To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Andrea Lackey Pace is executive director of editorial, production services and resources at Sony Pictures Imageworks. Andrea has contributed to numerous features – her favorites include Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Spider-Man 2, Big Fish, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Matrix Reloaded.
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: As a kid, I was fully in love with animated movies, and luckily had a computer programming course in BASIC way back in high school. This was right around the dawn of the birth of computer graphics and I vowed to somehow combine my love for movies with my new computer programming skill. Then I went to my first SIGGRAPH where I saw Pixar’s Luxo Jr., and I knew right away that I had to be a part of this budding industry. So I packed my bags and moved to California to finish school and get my degree in computer science. Then I landed my first job at Symbolics, where I started as the tech support girl for their cutting-edge hardware and animation software packages.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: I manage several teams at Imageworks today, and the favorite part of my job is when I’ve been able to help groom and send out my entry-level team members to land jobs in their dream careers. To date, I have over 145 alumni who have come through my program and been promoted to roles within the company. I also love watching my alumni spread all over the industry and seeing how many LinkedIn connections I have in fantastic places doing impressive work. Oh, and the parties! I used to be in charge of throwing some award-winning company shindigs. Each one was epic and I have photos to prove it!
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: The worst part of the job is when the scheduled work doesn’t quite line up and I have to release some of the team members I’ve been grooming in the nest.
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: Our company was beginning to establish its headquarters in Vancouver, and I was working on building a new workforce there. I had already been successful in building the Canadian team for my initial group that I was managing, for a set of technical behind the scenes roles. This task was big, but because I grew up as one of these types of team members, I knew exactly how to find and prepare new people in Canada. And then … they gave me jurisdiction over a completely new department that I had no experience with and expected me to build it from the ground up in Canada as well. This was one of the most challenging managerial tasks I’d ever tackled – but I did it!
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: Our team was once asked to cover up an actor’s cold sore and shave off an actress’ pot belly.
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: The main change I’ve seen is the exponential amount of resources and effort it now takes to make movie magic, as well as the migration of the workforce across the border to Canada.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: I would love to have a significant visual effects workforce back in Los Angeles again.
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: Since I often hire for a ‘footstep in the door’ position here at Imageworks, I often get asked what it takes to work in this business. My main advice is to first have a passion for visual effects and animation, to love seeing the images, and to be proud to be a part of them. Next, having skills in computer programming – especially Python – is a huge plus, since many of the studio tools are written in that language; you can also control the major packages like Maya and Houdini, giving them more power to do special things. Being able to automate and make the computer do more is extremely valuable in this industry.
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: Big Fish – I thought the visuals were stunning and whimsical, especially the scenes with the Siamese sisters. But even more, what makes this film dear to my heart was the team I worked with on that movie. At the time, I was the overnight technical assistant who made sure the movie was continuing to render after hours. Victoria Alonso was the digital producer at the time, and she took pity on this poor working mother who slaved from 10pm-8am each day. She even offered to help me get an autograph from Tim Burton – I got not one personalized message from him, but two! I like to brag about that and often bring out my signed treasures at parties!
Gravity – I was totally captivated by the effects in this film and the performance that was delivered to go along with them. The scenes where she was in open space being tethered by a cord to fix something were frightening. I completely felt like I was experiencing being lost in space – totally believable.
Avatar – The magical introduction to the alien world was breathtaking, especially the glowing tree of life. Seeing this film in 3D sucked you right in and my eyes couldn’t get enough of all of the detail and color in that fictional world.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
ANDREA LACKEY PACE: Champagne!
CINEFEX: Andrea, thanks for your time!