Friday, October 29th, 2021 by Julian Karsunky
For this month's ArtWanted! feature, we are thrilled to sit down with Gustavo Ribeiro, founder and CEO of Miralumo Films. The Brazilian studio recently released their first animated short to critical acclaim. Two years in production, 'Napo' tells the story of lost memories, the power of art and intergenerational bonding in both 2D and 3D. Exhibiting an immediately recognizable and appealing art style while tackling serious themes in a compassionate manner, 'Napo' was met with critical acclaim and has received accolades from all over the world.
Check out our interview with Gustavo to learn more about his entrepreneurial adventures, the growing pains of his directorial debut and the development of 'Napo'!
Hi Gustavo, thanks for joining us! To start things off, please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello everyone, my name is Gustavo Ribeiro, I'm a 31-year-old 3D artist from Curitiba, Brazil. I recently made my directorial debut with 'Napo', the first original movie of Miralumo Films, which is the studio I founded with my friends in 2016.
Do you recall when and how you first consciously encountered CGI?
The 'Lord of the Rings' movies were pivotal for me, or more precisely, the behind-the-scenes features recounting the history of Weta Digital, and how they created all of the VFX for those movies. This was also the first time I heard of Autodesk Maya.
When and why did you then decide to pursuit a professional career as a 3D artist?
That was in 2010, having just watched James Cameron's 'Avatar'. At the time, I was majoring in physics, pursuing a degree in engineering. To this day I distinctly remember how that movie recalled vivid memories of my teenage years and my strong fascination with science fiction back then. From the moment I left the theater, I was certain that I wanted to work with films, and I was determined to do anything it would take. So, I started writing.
Eventually, I changed my masters to visual arts. After that, I decided to learn CG so I could create my own movies. It sounds wild, but at that time, I thought I could do entire movies all by myself. However, it didn't take long for me to realize that was obviously impossible on my own.
What training or education do you have?
I did some introductory Maya courses back in 2010; for everything else, I am mostly self-taught. I was always very curious by nature, and nowadays you can pretty much learn anything, thanks to the internet. Whenever I had an idea, something I wanted to create or construct, I would search for suitable tutorials and go from there. Although in hindsight, the most important thing was to explore the software by myself, discovering different ways to achieve the same results.
When Napo moves in with his daughter and grandson, young John initially is not thrilled about his new roommate.
What are some of your personal career highlights and projects you particularly enjoyed in the past?
What immediately comes to mind are the founding of our studio Miralumo Films and the founding of Revolution School. These companies and the work we did there laid the foundation for 'Napo', our first feature film.
Please tell us more about Miralumo Films and its precursor Fish Films. When and under what circumstances was the studio established?
I wrote 'Napo' with my friends Gabriela, Thais and Daniel while finishing my master's. We submitted the screenplay to a government program that finances aspiring filmmakers. I never thought that we stood a real chance, but to our surprise, we were selected!
Unfortunately, there were not many artists available in our city at the time. So, we decided to start training people ourselves to assemble a team for our movie. For this purpose, we founded Escola Revolution, or Revo for short. We started with only six computers in 2016, but in the matter of only a year, the school had grown so much that we decided to put the movie aside for a moment to focus on Revo.
My journey is pretty crazy in that I had gone straight from university to opening a school and a studio. After two years of entrepreneurial adventures, things had started to settle down, and since we had more people working with us, we were finally able to start working on 'Napo'.
What services do you provide?
Miralumo Films focuses on everything related to 3D animation: visdev, modeling, look development, rigging, simulation, lighting, compositing, and more. Our main clients are from advertising agencies, companies and movie studios.
Considering its polish and production value, it is hard to believe 'Napo' is Miralumo Film's first movie.
As founder and CEO, what are your daily tasks and general responsibilities?
My main concern is to make sure that we are protecting our artists and employees by creating a safe work environment. I also try to create new opportunities for the company and connect with potential clients. My daily routine usually includes meetings and some supervision of the 3D work we are doing. Whenever possible, I work on personal projects to continue learning – that is one thing I never see change.
Describe your profile as a 3D artist! What areas of CG work do you enjoy the most and for what reasons?
While I consider myself a generalist, my main areas of interest are lighting and compositing; I greatly enjoy the freedom CG software offers when it comes to lighting.
Is there a specific design philosophy or school of thought Miralumo Films adheres to? What inspires you as 3D artists and animators?
What inspires us as a group the most is simply being involved in projects that we are passionate about and that allow us to grow as a team!
Some early concept art, showcasing different designs for the titular character Napo.
Let's talk about your latest work in more detail, namely 'Napo', an award-winning, fully animated comedy-drama short about memories, aging, and intergenerational bonding. Can you first tell us a bit more about the origins of the project?
As I've said, the project dates back to my graduation days, the original idea came from my friend Daniel Freire. At the same time, my partner Thais Peixe heard of the aforementioned government grant, so Thais, Daniel, Gabriela Antonia Rosa and I decided to throw our hat in the ring. Together, we finished the first draft of the script in only two weeks!
Once you had a basic concept, what steps did you take to get the project off the ground?
We had to polish the story, create some early concept art and do various storyboard tests. An animated movie really doesn't start to take shape until it's possible to visualize the main characters and some scenes.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome?
From start to finish, the entire production took about two years. As 'Napo' was our first fully-fledged movie, the project was full of challenges from the start. In a production sense, I think that our biggest challenge was dealing with a huge number of animators from all over the world: at one point, I think we had almost 80 animators working on the movie, which was very demanding for our producers Thais and Bruna. Another significant challenge was to develop a pipeline for cloth and hair simulation.
The power of art and creativity is a major theme of 'Napo', bridging the generational gap and conjuring up long-lost memories.
Despite its serious subject matter, the themes in 'Napo' are almost exclusively conveyed through animation and music. How early in development did you decide to not use speech?
We wanted to tell a story with universal appeal, that everyone could understand and relate to. So, as a group, we made this choice from the outset, and it influenced every subsequent decision: as we could not rely on speech to tell our story, we had to find a way to clearly convey meaning and narration exclusively through visuals and audio. For example, to engage the audience throughout the story, we used a lot of diegetic sound notions in both the sound design and the soundtrack.
Tell us more about the character design and overall aesthetics of 'Napo'!
One of the first things that we established for the characters was that we would contrast the shapes of Napo, the grandpa, and his grandson John. We tried to expand on this idea in the design, colors, patterns of the characters as well as in the environment they inhabit. Those rules would govern the entire process from design to asset development in 3D.
Spurred by his grandchild's drawings, the eponymous Napo is able to relive some of his memories. In contrast to the rest of the film, these short, yet important scenes are animated in 2D. Can you elaborate on this design choice?
Napo accesses his memory through his grandson's eyes, art is what connects them. We were trying to explore the notion that lost memories can be recalled through other means, like the smell of food, or, in this case, the drawing of a kid.
The 2D animation allowed us to insert more pencil and paper textures and vibes. Furthermore, in the first tests we did, the alternation between 2D and 3D seemed to work well to distinguish present and past, reality and imagination.
Not quite as charming as the rendered counterpart, this WIP John gives an interesting insight into the development process.
'Napo' has hit the international festival circuit to widespread critical acclaim. Please tell us more about the feedback you have received so far from critics, audiences and peers.
Finally being able to see how people perceived our movie, and how they connected to the characters, was incredible! It was a huge pleasure to show our movie to audiences around the globe, it is a very humbling experience. We received great feedback from all over the world, and it’s quite crazy to think how far our small Brazilian movie has traveled!
What software did you use to produce 'Napo'?
What is something that you have learned from this project that you can share with us?
Doing a 16-minute animated short with little to no prior experience is a crazy idea (laughs)…we do not recommend it!
Between writing, directing and producing 'Napo', you are also credited as 3D supervisor. Is it difficult to juggle these different aspects or do you welcome having full creative control?
It's quite difficult to manage different aspects in a production, indeed. With 'Napo', we had little choice, because it was our first short and we, therefore, needed to fully figure out our strengths and weaknesses to be able to develop our other projects more efficiently.
Having creative control is nice, but I prefer to collaborate with other people. I truly believe movies are a team effort. Each of us put our best into the movie and that is the only reason we could accomplish what I consider to be an amazing result for a first production.
Going forward, can you see yourself focusing more on a particular area of the creative process?
Definitely, in the future, I see myself more as a writer/director.
John has an idea how to help Napo remember.
Tell us about your overall experience with RebusFarm. Is there anything you especially like about our service?
I loved everything about RebusFarm: the speed of the farm is amazing, the service is really consistent, and whenever we had a problem, the support was blazing fast. Without you guys, we probably would still be rendering the movie (laughs). Using RebusFarm definitely saved us more than a year!
With such an ambitious project successfully completed, what are your plans for the future? Do you plan to set up Miralumo Films as a studio that exclusively produces original content in the long term?
Yes, that is our long-term goal. It will take some time. But we are patiently working towards that!
What is next for you and Miralumo Films? Can you tell us about the projects you are currently working on?
Right now, we are working on a Christmas commercial, as well as other advertising projects. Of course, we are also developing more original content with our amazing team, without them, nothing would be possible.
In closing, is there anything else you want to say? Any plugs, shoutouts or other present or upcoming projects you'd like to mention?
I just want to thank RebusFarm for supporting us. Many people had to believe that 'Napo' was a story worth telling for the movie to become a reality. We couldn't have done it without you! I also want to thank everyone that worked on this project and, like RebusFarm, believed in us and our vision!
Gustavo, thank you so much for taking the time. We wish you all the best in the future!
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