News 24.09.21

BEHIND THE SCENES: ILM’s ENVIRONMENT/GENERALIST SUPERVISOR



We sat down with multi-talented Alex Popescu for a chat about what makes his job as an Environment/Generalist VFX Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic so special. From transforming Australian backlots into a quaint Italian village on screen to building the world of The Mandalorian.

Alex Popescu. © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

What is an Environment/Generalist in VFX? 

An Environment/Generalist artist is an artist whose skills spread across several different areas of the VFX pipeline. What makes it a special role within VFX companies is the focus on the result rather than the specific technique. This translates into increased ownership and increased efficiency. At ILM, the generalist department focuses mostly on environments and within that we have a broad range of responsibilities, including concept design, scene blocking, asset creation, final layout, set dressing, lighting, rendering, matte painting and compositing. We have a lot of fun!

What does an Environment/Generalist Supervisor do?

Given the fact that our day to day job crosses many disciplines, the Environment/Generalist Supervisor is key to making sure that the team has clear direction and works towards delivering the filmmakers’ vision. This means a combination of artistic and technical responsibilities, plus constant collaboration with the production team to ensure we finish on time and on budget. 

What inspired you to get into VFX?

Even though I trained as a computer scientist I have always been passionate about art and film in particular. When I discovered the world of VFX, I was completely amazed by the unique characters and skills that people in the industry have. You get to work every day with people that range from fine artists to engineers and managers. It was this unique combination of talented people and interesting projects that made me fall in love with what we do. 

Can you talk us through a few of your career highlights?

I’ve been fortunate to work on some fantastic projects throughout the years. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was a great experience, and I got the chance to participate in some of the film’s stunning visuals. Other blockbuster projects were just pure fun, like Guardians of the Galaxy, Kong: Skull Island or Aquaman. Most recently I have really enjoyed participating in the world-building of new Lucasfilm series, such as The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett.  

Most memorable shot or sequence you worked on?

During my time at ILM Singapore, on Kong Skull Island I worked on the “Kong vs the helicopters” sequence, and that was great fun. Quite stylized and very action-driven, it was an awesome combination of full CG environments and some fantastic helicopter plate photography shot in Vietnam. Another one would be the rooftop chase in Aquaman, where we transformed backlot plates shot in Queensland, Australia into a quaint Italian village. We were involved very early on and got a lot of input into the set design and layout. I think the sequence flows very well and is really fun to watch.   

Your biggest passion outside VFX?

That would definitely be filmmaking! I have been writing and directing a few personal projects, and I’m currently focusing on animated content using real time technology. When I first started playing with a game engine, I realized it is such a great opportunity to practice a different side of filmmaking compared to my VFX role. At the beginning, it was all about cinematography and editing. But as soon as I introduced characters into my sandbox, the storytelling aspect became addictive, so I started to write small pieces and try to direct them. After a few years, taking on the challenge of increasingly complex projects, I am starting to feel like it’s all coming together, and I’m really keen to see what will come next!

Alex Popescu at Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, researching and shooting reference photos
© & TM Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Who has been your biggest mentor/inspiration professionally?

We have the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best filmmakers in the world. Some of them are our clients and others are part of ILM. I think our SVP, Executive Creative Director & Head of ILM, Rob Bredow is a great example of an inspirational leader and I’ve always enjoyed hearing him talk about the role of VFX in the filmmaking process and about how the culture of ownership and innovation is at the heart of ILM.

If you hadn’t become an Environment/Generalist Supervisor you would be working as? Why?

Outside of the film industry it would probably be something in the field of artificial intelligence. I studied it at University right before it exploded into the incredibly dynamic field it is today. Its impact on technology is fantastic to watch! 

Do you have any skills that people might not know about?

I can speak 5 languages pretty well. 

Best advice you can give to someone who wants to become a generalist or a generalist supervisor?

Embrace and challenge your creativity by working on your own projects. This will allow you to practice skills that are strongly intertwined and it will make you better understand what filmmaking really is. Be curious in all aspects of the VFX pipeline and have the urge to learn as much as you can. 

Head over to ILM’s YouTube channel to see their skills in action!

CONTACT
Luke Hetherington
Executive in Charge, Singapore & Sydney ILM Studios
[email protected]

Featured Image: Alex Popescu on the set of one of the personal projects he directed