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July 09
2017

ISSUE

Summer 2017

STEPHANE CERETTI: DRIVEN BY A LIFELONG PASSION FOR FILM

By BARBARA ROBERTSON

At their best, visual effects smoothly blend science and art, technology and storytelling, technique and artistry. Thus, it’s no surprise that visual effects supervisors at the top of their game embody the same elements. Supervisors like Stephane Ceretti.

From freezing Gotham City in Batman and Robin to bending New York City in Doctor Strange, Ceretti’s career path has taken him through some of the most creative and technically challenging visual effects: The Cell, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, X-Men: First Class, Cloud Atlas and, most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange.

Ceretti at work on Doctor Strange.

That supervision of Marvel’s Guardians and Doctor Strange resulted in VES, BAFTA and Oscar nominations for both films. Now Ceretti is Visual Effects Supervisor for Marvel’s 2018 Ant-Man release.Ant-Man and the Wasp,” he corrects affably. “Let’s not forget the Wasp. She’s important.”

Ceretti began work on Ant-Man and the Wasp in January. By April, he and the team were breaking down the script and thinking about which studios to cast for the effects.

“Susan Pickett [Visual Effects Producer] and I see this like casting an actor,” he says. “We want to pick not only the right studios, but the right people within the studios to assemble a team tailored to the effects we’re doing. We’re making films. We’re not manufacturing a product. It’s like haute couture. If you want a specific dress, you don’t go to H&M. You go to a haute couture house. The same with visual effects. Everything on a film is tailor- made. The visual effects need to be done at the right place.”

Born in Lyon, France, the 43-year old Ceretti made his first films when he was eight years old. Like many visual effects artists, he was inspired by Star Wars, in his case, the 1980 film Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back.

But Lyon, where the Lumière brothers had lived, also inspired him. “I would go to talks about film at the Institut,” he says, referring to Lyon’s Institut Lumière, which holds many of the Lumières’ first cinematic inventions.

Meanwhile at home, science and art went hand in hand. “My dad was an engineer and one of the first to use Apple computers,” he says. “We had an Apple II at home when I was six. My mom loved the arts and movies, and we were always going to see the big films. So, I had that combination of computers, engineering and film. My dad filmed us with his Super 8 camera, and my brother and I were into making our own little films. We did explosions, special effects, animation.”

Even so, Ceretti studied science in college before following his passion. “I was doing animation at home using 3D Studio, and ray-tracing images using software on an Atari that took 20 hours to render,” he says. “But I went all the way toward getting an equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in quantum mechanics before I said, ‘OK, I’m going to do what I really want to do.’”

He began working in the summer at Lyon-based Infogrames, a large holding company that published games through various subsidiaries. And he studied art and animation at Ecole Emile Cohl in Lyon.

Then he made the move that started his career – to Paris where he joined BUF Compagnie, one of the pioneers in the use of computer graphics for visual effects and animation.

TOP TO BOTTOM: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Photo credit: Film Frame. Copyright © 2017 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.), Batman and Robin (Photo copyright © 1997 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.), X-Men: First Class (Photo copyright © 2011 20th Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.), Doctor Strange (Photo copyright © 2016 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

“When I joined BUF there were around 15 people,” Ceretti says. “They were about to do Batman and Robin, so the timing worked out well. It was a great school for me.”

“School” started with learning how to use the studio’s proprietary software, and the only time the computers were free for that training was at night.

“I worked all night for three or four weeks to learn their software before I could start working during the day,” he says. “Then they mentored me. They put me on small projects, on TV commercials.”

He had joined BUF in September. Within three to four months, the studio had grown to 50 people. By the end of the year, Ceretti was working on Batman and Robin.

“It was hard,” he says. “It was a learning curve for everyone. We only had 50 shots, but they were a lot of work for a company like this in 1996/1997. Poison Ivy was growing plants everywhere. Mr. Freeze was using our frozen rain to freeze the town.”

The Cell gave Ceretti his first experience working with a director and an American crew. (Photo copyright © 2000 New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.)

Ceretti supervised commercial work for the next few years, but when the studio took on The Cell, he became visual effects supervisor for that film.

“It was scary because I had only supervised commercials, and I ended up going to LA,” Ceretti says. “But Kevin [Tod Haug, VFX Supervisor] was great and it was an interesting show in terms of the graphics and visuals we had to create.”

The Cell gave him his first experience working with a director and with an American crew.

“I knew I wanted to be a visual effects supervisor since I saw Empire Strikes Back; I knew I wanted to be that guy,” Ceretti says. “And this was it. It felt good.”

After The Cell, he helped with BUF’s work on S1m0ne (2002), and then BUF founder Pierre Buffin asked him to supervise the studio’s work on The Matrix.

“That defined my career,” Ceretti says. “I met John Gaeta, Dan Glass, the Wachowskis.”

It helped that Ceretti could speak English – his mother was raised in the English-speaking part of Montreal, so they had watched English-language movies at home, and he had grown up spending holidays in Canada and on the US East Coast. But, more importantly, he was ready.

“I grew into agood position at BUF faster than I could have in a big studio, but at the same time I had lots of support,” he says.

By the time he left BUF in 2008, he had supervised effects there for Alexander, Batman Begins, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and was overall supervisor for The Prestige and Babylon A.D. He had been with the studio 12 years.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Photo copyright © 2015 Warner Bros. Pictures. All Rights Reserved.)

“It felt like time to move,” he says. “I wanted to experiment with working in London.”

He started at MPC, supervised that studio’s work on Prince of Persia, and worked there until Dan Glass asked him to start Method’s London studio. And one movie led to another. He became an additional visual effects supervisor for Captain America: The First Avenger, the visual effects supervisor for Fox on X-Men: First Class, working with John Dykstra, visual effects supervisor for Cloud Atlas, and visual effects supervisor – 2nd unit on Thor: The Dark World.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange. (Photo copyright © 2015 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.)

Matrix Reloaded (Photo copyright © 2013 Warner Bros./Village Roadshow. All Rights Reserved.)

“Method loaned me out to the studios,” he says. “I was kind of  independent, but still attached.”

X-Men gave him experience managing multiple vendors on a show. And Captain America provided entrée into the Marvel universe, a world he stepped firmly into with Guardians of the Galaxy, then Doctor Strange, and now Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Although these are all superhero films, Ceretti is quick to praise the creative differences.

“I enjoy doing these movies very much,” he says. “We aren’t doing the same thing over and over. Doctor Strange and Guardians couldn’t be more different. And, for Ant-Man and the Wasp, we have some crazy ideas I can’t talk about. It’s going to be fun.”

And he particularly enjoys working on these films as part of the production.

“I like what I’m doing now,” he says. “To me, what we do as visual effects artists is to serve the story, so being closer to the director and producer is very rewarding. We’re part of the group of filmmakers. Especially at Marvel. I miss the day-to-day rounds, talking to the guys, but when I watch a film, I can see my influence. That’s very exciting.”

Although intrigued by virtual production, Ceretti plans to keep grounding that influence in the real world.

Airborne on Doctor Strange.

“I think as the tools become more advanced, people will get even better at making films that look like they’ve been shot in a real place,” he says. “But, I think we have a better sense of storytelling and performance when we shoot in a real place, and we achieve better effects with a mixture of real life and CG.”

If Ceretti weren’t a visual effects supervisor, he would probably be a director of photography or a director.

“I always have my camera with me,” he says. “I’m trying stuff, looking at things. I like telling stories. I’ve started directing some short films.”

In the rare moments when he isn’t working, you might find him driving for hours through the desert in his Rav4 hybrid, taking photographs. Or hiking.

“I work a lot, though,” he says. “Oh my god, I’m always working. There isn’t much time for fun.”

“But,” he adds, “I have fun in my work, so that’s fine.”

His work on Ant-Man and the Wasp has just begun. Look for the film on July 6, 2018



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