Episode 253 — Marc Rienzo — Mulan

 

Episode 253 — Marc Rienzo

Marc Rienzo is a Director, VFX Supervisor and Artist. He has over 20 years of experience of working in visual effects, including for studios like Marvel, Disney, ILM, Weta Digital, Digital Domain, Sony Imageworks, and PDI Dreamworks. He’s been a creative Nuke Artist for 18+ years in both film and commercials.

Marc has worked on multiple projects including Spider-Man: Far from Home, Thor: Ragnarok, TRON: Legacy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mulan; I, Robot; Beasts of No Nation and many others. His work has received several nominations from the Visual Effects Society.  

In this Podcast, Marc talks about his experience as a VFX Artist and Supervisor, his past and current projects, and the importance of hard and soft skills for an artist.

 

Marc Rienzo on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006821/

Marc Rienzo’s Website: https://www.marcrienzo.com

Marc Rienzo on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/marcrienzo

Bad Guy Nonsense: https://badguynonsense.com

Kickstarter Campaign for Bad Guy Nonsense: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marcrienzo/bad-guy-nonsense/description

Marc Rienzo on Instagram: @marcrienzo

Marc Rienzo on Twitter: @marcrienzo

 

HIGHLIGHTS

[03:17] Marc Rienzo Introduces Himself and How He Got Started

[07:00] Marc Talks About the Importance of the Reel

[14:13] The Importance of Technical Knowledge

[17:37] Marc Talks About Working for Different Studios

[24:29] The Qualifiers for Choosing a Job

[25:47] Marc Recalls Working for Weta

[31:28] Marc and Allan Talk About Working for ILM

[35:51] Marc Talks About His Experience on Mulan

[37:14] The Importance of One’s Social Capital 

[40:24] Marc Discusses His Project Bad Guy Nonsense

 

EPISODE 253 — MARC RIENZO

Welcome to Episode 253! This is Allan McKay. 

I’m sitting down with Marc Rienzo, one of the VFX Supervisors for Marvel and Disney, who recently worked on Thor: Ragnarok, Spiderman: Far from Home, Mulan and the upcoming movie Shang-Chi

I’m really excited for this one! I’m sitting down with a friend of mine Marc Rienzo. Marc has been in the industry for a long time. He’s worked as a Supervisor on so many films! We talked about his experience starting out and working for such big studios as ILM, Weta, Sony Imageworks, Digital Domain; his background and the insights he’s learned throughout his career. I think this will be a lot of fun! 

We also get into one of his passion projects that he’s crowdfunding Bad Guy Nonsense (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marcrienzo/bad-guy-nonsense/description). 

Let’s dive in! 

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[00:52] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what was the reason 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!

[43:10] 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 MARC RIENZO

[03:17] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?

Marc: Sure! I’m Marc Rienzo, a Visual Effects Supervisor and Digital Artist! I’m happy to be here to be talking to you.

[03:30] Allan: That’s awesome, man! I was curious: For your growing up, did you always want to be an artist?

Marc: I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t make the connection with VFX until later on. I wanted to draw comic book. I went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan to pursue comic books. Comics were huge back then, in the 90s! Then I saw Jurassic Park and I was like, “Oh, my God! That’s what I want to do!” I didn’t make the connection until I saw that. There is a next level of storytelling. If you can do that — they really set the bar high! — there are so many other things you can do. (I was reading all the Marvel comics back then.) Here we are today! Instead of pursuing traditional drawing, I switched. I switched schools too, to Ringling School of Art and Design. At the time, it was one of the few places that had the computer animation program. That was the real trigger for me. But I was always inspired by my Criterion VHS collection, all the behind-the-scenes and the making of. But I didn’t make the connection as an artist that that was something I could do. 

[05:16] Allan: It’s funny to see what inspires you. I went into 3D before there was internet. There were no schools, no manuals. It was about watching those behind-the-scenes videos to make sense of things. There was a garbage matte on Battlestar Galactica, and it clicked for me. It got me obsessed with doing live action shots. Jurassic Park was that for a lot of people. When did you get your first break in the industry?

Marc: At Ringling, it was an animation school. There was a lot of focus on character animation. I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t for me. I started shooting against the blue screen on Super 16 and pursuing movie magic. Part of the reason for going to the school was knowing that all the big recruiters came to that school. And they had a few alumni come and visit. [07:00] From day one until my senior year, when the recruiters came to the school, I had a reel that demonstrated that I could do the job. I still think a lot of people don’t understand today that with a demo reel, it’s about being able to show that you can do the work. I still get asked by students today, “What should be on my reel?” There is so much stuff! If you can show something that looks professional and show the breakdown of it, that’s enough to get you a seat. You have to be able to show that you can be an asset, be of value. Somehow, I innately knew that and my focus from day one was to build that reel. And I landed my first job with Pacific Data Images that had visited [the school].

Also during my senior year, I flew out to LA and met up with some alumni and asked to get coffee, whatever I could do to get introduced and get interviews. Once they know who you are, that helps tremendously!

[08:30] Allan: I think you’ve touched on 3 really critical things. First of all, touching on demo reels. I get emails all the time with misconceptions. Some people go on a tangent or spend too much time on something like picking a piece of music. When you look at the purpose of having a reel, it really comes down to studios not having the budget to train people up. They want to hire you and get you to do shots. It’s a gamble to hire people. When you think about it that way, you realize just a couple of shots is enough to show that you can sit down tomorrow, in a chair — and do the work! It’s so important.

Marc: Absolutely! And I’ll add to that. The flip side of that is when I’m hiring, truthfully, I don’t even like going to the demo reel. The number one thing that I’m going to hire someone on is their past experience and the past experience I’ve had with them; from which I trust them. If other people are saying, “This guy is good”, that’s enough to hire them. The truth [about a] demo reel is that there are so many people that contribute to a great shot. You can hire someone but that demo reel doesn’t show their work ethic. If I don’t have experience or someone can vouch for that person, when I look at the demo reel, I’m looking hard to see that they get it and that they did this work. If you were the best at CG in the world and you’re applying for a compositor position, it needs to be clear what your part was in creating that final image.

[11:22] Allan: I was on a call with Dylan Cole the other day and we talked about that. He was telling me that in the early days of Weta, it was expensive to fly someone in and put them up, get them a visa, pay them before you realize they can’t do what they say they can do. It was easier to call someone for a recommendation. Which is why it’s so important to have a good solid network. I always say, the only thing more important than having a great demo reel is having a strong network of people. The one thing that will get you shot to the front of the line is someone who’s worked with you vouching for you. I’m also curious about PDI. It existed before some people’s times.

Marc: PDI was a fantastic first job for me. They had lots of proprietary software. There was a whole suite of tools. 

[13:20] Allan: Looking back at your whole career, we talked about The Art and Science of Digital Compositing

Marc: That book came out right when I got my first job and it was fantastic and it was an eye opener. It connected so many dots for me and confirmed things for me. I still go back to that book.

[14:13] Allan: The first time I saw it was when Paul Kerr introduced me to it. He was a Flame compositor in ‘99. It’s become one of those iconic things. A lot of the books you pick up these days are fluff and they don’t get to the nitty gritty. What are your thoughts on learning the technical side for creatives?

Marc: The big thing about that book was that you get notes or something you’re trying to accomplish (correct a matte or a color correction), it explains what those functions do. There are artists out there who are just moving sliders around and waiting for the lucky moment. And it doesn’t work when you’re on a time crunch.

[16:41] Allan: I remember being 14 and hearing someone say, “I’m applying filters until I find something that works.” As if applying 30 filters will create art.

Marc: It also points out that it’s very easy to be destructive to an image if you don’t know what you’re doing. Knowing what you’re doing mathematically, so you aren’t destroying your highlights or blacks and whites. That’s critical! That’s what was fantastic about that book. And it’s not a complicated matter. Compositing math is pretty easy and basic, like junior high math. It’s understandable.

[17:14] Allan: What was your experience like going on to Manex?

Marc: PDI was great! When I went to Manex, they’d just finished The Matrix. I was looking to move on, I wanted to comp at that point of my career.

[17:37] Allan: Obviously, you’ve worked for a lot of big studios in your career. With your experience, was that something you went with the flow with? Or did you choose the studios intentionally, depending on a project?

Marc: It was all of the above. I was in a such hardcore learning mode, I wanted to learn everything. There seemed to be so many answers. You read about those things. Every movie that came out, everything was new, be it a CG lion or an avalanche. Well, how did they do it? Different people would do it differently. Back then, I would see every film. I remember Jingle All the Way! Everything was new at the time in VFX. If there was new VFX, we had to see it. I was moving around from studio to studio because I wanted to know how ILM did it, or how Sony did it. Back then, there was a lot of proprietary software. Getting your hands on stuff and seeing different pipelines, and working with different people, it was an endless flow.

[19:26] Allan: For me, I always jumped from project to project. When you get further into your career, you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects you want. That also aligns with learning to say no to projects. But in the beginning, the more you can learn and be a sponge, the better it is.

Marc: “Sponge” is the right word. 

[19:56] Allan: When you mentioned seeing every single movie, we were all like that. Do you remember when you stopped? With every animated feature film, I had to see everything until Cars came out. They became so frequent. It’s like homework and it’s inspiring to see where we’re going. 

Marc: It was a spread for me. When I went to ILM the first time, it was an amazing place to work (although I wasn’t a fan of their proprietary software). I had been using Nuke at DD. After Grinch, whenever I went to a different software, I ended up missing Nuke. I went back and forth to DD. Finally, with ILM I wanted to enjoy my day working in a software I like. So I went back to DD and I haven’t used anything but Nuke since. And it has dominated the market once it got out of DD’s hands. As far as being a sponge, I still feel that way with every job. 

[22:19] Allan: I think that’s another valuable point. I had seen bad patterns of behavior. I’ve seen people say, “I’ve made it so I don’t need to learn or to network anymore.” It’s about learning. In a corporate culture, they’ll do more workshops. The people I see who are the most successful are the ones who are focusing on learning and evolving and building relationships around them. How valuable has it been for you to learn and to adapt to the changes?

Marc: It’s critical! The industry is ever changing. We could’ve never predicted where we are now. I have my own triangle when I take on a job: 

  • Why am I going to enjoy my day? Is it the people I work with? Is it the tools I’m working with? It is because of where I’m at? Am I going to enjoy the process?
  • Am I learning? Is it an opportunity to do something different?
  • What am I getting paid?

If I can check two of those boxes, I will take the job. If I can check all three, what more can you ask for?

[24:29] Allan: Looking at your career now, in terms of picking the right projects, what are the main qualifiers? It is the people you get to work with? You’re in a position where you can pick and choose jobs. 

Marc: Just like I said: Is it an opportunity to do something new?Are the people cool? Am I going to have a good time working with them? Learning is a big plus for me and doing something different.

[25:47] Allan: Just to jump around a little bit: I’d love to talk about some of the projects that have been critical for the industry. What was it like to go work on Spider-Man?

Marc: With the first Spider-Man, coming from comic books, I was over the moon! And that was a great experience! At the time, at ImageWorks, compositors were also lighters. I had started as a Generalist then moved into compositing. I loved it, but it irked me a little bit. The opportunity to light and composite excited me. I was working at a big facility. So it was a no-brainer. 

[27:15] Allan: What was the experience like of going to work down in New Zealand? Obviously, it’s a U.S. influenced company.

Marc: I went back several times after. That says a lot. When you’re a freelancer, it’s good to go back. Weta was lean and mean. There were no holds barred, in terms of visual effects back then. They had done Fellowship. They could do things so fast. They had this raw energy of being unafraid of big effects. Sometimes with massive success, other times — not so much. There was no option on Lord of the Rings. It had to get out the door. It’s unlike any place I’ve worked at before.

[28:45] Allan: Going back for The Hobbit, how much has it changed since Two Towers?

Marc: Two Towers was Shake. So it was painful for me, coming from Nuke. I loved it until I used Nuke. I remember pitching Nuke to Joe Letteri. A good friend of mine was there at the time (and he’d stayed there). When I did go back, I went back for The Water Horse. The studio was half Shake and half Nuke. I was presented with two different projects and I chose one based on the comp software. That was a joy! The next time when I went back for The Hobbit, they were all Nuke.

[30:20] Allan: I’m impressed and also fascinated by the fact that Weta went into deep compositing. You look at the studios now and there are some that are invested in using deep for their workflow.

Marc: I’m speculating but I think they need a specific need for the fur, with all the Apes films. Which makes sense. Deep is powerful but can be very heavy. It doesn’t make sense as a blanket solution for all the shots. But if you’re a big studio, it’s nice to not worry about having it when you need it. But when you don’t need it, it can slow you down.

[31:28] Allan: Working at ILM back in the day as opposed to more recently, how can you compare the growth?

Marc: It’s kind of amazingly similar. The big difference for me was the software. When I went back, it was all Nuke. Like at Weta, they had an amazing pipeline. ILM is probably my favorite place to work.

[32:24] Allan: Me too!

Marc: All the people involved are amazing! It’s a great place to be! 

[32:45] Allan: In terms of the big hurdles, what was the transition from being a Compositor to a VFX Sup? Was there much of an intent behind it? What was it like for you?

Marc: I mean, it was definitely organic and it wasn’t overnight. I was a Lead and I was a Supervisor. And I’d go back and forth. My family lives in Florida and I travel back and forth. Depending on what job was available and at what time, that also played a big part. How long would I be gone? I did a few VFX commercials.

[33:50] Allan: What about going more client side? What was the difference there?

Marc: Having wanted to work with comics, I was attracted to comic book films. When those started taking off, I started reaching out in my network and seeing how I could get on one of those shows. I started as a Comp Lead and then transitioned into the second VFX position.

[34:30] Allan: Talking about the other Spider-Man: Far from Home, what was that experience like?

Marc: It was great! It was a different experience working on the production side of things. It’s cool to see creatives upfront. The vendor experience has changed a lot. The director used to be visiting. Some of the dynamics still mirror that experience, at least from what I’ve seen. I started to miss on the vendor side. Sometimes, the director is present and involved. Sometimes, you get notes over email. 

[35:51] Allan: As we are recording this, Mulan isn’t out. Is it still coming out in July?

Marc: That’s the last date I heard. It was supposed to be March, then got pushed to July.

[36:14] Allan: What was it like with Mulan? It’s interesting to see this trend with reboots. Did you shoot that in New Zealand?

Marc: Yes, there was also some filming done in China but I was on the second unit in New Zealand. I went down there. I’d been to New Zealand 3 times before and I thought I’d seen it. It’s such a beautiful country! It was a tremendous learning experience.

[37:14] Allan: In terms of career advice, a lot of people want to get into the industry. But there are also people that are already in the industry. What advice would you give to those people? How to get from good to great? 

Marc: Sadly, I hate to say it but it’s not merit based. Being good isn’t good enough. I used to focus on turning over every rock and learning everything I could:

  • So learn anything you can from every person around you.
  • Learn the ins and outs of the software you’re using. If you’re learning Nuke, drop every node and see what it does. Go through the menu. Look it up. Make a mental note of how you could use it in the future. 

[38:54] Being good isn’t enough. A lot of it comes down to the network and your relationship with others. I want to enjoy my day and work with people that I like. If you’re hard to work with, you’re going to have a hard time. It’s not always merit based.

[39:20] Allan: We did a business talk about clients. I tend to ask clients a lot of questions before I take on a project. Sometimes it’s about figuring out if I’m a good fit. The more questions I ask, the more I can see the whole picture. What type of questions do you ask: money, schedule?

Marc: Oh, that’s a tough one! Like you said, you have to learn a lot from them. Let them do a lot of the talking. That’ll reveal a lot in itself. 

[40:24] Allan: What have you been working on recently?

Marc: It was a side project. A traditional card game, an analogue game. First it evolved with my kids. But then I really got into it. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I’m launching its Kickstarter on June 16th. It’s called Bad Guy Nonsense: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marcrienzo/bad-guy-nonsense/description. It’s just a fun family card game featuring a lot of my artwork.

[41:10] Allan: How does it work?

Marc: It’s a game in which you’re a bounty hunter and you have to capture bad guys. But there are other characters like witches and burglars, and bandits. 

[41:33] Allan: Were you working on that with your kids as well? I think it’s cool to be able to share your passion.

Marc: It started with my kids partially because as much as love comic book films, a lot of them are PG-13. My son is 9 now. Some of these movies he’d be excited about, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking him. I tried to make something family friendly.

[42:32] Allan: This has been really cool, man! What else is on the horizon for you?

Marc: We shall sese. I’m focusing on this right now.

[42:46] Allan: For anyone who wants to find out more about Bad Guy Nonsense, where can they go?

Marc: Very easy: www.BadGuyNonsense.com. The Kickstarter campaign is starting June 16th. I’d really appreciate it if people check it out.

[43:06] Allan: It’s been really great to catch up!

Marc: Same here, Allan! Thank you!

 

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Marc for taking the time to do this interview. Please take a moment to share this Episode with others. This Podcast is free so I’d appreciate that! Thanks for listening! 

I’ll be back next week, with a new Episode. Until then —

Rock on!

 

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