Alessandra Cave is a visual effects producer on films like Men in Black II, Hellboy, Spiderwick and Charlotte’s Web. She also currently works as an editorial and commercial photographer based in San Francisco and recently authored her own book Shooting with Soul: 44 Photography Exercises Exploring Life, Beauty, and Self-Expression. However raising her 3 year old daughter is her biggest creative achievement to date. To learn more, visit her website alessandracave.com.
Your career as a VFX producer has lead you to work on many high profile movies. How did you first get started in this field?
Ironically, I got into visual effects thanks to my longtime relationship with photography. In the early nineties, I was finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, and working as a Marketing and Advertising trainee in the Professional Photography and Imaging Dept. at Kodak’s headquarters in Brazil. That was an exciting time for photography enthusiasts, with an increasing number of digital products, the invention of Photoshop, the Photo CD, etc.
As part of the Kodak team, I was able to have first class training from leading edge US photographers who were already using the new technologies, and I immediately fell hard for Photoshop. So when I graduated from college, I began searching for a Master’s program in Illustration and Photography with a strong digital component, which I found at the Savannah College of Arts and Design in Georgia, USA. After a semester at the school, I took some classes in Animation though, and then I decided to switch gears and pursue a Masters in Computer Art.
When I graduated, I moved to the West coast to find a job in the Animation industry, and almost 20 years later, here I am! As you can see, 25+ years ago, I had no idea I would end up with a career in visual effects.
I do have to say though, that this life’s journey has definitely come full circle for me, when I got to work with John Knoll, a talented visual effects supervisor and one of the original creators of Photoshop!
What’s a day in your life look like? Can you give us a taste of what working in VFX is like?
When I am working on a film, my work day starts around 8:30am and ends approximately around 6 or 7pm. But during crunch time, it can end much much later!). This routine suited me well in the first 10-15 years of my career, when I was single and didn’t have a child. I loved my job, my colleagues, and I could go to yoga at 8pm every night to decompress and stay fit. After long film schedules, I would pack up my bags and travel for a couple of months before the next gig. It was great!
However, as a mom, things changed, of course. Nowadays, I try to start my day earlier to fit in extra time with my little one, whenever possible, I sneak out at lunch time to see her, and I rush home as early as possible, to have dinner with the family and read a bedtime story. Weekends are now for family time and no work whatsoever! And when a project is over, I aim to take as much time off as possible (I just finished a film, and I’m taking 4 months off).
What’s the very best part of your job? What are the biggest challenges as VFX producer?
Such a good question! I feel lucky to have the opportunity to see the film process from beginning to end: from script to principal photography, and all the way through post production. I also get to work with seriously talented, smart, creative, and incredibly dedicated folks.
As a producer, I am responsible for clients, budgets, schedules, crew, quality of the work, etc. So there are numerous challenges every single day. I do love a good challenge, though. So I aim to stay calm and positive through it all, making things happen and holding the line always firmly, but also with grace.
You’re also a professional photographer and writer — which came first and how do they fit together? And how do you make time for both?
I have always enjoyed writing. I wrote many essays and plays in grade school and high school – but it was all in Portuguese! Only when I moved to the US in my early twenties, I began writing in English as well. As a producer, my communication has to be really effective, so over the years I have really polished my writing skills.
Photography came later. I first discovered that I could capture beauty on film, when I was 17 and travelling solo through Europe. Many moons later, in 2006, I started a blog where I combined writing and photography as a means of self-discovery and self-expression. That’s when I really sank into the creative practice of these two disciplines.
Do you have any recommendations on resources (websites, associations, classes, books, etc) for a mom interested in learning more about VFX?
We love your images from your book, Shooting with Soul. What inspired you to take on this project and can you tell us a little about the process or brainstorming, creating it, getting it published, and marketing the book?
In 2011, I started teaching a photography class called “Your Life in Pictures”. The book was born from the desire to dive deeper and expand on the content of that class, and also from the intent to reach more and more people interested in expressing themselves through photography, regardless of their level of experience with a camera.
I could write a whole book about the book making process! I worked with my editor at Quarry Books from concept to final product. We started with a dummy and a sampler chapter, and then I planned the table of contents and went from there. I literally worked in sequential order. No secrets. Just 6h of writing a day for 3-4 months, coupled with lots of shooting and editing in between.
As far as Marketing, I owe the success of the book to my online community and all who have supported my work by sharing it via links, interviews, etc. For us first time authors, this kind of support is crucial and well appreciated!
Did you have to make career adjustments when you had a child? How has being a mom changed your perspective on your work?
Absolutely! For the first two years of my daughter’s life I hardly took any projects on. And frankly, the ones I did take on, ended up disastrous! It was just so hard to split my attention. Back then, I also tortured myself with guilt every time I did anything for myself, whether it was work or self-care. Now I am finally at peace with the fact that in order to be the best mom I can be, I also have to honor who I am — a highly dynamic and creative person who loves being a mom, but who also loves feeding her soul and doing her creative work.
What creative activities you enjoy doing with your child?
We love doing art projects together: drawing, painting, collaging, modelling with bees wax and clay, etc. We also really enjoy hikes, picnics, puppet shows, role playing games, and we read lots and lots of books. We have been cooking and baking a lot lately too.
Fill in the blank fun!
If I were stranded alone on a deserted island, 3 objects I’d want to have with me would be: a pocket knife, a lighter, and a blanket (I like being cozy!). If I could have 5, I would add a thick notebook + a pen – that would be a good time to write another book.
My latest binge watch was FRINGE.
The last book I read was Home Grown, Ben Hewitt.
If I suddenly had two extra hours where I wasn’t allowed to work or do childcare, I’d go on a hike or photowalk.