until it was for a big VFX house because I got to be around all those other artists and software. Getting to see these artists sitting at a desk and managing to make your 3D make look amazing, [with Flame]. I always look back at that as an exciting time. It’s so exciting that we can do so much now. But now it’s all been done!

Vico: I really relate to that. Back then, it’s not that the quality was better. Today’s quality is much better. The tools are allowing you that. But back then, there was no set way to do it. There was actually no possible way to do it. You had to invent it every time and do the creative work — in a creative way. This is something that drives me today, and it was the basis for building The-Artery.

[13:00] Allan: That’s cool! Just to lean into the beginning: How did you get your first big break once you moved into compositing?

Vico: I was very insecure but I developed a reel that moved around and a lot of people looked at it. I was starting out as an editor. Back then, it was an ABC roll. It was online editing, but I developed this experimental but aesthetically pleasing, multi-layering editing techniques. When the first Flame was brought back to Tel-Aviv, I was chosen to be the first Flame artist. It was quite shocking. The first day I held a pen, we started working on a post for a commercial. I’ve never done a commercial in my life. And being a new machine in the country, there was no one to consult. There were no books. There was no internet back then.

[14:33] Allan: And Flame would be intimidating to pick up too! It’s not like picking up a Windows app.

Vico: Totally! I had a guy who came over from London and I remember his words every time I had a problem, “You might want to do… this.” I needed to invent it all. One thing led to another and this commercial won the Mobius Award here in New York, for computer graphics. So that was a really great start!

[15:17] Allan: That’s so cool and congratulations on that! That’s really fascinating. I would look at so many compositors begging to train in Flame. It’s fascinating to be suited up for that from the beginning.

Vico: I was so intimidated by the machine and I was so focused on cracking up my workflow (you have all those clips and reels), I had to develop my own structure. I was so focused on those tasks, I was oblivious to all those things you just mentioned.

[16:37] Allan: In terms of transitioning from Israel to the U.S., how did you move into that?

Vico: After a couple of years of being the best Flame artist in Israel, I was questioning whether I’m the best if I’m the first — or if I had any talent. I carried a lot of insecurity. Back then, I sent my reel to Digital Domain that just wrapped up Titanic. That led to an interview. One thing led to another, and I ended up opening up a post-house in New York. It felt like a good step, instead of working for a big corporation. My mission was to make New York an alternative to LA. Back then, it was clear that New York was just a flying logo city. LA was all about visual effects. We wanted to make New York the alternative to that.

[18:10] Allan: I’m curious to see what your thoughts are. I have some compositing friends visiting me right now and we were talking about LA versus New York. I’m wondering what your opinion is, in terms of the industry.

Vico: Um, I don’t know what the difference is right now. I always admired the depth and history and the talent in LA. Then Canada bought Hollywood, basically. There is a difference between big operations and big films being done in LA. But New York talent scaled up to an interesting position. The [main] difference between LA and New York is by far: Weather! I don’t feel I’m in a position to analyze it deeply, to be frank. I didn’t take that job at Digital Domain, so I’m much more familiar with the New York landscape.

[20:10] Allan: So at that point, you decided to look for a partnership instead. What happened there?

Vico: We started with that and I cut my reel in collaboration with my partners in New York. We won the Best Portfolio, what was it? The Best Showreel? Some type of an award. It was an interesting start. But the focus for us was to get high profile work. The way we’ve done it was through cosmetics which was the quickest segment to conquer. A couple of years later, Bob Greenberg decided to shut down his commercial division and we took 12 people — from the Executive Producers to CG Supervisors — and we had a beautiful team to start our CG Department. Which led to us winning an award from Detroit, for all the car manufacturers. It started materializing, this dream felt within reach. Then we heard about a couple of kids from MTV starting a company called Psyop. And that sounded really interesting! They brought beautiful aesthetic. And then we heard about The Mill opening up in New York. Game over! Now we were getting crushed by the young talent and a corporation. And then we realized, it was our dream coming to fruition. New York was becoming an alternative to LA and competition was a big part of it! The more companies came over, the more work came to the city.

[22:44] Allan: It’s actually creating a momentum. The more people are doing it, the more it’s bringing the focus to New York.

Vico: Exactly! I became friends with the business owners. It was amazing to meet Angus [Kneale] who started The Mill. It was amazing to meet the partners who started Psyop. And even interns who started with us were starting up their own companies. Until today, we’re really proud of being there from day one. The more competition there was, the more we pushed further. In 2005, we started doing feature films which was very early days for New York. In 2007, we started our digital division. We were always pushing for better, greater!

[24:03] Allan: That’s so cool! What was your first year with The-Artery like?

Vico: The-Artery, that company was my first partnership. In 2010, I thought the industry had changed drastically, so trimming the fat from the existing organization was not the future. A creative company of the future had to be something different, I just didn’t know what that was going to be yet. So I sold my shares, took a year off. I got involved with the TED community to get inspiration from all walks of lives. I wrote some socio-economic papers. Then I started applying it to our industry. I started a coop of artists in 2011, with Alex Frisch, the Co-Founder of Method Studios. We worked for a couple of years. One thing led to another, we had to restructure. A part of it was me breaking off and rebranding to the New York operations into The-Artery. It came down to the perfect time. We were a future facing company. The tax incentive of New York [gave us the opportunity] to work on a lot of projects we had to execute in New York. We were also too early for the market. The first year of The-Artery, we did work for Nike, Beyonce, Bob Dylan. It was a very strong start.

[26:30] Allan: That’s a really amazing client list to have in the beginning! In the first year, were there any moments of overwhelm? I always tilt my hat to anyone who’s starting a big business. People from the outside don’t appreciate the task of that proportion. What was it like for you personally?

Vico: Yeah, it’s definitely a much bigger undertaking that you would think. When you ask if there was a doubt in the first year, you can extend it to the years to come. You don’t let go of that doubt. I think it took me 6 years to get to a clear understanding of where I was, where I was going and why I was doing the things I was doing. The first year is actually the least doubtful. Look! [27:59] When you’re an artist, creating an activity around you is effortless. Something creative will happen around you and someone will want your services when you’re an artist. That’s a given! But building a business is a completely different ballgame. I compare it to a video game. You’re working on Level 1 and then you cross into Level 2 — and it’s much harder. And it escalates. There is always something bigger that you’re facing. It’s never exactly what you thought it would be. After 6 years, I started to feel clearer about my identity on a personal, artistic and business level.

[29:21] Allan: What are the most iconic projects you’ve done so far? Because you’ve done some amazing work!

Vico: Iconic is Wes Anderson’s The Budapest Hotel. That’s definitely the most iconic! We’re lucky these types of directors and producers are working with us — and coming back to work with us. For years, I’ve told my friends I’m super lucky. I don’t take that for granted. After 20 years, a friend of mine asked, “At what point does the consistent luck have to do with you?” Which is an interesting perspective! You own certain parts of it when you grow up. Still, I don’t take it for granted.

[30:38] Allan: I think you can related it back to when you were a Flame artist in Israel: Am I the best by default? Or have I earned it? Looking at what you’ve achieved with The Artery, your track record speaks for itself.

Vico: Thank you! I always question things that seem clear to people. I question them when they’re working and when they are not. I’m also trying to find grounding when things are great because it’s very easy for us to lose ourselves in the good waves.

[31:39] Allan: What tools do you use at your studio?

Vico: So, we use everything! Because of my background, we still use Flame for a lot of the work.

[32:01] Allan: Plus, you’re in New York!

Vico: It’s so amazing! In New York, in 2000, I was told that Flame was obsolete because of After Effects. It’s quite amazing the lifetime of this product. When we look around and we work on Flame, the basic composite and doing it in the sequence and to see what works better in the context — that’s not something you can do anywhere else.

[33:03] Allan: Nuke Studios are starting to come around that way now. I am curious about that too. What are your thoughts on desktop compositing vs Flame? I remember having those discussions back in 2000. I think clients aren’t coming in to do things in After Effects. They want to sit in a suite, get fed coffee, talk shit about sports. In a way, it’s about that one-on-one time with the compositing artist. And the client service person is running around making them feel important! That’s what you’re paying for at the same time. It’s more about the experience.

Vico: There are different considerations for different clients. It’s hard to say what they all want and need. But from a perspective of an artist, a business owner and a client, the creative process has something clear in it: You create something, you see it, you give feedback and you revise it. The quickest loop you have — the further you can go as a client, as an artist and a business. When you talk about early 2000’s conversations, I used to say, “When you have a library and a player that works, talk to me!” It’s not about the compositing or color correction. It’s about the immediacy of being able to create something and put it into a context; making the revision and comparing it. It’s the most basic stuff that made the creative process what it was.

[36:00] Allan: That’s so great! There is very few people on the production side that artists are going to follow. If you were going to go to another company as a compositor, not many clients are going to follow you there. They will follow supervisors or directors though. You aren’t going to get clients who are going to continue that relationship with artists. Do you feel that as well?

Vico: It used to be that way. I think it changed a bit. Obviously, we’re giving a great service. But I don’t think it’s the same type of consideration that used to be there in the 90s. There are many clients that we don’t meet at all! We’re ready to host them at our facility. That’s something that’s unique about us: We’re very modern in our service, but we still cater in service, for the clients. But I think the market has changed radically and certain segments still behave the way you’re describing. But not everyone does!

[38:06] Allan: I guess it goes back to our talking about fascination and appreciation for VFX in the past. Now it’s all scaled, it’s now about fast tracking to the result as opposed to the experience itself. Before you would hear, “We’re doing a CG commercial and it’s going to be great.” Now, it’s more “We’re doing 20 commercials so we have other things to worry about!”

Vico: But I don’t come from a point of judgement. As VFX artists, we see the amount of the work that’s being put out in average quality. [38:57] But don’t forget: We aren’t just artists — we’re service providers as well. And the service or the point of you of it always happens in the context. Just feeling that we got crippled because the rates got lowered or the deadlines are tighter — is missing some opportunities for evolution. Our challenge is to deliver the most amazing work not always in the most comfortable environment. But also: We don’t talk about this as much. What Flame did in ‘95 is the equivalent of iPhone 3, but it costs so much money. Right now, the budgets are lower and the deadlines are tighter. But what you have in your hands as an artists, it has never been done. It was never available to any human being before. So by being at a point of comparison with the past, you’re forgetting this power that you have in your hands. And that’s missing a big point!

[40:28] Allan: And it is some amazing times right now! I laugh that my phone has 4GB of RAM. My first computer used to have 1MG! The fact that we have a computer that allows us to connect gives us so much power. To segue to VR, you’ve been doing a lot of VR experiences. We talk about innovation and technology, even with phones. What’s your experience been like with Virtual Reality?

Vico: We do everything and it’s in our portfolio. That’s a part of my upbringing that I told you about: We acquire new capabilities but we don’t hang onto them. We don’t consider ourselves a VFX company — we consider ourselves a creative company. We use VR in creative ways. The projects we’ve done aren’t the usual type of experience. Our collaboration with Nurulize for the Mercedes-Benz commercial was a big one! We used VR to have a virtual production. We shot a commercial with very accomplished filmmakers like DP Paul Cameron (who shot Westworld and Pirates of the Caribbean). It was almost 2 years ago. We’re trying to be at the forefront of technology and look from all the points of view to solve the business problems that our clients are coming in to solve, whether it’s a film or a commercial. The VR just became one more tool. That’s how we approach it. It’s hard to work on Budapest Hotel and not be “the film guys”; to work with Beyonce and not be “the music guys”. Each of the things we’ve done can be something you could focus on as a company. Yes, it can be a strategy, but it came as part of my upbringing.

[44:00] Allan: I think it’s also an indicator of how much you care about something. You could give a 3D artist a logo and they would do the bare minimum. Or you could be the artist who treats it as their own creative project and think about how to improve it. You could be a service provider or go beyond that. I guess in a way, it’s about having ownership of something and doing more.

Vico: Look, we can’t take ownership of some of the clients. If you’re working with Wes Anderson, you don’t even claim to own something. But when you’re giving service, you engage in a very high level of conversation with those people. Being able to do great work while communicating on a high level — and delivering great service — that’s an amazing triangle.

[45:37] Allan: Where do you see VR going beyond the typical experience? Are there things you’re excited about? I love idea of a DP re-shooting something they shot in the real world — and apply it to VR.

Vico: For production, there is a lot of [growth]. Virtual production is picking up and we see that daily with Unreal. I see that this thing will pick up as a tool. When we talk about VR in particular, it’s such a place of infancy. Everybody talked about it for a couple of years, in terms of storytelling. But I think a couple of places it won’t be used for is storytelling. I consider it like Facebook: When we first got Facebook 10 years ago, everyone’s post were like, “I’m eating pizza”. We didn’t know how to use that technology. It was simply a conversation. We needed to develop a way to use it — and now it’s using us! The same thing will happen with VR. Removing the goggles will be disappointing. Every industry will try to engage you. VR industry will fight over our engagement. At some point, it won’t be just visual anymore. When early sci fi movies showed us people being connected to machines with eyes closed but sensing and remembering — the sky is the limit!

[49:15] Allan: I think that’s a very honest answer for that. You’re right: I think Elon Musk was talking about the direction we’re all heading, where we would be part human / part machines. Our phones will be an extension of ourselves. We can’t function without them anymore.

Vico: In every industry publication, they’re always talking about how great it is. And there are business opportunities. But if a simple conversation like Facebook got as far as Cambridge Analytica, let’s just be mindful about what we’re doing.

[50:08] Allan: Did you watch the Netflix documentary they had on it?

Vico: The Great Hack? Yes, I did. I sense that it’s a conversation for a different Podcast.

[50:32] Allan: I would love to talk about your experience with TED X East. What was your experience with that?

Vico: When I left my first company and took a year off (I told you about that), I attended TED X East as an audience member. I was blown away! The second event I joined as a co-organizer. It’s a very inspiring environment to be. It was one of the first in the world in 2009, where the big events that we used to do in the NY Times Center and other big holes. The guests were amazing, from Chris Anderson who leads TED X East to the founders of Foursquare, Psyop, geekStarter. We had an amazing lineup.

[52:11] Allan: That’s so cool! I’m sure it was fun. This is why I do this Podcast, it gives me a change to connect with creative people. I’d love to pick your brain about industry advice. What do you look for when you’re hiring artists, in terms of hard and soft skills?

Vico: Every time it’s different; and it’s so radically different there’ s a formula I personally respond to. For example, one of our designers right now came to us by applying for Flame assistant position. A junior compositor came to us because he wanted to study film but he ended up in graphics. The same thing happened when we met. That’s from a junior perspective. On a higher level, there is something I recognize: We are artists and you aren’t a great artist — we wouldn’t be having a conversation at a high level! But we are giving service. If you manage to package those two together, there is a great foundation for us to build a long-term relationship. I always say, that we codify the way we behave as a company. At the beginning of it, I broke down the different aspects of the job that we have to be stellar about. We cannot fail on a creative or technical level, not with budgets — at all client related interface. When I hire, I hope to see their strengths compliment the team that already exists at the company. So there might be a great artist but his client skills are non-existent. But if I have producer or sups who can bridge that gap, then I can see that complete team! When you say what I’m looking for in people, it’s not a cloned version. It’s more about how they will fit into the existing team and complete those capabilities.

[56:06] Allan: I love that! One bad hire (and I’ve seen that before) is enough to drive everyone out of the studio.

Vico: If there is something I cannot do without: We’re looking for team players! We’re a family! We are producers, creators, innovators. If I hear all those beautiful words, tell me what’s underneath.

[56:45] Allan: Exactly! You’re looking for certain qualities because you’re looking at the big picture of your team and at what’s missing. In other words, how they are going to fit into it. I like that!

Vico: Exactly! People like to talk about diversity now. I say, diversity doesn’t start with gender or skin color. Diversity comes in different ages and backgrounds; different aspects of personality. We try to achieve that as much we can. That’s what makes us tick.

[57:59] Allan: Two more questions. One key question: What is your opinion on artists’ networking skills? How important do you think it is for everyone to build a network and learn to build better relationships?

Vico: You might’ve noticed that my journey was about finding the thing that was true to me. Whenever there’s a suggestion to build a network or build a piece of software, I’ve done all of that. And I’ve gotten certain success out of all of those. But the biggest thing for me was finding out why I operate the way I operate — and feel confident about it and carve my own path. If there is anything I want to suggest to people is what works for me is not the right way to do things. As an artist, you have something that doesn’t work in the outside world. I got lucky that my career was so versatile. And I tried to keep it that way even though in New York, they told me that they didn’t like a jack of all traits. It was a very hard process to stay versatile and to keep doing multiple things. But now, everyone embraces it. The tides have changed. Now, everyone loves what we do. But we didn’t cater to the market: We kept going despite the market and now, it’s our time. That is my suggestion. [1:00:37] My only advice is not to do it my way or anybody else’s who might have had success. Find your own!

[1:00:44] Allan: That’s beautiful! My final question is one I’ve never asked before. If you were to start out today, what would you do differently? How would you fast track your career today?

Vico: From personal perspective or from the market perspective?

[1:01:17] Allan: Personal in a sense that where you would want it to be. I’m thinking about the life lessons you might have experienced.

Vico: For me, today, and I’m clear about the fact that not only do I do creative work — I do it in a creative way. For me, if I had to start out something, I would try to make the process unique. I’m old enough to know the way I behave and why I do it. So I would be more comfortable with it. I would still create something conducive of innovation. I don’t have a cookie cutter answer…

[1:02:57] Allan: There is no such thing and it’s one of the more difficult ones to answer.

Vico: It’s mostly that business people search for what will get them most success. Creative people dream about a spark. I went to a business school so I can be governed by the bottom line, not driven by it. It allows me to change and adapt so I don’t feel confined.

[1:03:59] Allan: Just to lean into that for one more second: You went to a business school?

Vico: I am in the midst of an Executive MBA at the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. It’s a program that started from the advertising world where people realized that management is not a natural task for creatives to take on. It’s a very hard transition. That’s how this program started and I’m in the midst of it. I hope to complete it next year.

[1:05:06] Allan: I love the fact that despite all of your success, you’re still looking to invest back in yourself. And where can people go to find out more about The-Artery?

Vico: We try to post on LinkedIn and Facebook. We don’t have a deep dive into what we do other than showing the work that we do.

[01:05:47] Allan: I want to thank you for taking the time to chat! This has been great!

Vico: Excellent! Thank you so much!

I want to thank Vico for taking the time to chat. I hope you found some valuable information here.

Next week, I will be back with Matti Haapoja talking about YouTube, filmmaking and everything else.

Until then —

Rock on!

 

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