VFX SUPERVISOR JANELLE RALLA: BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN ART, TECH AND FAMILY

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Movies weren’t an obvious career choice for Ralla, who was born in Sonora, Calif., and grew up in nearby Camp Angels, where her family has owned a local grocery store since 1935. “I worked at the groceries since I was nine.. I loved it. We were so free back then. Angels Camp is an old mining town. You would cycle through the fields and hunt for crystals, and go check out the mine shaft. Super dangerous!” When it’s mentioned that it sounds like something out of a Richard Donner classic, she laughs. “Totally! I love The Goonies. I played a little basketball, did a lot of softball, snowboarding, skateboarding, swimming and was really into the art. I would take a picture of someone, then draw it with a pencil and give it to them. I wish I had a few because I remember they were pretty good, but I gave them all away!

A watershed moment came in 1999 when Ralla watched The matrix. “At the time, I had just discovered what visual effects were and had started to learn LightWave. Until then, my brain was so deeply inward, but when I saw the movie, I realized there were other people like me! I felt like I was where I needed to be. A conversation with a classmate in a Photoshop class at a junior college in San Diego led to an illegal internship where the unpaid receptionist taught herself to model organically in LightWave. “It was a whole new world for me,” Ralla revealed. “I was on a chat program called ICQ in the middle of the night, working around the clock because I was so excited to learn 3D, to message old colleagues who worked at Threshold Digital Research Labs in Los Angeles and ask them, ‘What is a transparency map?

Eventually Ralla left for Los Angeles and was a generalist responsible for a wide range of effects, animation, texturing, lighting and modeling for a mortal combat and Animated Starship Troopers TV series. A career turning point occurred when Digital Domain Commercials had a job offer for a LightWave artist. “I was still a teenager when I started at Digital Domain. They had me on little projects like an MTV intro and an after-school Coca-Cola commercial. I was fine, so my manager placed me on an American Express commercial working with Eric Barba. Barba has served as a mentor over the years. “Eric thought I was good at composing my own CG passes to make them look better. I was using Digital Fusion at the time. He encouraged me to learn Nuke. My Nuke scripts were simple. I would be creative with the elements doing whatever was necessary to make the final image look real. This approach worked well in the commercial world. I moved to the Flame suite and worked on many of David’s projects there. Fincher. Fincher would increase the gamma on the monitors, go frame by frame switching the red, green and blue channel calling the pixels to be corrected. Her eagle eye taught me how to make my composites seamless. Barba also encouraged her to get into photography.” He said I had a good eye but needed to better understand how images were captured. I needed to know more about lenses, optical composition. I took his advice, bought a camera and started taking pictures.

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