Artist Spotlight: Enrique Sandoval Castro

Building a Freelance Career Worldwide with LightWave from Deep in the Heart of Mexico

Posted: Tue 08 Oct 2013

Mexico City may still be considered an evolving 3D animation and effects market,  but Enrique Sandoval Castro’s artistic talent and LightWave skills have catapulted him into the global visual effects arena as a successful freelance artist for visual effects in  movies, commercials, and videogames. 

During the day Castro works at various visual effects houses  such as Ollin VFX and EPICS FX in Mexico City, and at night he focuses on freelance visual effects projects, connecting with motion picture and commercial clients around the world and growing  the movie effects business he runs from his studio.

By posting samples of his work on various online industry sites, influential people have spotted his talent and referred him to others who have hired him to provide visual effects compositing for their movies. For example, a woman working at Rhythm and Hues in India saw his work on CGTALK, a popular industry website, and referred him to Serkan Zelzele, a Turkish entrepreneur who was looking to move to Mexico City and start a visual effects house. Upon launching the business, called EPICS FX, Serkan hired Castro in 2009 to do matte paintings.

“In the first week I was there, they realized that I could do more than just matte paintings,” said Castro. “So whenever there wasn’t any matte painting to be done, I jumped into visual effects compositing. While EPICS FX started as a Maya-based studio, I asked if I could have the freedom to use whatever software I wanted on the visual effects work. So I used the software I knew best: LightWave 3D, Zbrush, and PhotoShop. “

“With my own adoption of LightWave, I became a generalist, an individual verstile enough to take on any type of visual effects or 3D project work from start to finish,” explained Castro.  “I never wanted to be pigeonholed in any one artistic discipline. So it’s important to me that LightWave is made for generalists.The speed and efficiency of the workflow, the comprehensive, intuitive toolset, and realtime feedback from the Viewport Preview Rendering (VPR) system are among the factors that tailor LightWave 3D to the needs of generalists.”

The road to becoming a generalist and LightWave artist was long and winding; and in his own words a twist of fate. Several years ago, he was teaching character design at 3D Puppets—an animation school in Mexico City—and as part of his compensation he was allowed to take its 3D animation classes for free. He decided to do it even though his previous experience with 3D animation classes at Graphical Design University was not ideal—Castro felt its 3D software of choice was too complicated and cumbersome to use.

Despite this experience, he decided to give 3D animation another try at 3D Puppets, which uses the LightWave 3D animation system as its primary teaching platform. He found that he loved LightWave because it made 3D animation much more fun. While he attended 3D Puppets for only a short while in 2005, it was enough to get him started in a whole new direction—visual effects and 3D animation—using LightWave 3D.

“The LightWave community is very strong and close knit, and that—along with my fine art background and LightWave 3D skills—helped propel my movie effects career,” Enrique said. “LightWave also distinguished me from other digital artists in the world.” In the same way that broadband connectivity enables him to get movie effects work from international studios and producers, the reality is that he’s competing with digital artists in other markets like India and Argentina who can do the same work, often at very low rates.

As an example of the global environment he works in, Castro said that one time a producer in the Phillipines sent him a visual effects project, which he then delivered to the end client in the Domican Republic. “One market that’s particularly hard to break into is Hollywood, since many of those studios have their own in-house effects departments, and when they do outsource work, it’s usually to firms in India,” said Castro.

Despite these challenges, he has used LightWave to complete a wide range of movie effects sequences including: set extensions for Red Tails, background reconstruction for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a warehouse explosion for Los Supers, background creation for Cinco de Mayo La Batalla, building creation for background replacement for House of Cards, and matte painting for After Earth.

“LightWave features like Bullet and Fracture helped me create the warehouse explosion effect in Los Supers very easily,” said Castro. “The warehouse needed to erupt in a fiery explosion sending pieces of building debris in all directions. Fracture breaks up the object and Bullet lets the pieces fly.”

“When I started to model the structure, I realized that if I used Bullet to put the pieces into place, they would then fall naturally when the explosion occurs. Pieces of debris would simply fly apart. You tell LightWave what you want to destroy and it carries it out. Other 3D software can do this as well, but LightWave’s Bullet and Fracture make it very easy,” he said. “The explosion is a composite of the visual effect and the practical elements I was provided, such as the live action plate and practical fire.”

While Los Supers was done using LightWave 11.0, Castro currently uses 11.5. He especially likes how fast rendering is accomplished. But he also likes the VPR, which is a shortcut to previewing how a render will look without having to invest the processing time. He said that the VPR quality is very, very close to the results of an actual render, and therefore a huge timesaver.

Castro believes LightWave should be in the arsenal of every movie studio or effects house. “Since Rob Powers joined Newtek, I’ve seen great changes and advancements in what this software can do.  Powers is himself an artist, so he knows the needs of one. Whether they’re working in their garages or at top visual effects houses, LightWave lets artists handle entire projects without ever switching to another software package. Even if you don’t know how to do a particular effect, LightWave’s intuitive nature lets you get through the learning curve quickly and get the work done lightning fast.”