To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.
Raphael DeAlmeida Pimentel works as an animation supervisor and animation director at Luma. Picking some of his most memorable assignments from a list of over 80 screen credits, he lists No Country For Old Men, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, Prometheus, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther.
CINEFEX: How did you get started in the business, Raphael?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: The Goonies was my first ‘wow’ moment at the movies, when I was six, and Jurassic Park was my first ‘wow’ moment with visual effects when I was 14. After watching Jurassic Park, I knew I wanted to work in films and in visual effects in some facet. Also, I have always had a long attention span: if I played with my G.I. Joes, I’d do it all day; if I was using Microsoft Paint on my sister’s Windows 95 machine, I would use it all day. I think this mindset of long concentration moments as a kid has helped me in animation in a lot of ways, since animation and concentration go hand in hand.
When I attended Miami Beach Senior High School, I didn’t write my schedule in the folders, I drew the teachers. Actually, I sat near the back of the classroom and drew most of the time. But I knew when to pay attention and when to goof off. My girlfriend at the time, Emilie, asked me what I was going to do after high school, and mentioned that an art college could be a good option since I was into the arts and film. At the time, I was deciding between film or art school, or the Air Force.
In 2004, after three years and a B.A. at the Miami International University of Art & Design, I began sending my animation demo reel to a few visual effects studios in Los Angeles. Luma was the first one to call me back and setup an interview. I remember walking into Luma and being nervous, especially since I had never worked with films before. As soon as I began showing my portfolio to the CEO, Payam Shohadai – who was also the visual effects supervisor at the time – I started to feel very comfortable. I ended the interview with a very bold, borderline-arrogant statement – I promised Payam that although I had no film experience, if he only gave me a chance to prove myself, I would become his best and fastest animator. I got hired as an animator that afternoon. He kept his end of the bargain and I kept mine. Here we are in 2018, over 80 film credits later and almost 60 of those as animation supervisor at Luma.
CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Tapping into the creativity of our animators and watching them become better artists. Creativity is contagious and inspiring for a team, and artists use inspiration as fuel for creativity. Being able to see a team improving and becoming more creative and collaborative through the course of a show is pretty rad.
CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Man, I am a crier! Two minutes into Wall-E I was crying. Boogers running down my nose and everything. Crazy.
CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: As an animator, it would be animating 20 pronghorn antelopes across two shots on No Country For Old Men. I created this entire social hierarchy within the herd, where the moms would be closer to the young bucks and does. The males were in the outer region protecting the herd with the exception of the alpha, who was more towards the center and more observant – especially having a 320-degree field of view, which all antelopes have giving the size and placement of their eyeballs. Oddly enough, he is the one that gets shot. It took me two months from block to final. I was working with the Coen Brothers for the first time and wanted to make sure they loved the work.
As a supervisor, it would probably be Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy. He had never been done before in the MCU, with the exception of a quick glimpse after the end credits of The Avengers, where we only see his face. Luma had done dozens of quality characters prior, but being a huge fan of Marvel Comics, the pressure of making Thanos as amazing as possible was more personal. I wanted to do right for the fans. The model, textures – his entire world for that matter – was built from scratch at Luma. We received facial data reference of Josh Brolin performing the dialogue, and I performed the body motion capture for his condescending dialogue with Ronan the Accuser. Our talented animation department took it from there. Fun fact: I animated the last shot in that sequence where Thanos sits back on his throne and breaks into a psychotic grin.
CINEFEX: And what’s the weirdest task?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Weirdest and also the awesomest. On Deadpool, I animated the severing of a goon’s head with a katana sword and then had it kicked it onto another goon, all in one move. Thank you, Tim Miller!
CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: For me, the word ‘animation’ barely means what it used to. The stuff we animate today in visual effects is boundless. At Luma, most of our animators are technical artists. Some are also riggers and set up their own controllers in order to speed up their workflow. For example, we animated every single piece of the church bending on Doctor Strange, right? All rigged and setup by animators. It speeds up our workflow and iteration time for our clients, which is paramount. Most Luma animators are also proficient with physics tools, which we use to check gravity and arcs. I am a firm believer in only bending the rules once we understand the rules.
CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Visual effects artists being credited properly.
CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Moviemaking is a team sport. Most people who are arrogant, or more into themselves than the greater good of a project, tend to not stick around too long. As my mom always said, “Be nice.”
CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: I would probably need two different audiences at my mini-festival. Maybe separate adults and kids screenings?
Apocalypse Now – for practical effects. Don’t hold back. Blow your budget in the first 10 minutes with massive explosions! Who cares?
The Goonies and Labyrinth – for special effects. I don’t care how many times I’ve watched them – I have so much respect for on-set animatronics, puppeteering, stop-motion and so on.
Jurassic Park – for visual effects. Hopefully some kid will see a film I worked on and feel the same way I did.
CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?
RAPHAEL A. PIMENTEL: Oh, popcorn! With a little butter and salt. Nothing comes even close!
CINEFEX: Raphael, thanks for your time!