Women’s Day Special VFX Interview – Urszula Luczak, VFX Producer, Pixomondo
February 28, 2020 – March 8 marks International Women’s Day (IWD). This day has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911. The day is not country, group or organization specific – and belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. It encourages everyone around the world to make International Women’s Day their day and do what they can to truly make a positive difference for women.
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. For more info visit at www.internationalwomensday.com
Urszula Luczak began working in Pixomondo Stuttgart in February 2019 on “Midway” and is currently producing several TV shows in collaboration with other Pixomondo global branches.
Prior to PXO, Urszula was a producer at Platige Image in Poland for almost 9 years where she was involved in such films as “Essential Killing,” “Melancholia” and “Entanglement.” She was a production manager creating stereoscopic scenography for spectacles such as “Polita” at Studio Buffo and “Pilots” at Musical Theater Roma in Warsaw. She also produced a two-episode animation series for the Qatar market titled “Hero and the Message” and “Heroes and the Mission,” as well as an episode of “Love, Death & Robots” for Netflix. The biggest and most challenging production she was involved with so far was a full – feature animation movie co-produced by five countries called “Another Day of Life” where she was a production manager managing collaboration between all co-production companies.
Today, Urszula Luczak talks to VFX Online about her experience as a woman working in the VFX and Animation industry.
// From Urszula Luczak, VFX Producer, Pixomondo
How do you describe yourself professionally?
I’m a senior producer with vast experience in managing long-term projects with CGI background – whether it’s an animation feature, computer generated set dressing for theaters, animated short films or VFX projects. I love working with passionate, creative people and being inspired by them. I make their lives easier by managing all the logistics, timings, budgets and legal matters. I have a strong drive to create projects that are worth mentioning all over the world because of their unique story or visuals. I am a strategic planner, demanding a lot not only from my teams but, more importantly, from myself. Each year I add new skills to my plate and I never stop learning because learning new things is my key driver in life.
What sparked your interest in visual effects?
Knowing that I flourish best when I am challenged to do something that I still need to learn, it was a natural step for me to enter the VFX industry. I already had the experience in making full 3D animation movies, and I was curious how my knowledge would translate into work for the VFX industry. So last year I decided to join Pixomondo and learn from the best.
How did you enter in this industry?
I always dream of working in the movie industry, but as a young student I was not sure how to approach this dream, especially that both my parents were mathematicians with no connections to this fantastic, artistic world. But I got lucky. Once, on my way to school (I was studying Management and Marketing at the University of Science and Technology at the time), I saw a poster that said: “If you want to win an internship in television, please join us at the lecture….” The lecture was taking place on that same day. It was also taking place at the same time that my chemistry class was going on, but I did not hesitate for even a minute, and I chose to follow my dream. The lecture was about how to approach the contest, so I did a step-by-step, following everything they said, and I won the internship! It was in Polish Public Television and it was my opening in to the creative industry.
My bosses always appreciated my managerial skills, so with many steps in between, I became an animation and VFX producer taking on more and more responsibilities, and managing projects with more and more complexity. But, even if I did not start with VFX production back then, I think this first step many years ago made it possible to prove my skills and have people from the industry get to know me.
What is the current state for women in the industry?
There was a time when the only job available to girls in this industry were coordination or production roles. Its changed now, as more and more women are proving their skills in other departments. I enjoy watching this growth.
There is still a visible gap between salaries of men and women though. Even during interviews, women value themselves less from the start. So, it is not only a glass ceiling that we need to break, but we also need to change our own thinking. I am very happy that so much is being said about this issue in the mainstream media right now.
What is it like to be a professional, working woman in your line of work?
I was always someone with a tough character, but on the other hand, I have a very reasonable approach to any obstacles in my way. I always seek solutions and try to find a middle ground when any conflict occurs.
On my professional way, I met people who did not treat me with respect because of my gender or age, underestimating me from the start. But it was usually before they met me in person. Once we began working together, my work ethic, knowledge and the way I plan the work for my teams,proved to those people that I was an equal partner, as much as any other person in the room.
I am also proud of being a woman, and do not try to hide my femininity to appeal more masculine for work. I like to dress up, wear make-up, and put on high-heels from time to time, if I feel like it.
I believe in not setting up any artificial or extreme boundaries between genders in the work place and in life. Everybody should have the freedom to do what feels right for them, within the law restrictions of course.
Which is your favorite film in VFX and Animation and why?
Four movies stand out for me: “Interstellar,” “Inception,” “Gravity” and “Martian.”I am a big fan of survival of the human-race or mind-bending stories. Those four are all about that. Also those movies combine what I admire the most: interesting stories that make me think more than few days after watching it, a strong and stunning visual side, and memorability. There are movies that you watch, that you like, but you forget about them seconds after the end credits roll because the plot is not introducing you to any new ideas. I like the ones that do not fade away in my memory.
Looking at the animation part of the industry, when I was a little girl I watched “Beauty and the Beast” 70 times on a VHS tape. One might say I was addicted to this story. Then in my adult life,nothing could beat the original “Shrek” movie. From a more serious position, I was really swept up in the mood and melancholy of “Spirited Away” and more recently, “The Red Turtle”.
What was your Best VFX/Animation project worked for?
The best VFX projects are still ahead of me. I am fresh to this side of the CG industry. Most of the projects that I have worked on, or am currently working on, have not yet been released, so I cannot say l anything about them. Pixomondo is assigning me to some interesting projects right now, so we will see which one of them will be my favorite in the future.
From the animation side, I liked each and every one of them, because every one of them taught me something new. The most challenging one that I was involved with as a production manager was “Another Day of Life” – a hybrid of animation and documentary, which happened to be a co-production between five European countries, two directors, and 11 financial institutions. This was at company I worked for before coming to Pixomondo, and I was the leading co-producer on the project. It required a lot of planning, responsibility, tough talks, and long hours of creative debates. The result was a movie that catches your heart and won a European Film Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2018.
My second favorite project which I was a part of was the “Love, Death and Robots” series for Netflix. Together with a team of talented artists, we created one episode: “Fish Night.” What I enjoyed about this project was the sense of community. There were only few companies around the world that were invited into this project because of their unique in-house stylization and Platige Image – where I worked at the time – was one of them. We felt special and bonded to the most creative brains in the industry. The series was also trying to break the notion that animation is only for children, introducing darkness, sexiness and gore into this world what I also admired very much.
What will be your ‘dream project’ to work on?
I always seek projects with unique story telling. It does not always have to be a blockbuster with a known title. When the story catches my heart or intrigues me with a complex plot, I’m always ready jump into it right away.
Which influential woman do you admire the most?
I do not have any particular role model. I was always against glorifying any human being too much. I admire people (not only women) who are brave enough to share their genuine thoughts with the world, even if it means telling the hard and uncomfortable truth. I admire people who are willing to sacrifice their happiness or their comfort to help other people, the environment, animals etc. But I also admire people who choose to spend their life in their neighborhoods, living a calm existence and bringing happiness to their society.
How has your experience been working at Pixomondo?
I like the idea that Pixomondo is one VFX family around the world. Pixomondo has facilities across the United States, Canada, Germany and China. We work on the same projects and have each other’s backs if something should happen at any facility with any project. When you are a singular company you do not have this instant support on a daily basis. I enjoy the way everybody is sharing ideas and solutions with each other, fixing problems if they occur, and progressing our mutual knowledge about this industry.
Which direction would you like to take your career in the near future?
My key-driver in life is learning new things. And since I was already producing theatrical stereo set dressings, animation movies, shorts, some VFX movies, and managingan in-house mo-cap studio, my dream project would be one that would allow me to combine my knowledge of CG production and post-production with new, learned elements from the movie industry – like planning and working on set.
What advice would you give to women who wish to get into this industry?
Be yourself and play by your own rules. Don’t let anybody tell you that you are too feminine or not feminine enough. There is no such thing. As long as you are the best version of yourself, that is enough.
We would like to thank Urszula Luczak for the great interview, and if you like to know more about her, check out her LinkedIn.