Episode 283 — Hugo Guerra

 

Episode 283 — Hugo Guerra

Hugo Guerra is a Portuguese born award-winning Director and VFX Supervisor. After finishing his Fine Arts degree, he worked in Portugal and Sweden before moving to the UK where he was a freelancer for several years. 

He joined The Mill in 2010 as a VFX Supervisor and as Head of the Nuke Department. Over that time, Hugo was a Lead Artist and Onset Supervisor for several productions, including Codemaster’s Bodycount, Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six, the VES awarded Audi “Hummingbird”, Activision’s Call of Duty, and BBC Music God Only Knows among others.

In 2014, Hugo joined Fire Without Smoke as a Director and Visual Effects Supervisor, working on trailers for CCP, Ubisoft, Deep Silver, Square Enix, Sony, Warhammer and many others.

Most recently Hugo worked as a VFX Supervisor for Sony Playstation San Diego and is currently working as a Film Director for Rebellion Games.  

He is also a Visual Effects Society Jury member and created Hugo’s Desk, the largest YouTube channel about Nuke compositing.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay and Hugo Guerra tackle the subjects of having a business mentality as an artist, learning to negotiate and the importance of knowing your worth.

Hugo’s Desk: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv-7AV9139ZwlwTHiBwS-JQ

Hugo Guerra’s Website: https://hugo-guerra.com

Hugo Guerra’s IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1512412/

Hugo Guerra on LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/hugoguerra

Hugo Guerra on Twitter: @HugoCGuerra

Hugo Guerra’s Instagram: @HugoCGuerra

 

HIGHLIGHTS:

[03:21] Hugo Guerra Talks About Starting Out in VFX

[13:31] Is an Art Degree Really Necessary?

[19:35] VFX as a Service Industry

[28:22] Learning to Negotiate as an Artist

[49:57] Finding Your Place in the Industry

 

EPISODE 283 — HUGO GUERRA

Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay. 

Welcome to Episode 283! I’m speaking with Hugo Guerro, Director and VFX Supervisor. He is known for his channel Hugo’s Desk. Hugo and I talk about a lot of things, including money and negotiating. This is such an important topic that a lot of us don’t talk about! 

Hugo has a big background in visual effect. He has a YouTube Channel Hugo’s Desk that’s a huge resource on visual effects! I’m so excited for you to check it out!

Let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[01:04] 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!

[58:30] 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 HUGO GUERRA

[03:21] Hugo: My name is Hugo Guerra. I’m a Director and a VFX Supervisor. I’ve worked at many different places: at the Mills, BBC, Ubisoft. More recently, I’ve worked as a VFX Sup for Sony in San Diego and the Sony Playstation in London. Right now, I’m booked as a Director at Rebellion Studios, doing mo cap shoots, trailers and cinematics. The other part of my life is teaching and academics. I do a lot of Podcasts and tutorials. I have my own YouTube Channel called Hugo’s Desk. My first life is working, my second life is teaching. A lot of the time, they intersect. I’m Portuguise, by the way, but I live and work in London. I’ve been there for 14 years. 

[05:04] Allan: I was actually going to move to Portugal when I was 17, doing some stereoscopic stuff for a show. But the visa was taking too long. One of the questions I always ask of my guest is: Did you always want to be an artist?

Hugo: Before I even answer, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for inviting me to your Podcast. I’m a big fan of your work and of your Podcast. I cannot even express how much you’ve contributed to this community. I’m really happy you’ve invited me! The work that you’re doing is fantastic. I’m sure everyone will agree.

[06:16] Allan: No, I’m sure there is one guy who’s like, “No! Screw that guy!”

Hugo: I’m sure that’s the same guy [that dislikes] my new videos, 5 seconds after I publish them on YouTube. 

[06:21] Allan: Thank you, man! I really appreciate it. I think it’s way overdue. I’ll just comment on those 2 dislikes. Other people can comment, “How can anyone dislike this?” To me it’s like the same 2 people showing up to say hi.

Hugo: To answer your question, when I was young, I was fascinated by video games and film. Obviously, I didn’t think I’d be a compositor. I didn’t even know what that was! But I knew I wanted to work in film or visual effects because I was so fascinated by all these films we watched: Terminator and Jurassic Park. I was just fascinated by ILM, this company that everyone talked about. It was so mystical! I’ve been playing video games since I was 6 years old! It all changed when I finally got my first video camera, a really crappy Sony black-and-white camera. I did all sorts of shorts with my friends. That’s how I started. Then I bought my second VCR. Then I bought a little mixer. Later on, I finally got a computer. Coming from Portugal, we didn’t have enough money; but my mother saved up some money and I got my first computer in ‘98. That was a Pentium II machine. I was fascinated by After Effects and Premiere. I was just clicking on stuff, I didn’t even know what I was doing.

[09:45] Allan: That’s the best way to learn! The first time I was doing 3D — because no one taught me — when I got into key framer and I didn’t know what I was doing. One day, I was walking down the street and it clicked. It’s not like nowadays, with YouTube.

Hugo: I know people hear that on Podcasts all the time, “There was nothing [back in the day]”. But there was literally nothing. I’m from Portugal and I had a crappy version of Premiere. I had the demo version but there was no help file. Only years later did I manage to buy a Matrox RT2000 that came with Premiere. Then it had a thick manual and I could read it. I learned that way. I read and tested stuff, and moved on. Premiere kind of became my thing. I got a lot of jobs from it, in Portugal and Sweden. Then it was Shake, then it was Nuke. And I’m sure I’ll transfer that knowledge to the next thing. I don’t get attached to software that much. I get attached to the way you do it, the technique and the artistry. I am a very artistically driven VFX Sup. I’m not very technical at all! I don’t know how to code, I don’t know Python. I have an arts degree.

When I was young and I had a video camera, my dream was to work at ILM or at The Mill. For you to work at those companies, you had to have an art degree (in the ‘90s). I did a 5-year degree in the arts. During that time, there were video art classes. That’s why I have such an artistic side. We never had any technical side.

[13:29] Allan: For you, what was your experience with the degree? Did you learn a lot?

Hugo: Back then, I did. And I thought it was going to be really helpful. I feel like it was important because it gave me access to things. I had really good teachers and they gave me access to directors I’ve never heard of, or films I would’ve never looked for myself. It gave me access to literature I wouldn’t have sought out. It gave me access to color theory and composition — and some of these features became influential. From that sense, between the age of 16 and 20, it marked my life. I learned about David Fincher, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini. All these directors became important to me. I don’t think they’ve taught me anything that I use these days, but they exposed me to a lot of inspiration. Also sharing with other artists and having relationships was a major experience at a university. It’s a melting pot of cultures. We had a lot of foreign schools at that school. I hardly paint or sculpt anymore. But I always tell myself to go to school, or at least to talk to other people in the artistic community. When you’re young, it will form your taste which you have to understand, in order to be in this industry. Sometimes people forget about that and become obsessed with clicking [buttons]. There are choices made to the story.

[16:57] Allan: I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of people want to rush the results. “What do I need to do to become a VFX Sup in the next year?” There is so much training you need to do on the ground, these fundamentals that stick with you your whole life (while the software changes). Most people need to learn that stuff. The weaker artists have missed out on those core foundations.

Hugo: Of course, I’m not advocating that everyone should go to a university. I went to one because fortunately for me, Portugal’s education is free. I can’t advise people in Great Britain to do that because it costs 50K. If you can go learn, go do it. You can do a few years and finish it. I keep getting the same question, Allan. I don’t know how to get there, but you will get there by working for a decade. People ask me to do a VFX Supervisor course. I can’t do that, unless we go to a set.

[19:35] Allan: I also think that for most people it’s about the title. Supervising on set is fun. Most people wouldn’t enjoy begging and pleading for 5 minutes to do their job. But finishing a shot for me is more interesting. But most people want to jump on the box. It’s not that fun though because most of the time you’re sitting with a spreadsheet, trying to figure out where you can borrow some money.

Hugo: It’s all this glamor that’s largely exaggerated. I’ve met people who understand that and they stick with it. It’s interesting how people have the wrong idea of what this is. It’s not glamorous at all! I’ve been on set for 15 hours in a row, in rain, in snow, with people shouting at you. I feel like people have the wrong idea. A lot of people confuse directing and working in VFX. They had this idea that they will have some creative input. I left The Mill because I was fed up with not having any input. I had a great career there and I was going to become a Creative Director. But I traded that for my own company. We do smaller projects but they’re my projects. I work my way into jobs and I select my own jobs. I’ll never go back to winning VES Awards, but I’m so much happier. I was miserable.

[23:27] Allan: You’ve mentioned ILM earlier, and it being this glorified thing. That’s the metric of success. But ultimately, what do you want to enjoy? I’ve been chatting with Beeple and we talked a lot about what it means to take input from clients. You’re an artist for hire.  

Hugo: You’re right it’s a service. And people get very afflicted by their artistic integrity. I’ve been there and I understand that. But the clients are the ones paying for it. I think you do an amazing job trying to explain to artists how to be business people. I feel you’ve done great work for the community on that side: [your talks] on clients, on building your business, on branding, on how to write your emails. People forget that side. It’s not glamorous but it’s so important! I will never forget how years ago I was at the Trojan Horse Festival and I was presenting. Right after my presentation, it was Syd Mead. I talked to him backstage. He was amazing. I’ll never forget he told me that the secret for success (and he was really successful!) was very simple: In the beginning of his career he was doing concept art and he was getting paid peanuts. The moment he got an agent, that’s when everything turned around. He was getting deals in which he was getting royalties for every deal. He managed to negotiate having a cut on everything. He even had lawsuits over his stolen designs. I feel that a lot of times we, as artists, are to blame for not thinking this way. He thought, “I suck at business so I’m going to get someone who can deal with that for me.” I’ll never forget that conversation. We suck at royalties!

[28:22] Allan: A hundred percent! I think it’s so critical. We have this illogical reaction that we’re creatives so we don’t have to deal with that. I had a sit down with a big agency in LA and they were looking to rep me. I saw the value in it. The more you get comfortable [stating] your standard when negotiating, the [less you need a rep].

Hugo: The thing with this is, it’s because we’re so uncomfortable. You know how to speak to clients. A lot of people are terrible at talking. They get put into bad situations because they didn’t have the courage to ask about their contracts. A lot of us are so shy on that side. If people supported each other, the better off we’d be. I really feel that a lot of people need that help.

[31:02] Allan: Totally! There are downsides to having an agent. When they try to leave an agent, you can get into a lawsuit. 

Hugo: There is no perfect solution. I am very tough in my negotiation. And you have to learn that you can walk away at times. I’ve met a lot of people / companies that are afraid of walking away.

[32:00] Allan: I think the secret is to pay attention every time you get burnt. I coach people about business. The more you get burnt, the more you take note of it. You can then bring it up next time. It’s the same way when you don’t mention money upfront. A hundred things can go wrong! What are some negotiating tactics you use?

Hugo: The first thing is to talk about money right away. It happened to me once, in Portugal, when the client assumed I’d be working for free. I ended up walking away from the job. The guy told me he would tell everyone about me and not to ever use me. (None of that ever happened.)

[33:54] Allan: I got told once in LA, after I asked to get paid, “You’ll never work in Hollywood again!” I thought, “Do people say that, outside of movies?”

Hugo: You need to know to whom in the company you need to talk about money. A lot of the time, the people I’m dealing with don’t know anything about it either. If you’re talking to a junior producer, they won’t know anything. Usually it’s someone higher up in production. It’s nicer that it’s a different person because it separates that dramatic side from the actual job. In terms of advice, people really need to charge what they have to charge. They’re so afraid of losing the job, they don’t say anything. Let’s say you’re doing a compositing job for 300 pounds a day. They’ll write that in their email but then immediately follow up with, “but I’m fine if we have less”. They already feel bad for stating the price. People need to stand by their price:

  • Research the market and find out how much people get paid in your area / country. It’s easy to find out. You can contact the union or your friends. You can contact people on LinkedIn. 
  • If you can’t find accurate information, then think really hard about how much money you need in order to live, to work on this job. When you think about that, think about the amount of investment you’ve spent getting to this point. You have to put something on top of the price. And then stick to your guns! You can have a future with that value.

In my experience, that value is not as much as you think it is. I’ve had clients say yes to that number right away, which is problematic. Also understand you might get less than you’re worth. If the money is enough for you to live a comfortable life, then you don’t have to be greedy. There is no point in playing hardball on that. It’s what you always say on your Podcast.

[39:07] Allan: I think that’s really critical. It’s also about the learning experience. The more you take note of negotiating, the better you know what to do next time. If you’re happy with those numbers, that’s all that matters. You also have to think about revisions and any down time. A lot of times, you have to be comfortable with walking away. They can get someone cheaper to do that job. 

Hugo: That’s a frank discussion you have to have with your client. Again, you have to have the courage to walk away. If they want something cheaper, their expectation will be lower. You’ll be upset because you’ll have to deliver something not sub par.

[41:12] Allan: It drives me nuts when I work with artists, and halfway through the job they’ll get jaded and start complaining about money. It brings the morale down for everyone. If you aren’t happy — then ask for more money in the beginning. Do the job you agreed to do, and renegotiate afterward. If you’ve done a great job, you’ll be able to do it. 

Hugo: People sometimes forget how much money is worth for them. They see figures. They need to understand that some of the stuff they see isn’t true, or that the other person has a lot more experience. You need to understand how much you need for you. Sometimes we [forget] that we’re in a very privileged job. We are getting paid to do something we love. It’s highly technical, very few people can’t do it. Sometimes we forget that we’re in a privileged situation of getting to do what you love — and getting paid well for it. People who work at a coffee shop in the UK are earning 15-17 thousand a year. Imagine that! A VFX artist is getting that in 3 months! We are very fortunate! I feel blessed everyday. Maybe it’s because I come from a poor background. I look at money and having a job as very fortunate. I have enough, and I have what I need. As long as you feel that way — you’re good!

[45:00] Allan: It’s like Instagram. People look at someone presenting this fake life. What artists do is they see other people make amazing work. Instead of loving that and getting inspired, they feel, “I’m never going to be that good!” And the same goes for money. You have to earn it. I’ve done a job in New Orleans years ago. I remember going to lunch with artists from that job and they were all complaining. It was very obvious that I was sitting at the wrong table. It isn’t healthy or beneficial for anyone. It’s amature talk. Do you and don’t worry about anyone else! 

Hugo: At a big company, there are a lot of things happening. There is some politics. Some people know so much more about the financial side of things. I felt that a lot working at the Mill. The higher up I got, the more I started going to meetings with the financial directors. I remember being at a meeting where people were discussing how many air conditioning vents we should have on each floor. We weren’t talking about VFX anymore. Those kinds of things are important, especially for big companies. People have to remember why they are doing this job. I still have my video camera my mother gave me on my bookshelf. My mother worked really hard to get it for me. It was a fortune back then! I should feel very blessed to keep working. I was on set yesterday, directing a mo cap shoot for a cinematic for a video game I love! I’m happy I’m getting to do this. I’m having fun and I’m getting enough money. We are artists and people forget that! 

[49:57] Allan: You can also aspire to try to get more money on the next job.

Hugo: And if you are having financial problems then you aren’t getting paid enough. Working in the VFX industry, there must be something going wrong. If you’re a good artist and you have talent, you can get work. It’s not hard to get work if you’re good. If you aren’t good, maybe this is not for you. One of the best producers at The Mill was a modeling artist — but he became an amazing producer.

[51:30] Allan: It’s a stepping stone. You have to find your placement. I used to animate characters, but then I found what I loved to do. To go back to money, when you were talking about the overhead, you have to think about that. 

Hugo: Of course! You have to think about the cost of the internet. People forget that. Now that people are working from home, they’re spending more money on overhead. All those things are included in the overhead. How much is your bill usually? How much is the electricity? Your phone? Put that on a spreadsheet.

[53:34] Allan: When it comes to money, it’s about looking internally before blaming someone else. Figure out if you’re budgeting correctly. Most people want more money. But if you get more money, you spend more money. The quickest way to get a pay rise is to fix the leaks in your budget. 

Hugo: I’m glad you’re saying that!

[54:35] Allan: I’d love to have you back on the Podcast. 

Hugo: I apologize we haven’t nerded out about the artistic side. But what we just talked about is very important. No one ever asks me about this on any Podcast, and I really feel that this is really important! There is no real information out there. My students are always asking these questions: How do I negotiate? How do I get more money?

[55:52] Allan: I honestly think that having you on the Podcast would mean several Episodes. I’d love to have you back! We can talk about directing and supervising, and working for big studios. In terms of what we’ve talked about, this comes from experience. It’s what you learn by going through the industry. Where can people find out more about you?

Hugo: Everything comes together on my YouTube Channel Hugo’s Desk. I’ve made another one called Hugo’s Desk Live. These are unedited sessions about software, with live chats. I’m on Instagram, Twitter. 

[58:25] Allan: I appreciate your being here, man!

Hugo: Thanks for having me!

 

I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Hugo for doing this Podcast. I definitely have to have him back. If you can take a second to share this Episode with others, please do so. That would mean the world to me! 

In the next Episode, I’ll be talking about branding and how to stand out.

Until next week —

Rock on! 

 

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