Tati Leite is a Brazilian lighting and compositing artist four years into her VFX career and has already got credits under her belt for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Captain Marvel, and Mission Impossible – Fallout, to name a few. She previously worked on The Lion King with MPC Film. In an interview with the Focus, she tells us about her passion for virtual production, the most challenging shot on The Lion King, and why she thinks diversity is so important.
Can you briefly talk about how your interest in VFX started?
I grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil and I was fascinated by how movies were created, especially the intricate details of a movie. When I was a kid, The Beauty and The Beast had just been released and I remember wondering how they made those reflections on the floor during the ballroom dance scene. I started talking to people and they said it was Computer Graphics. So, when I grew older, I studied Computer Engineering. The turning point came during my masters, when I had the opportunity to go to LA to attend Siggraph. That’s when I realised that everything I wanted to do really existed.
The VFX industry in Brazil isn’t that developed yet. How did you navigate around that knowing there aren’t many opportunities?
Unfortunately, VFX isn’t that strong yet in Brazil, however it is the 6th largest advertising market in the world. So, we have a huge advertising industry and they’re using VFX a lot. The production can be small compared to film, but you can explore VFX. And the advantage of working on a smaller project is that you can get more involved with the creative process. Nowadays, visual effects in music videos are becoming more popular for example. Comp is used during the clean-up process in soap operas, but the use of VFX for film is still not fully established.
It’s very common for VFX artists to move around a lot. What has that been like for you on a personal level in terms of acclimatising to different cultures and environments?
Knowing different cultures and living in another country wasn’t that hard for me. Here in Brazil I had the opportunity to work on different projects. And when the group was diverse, that is when we produced our best kind of work. Sometimes it needs communicating but it can also open your mind to things you didn’t know before. When I moved to the U.S. I didn’t really feel the cultural difference as I just wanted to embrace all these new things and impressions. It can be so pleasurable to open your mind to what others are saying. If they’re saying something different it means they have a different view to add to the vision. The projects I’ve worked on have always benefited a lot from diverse work groups.
You worked on The Lion King as a lighting artist. Lighting was crucial for the film as it really helped sell the photo-realistic value of it. Can you tell us more about your role and your favourite shot?
Virtual production played an important role as we had to pre-light the shots before shooting. So, the lighting artist had to be present during the shot as the director may want to the position of the light to be adjusted. During post-production when everything comes together lighting needs to make sure everything is as envisioned by the director. This is something that Virtual Production brought. Personally, I really liked working on the last scene in The Lion King when the hyenas are gone, and Scar is gone. It’s like the dawn of Simba’s era and I was really excited to work on it. For the entire movie ‘He just can’t wait to be king, right?’ I’m so glad I could work on that shot.
Lighting is so important and it’s part of the story. It’s not just about movement. Lighting has meaning. There are certain colours of light for certain scenes. John Favreau also mentioned that lighting helped compensate certain angles where it was difficult to get the most photo-realistic effect. So, lighting was used to drive the audience’ attention away from it.
What was the most challenging shot you’ve worked on for The Lion King during your time with MPC Film?
The scene where Pumba and Timon are singing along and strolling through the forest. And then Nala is chasing them. There is a lot going on and the environment is very dense. A lot of trees and rocks. So, doing the light for that was a challenge because you have to move the environment around to make the light work in the context of so many elements.
What was it like working with big names like Rob Legato, Caleb Deschanel, Jon Favreau etc.?
It was great and very inspiring. The first person I spoke to was Adam Valdez (VFX supervisor for MPC Film). He had a very clear vision and I could learn a lot from working with him. In fact, everyone I met whilst working on The Lion King was so exceptionally talented. I took away so much inspiration.
It is still relatively new that Virtual production brings this new element into the process of lighting. Can you talk about being in the VR production set and applying it? What’s the difference to how you used to do it before VR?
The whole concept has changed. It makes everything more collaborative. In a traditional pipeline, the director speaks to the artist and waits a long time before seeing a preview of the artist's work. Now it’s different as we now have the equipment to virtual shoot a scene. It’s like in a real set with virtual elements and the director and artist can collaborate and see the result in real-time.
Within the VFX pipeline there are a lot of departments. Why did you choose to get into lighting and compositing?
What I liked most about VFX is the fact that it mixes my technical with my artistic background. Lighting is great for that as it very artistic and visual. The light to use, the position it all makes a difference. But it also is a technical challenge. Even in compositing, it’s all about lighting. Lighting is key. The human eye always spots it immediately if something isn’t right with the lighting. Lighting makes everything work in a scene.
You’ve only worked in this industry for about 3 years and you’ve already worked on Captain Marvel, Ant- Man and the Wasp, The Lion King, and Fantastic Beasts. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned along the way?
I think learning is key in VFX. The industry evolves so fast and there are new tools, new techniques, new software you need to catch up with. It’s really important that you keep on top of the latest developments.
Finally, what is one thing most people don’t know about what you do in your department?
I would say Virtual Production has changed the game for lighting. Before, lighting artists would only come in during the postproduction process. Now, we’re part of the journey from beginning to end. We have to pre-light scenes, adjust lighting during shooting and then during post-production we have to tidy it up and make it all fit together. – thefocus.com