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VFX-Factor: The Art of CG with Frank Grecco


Head of CG at Carbon’s NYC studio on invisible post and how Unreal Engine is changing the game

VFX-Factor: The Art of CG with Frank Grecco

Frank Grecco is head of CG at Carbon’s NYC studio. With over 15 years in the industry, Frank’s talent has seen his work range from Emmy-nominated title sequences to feature films and Super Bowl commercials. At Carbon, he leads the CG team across their projects for brands and agencies. Often collaborating with Carbon’s in house directors, Frank’s projects include Brizo’s ‘Jason Wu’, for which he was just nominated in the best CGI category at AICP Post Awards, as well as Verizon’s recent ‘5G Built for Gamers’ campaign.

Frank joined Carbon in 2019, having previously worked at Method Studios and Charlex. His specialty in look development, lighting, and compositing contributed to award-winning work such as the iconic opening titles to Marvel’s Deadpool 2, Disney’s Little Einsteins, and Nickelodeon’s Team Umizoomi. Commercial work includes leading projects for Google, Target, Microsoft, and Netflix. 

LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum - the invisible post and the big, glossy 'VFX heavy' shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those? 

Frank> The goal of invisible post is of course to not draw any attention to the VFX. If it doesn’t feel like it was shot in camera the illusion is broken. It’s often less technically challenging but it makes up for it with the high level of artistry required to get the element or the extension to feel like it had been there all along. 

VFX heavy shots on the other hand clearly revolve around making the VFX the focal point. There’s a lot more moving parts involved in the execution and it can get a lot more technical but with that comes added flexibility and control over the final image.

LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them? 

Frank> I love working with directors, and involving us in the pre-production process helps us support their vision. I want to know what their priorities are and how they envision the project. We can then help plan and ensure the right assets are gathered on set. We can offer solutions, and pre-empt and avoid any issues down the line. We then focus on creativity and getting the best results with the director in post.

LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Frank> A little over 10 years ago, I decided to focus strictly on lighting and compositing and landed a job at Charlex as a lighting TD. Charlex was unique in that the lighting artists also composited their work so I got to really develop my understanding of what makes an image work. I learned a ton from the talented team there and my experience there continues to inform how I work today.

LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Frank> I spend a fair amount of time doing research and collecting as much reference as possible. If the project involves a product I want to make sure that every material is identified and that we don’t miss a single detail no matter how small. If we’re building an environment I want to know everything about it from the type of grass to the overall silhouette.  Also pulling related reference from other ads, film, TV, and games is never a bad idea.

LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Frank> Ha! Nothing is ever finished, is it? I think it’s pretty common that at the end of a project, we come up with an internal wish list of what we’d like to refine to make sure we’re all satisfied. Of course, that could go on infinitely but it’s nice to take a step back after the dust has settled and do one last pass before it ultimately gets archived away. Personal work is a different story. That stuff is never finished.

LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Frank> Unreal Engine without a doubt. With the advent of real-time raytracing it’s easy to get excited about the idea of composing a scene while viewing it in a way that is close to the level of quality we expect from our offline renderers. GPU renderers have closed the gap quite a bit but what Epic is doing, especially with the next release, goes quite a bit further. Being able to iterate faster and being able to focus more on being creative is always going to excite me the most.

LBB> Speaking of that, how have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Frank> Conveniently enough our NY office here at Carbon was always remote. There isn’t a single physical workstation in the building. All of our hardware is housed in Chicago so a remote workflow had always been in place which made it much easier to transition to connecting from our homes. Leading a team remotely however has been the biggest challenge as I imagine it has been for a lot of studios. The ability to look over someone’s shoulder or shout across the room doesn’t have an exact virtual equivalent so there was definitely a big adjustment in how we communicate.

LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during Covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Frank> I think I’ve learned that there is a definite mental health benefit from working from home, at least for me. I know it ended up being the complete opposite for a lot of people but removing the commute and ultimately being able to see your family a whole lot more than you did before is huge. I would hope that at the very least we all can work some sort of hybrid situation instead of going back to the office fully.

LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time? 

Frank> After I graduated from RISD in 2004, I attended SIGGRAPH in LA for the first time. I really didn’t know what to expect from the job fair but I met some really nice people representing Curious Pictures in NYC and was able to land a job as a storyboard revisionist on a Barbie movie. I had studied computer animation, so CG was my ultimate goal but storyboards was a great first step. I got to work with some really talented people and sort of organically work my way into their CG department. Collaborating and working as a larger team is probably what I learned most. You can’t always do everything yourself.

LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of? 

Frank> I want to say working on the Deadpool 2 title sequence during my time at Method Studios, because it’s probably the most identifiable and something I’m really proud to have been a part of.  There’s a spot for Brizo that I was lead on last summer here at Carbon that was both really interesting technically and visually.  There have been a number of milestones over the years but this one was the most fulfilling since I got to contribute both as an artist and as a team lead all while in the midst of the pandemic.

LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why? 

Frank> As someone who likes the occasional video game, The new Verizon 5G glitch spot is super fun conceptually and wonderfully executed.

MPC really did their research of all of the video game glitch tropes and seeing it done at this scale was both hilarious and impressive.

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Carbon, Tue, 29 Jun 2021 08:53:00 GMT