VFS to MIT

By VFS Web Team, on July 11, 2008

Luis BlackallerLuis Blackaller already had a foot in the film industry - including a stint as a designer on the acclaimed 2000 film Amores Perros - before he even started 3D Animation & Visual Effects at VFS.
He's also just finished two years at MIT - yes, that MIT - where he had a hand in projects with names like E15, oGFx, and Tiny Icon Factory.
It's not exactly a typical career trajectory, so we caught up with Luis - just as he was finishing his thesis - to find out how on earth he got from A to B, or from VFS to MIT.
Maybe we can start with a little background. Where are you from? How and why did you land at VFS?
I am an artist from Mexico City. I started working in the Mexican film and television industry as a storyboard artist, art director, and designer around 1995. Motion graphics got me interested in animation, and that's how I decided to join VFS.
Your work in film: our readers will especially recognize Amores Perros and Babel. Can you explain how that came about and what you were doing on those productions?
I started working in production around 1994. When a few of my high school friends graduated from film school they invited me to work on their final projects. It all happened very organically, almost by chance. I was doing photography and learning how to make comics, so it made sense to do storyboards and still photography for them.
Working on film school projects helped me meet people in the Mexican film and television world. I started making storyboards commercially. At the same time, I bought my first Apple computer to color my comic books. It turned out my emerging Photoshop skills became attractive to the art department people, and some art directors started commissioning me to do concept art for their sets. This way I met Brigitte Broch in 1997, who holds an Oscar in set decoration for Moulin Rouge. She invited me to work in many interesting projects with her, Amores Perros and Babelamongst them.
I know this is a big question, but. What exactly is it that you're up to at MIT?

E15
At MIT I joined John Maeda's research group, the Physical Language Workshop. The group's bigger questions have to do with the future of the digital medium and its relation with culture and communication systems.
Our civilization has already changed a lot in the last 30 years. How much will it change in the next 10, 20, 50 years? We've all seen a trend towards audience participation. What will happen to storytelling? How are people going to interact with each other?
These are very broad questions. We try to imagine specific scenarios. Internet and the Web are a perfect example. We have this incredibly rich communication system that connects people, computers and content across the globe and we look at it through the browser and the page-link model. It is an incredibly effective design but it's also very flat, and discontinuous. It doesn't feel like a space.
There are other options. Experiments like Second Life borrow from massively multiplayer online games to simulate reality. Experiments like Piclens incorporate to the browser interface elements similar to the recent additions Apple has made to MacOS X. The point is: there can be many ways to enhance the online digital experience, but we feel there is a lack of a space to openly think about what might happen.
This is why we decided to build a development architecture that lets you envision and share your own take on how to shape the web. It's called E15. We are going to release a beta version soon. Anyone interested is welcome to play with it.
oGFX Example
Instead of giving you a browser or a 3D avatar, we give you the tools to imagine how you want to organize and interact with your data. It is not easy, because you have to know how to write code, but our architecture allows users to share their scripts, so you can actually use an interactive layout without having to write any code. The web is already like this a little. People see pages, not HTML and Javascript. Only developers experience the code. A difference is that once a website is made, users can't change the front end to the data. We want to give you the freedom to make changes, use your own code if you want. If you want to experience clouds of people instead of profile pages, you could do it.
I think if there's one impression anyone viewing your work and blogs would likely have of you, it's that you're a forward-thinking renaissance man - how does 3D fit into the big picture for you?
Computers can be used as tools to help improve other media like film, animation, photography and graphic design. However, computers are also their own medium, one that is still being formed. Internet, the web, games and other digital forms have emerged not only to change how content is made, but more importantly, how it is communicated.
In this frame of mind, 3D has become an important form to represent digital interactions and data. We are still far from having a computer interface that fully integrates 3D and 2D to deliver an enhanced experience, but there are hints everywhere. State of the art operating systems of today all include 3Dish components to browse and organize data, and the integration of accelerometers in consumer electronics makes it possible to blur the separation between virtual simulations and reality. I love the sample applications that come with the iPhone developer kit, in particular the one that turns the iPhone into a level tool. A device that is aware of its surroundings can become many things.
I think of 3D as a digital interactive visual language with an incredible potential. We've seen a lot of what we can do already, but most of it is constrained by the rules of pre-digital modes of representation. The main applications of 3D computer graphics are film, games, and scientific visualizations. They influence how designers think of new applications. They are constraints. I'd like to break free of these constraints. If you think about an internet of the future, where you will be able to shape your data in any way you want, why limit yourself to follow predefined models? With the digital medium, we have been given the opportunity to build a world from scratch... we should not limit ourselves to repeat the one we already have.
What's exciting you in the worlds of art, media & design nowadays?
I'll just mention some things I've recently enjoyed. Hope you enjoy them too.
- underground rock posters documentary
- my picture collection at ffffound and ffffound itself
- blu
- lasercutters
Thanks, Luis! You can catch up on his work while at MIT here. Prepare to get lost for hours. And keep an eye on E15 for new developments!