Pinoy lends talent to Big Hero 6

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - There’s no lack of Pinoy talent in Hollywood. Manila-born Winston Quitasol is on board Disney’s Big Hero 6, the newest animated feature (from the same team behind the phenomenal Frozen) that tells about the unlikely friendship of a robotics prodigy and a plus-sized inflatable robot. 

Winston is the senior lighting artist on Big Hero 6, but he has had served as visual effects technical director and lead digital compositor in some of the biggest movies ever in history. The 1990 blockbuster Ghost holds a special place in his heart because it was his first movie project. His more recent works include SpiderMan 2, Surf’s Up, Iron Man 3, 300: Rise of an Empire and Frozen.

His talents and skills figure most importantly in the massive and multi-faceted process behind films laden with visual effects (FX). Thanks to his job, he gets to enjoy first-hand how Hollywood keeps pushing boundaries in terms of technique and technology to produce stunning onscreen imagery.

In an e-mail interview, Winston tells The STAR, “I have been very fortunate to have worked on some amazing films and (been) given the opportunity to contribute to their success. As a visual effects technical director, I was responsible for lighting various elements (like a character or FX) for a specific scene and compositing (combining) said elements to a live action background. In the composite, I would adjust the images using many types of computer tricks to make it look as photo real as possible. I also might have green or blue screen images that would need to be manipulated and incorporated into the final composite. These same techniques are used in both live action and animated features.”

As lead digital compositor, he shepherded other compositors (who digitally assemble multiple images to create the illusion that they belong to a single image or scene) in accomplishing work on time, ensuring consistency in images and creating techniques to be used on the production.

His duties as senior lighting artist are similar. “After a specific scene has been approved by the departments ahead of me, I prep my shot by determining how it should look, via looking at surrounding approved scenes or finding a painted key created by the art director. I position my lights in the computer to match the look and render out all the elements I will need to composite the final scene.”

In Big Hero 6, the extra challenge in his work came from the brand-new, untested rendering software. According to the production notes, the film is set in the not-too-distant future in San Fransokyo, the imagined “mash-up” of San Francisco and Tokyo that is so intricate and elaborate in detail that an entirely new rendering tool called Hyperion was created and utilized by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ technology team. The outcome is “unlike anything audiences have seen on the big screen before.”

The heart of this action/comedy/adventure, however, still lies in the story of the genius but wayward teenager Hiro and the huggable robot Baymax designed by Hiro’s older brother to specifically take care of people. When a supervillain terrorizes San Fransokyo, Hiro calls on Baymax and other geek friends to form a band of techie crimefighters.

Winston, who joins the likes of animators Nelson Bohol, Chris Chua and Van Partible in the list of Fil-Ams who have found an enviable place in the world’s motion-picture powerhouse, came to the US as a child.

“My father was from Manila and my mother came from Pampanga. They were both graduates from University of Santo Tomas. My fraternal grandfather was a doctor, a survivor of the Bataan death march and a decorated WWII officer. We came to America for the same reason many people do... to live the American dream and increase our opportunities for success,” says Winston.

His love for movies he inherited from his parents who “took me to see many award-winning films as a child. However, it was Star Wars that got me hooked. Once I saw that movie, I vowed to work in visual effects and animation when I grew up. I went to Long Beach State University in California after high school and received my bachelor’s degree in Film. It still blows my mind that I am doing what I set out to do and get to do it at the greatest company in the world.”

It didn’t come easy though. After sending out as many resumés as possible and receiving one rejection letter after another, he finally landed an office job at Paramount Studios. Once on the lot, he spent his free time contacting various production companies. After several months of waiting, he scored his first movie gig as a production assistant on Ghost. He eventually made his way to Walt Disney Studios’ Visual Effects Department, wherein “under the tutelage of some amazingly talented people, I was able to learn what it takes to be a visual effects/animation artist and have a long-lasting career in Hollywood.”

He found a mentor in Harrison Ellenshaw, the visual effects supervisor on Ghost who went on to head the Visual Effects Department at Disney. From him, Winston got one of the best career advices, which was “to follow your passion, do the best job you can possibly do and success will come.”

That’s the same advice Winston would dispense to anyone looking to make it in any field, and then some: “Take the time to research the best way to improve your skills and take the proper classes that will do that. Work very, very, very hard. Don’t take shortcuts.”

Big Hero 6, directed by Chris Williams, hits Philippine theaters in 3D tomorrow, Nov. 6.

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