Peer Review: Chelsea Pistono
Chelsea Pistono, Senior Flame Artist at Uppercut, lifts the lid on the unsung heroes of the commercial construction process, explaining how VFX isn't all computer-generated, otherworldly visuals and giving a shout-out to the magicians that combine tech and art.
Who are three contemporaries that you admire, and why?
Deron Hoffmeyer (Freelance Lead Flame Artist/ VFX Supervisor) is a true “Jack-of-All-Trades,” using Flame to its fullest capabilities. I’m so impressed with his vast knowledge of not only compositing, but design, motion graphics, and all things 3D. Deron knows how to make Flame work for him and isn’t afraid to create and comp 3D elements all within the Flame software. And the best thing about Deron? He can’t wait to share everything he knows with you! His passion for Flame and visual effects is truly infectious.
Aside from being an exceptional artist and fantastic human being, Josh Laurence (Freelance Lead Flame Artist/VFX Supervisor) is the most organized Flame artist I’ve ever worked with. With Josh, the entirety of a project’s workflow has been honed over time to yield the most efficient result possible. It should come as no surprise that Josh is the master of the Shot Publish workflow.
I’m lucky enough to work with John Geehreng (Head of Visual Effects - Uppercut) on a daily basis. John is an impressive technical artist who is constantly pushing himself to stay on top of the latest advancements in Flame, and always inspires me to do the same. John is the embodiment of “work smarter, not harder,” and has written a Python script for just about every Flame execution you can think of.
Please share 3-4 pieces of work that you think best embody excellence in your profession, and explain why?
Adobe has had some pretty great commercials over the past few years, but none quite so entertaining as Adobe Photoshop’s Colors Everywhere. I think it embodies 'visual effects' in the broadest sense of the term, and is a very playful representation of visual imagery, CG, and compositing all working together in a kind of smack-you-over-the-head-with-it format. Imaginative, exciting, and a great piece to say, “OK Mom, this is what I do.”
There’s a misconception outside of our industry that visual effects are all computer-generated, otherworldly visuals, when in reality, there is a huge part of the job in which the goal is to ensure that the work goes completely unnoticed.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one Apple commercial on this list. I mean, those guys churn out visual splendor at every turn. My recent favorite is an AirPods spot from 2019, Bounce. The CG and compositing work are woven so expertly into the story that you’re instantly captivated and left wondering why you never considered using a storm drain for a trampoline before.
I think there’s a misconception outside of our industry that visual effects are all computer-generated, otherworldly visuals, when in reality, there is a huge part of the job in which the goal is to ensure that the work goes completely unnoticed. This is perfectly embodied in Nike’s You Can’t Stop Us. The transition between two pieces of footage across a single axis is so deftly navigated over and over again, that the painstaking hours of work completely disappear and only the story remains. Such a profound way of connecting imagery to give a story the utmost impact.
What do you like most about the work that you do?
I love that every day brings a new challenge. On the surface level, there’s the new challenge presented with each shot, in each commercial, in each job, each day. (Handling mainly commercial visual effects, the turnover is fast, and the tasks are constantly changing.) But when you dig deeper, between the ever-changing technology in our industry and advances in machine learning, there is always something new to learn. I’m constantly being pushed to learn and grow with this industry, and that keeps things very interesting. It wouldn’t be fun if it wasn’t a little overwhelming at times!
What is the process for becoming a Flame artist?
Dedication and hard work! It’s true that Flame is significantly more accessible now than it was even five years ago, but I’d be surprised if anyone would hire a Flame artist on textbook learning alone. There’s a facet to the job that can only come from hands-on experience, and unlike so many other compositing/VFX software, it’s not just about how you operate the machine, but also your ability to interact with your clients.
There are plenty of artists that are fantastic compositors, but as a Flame artist, you are the final stage in finishing a client’s content.
A common trajectory for becoming a Flame artist begins with a “foot in the door” at a post-production studio, and--I’ll reiterate again--a whole lot of perseverance.
What is one thing all Flame artists need?
A good attitude and just the right amount of confidence. There are plenty of artists that are fantastic compositors, but as a Flame artist, you are the final stage in finishing a client’s content. This means, after lengthy and arduous (and costly!) planning, shooting, editing, grading, and mixing, it all comes down to you. Your clients want to feel confident and comfortable in your ability to lead them across the finish line with a winning spot.
Above: Greg-Paul Malone demoing Flame.
Who was the greatest Flame artist of all time? Why?
Greg-Paul Malone could definitely be considered one of the greats. This guy could teach the master class on creating something from nothing (literally, a single frame of white), and make it look like absolute magic. I’ve had the chance to see a few of his demos in person and online, and am always awestruck by his talent and desire to share it with others.
Did you have a mentor? Who was it?
I feel very lucky to have had multiple Flame artists that I would consider mentors across my career.
John Yu (Freelance Creative Director/Flame Artist) without whom I never would have had the courage to cross the barrier from a role in Production to a role as a Creative (exceptionally difficult when that “production” role was Receptionist at a VFX studio in NYC). It’s John who first put a Wacom pen in my hand and said “Step One: Launch Flame.” John taught me that sometimes it’s ok to ignore the formulas, set aside what is supposed to work on paper, and just ask yourself, “Does it look good?”
Tim Crean (Head of 2D - MPC NYC) was my boss at that first Receptionist job in NYC that eventually became where I worked as a Lead Flame Artist. The Post education I got from Tim extended well beyond the technical operations of the software; from Tim, there were life lessons on when to exude confidence, when to remain humble, and how to keep cool under pressure. It’s the hours upon hours I spent assisting in his sessions that I’m still reminded of every single time I sit behind the Flame. Tim pushed me to always strive for absolute perfection; watch your work over and over (and over!) again, and of course never, ever leave a pixel out of place.
Did you know women can actually perceive more color across subtle gradations than men? (Tim taught me that… Look it up!)
Did you know women can actually perceive more color across subtle gradations than men?
Suzanne Dyer (Freelance Senior Flame Artist) made a huge impact on my career as a Flame Artist for one very significant reason (and plenty of other big reasons too): she’s a she. And a badass one at that. Suzanne showed me that women can absolutely dominate in this historically male-driven industry.* I am constantly inspired by Suzanne's prowess and determination. She taught me how to master the Paint node, to never leave a question unanswered, and actually helped show me that math can be cool! (Although, for me, that’s sometimes still a work in progress.)
Who’s the next Flame artist to watch out for?
I’ve had the privilege of mentoring and working alongside a handful of eager young artists over the years, but none have impressed me quite like Marcus Wei (and hey, he also happens to be VFX Assistant at Uppercut!). He is incredibly smart, a fast learner, and such a respectful and pleasant person to be around. Above all, Marcus is hungry to learn all he can in the VFX realm and is never afraid to ask questions.
I’ve heard rumblings from the 'older' generation of Flame users that have concern over gaining new interest for our software, but it’s people like Marcus that give hope to a new generation of Flame users.