When Francisco X. DeJesus moved to the U.S. from San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1988 to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, he knew he wanted his career to lead him into the entertainment realm of computer graphics.
“I wanted to leave the nest and explore on my own, so that’s what I did,” DeJesus told me during a phone interview last week.
Twenty-one years later, DeJesus has developed an impressive portfolio in Hollywood where he has worked on such films as “Monster House,” “Charlie’s Angels 2,” “Men in Black 2,” and all three “Spider-Man” movies. He is currently a senior computer graphics supervisor for Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he has been for the last 10 years.
In his most recent film, “G-Force,” DeJesus leads a team of 50 other animation artists to create a story about a team of guinea pigs trained by the government to be spies. “G-Force,” which is the first 3-D film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (“Pirates of the Caribbean”), features the voices of Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), Tracy Morgan (“First Sunday”) and Academy Award winners Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) and Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas”).
What made you first become interested in computer-generated animation?
I became interested because of videogames. This was in the early 80s so I’m talking about the original Atari 2600. I was interested in playing the games, but I also wanted to write games. That led to computer graphics. Movies that made an impact on me were “Tron” and “Terminator 2.”
Is there something specific that you’ve enjoyed the most during the decade you’ve worked with Imageworks?
The thing I enjoyed the most is that every project that I’ve worked on is completely different. Every movie is unique. It’s not a job where you go in and do the same thing year after year.
How did guinea pigs become the next project?
Well, I chose this movie based on who was involved. It’s a Disney movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. I’ve loved all his action movies. Then the director, Hoyt Yeatman, is a legend in the visual effects industry. He won an Oscar for “The Abyss.” So, basically I was like, “Those are the people involved? Great! Oh, by the way, what’s the project?”
Is the first step in creating these computer-generated guinea pigs to study real guinea pigs?
That’s exactly what we did. We got four guinea pigs and we studied them and photographed and videotaped them. We studied everything from their motions to how light reflects on their fur to how they act when they’re nervous. We really got to know them even before we started to build them on computers.
When you think of guinea pigs, you usually don’t think of an animal that could be an action star.
That’s the funny part of it. They’re these tiny little critters and their action heroes.
What did you learn about the animal?
Well, the first thing I learned is that they’re really cute so we had to make them look cute with our graphics. The real ones are very nervous. That’s where we had to take some creative license and deviate from realism. We wanted our guinea pigs to be trained and confident and have attitude. Each one had to have a personality.