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April 01
2017

ISSUE

Spring 2017

2017 VES VISIONARY AWARD WINNER VICTORIA ALONSO: STORYTELLING IS HER SUPERPOWER

Victoria Alonso and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of Iron Man 3 (2012).

Victoria Alonso and Robert Downey Jr. on the set of Iron Man 3 (2012).

By NAOMI GOLDMAN

In February, acclaimed producer and Marvel Studios Executive Vice President of Physical Production Victoria Alonso was bestowed with the prestigious VES Visionary Award. And with that much-deserved honor for her stellar creative achievements, she broke new ground as the first woman to receive it. A staunch advocate for the advancement of women in VFX, Alonso wears the responsibility and opportunity of being a trailblazer with grace, conviction and hope for all that lies ahead for those following her path.

“I’m on a mission and I won’t stop until we have that 50/50 gender ratio in the visual effects industry,” Alonso says, “because we should be doing a better job reflecting the world we live in. And it makes for better work. Period. Rooms are better when we’re in them.”

In conferring Alonso with this distinction, the VES recognized her impact in elevating visual effects as an integral element of the art and business of moviemaking and cited her leadership in redefining the profile of visual effects on a global scale.

An amazing creative force and powerhouse producer, Alonso’s unique vision has delivered some of the most popular movie franchises of all time. She is currently executive producing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. In her executive role, she oversees post-production and visual effects for the studio slate. She executive produced Doctor Strange, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, as well as Marvel’s The Avengers. She co-produced Iron Man and Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

ROOTS AND WINGS

In starting her career path, Alonso did not have VFX and movies in her sights. She was studying theater and psychology while working at Alaska Airlines when fate stepped in. “One day a friend who was an AD was looking for a PA and I said, ‘Can you please not talk in code?’ So I learned the alphabet soup and one weekend they were shooting a movie and I started doing PA work. That led to my working at a commercial company RSA USA [Ridley/Tony Scott’s company]. I worked on a bunch of commercials and Digital Domain was doing the VFX on one of them.”

From left: Craig Kyle, Executive Producer; Victoria Alonso, Executive Producer; Kevin Feige, Executive Producer; and Director Kenneth Branagh on the set of Thor (2010). (Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal. TM & © 2010. Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

From left: Craig Kyle, Executive Producer; Victoria Alonso, Executive Producer; Kevin Feige, Executive Producer; and Director Kenneth Branagh on the set of Thor (2010).
(Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal. TM & © 2010. Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Alonso defines herself as a fiercely inquisitive person, a trait which has served her well. “I started asking a lot of questions and they seemed to think: this girl seems to be smart enough, friendly enough, cares enough. So would you like to do a job for us? Ed Ulbrich’s assistant had broken her leg and so I helped for two weeks…and stayed for four years.

“One of the things I always love about visual effects is that it’s ever-changing. Just when you think you know it, you don’t. There is always something new, faster, better, more radical out there in the market and so you’re consistently evolving and learning. I’m that person who needs to be consistently stimulated, so I’m a good fit…and I love geeks and some of them need someone like me to help them communicate. So it was a match made in heaven.

“It was completely on the job training. I figured if I could understand how they did it, I could help them maximize the efficiencies of how we get the image where it needs to go so that we have happy clients. My entire process was in breaking down how to get things done in hours it didn’t appear we had, and reassembling the workflow to get ahead of the curve.

“Oh yes,” she adds, “I’m also a geek, a workflow geek! And the minute I also started looking creatively at the image, self-taught as I am, I could see how to achieve the artistic vision with the team.”

LEAN IN - WOMEN IN ENTERTAINMENT

“I didn’t have a mentor in the visual effects field, but I always looked up to Kathy [Kathleen] Kennedy and all the things she had achieved, and she had survived and maneuvered a sea of men and created a name for herself and was a rarity. One of the things that has been a true dream come true is calling Kathy Kennedy a friend, someone that I can talk and email and eat with. That is truly one of my Hollywood moments – where you see the little kid in you is excited and your heart flutters, OMG Kathy Kennedy!”

“I’m on a mission and I won’t stop until we have that 50/50 gender ratio in the visual effects industry.”

—Victoria Alonso

Victoria Alonso and Gwyneth Paltrow on the set of Iron Man 3 (2012).

Victoria Alonso and Gwyneth Paltrow on the set of Iron Man 3 (2012).

On the subject of diversity and women in VFX, Alonso does not mince words. “We are consistently failing in terms of diversity and that is a hard statement to make. We have a lot of work to do and it’s not moving fast enough. It’s one thing to see more women in the audience at things like SIGGRAPH, but we need to see more women at the helm of these panels. I won’t stop until we have parity, which will make me very happy.

“When I went to this year’s [Academy] bake-off, I saw 10 wonderful presentations by incredibly talented white men. There was not one woman, and no diversity on those teams. Even though those men are so talented, I would be remiss in not mentioning that we are not represented at all – and that includes my own teams.

From left: Stephen Broussard, Executive Producer; Victoria Alonso, Executive Producer; and Charles Newirth, Line Producer, on set of Thor (2010).

From left: Stephen Broussard, Executive Producer; Victoria Alonso, Executive Producer; and Charles Newirth, Line Producer, on set of Thor (2010).

Dr. Strange (Photo credit: Copyright ©2016 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Dr. Strange (Photo credit: Copyright ©2016 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

“So how do I help address this in my capacity since I don’t run the facilities? I need people who are ready to do the work at our [Marvel] caliber. These are big projects and failure at this level is something enormously hard to recover from. The talent needs to be grown inside at facilities, and so I implore you, allow more room to mentor or educate or usher through more women into your ranks. I’ve seen the benefit to the work and the business.”

To women looking to enter and rise up in VFX: “For women to invest and achieve in this field, they need to have a family-friendly place they can work and grow, like Facebook and Google. There has to be room for flexibility. The other reality is that it has evolved into a gypsy life, and we can’t change that, and it may be more difficult to embrace that kind of career with a family. Big jobs require a lot of time. Even while we create new technologies that allow greater efficiencies, we somehow shorten ourselves in the schedule in the relentless pursuit of a good story.

Dr. Strange (Photo credit: Copyright ©2016 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Dr. Strange (Photo credit: Copyright ©2016 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

“Oh yes, I’m also a geek, a workflow geek! The minute I also started looking creatively at the image, self-taught as I am, I could see how to achieve the artistic vision with the team.”

—Victoria Alonso

“I’m working a slate of eight movies simultaneously while running a studio with Lou [Louis D’Esposito, Co-President] and Kevin [Kevin Feige, President], but I do have a child and a wife and a life and a balance that works for me. So find that balance for you – so that companies have no choice but look at your true value and provide the flexibility that allows you and them to benefit.”

ON EMERGING TECHNOLOGY

“When it comes to emerging technologies, I think there is room for everybody. Audiences are thirsty for what’s new, but also dedicated to more traditional ways of experiencing a good story – like your most memorable experiences sharing stories around a campfire. It’s not about one part of the industry eating up another – it’s great that the industry is so flexible with mediums that can open up your mind and allow you to think of things differently one day and see something in 2D or 3D of hear it in Atmos and be delighted in your choices. So not new dog beating old dog or big dog conquering small dog – it’s more like, let’s all go play!

“But regardless of advances, storytelling remains the same. A good story makes you feel something. So if technology and enhanced global communications and enhanced VFX can help us tell a good story, that is always the ultimate goal.”

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

 

“They seemed to think: this girl seems to be smart enough, friendly enough, cares enough. So would you like to do a job for us?”

—Victoria Alonso

LAST WORDS

“My favorite thing: to wake up in the morning and think of the privilege of making something that kids and those with the kid-inside are expecting to see and making sure that we can be faithful to what that dream was and either equalize that feeling or experience or make it better. If I continue to do that for the rest of my life, I would consider myself beyond lucky. If I can share with the girls that it can happen to you, that it doesn’t matter how different you are then I would have left a legacy for my daughter, which I think is incredibly important to know that ‘ if you can see it, you can be it’!

“Always remember who you are. I have never forgotten who I am. My version of success is to create a family everywhere I go. Marvel is a little family and we do the best we can with a whole lot of harmony, respect and love for one another. And always know that we love the characters; it keeps us grounded. It’s about them, it’s not about us.”

What would things look like if she was not in VFX? “I would build homes, restaurants, parks for kids – you name it. And second, I’d be rescuing every stray dog across the planet. So I would need a lot of land. And a lot of milk bones!”

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (Photo credit: Copyright ©2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)


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