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January 03
2023

ISSUE

Winter 2023

VFX PRODUCER DIANA GIORGIUTTI: FROM POP VIDEOS AND TALKING ANIMALS TO BULLET TIME

By TREVOR HOGG

Visual Effects Producer Diana Giorgiutti.

Visual Effects Producer Diana Giorgiutti.

Images courtesy of Diana Giorgiutti

Being a veteran visual effects producer, Diana Giorgiutti is used to managing time zones for an industry that literally works 24/7, which means her work day begins at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m. while in production for the role-playing game adaptation Dungeon & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, which stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant and Jason Wong, and is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein. “That’s about as early as I can get up!” laughs Giorgiutti, who is working from her hometown of Sydney, Australia. “2 a.m. is like 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, so I’m usually coming into the day two or three hours behind them all. I’m not an early bird! Never have been. I’m a night owl.”

Art and math were the subjects that appealed to her most as a student. “Hence the art and producer combination!” Giorgiutti notes. “My parents are both Italian, and they came to Sydney in 1961 when Australia was appealing to immigrants from Europe to help build the country. A year later, I was born [followed by three sisters]. Sydney is wonderful. The industry was small here, so I knew that if I wanted to grow in visual effects and learn, I would have to go to England. The U.S. wasn’t obtainable. I have Italian citizenship, so Europe was much easier. Leaving Sydney behind was hard, and I had always planned to come back.”

Star Wars was what caused Giorgiutti to become involved with the visual effects industry. “I was 15 years old in 1977 and could only talk one of my sisters into go with me [to see Star Wars]. I walked out of the cinema saying, ‘I don’t know what it is and how they do it, but that’s what I want to do!’ The next couple of years, I was investigating it through newspapers or magazines because there was no Internet.” The first job in the film and television business for the high school graduate was as a production assistant for a tiny company called [Sydney] Panorama Productions which did a local TV show called Variety Italian Style. “There was a five-minute cooking segment that we shot and some local adverts. Being in Newcastle at a TV station watching all of the cameras, that was my love: the tech of it all.”

Getting hired as a tape operator at VideoLab, thanks to a personal recommendation of a colleague, was the big career break for Giorgiutti. It exposed her to Grass Valley Vision Mixers, Bosch FGS-4000, Softimage 3D and a Quantel Paintbox. However, the real boom in visual effects was happening in London. “I joined an editor friend and we bought one of the first Avids in London. Running that business was not my thing and didn’t keep me very busy, so I sent a few letters out to six of the top visual effects houses. Rushes offered me a three-month freelance gig as a visual effects producer which then became five years. I did mostly pop videos because none of the other producers liked doing them [as commercials were more profitable]. I still call London the music capital of the world. I was going to gigs all of the time. I worked on some great pop videos during my time, such as ‘Frozen’ by Madonna. We did a shot where she falls backwards and turns into hundreds of black crows.”

On set shooting the Neo/Agent Smith crater scene from The Matrix Revolutions – “a joyous wet and muddy shoot,” according to Giorgiutti.

On set shooting the Neo/Agent Smith crater scene from The Matrix Revolutions – “a joyous wet and muddy shoot,” according to Giorgiutti.

Artists back then were generalists doing everything from previs and lighting to compositing. “It would be one artist who would take the shot all of the way through,” Giorgiutti reflects. “The visual effects producer back then had more creative involvement, but over time, when it became more departmentalized, you lose touch of that. Also, the projects got bigger, and it became more of money management and working with the vendor doing the work.” The paradigm has shifted back to the creative side for the blockbuster visual effects productions that are too big for a visual effects supervisor to handle alone. “It’s important for visual effects shows to have the supervisor and producer because they balance each other well. Whereas the supervisor is more creative and technical, the producer is creative and technical, too. We have to be creative with numbers at times, but it’s good for the supervisor to have someone else to go, ‘How do you think we’ll get this shot finalled by our director quicker?’ There are all of these strategies and plans we have to discuss and come up with. If it was somebody doing that on their own, it wouldn’t be as successful.”

During The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), shooting with the ‘yak’ rig, known as this “because the stunt guys were barely able to keep their breakfast down,” Giorgiutti recalls.

During The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), shooting with the ‘yak’ rig, known as this “because the stunt guys were barely able to keep their breakfast down,” Giorgiutti recalls.

Two significant films that Giorgiutti worked on early in her career won Oscars for Best Visual Effects, Babe and The Matrix. “[Writer/Producer] George Miller always intended to shoot with real animals and some animatronics, but also knew that he needed visual effects, so he waited for the technology. At that time, I was at VideoLab as a telecine colorist, which is now what a DI person is but much more analog, so no DaVinci Resolve. A film roll would log in, I would put it up and if I thought it looked good, I would call George and get him to have a look. Every now and then, he would ring to check if particular companies had sent something and ask me what I thought. One day, this box came from Rhythm & Hues [Studios]. I finished whatever commercial I was doing, put it up and went, ‘Ahhhhhh.’ I called George right away and he came zooming over. I was in the room when he called them to say, ‘This is mind-blowing.’ Then onward and upwards! Babe was made.”

In The Oracle’s kitchen set during filming of The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), taking chrome/grey ball notes with Visual Effects Supervisors Kim Libreri and Dan Glass (off to the side), 1st Assistant Director James McTeigue and DP Bill Pope, far left.

In The Oracle’s kitchen set during filming of The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and The Matrix Reloaded (2003), taking chrome/grey ball notes with Visual Effects Supervisors Kim Libreri and Dan Glass (off to the side), 1st Assistant Director James McTeigue and DP Bill Pope, far left.

On location in New Zealand with Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Faden while shooting Mulan (2020).

On location in New Zealand with Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Faden while shooting Mulan (2020).


This is the Destroyer on location about 30 minutes outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, during shooting for the first Thor (2011). He had to be shipped via truck in two halves.

This is the Destroyer on location about 30 minutes outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, during shooting for the first Thor (2011). He had to be shipped via truck in two halves.


For Giorgiutti, shooting with the Bolt camera was a fun part of the Ant-Man/Yellowjacket fight scene in the little girl’s bedroom for Ant-Man (2015).

For Giorgiutti, shooting with the Bolt camera was a fun part of the Ant-Man/Yellowjacket fight scene in the little girl’s bedroom for Ant-Man (2015).

A personal recommendation by Sally Goldberg (Computer Animation Supervisor at DFilm) led to Giorgiutti becoming involved with The Matrix, which was in a state of turmoil made worse by the visual effects producer leaving the production. “The Matrix was a whole bunch of mind-blowing things. My big job during the shooting of that film was managing the Bullet Time shots, and we had no idea what we were doing. The guys setting up the rig would go, ‘This is what we’re going to need on the day.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll come up with the chart.’ On the day when they took the photos, it was my job to run around to all of the 120 still cameras and record what frame they landed on, and do it quick enough because the actor would be itching to do the next take. I had all of my precious rolls of film that I had to take over to the lab to get processed. This is hundreds of thousands of dollars in the making! I like to say that I was one of the world’s first data wranglers.”

For a brief time, Giorgiutti returned to working for a visual effects company. “Luma Pictures was one of the vendors I used on every single show that I did for Marvel. The owner is a smart guy and thought having someone like myself to represent the company would help expand beyond Marvel and into other things like its own content. I was enticed over and it was great, but I was only there for a year and a half in the end because I missed the studio side. The overall management is what I love about what I do, being able to wrangle everything and everyone which you don’t do as a vendor. You just have your patch of shots, and if you’re lucky you’ll get time with the director here and there. Mostly you deal with the supervisor.” The visual effects industry has been significantly impacted by the streaming services. “The advent of Netflix has changed visual effects in another way,” Giorgiutti observes. “There is too much work and not enough people like myself with good solid experience, so a lot of green individuals are being thrown into managing these shows. I’m already talking to vendors for my potential next film, which doesn’t start shooting until May 2023.”

Key skills for a visual effects producer are mathematics, communication and counseling. “I am protective of the vendors because the studio side does not do the shots,” Giorgiutti remarks. “I’ve always felt if you look after people, they’ll look after you. If we’re going to need them at the eleventh hour to pump out the extra shots, give us a few freebies or throw in that extra effort, you make them feel like an important part of the process, which they are. Then it all fits and works nicely.” Being able to delegate responsibilities is important. “I’m not a micromanager,” she says. “I copy the coordinators on a lot of my emails so they can learn and see how things are handled. I’m always giving them lessons. If you delegate and have trust in your team, it’s wonderful. Going back to, ‘there is too much work and not enough experience,’ some of our crew on Dungeons & Dragons haven’t done much of the role before, but you get enough time in the early beginnings of post to teach, train and hopefully instill some of the better ideas and ways of doing things.”

Virtual production excels in specific situations, she says. “If you are doing The Mandalorian-type stuff that only really works if the filmmakers are prepared to essentially post the movie to a degree before they shoot, all of the environments have to be designed and not change.” Audiences are a lot savvier about visual effects. Giorgiutti adds, “If you read any of the [film fan] blogs or Reddit things, there are all these people out there giving their own opinion on why it looks so shitty. Interestingly, most of them say it’s probably because of not having enough time. How do they know this stuff? I blame the Internet. There are so many behind-the-scenes [articles] where they reveal a lot of our stuff, so these people are learning from all of that. It starts with having and shooting a solid script. D&D and even Mulan were solid scripts, and we improved both films by doing a bit of additional photography. Each of them came in on budget. A lot of movies barely have a script, or the script is too long and they go in shooting. Unless the filmmakers plan better and have better scripts, it’s going to be more of the same. Maybe films won’t be successful because of the visuals now, especially if they’re visual effects heavy.”

The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded crew on set at Fox stages in Sydney. A full-sized APU – Armored Personnel Unit – was deployed for fighting against the Sentinels.

The Matrix Revolutions and The Matrix Reloaded crew on set at Fox stages in Sydney. A full-sized APU – Armored Personnel Unit – was deployed for fighting against the Sentinels.


With Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Faden at the top of one of the huge sand dunes in the Xinjiang desert while location scouting for Mulan.

With Visual Effects Supervisor Sean Faden at the top of one of the huge sand dunes in the Xinjiang desert while location scouting for Mulan.


With Marvel Studios VFX Supervisor Jake Morrison on set during Ant-Man.

With Marvel Studios VFX Supervisor Jake Morrison on set during Ant-Man.

Shooting on the street on a cold night in Atlanta, Georgia, for a sequence of Ant-Man flying on an ant.

Shooting on the street on a cold night in Atlanta, Georgia, for a sequence of Ant-Man flying on an ant.

On set in Santa Clarita, California, for Mulan additional photography, where Mulan’s mates fight the Shadow Warriors in a back alley as she escapes to save the Emperor.

On set in Santa Clarita, California, for Mulan additional photography, where Mulan’s mates fight the Shadow Warriors in a back alley as she escapes to save the Emperor.


On a New Zealand glacier, on a ride with one of the pilots who did helicopter flying for Mulan.

On a New Zealand glacier, on a ride with one of the pilots who did helicopter flying for Mulan.


Giorgiutti discussing the action with one of the crew while shooting The Matrix films.

Giorgiutti discussing the action with one of the crew while shooting The Matrix films.

One shot took 117 versions to get approved, Giorgiutti reveals. “It was all about a character being yanked into a wall, falling down, then that comical Roadrunner moment, and the dust falling a beat after he falls. We could not make them happy on the dust! I’ve got a lot of those kinds of fond memories.” After over 40 years in the business, The Matrix remains a career highlight. “Back then, you always had a family in post, because the post-production team – director, editing, sound and visual effects – was a group of 20 to 30 people. Shooting these days, your crews go up to 500 to 600 and even more if you have a lot of extras involved. It becomes too many people. On The Matrix, I got to know all of the names of the grips and electrics. A lot of the guys doubled up with their jobs because that’s how it was back then. There weren’t that many people in the industry, certainly in Australia.”

“I think I have five more years in me,” Giorgiutti reflects. “I have seen it all. I was sticky-taping two-inch videotape together, and I remember the one-inch machines coming in that were vacuum operated so they would move really fast. Any of us girls with long hair had to wear it in a ponytail because ‘whoosh’ your hair could get caught. Now, of course, it’s digital, volume and metaverse! I’ve got to look that up!”As for what avatar she would choose for herself, Giorgiutti responds, “I would be a woman on a unicorn. Nobody has ever asked me that before, so that immediately came to my head! I love horses. If only we could all have unicorns in our lives!”


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