Hugo Guerra on sending a football star into Hell

Speaking at HP ZED Paris this Thursday, the VFX Supervisor at The Mill chats about Nike, Nuke and never losing his passion.

Hugo Guerra will speak at HP ZED Paris tomorrow at 7pm

When The Mill's VFX supervisor & Nuke lead Hugo Guerra addresses the audience at HP ZED Paris tomorrow evening, he's going to have something very cool to talk about indeed.

"I'll showcasing how the combination of Hiero and Nuke allowed my team to conform, composite and deliver three commercials in a record three weeks from shoot to delivery," says Guerra, an multi-award winning Nuke veteran who's been working in the industry since 1999.

And if that doesn't sound impressive enough, just check out what they made in that short time: these three stunning ads for Nike featuring a footballing superstar in action across three hellish CG landscapes:

Hellish scenario

"Each spot features Swedish football player Zlatan Ibrahimović showing off his incredible footwork skills whilst dodging lightning, facing a Siberian tiger and instigating a volcanic eruption," explains Guerra.

It's the kind of brief which, given the deadline, would have sent many running for the hills - but veteran VFXers The Mill took it all in their stride. The firm was involved at the early concept stage, creating three stylistic matte paintings for each spot. "Then the shoot took place in Paris, with Zlatan against a blue screen," Guerra explains.

"We turned each matte painting into fully functioning and animated worlds and then comped in the footage of Zlatan," he continues. "This was a huge team effort, and a great success thanks to the leadership of Leonardo Costa and Georgie Ford, who led a team of Nuke artists on the project."

Lava to lightning

For the volcano scenes in the commercial - created by Wieden & Kennedy and directed by Rattling Stick's Austen Humphries - the comp team hand-animated lava and added explosion elements, sun flares, embers and even lens dirt. The wider shots involved detailed geometry to project the matte paintings as the camera follows the football towards the volcano.

For the snow scene, the team worked tirelessly to integrate a live action tiger, shot on green screen, while adding particles, snow, mist and fog to the matte painted background. Then, for the final storm scene, they used a combination of cloud footage and grid wrapping to create a slowly swirling, menacing sky.

A tall order, then - but the sort of challenge that Guerra relishes. "I love the fast pace and artistic challenges of commercial work," he enthuses.

The Mill team integrated live footage of a tiger into the CG scene

It's the sort of confidence born from a long career journey across international borders. Originally from Porto, Portugal's second city, "I left 10 years ago because I could not really find a lot of work there," Guerra recalls.

"The VFX industry in Portugal is very small, budgets are small, productions simple, in general I wanted to work in bigger and more challenging projects."

So he headed to Sweden. "I was a VFX art director there for three years working in a huge range of productions, from TV spots, corporate films, music video and short films," he says. "I still go to Sweden a lot to teach VFX at Campus i12."

Nuke evolution

Then in 2008, he moved to London. "I worked as a freelancer in a lot of VFX companies until I got asked to be the Head of the Nuke department at The Mill," he says. "And I've been there ever since."

Specialising in Nuke was "a natural evolution" for him, he adds. "I started using After Effects at my Fine Arts University to make Video Art, and after using it for years I started to need a more robust and more flexible application.

The Hummingbird spot for Audi was a career highlight for Guerra

"I started learning and using Nuke in 2007, when it first became available to the public. I've been using and teaching Nuke and Hiero ever since and never looked back. At the moment it is, by far, the most powerful compositing software."

Right now he's hugely excited about The Foundry's Nuke Studio - a tool that combines Hiero and Nuke, which was unveiled at NAB on Monday. "Finally it's here - I can't wait to test this out!" he smiles.

Passion for speaking

As just mentioned, as well as working as a VFX artist, Guerra has pursued a parallel career in teaching it - most recently working as a Nuke trainer at Escape Studios and the National Film and Television School (NFTS).

"I really enjoy sharing and talking in public about VFX," he explains. "It's always been my passion.

"I have been talking and teaching since 2007 in so many events that I lost count. I've been in India, Sweden, Germany, Brazil, Amsterdam - so many places and so many keynotes."

Career highlights

But as well as a lot of talking, there's been a lot of doing. With a huge body of work to choose from it's difficult to identify his proudest moments at The Mill.

But when we push him, he settles on two: working as lead artist in the Audi Hummingbird commercial (2011) and last year working as lead artist in the Call of Duty: Ghosts in-game cinematic.

"These two projects were a huge challenge for me and my team," he explains, "both from a technical point of view but also from an artistic point of view." And you can see the results for yourself in the videos below...

  • Hugo Guerra will be speaking at HP ZED Paris tomorrow evening from 7-10pm.

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