All posts by P. L. McGroarty

Eclectic, Radical, Diamond In The Ruff Rough. A puzzlingly optimistic inspiration hunter fueled by all things adventure. Sailing, motorcycles, wake boarding, snowboarding and yoga are a few of my favorite things. Some of the countries I've explored so far include Greece, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Mexico, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland and Honduras; and I'm just getting started. Next on the list are Japan, Morocco, all of South American eventually, Italy, Russia, Spain... I can go on and on.

It’s More Than Good Looks that Make Renan Pacheco a Top Digital Influencer

Digital Influencer Renan Pacheco

The global rise of instagram as a storytelling and sharing platform has given users a unique peek into the lives of people they know off screen, as well as into those they wish they knew– and from the latter, we’ve seen the global rise of the ‘digital influencer.’ 

Whether it be the products they use, the places they travel or the food they eat, everyday people look to the budding world of digital influencers for inspiration that they can bring into their own lives. Not only have the lives of digital influencers become similar to ‘fantasy’ worlds many viewers dream of living, but they’ve helped lead brands to make millions of dollars in profits. 

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and raised in Paris, Renan Pacheco is among the most recognizable French digital influencers in the world today, and it’s not hard to see why. In fact, earlier this year he was handpicked to be included in Kolsquare’s select group of six Influencers Under 30 to Follow in 2019.

Renan explains, “I help fashion brands tell a story. Through posts and IG stories, I tell stories to my community to promote new products and trends. I’m always happy to interact with my 650,000-plus followers when they comment or send me a direct message.”

With a continually growing Instagram following of more than 650K users, Pacheco’s heart-stopping good looks and magnetism in front of the camera coupled with his ability to help brands tell engaging stories has made him a hot commodity in the social media world. 

Pacheco has been so successful in his work as a digital influencer that he was nominated for a prestigious People’s Choice Award in 2018 in the French Pop Culture Influencer category. He has also been nominated in both the Travel and Fashion categories for the Influencer Award Monaco at the 2019 Monaco Digital Influencer Awards, which will take place this October.

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.45.22 PM

Prior to moving into his now 24/7 job as a digital influencer, Pacheco made a name for himself back home in Paris as a highly sought after actor and model. Earlier in his career, he was the featured actor in commercials for the massive French multinational food company Danone’s popular Danao beverage, and TF1’s hit series “Nos Chers Voisin,” as well as played the critical role of Stefano Cobalt in the film “Cobalt” directed by multi-award winner David Tomaszewski for Dolce and Gabbana. Though Pacheco’s looks and charisma have undoubtedly helped him along the way, he has far more going for him than simply being a good looking face. He is an extremely talented content creator, and thanks to his experience in front of the camera as both a model and an actor, he knows how to embody the perfect emotional vibe within every image captured. Simply, he knows how to tell you a story without even speaking

Though the career of a digital influencer appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, in reality it’s not all that different from those of the flocked to figures, such as actors, entertainers and athletes over the past century, who have gained sponsorships from brands to promote what they have to offer. The biggest difference is arguably the fact that the digital influencer IS a brand in itself. Everything from the way they look off camera and the way they live their lives to the content they curate has to be methodical and purposeful. Digital influencers don’t take random photos and throw them into the digital world with their fingers crossed. The best, like Pacheco, know they will make waves when they post.

We needn’t look further than Pacheco’s instagram profile for proof this. Individually each of his photos grab our attention with clean composition, an engaging subject (himself) and more often than not, the beautifully exotic and breathtaking background of a foreign country. When looking at Pacheco’s page, the tonal continuity of his collection of images immediately apparent, you can tell that he knows better than anyone that seamless continuity is integral to visual appeal. There is nothing random about what he chooses to post.

“Companies leverage us Influencers for our media exposure as well as for our creativity. My pictures must thus take both criteria into account… Often, the picture is what will satisfy the follower, and the caption is what will satisfy the storytelling” explains Pacheco. says, “Every picture immortalises a moment. When looking back 50 years from now, I know I can trust that these pictures show how things really were. I feel a responsibility to present the moment faithfully and accurately to my fans.” 

From the outside it may look like pure glitz and glamour, but at the end of the day, it is still an important job in the branding and advertising industries, albeit one that comes with more perks than most.

Pacheco admits,“Some days when your personal life takes a hit, you have to focus on your followers and make sure you’re still creating value in an up-beat, positive way. They follow you for entertainment, not for negativity, which is often inevitable in the long term.”

Pacheco’s abounding success as a digital influencer has put him in the spotlight as the star of countless digital campaigns, including those for the fragrance “Zadig et Voltaire” and the “Police Sunglasses” from @Policelifestyle. Both of these shoots were photographed by famous fashion photographer Florian Saez, who has quite a bit to say about what makes Pacheco such a uniquely powerful figure amongst the world’s top digital influencers.

“Renan has the paradoxical mix of possessing a high follower count as well as a high engagement ratio… when Influencers grow in follower count, they naturally experience a decline in engagement ratio. This is to be expected since the more followers one gets, the further form their inner circle these followers tend to be. These unknown followers tend to engage very little, decreasing the total percentage of likes and comments for posts and stories,” Saez explains confidently. 

“Despite this macro phenomenon seen across all sectors of Influencer marketing, Renan has remained in his 3 to 5 percent engagement ratio window despite consistently adding around 200,000 new followers every year. This is a characteristic unseen with other influencers and the projects he chooses to work with definitely benefit from this signature feature.” 

Over the years Renan Pacheco has not only become a digitally influential icon in the eyes of brands and Instagram users alike, but he has also been requested to shoot numerous feature editorials for magazines including Bello Mag, where he had a 10-page spread last year and Pakistan’s Good Times magazine, where he had a 4-page spread earlier this year. His international fame has also put him in the spotlight as a featured celebrity at brand events for the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, Diesel, Messika, Berluti, Bvlgari and more.

 

At the end of the day, Pacheco says, “ I get to travel and meet people from around the world. An Influencer is no more, no less, than a storyteller. That being said, most often I find myself listening to stories, life lessons and can’t help but wonder how much more there is to learn.”

Advertisements

Multi-Award Winning Actor Hugo Diego Garcia Dazzles International Audiences

Hugo Diego Garcia
Actor Hugo Diego Garcia at the Beverly Hills Film Festival

Actor Hugo Diego Garcia possesses a talent that is exceedingly rare among even the most seasoned of his peers. He’s able to transition between wildly different characters and roles with the effortlessness that others might walk from one room to the next. A great deal of his uncanny ability to embody virtually anybody onscreen is no doubt due to his upbringing, immersed in three distinct cultures.

“I was born in Oyonnax, France, a small city lost in the mountains,” Garcia described, “to a Spaniard father and a mother of Italian descent.”

His upbringing in that idyllic, yet isolated, town didn’t initially afford Garcia the opportunity to see as many films as he might have had he grown up in a big city. The collection of movies he did have, however, included some of the most influential and universally-acclaimed works in the history of film. Once he’d devoured the classic films he had at home, Garcia developed an insatiable need to watch every movie he could get his hands on.

“We didn’t have many films at home, but we had some of the best. The first VHS tapes and then DVDs we had were from Cimino, Leone, Scorsese and Coppola,” Garcia recalled.

“I then watched most of the American movies that were screened on TV, I would go every week to the French version of Blockbuster and rent plenty of DVDs. Together with my best friend we’d see every movie at the local cinema in my little city. And somehow, I got lucky enough to watch some of the best cinematic works ever at a very young age.”

That early exposure to such a vast number of films and filmmakers left an indelible mark on Garcia. As he entered adulthood, he became certain his calling lay on the silver screen. For Garcia, living in such a remote part of the world was an obstacle he was determined to overcome. With unbridled determination, he began studying every book and taking every class he could find to learn and master the actors’ craft.

“It was so far from our world, both geographically and metaphorically, that I couldn’t envision it,” he said. “I bought books from masters, studied and read just about everything, tried classes everywhere, and ultimately moved to Paris where I studied full-time in three schools — including one where I was offered free tuition after several rounds of auditions.”

After years of tireless dedication to improving his craft and growing as an actor, Garcia has achieved his dream. He’s deftly honed and refined his unique style with years of devoted practice, study, and insights gained from a lifetime spent observing the greats. As a result, Garcia’s become a commanding onscreen figure, delivering powerful performances in an ever-growing number of roles.

Among Garcia’s most definitive roles to date is the forthcoming film “Cagnolino.” Beautifully written and performed, the tragic drama tells a story of loyalty, violence, and deferred dreams.

“‘Cagnolino’ is about appearances and social determinism. It talks about the fascination for violence, particularly in the ‘hoods, through the music, pop culture, cinema, TV, and other media,” he described. “It is the story of a bad encounter, based on multiple true stories.”

The film follows the young members of a small-time criminal group as their egos and hotheadedness inevitably lead them toward the tragic consequences of a fateful mistake. Garcia stars in the leading role of Dario, a member of the family torn between his familial loyalty and his desire to escape this life and build a real future.

“My character wants to emancipate himself and get a better life for himself. He wants to do what’s right and leave the family business to pursue his own life and dreams, as well as being motivated by his girlfriend,” Garcia explained. “He struggles to leave because of the weight of the family ties and the love and admiration he has for his family, including his cousin. He has this life in his blood.”

Its story unflinchingly honest and its actors’ performances unequivocally human, “Cagnolino” captures the raw and universal truth of the struggles between right and wrong, power and weakness, and loyalty and self-determination. Garcia’s performance as Dario is masterful and moving, a testament to his strength and versatility. Further illustrating his commitment to his craft are the lengths to which he went to ensure a perfect performance in the film.

“In the sequence where my character gets beat up, we were shooting by night and at 6 a.m. I had to finish the night on the floor being kicked by the other characters,” he recalled. “I got bruises all over my body, but the adrenaline and pleasure of filming got us through it.”

With filming and post-production completed this year, “Cagnolino” will begin screening at festivals soon. Also set for release in the coming year is “Death Before Mourning,” a profound film which examines the often-silent and stigmatized effects of mental illness. Impressed by Garcia’s exceptional work in other roles, “Death Before Mourning” director Ruperto Luis Sanchez handpicked Garcia for the lead role in the film.

“After seeing his work and collaborating with Hugo on several projects, I had no doubt he would be the best fit for the lead role in my movie, Death Before Mourning. Ayala, his character, is complex and dark and Hugo possessed every quality required to play such a tortured role,” Sanchez said, explaining his deliberate choice to cast Garcia.

“His charisma, rugged good looks and ability to speak perfect English and Spanish made him my first choice directly. Ayala is also a boxer and so is Hugo, which made it even more interesting.”

The film takes an appropriately dark approach to its subject matter. With mental illness becoming a more and more prevalent topic in today’s news and culture, “Death Before Mourning” is a timely film that accurately portrays both the effects and stigmas facing those who suffer from invisible diseases like depression. Garcia, a trained boxer himself, disappears into his role as a boxer fighting against a different kind of opponent within his own mind.

“‘Death Before Mourning’ is a complex, ambitious black-and-white movie about PTSD, depression and the cycle of life,” Garcia described. “I play Rene Ayala, a great prospect in boxing, who sees his dreams destroyed when he loses a fight he was supposed to win, destroying his self esteem, future and all-time dream.”

Garcia’s performance in “Death Before Mourning” is undoubtedly one of his most powerful to date. As he steps out of himself and into the character of Rene Ayala, he brings such life to the role that it becomes nearly impossible to say for sure that the struggling boxer onscreen is a work of fiction rather than a living, breathing man in his own right. That is precisely where Garcia’s greatest strength lies. Much more than an ability to become somebody else, Garcia is able to persuade audiences that his characters are alive and that he was never really there at all.

“Acting, for me, is pure pleasure. It might be cliche, but I have a passion for storytelling,” said Garcia, explaining what draws him to acting and what makes him such a superb onscreen presence. “To quote De Niro, acting is ‘living someone else’s life, without paying the price.’ It’s using part of yourself that you wouldn’t or couldn’t explore in society for any number of reasons.”

Precious few actors in cinema today can hold a candle to Garcia. Fluent in three languages, a professionally-trained boxer, and unmatched in his onscreen versatility and range, Hugo Diego Garcia is among the most talented and devoted actors to grace the screen in years. Just as he’s spent his life studying the greats who came before him, there will be a day when a new generation of actors do the same — and they will undoubtedly turn to the iconic performances of Hugo Diego Garcia.

VFX Producer Julia Kerguelen Nails it Big Time on Madonna’s new “Dark Ballet” Music Video

Julia Kerguelen
Art Director Julia Kerguelen shot by Lenoir Studio

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Madonna’s new music video for “Dark Ballet,” which dropped on June 6, then you are definitely missing out. The video for the song “Dark Ballet,” a single off her upcoming album, “Madame X,” pulls inspiration from French Catholic saint Joan of Arc, who’s played by African American rapper and activist Mykki Blanco in the video.

Madonna, the fourth best selling music artist in the world, is known for her ability to push the envelope and continually shock viewers with her music videos; and she does not disappoint with “Dark Ballet.” Set in a monastery, the video is symbolic of the cruel persecution of minorities at the hands of the patriarchy, with Mykki, as Joan of Arc, being jailed and burned at the stake. Madonna, who only works with the best in the industry, has a solid reputation for delivering strikingly powerful and highly cinematic music videos, and it was no different for “Dark Ballet.”

Internationally known art director and post-production supervisor Julia Kerguelen, who hails from France, is one of the key figures behind some of the video’s striking visual effects. Coming on board the music video as the post-producer in charge of VFX production, Julia, who was surrounded by an amazing team of VFX artists, oversaw the creation of many of the video’s key visual effects, such as the smoke, flying particles and flames that envelope Mykki’s body while he’s bound to the stake.

For the video, which already has upwards of 2 million views on YouTube, Julia worked through Mathematic Studio, a Paris-based animation, VFX and motion design studio that is known for other high-profile projects such as the music videos for Snoop Dog’s “So Many Pros” and Brodinski’s “Can’t Help Myself,” as well as projects for Cartier, Nike, Hennessey, Dom Perignon, Peugeot and more.

Julia, who was also the post-production supervisor on upcoming commercials for Armani and Van Cleef & Arpels, brings a pretty impressive skill set to the table so it makes perfect sense that Mathematic Studio chose her as the post-producer in charge of VFX on “Dark Ballet.”

“I think I have a good creative eye and I understand quickly where the creatives and the client want to go. Also I know exactly what we need in order to do something and I can anticipate and give advice on how to avoid tricky situations… I can check every media we receive, I can review what’s wrong in our work, etc. I know how to make tough decisions and work in a fast-paced environment and keep the pressure on myself so my team can work in good conditions and have great artistic results.”

Though Julia has undoubtedly proven herself to be an exemplary leader and skillful creator in her work as a VFX producer and post-production supervisor, she is first and foremost, an art director. Over the years she has been sought out as an art director on a slew of illustrious projects, such as Renault’s 2012 International convention of Renault business owners at the Geneva Car Show, the Airbus Pavillion at the 2015 and 2017 Paris Air Show, Valeo’s immersive exhibition at the 2016 GreenBox eXperience in Berlin, Michelin’s exhibition at the 2010 BIB Worldwide Exhibition, L’oréal’s exhibit at the 2007 International Hair Fair and many more.

Julia Kerguelen
Julia Kerguelen’s designs for Michelin

The connecting theme in much of Julia’s collective body of work is that many of the project she leads as an art director exist in the sphere of events and live shows; and there’s a reason she’s continually tapped for such high pressure projects.

She says “I used to work and prefer events because of the stage and the ‘one shot’ thing. You can’t fail, everything should be perfect ‘cause you don’t have a second chance.”

Julia’s finesse and affinity for art directing massive events stems from her early years on stage. At the age of 14 Julia began performing as a comedian on stage in a small town in the Brittany region of France where she grew up.

She recalls, “It was like a revelation to me! I felt that I had a lot to express, on stage as a dancer and a comedian. When I am on stage I cannot hide myself and I don’t need to… I can share my emotions, my stories, my colours, my way of seeing the world… I guess arts became obvious to me when I started being on stage.”

It didn’t take long before Julia relocated to the metropolitan city of Paris where she continued performing on stage as a comedian, actress and dancer; however, while in search of a more stable career, she discovered her passion for graphic design. Creating a strong foundation and reputation for herself as a graphic designer, Julia quickly moved up the ranks and was soon being called in as an art director.

“I start by analyzing the needs of the client, what is the brand, what they have to say, why they want to communicate this way or not, what are their products and what is the purpose, etc. Then when I have all this information and can see the big picture, I will write a story,” explains Julia. “Something to inject meaning, to give birth to the product as something with a soul and a purpose, to give emotions to the audience. I like to think I’m like a storyteller but with images.”

Considering Julia’s background on stage combined with her unparalleled vision when it comes to branding, she was the perfect art director to lead projects for well-known theatre company, Broadway in Paris, led by director Michael Pereira.

Michael says, “I have had the pleasure of working with Julia on a few things. She is the creator of my brand logo Broadway in Paris™. She and I collaborated on the idea and she made it come to life. I am so happy with the outcome. Later when I was searching for a project manager for my next big project, the French version of Pippin, she was the only person I wanted.”

Julia Kerguelen
Julia Kerguelen’s designs for Broadway in Paris

Knowing her history of top-notch work, Michael hired Julia to serve as the supervisor on set, art director and editor on the promo video for Broadway in Paris’s productions of  “Pippin” which use vaudevillian numbers to tell the story of a man in search of fulfillment.

“As I am very familiar with dance and I know post-production, [Michael Pereira] asked me to help him with the editing,” explains Julia. “I reached out to the cameraman, sent him some examples of framing I imagined for the edit and I tried to supervise the shooting on set to have enough material as dance is complicated to film. As I know some of the choreography it was easier for me to tell him what he should record. After that, I did the transcodes, watched all the footage and did the editing in a very short period of time.”

Julia’s personal history on stage combined with her extensive skill set as an art director, which requires her to have a comprehensive grasp over editing, graphic design, motion graphics, film editing and more, was exactly what Michael needed to create a powerful visual story on film for the company.

Michael says, “What Julia brings is an amazing global idea to this project.  I have never directed live singing and dancing for the camera before and Julia put me at ease and helped me envision angles, cuts and ideas for the camera. Also, her knowledge of movement was priceless to me.  Furthermore, when we went into the editing room her vast knowledge aided us tremendously and the result is a completely wonderful sizzle reel.”

Whether she is working as an art director or in the film and commercial world as VFX producer and post-production supervisor, Julia Kerguelen is a rare creative force who always nails her mark with innovative and seamless designs.

Julia says, “I think that because I am a dreamer I can bring some magic! I mean, there are plenty of artistic directors out there and probably better than I am but I think what makes my vision unique is the ‘vision.’ I am not here just to do some technical stuff or a beautiful image I want to create joy, hope, light, and dreams in the heart and eyes of the audience. I am a multidisciplinary artist and I’ve learned so much about the technical side that I can create everything I want. I am able to find creative solutions even with tight deadlines, short budget and high technical constraints. It’s like a giant playground to me, I know the rules, I just have to enjoy the game and make it count! ”

 

Award-Winning Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko Makes her Mark in Film

IMG_6123
Costume Designer Viktoriia Vlasenko

Considering that so many people want to break into the Hollywood entertainment industry, it makes sense for many of those aspiring talents to devote their energy into one specific area in order to become the best and land the jobs they desire. Whether their interest lay in the art, camera, lighting or one  of the various departments on a film set, many work diligently just to make a name for themselves in one specific area.

While there is definitely something to be said for focusing one’s energy in one direction– many creative artists are not linear-minded. That is why, when we hear of someone like Viktoriia Vlasenko, who’s managed to effectively utilize her diverse talents to make a mark in the industry in various areas, it comes as quite a breath of fresh air.

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Most recently Vlasenko was the costume designer and makeup artist on the feature film “86 Merlose Ave.” directed by Lili Matta. The film, which is currently in post production and stars Emmy Award winner Jim O’Heir (“The Bold and the Beautiful”), Emmy Award nominee Terri Ivens  (“All My Children”) and Screen Actors Guild nominee Langston Fishburne (“Ant-Man and the Wasp”), has already earned numerous awards for its screenplay, including Best Feature Screenplay from the Best of the Best Competition, and was chosen as a Finalist at the Hollywood Screenplay Contest and The Write Room, a Semi-Finalist at the Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards, and a Quarter Finalist at the Scriptapalooza Screenplay Competition and Screencraft.

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

From working as a director to a costume designer to a makeup artist and more, Vlasenko seems to have done it all; and she’s done it well, so well that she’s been awarded on countless occasions for her contributions to the industry. Earlier this year she was recognized by the International Independent Film Awards with the Winter Gold Award in Special-Effects Makeup for her work on the film “Set Me Free,” and in 2018 she earned their Fall Gold Award in Costume Design for her work on the film “All Lives Matter,” as well as a certificate for achievement in Makeup from the Ocean Film Festival.

Vlasenko’s skill as a costume designer and makeup artist shine out above all else. A true artist, she her capacity to create new looks and trends in costumes, and use makeup to turn actors into far out characters, she has become an increasingly sought after force in the industry. Her skill in creating mesmerizing and futuristic looks is on incredible display in the film “Unworld.”

Costume designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko
Costumes from the film “Unworld” designed by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Earlier this year she was recognized by the Wintershorts Film Festival for her work as the producer, costume designer and makeup artist on “Unworld.” Her work as the costume designer on “Unworld,” a dystopian drama, also earned her the Best Costume Designer Awards from the European Cinematography Awards and the Indie Shorts Fest, as well as a certificate from the Summershort Film Festival.

“I work hard, I can do the work of five people,” Vlasenko says laughingly. “I’m also a quick learner and I can work with various materials that other costume designers are afraid to work with. I’m also a good painter.”

Vlasenkos’ multifarious talent encompasses all things related to visual design. Over the past few years she’s made a stellar mark in the international entertainment industry with her work as the costume designer on 20 productions, the makeup artist on nine productions, not including those where she served as the special effects makeup artist, has produced six projects and directed four others.

Vlasenko says, “It is necessary to like what you do, it is important to be a talented and gifted person, and to always be learning something new… to successfully join each project and to you prove yourself in full force… and to leave a personal mark in history.”

There’s no doubt that Vlasenko has already left her personal mark in history, and she continues to do so. Growing up in Ukraine Vlasenko quickly found her passion for fashion and costume design, an are of interest she would continue to cultivate through her university years at Milan IED Istituto Europeo di Design where she earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion and costume design. With ceaseless creativity and a love for bringing various characters to life through her work, moving into the world of costume design was right up Vlasenko’s alley. And the awards she’s earned to date for her work prove that it’s one area where she excels exponentially.

“As a costume designer, I think of myself like a painter. I can follow my imagination… I can produce very creative and crazy things. I don’t only work with fabric, but with metals, plastic, 3D-prints, various incredible materials and paints as well,” explains Vlasenko. “Although it is difficult, it very interesting. It is interesting to transform actors or singers into different characters and personas, to produce fantastic costumes for superheroes or historical characters from fiction books.”

In 2018 Vlasenko earned the Bronze Award from the Latitude Film Festival for her work as the costume designer on the film “Betrayed,” a project that she also earned the Best Costume Design and Best Makeup Awards from the Flicks Film Festival. Another of Vlasenko’s award-winning projects is the film “No War,” which she wrote and directed, as well as costume designed, which earned her the Best Costumes Award from the Oniros Film Awards and was chosen as an Official Selection of the Neon Film Festival.

Viktoriia Vlasenko
Terrasse by Viktoriia Vlasenko

Early on in her career Vlasenko founded the popular fashion brand Terrasse, through which she has continued to display her talent for creating new trends and innovative style.

Vlasenko says, “I often see other brands making copies of my creations, especially while traveling in other countries.”

While other designers may feel embittered at the sight of their designs being copied by others, Vlasenko takes it all in stride as she continues to create new and innovative looks. As a fashion designer Vlasenko would often handle the makeup for the photoshoots with her designs, so for her, becoming the makeup artist on film sets has been a rather seamless transition.

Not only was she was the makeup artist on three fashion films for her own brand, Terrasse, with the fashion film “Terrasse White” earning her the Makeup Award from the Golden Square Film Festival, but she also did the makeup on the films “No War,” “Unworld,” “Set Me Free,” “Betrayed,” “Table of Four” and more. Vlasenko was also the makeup artist, special effects makeup artist and costume designer on the upcoming film “Loss of Grace,” which is currently in post production and stars Jasmine Waltz from the films “Black Water” and “Poker Run,” and action star Paul Logan from “Code Red,” “Mega Piranha” and “Flight 666.”

If all this wasn’t enough, Vlasenko’s work as a fashion designer was also featured in two multi-page spreads in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the New Face fashion magazine.

Viktoriia Vlasenko's designs for Cirque Du Soleil
Viktoriia Vlasenko’s designs for Cirque Du Soleil

Vlasenko says, “I love my work and have been privileged to work on interesting projects with creative people. I create unusual costumes that are never boring. My reputation as a designer rests on the ability to be innovative and creative. I’m always open to new creative projects with different themes, films, fashion shows, and more.”

Praised for incredible work ethic, Viktoriia Vlasenko has never been one to stop at the first sign of success. She currently has several projects underway as a costume designer, including the films “Cowboy Bebop” and “Batman Beyond,” for which she is designing a totally new look for the Joker and Batman with intricate costumes few others, but her could design. Vlasenko has always been drawn to the work of the phenomenal Cirque Du Soleil performance group, and she is currently designing a series of costumes that she will pitch to them for future productions.

 

Allah-Las’ Management Coordinator Daria Khovanova: The Woman Behind the Scenes

Daria Khovanova
Management Coordinator Daria Khovanova shot by Isabella Behravan

With the music industry undergoing a major transformation over the last two decades, more and more artists and bands have been able to self-produce their albums and still attain a level of success that was previously reserved for those represented by major labels. In the same way that the relationships between major record labels and today’s musical acts have changed, so too have the roles of those working behind the scenes to make sure we hear an artist’s music.

Management coordinator Daria Khovanova of Tiki Rocket, who coordinates for the incredibly popular US band Allah-Las, is a key figure who organizes everything from upcoming shows to social media posts for the bands she coordinates. She not only utilizes her social media skills to ensure that we hear her artist’s music over others, but that their live shows run smoothly, plus a whole lot more of the day to day happenings that as an audience, we don’t get to see.

If you’re not familiar with the management coordinator title, imagine the work of a tour manager, production manager, booker and social media director all rolled into one and you’ll get an idea of what Daria does for Allah-Las and the other groups she works with.

“As an artist’s management coordinator you wear many hats, and that’s what I enjoy the most. There’s never a dull moment. I realized a long time ago that working in music I didn’t just want to be stuck in the office,” Daria explains. “Maintaining personal contact with the artist is of great importance to me, and something I think the artist appreciates also. At least the ones I’m working with. It’s important to be in it together, share adventures and grow a bond.”

Daria Khovanova
Management Coordinator Daria Khovanova at the Huichica East Festival in NY

Since she first came on board as Allah-Las’ management coordinator in 2017, Daria has booked and organized a rather impressive list of shows for the group, including the Marfa Myths Festival in Marfa, TX, their three-night residency at Lodge Room in Highland Park, CA, the Off the 405 show at the Getty Center and the Huichica East festival in New York earlier this year, as well as their performances at the 2017 Desert Daze festival and more. Earlier this month she organized the band’s performance during the Open Arts & Music Festival in Glendale during Glendale Tech Week, a “Spaceland Presents” event that partnered with the Downtown Glendale Association and LA County Arts.

For the Open Arts & Music festival Daria handled all the negotiations with show promoters, coordinated the schedules of the key band members and organized additional musicians, such as Tim Hill who played keys with Allah-Las during the show, and rented all of the specialty backline equipment i.e., the amps, lights and speakers. All of that, plus she organized the merch stand and made sure the band’s performance at the event was announced on all social media channels in order to draw the largest crowd possible. While she generally handles all of these things for the other shows the band plays, those taking place outside of their home state of California, like the Oh So Slow Festival in Bali, Indonesia that they played in May, require her to take on even more.

Daria says, “I step in as a tour manager and production manager when needed… arrange interviews, photoshoots, work on collabs with clothing brands, like Billabong x Reverberation Radio, and develop merch ideas. The list is diverse.”

With Allah-Las headlining many of the shows and festivals they play, there’s the understandable added pressure of putting on a flawless performance. With Daria working from behind the proverbial curtain and handling all of the details, the band can focus their energy on the music and the show, taking comfort in knowing that if any obstacle arises she’ll be there to take care of it.

“Since October of 2017, Daria has elevated our music ensemble with expert negotiation of agreements, effective communication with internal and external partners and organized coordination of domestic and international touring itineraries,” explains the members of Allah-Las. “We know we can count on her to look after all our interests and well-being no matter where our tours may take us. Her outstanding management skills have not only helped us meet our financial and creative goals, but also taught us to work more cohesive as a small business team.”

Matt Correia
Allah-Las’ drummer Matt Correia and Daria Khovanova en route to a Show

Though Daria’s job is pretty much non-stop all of the time, she loves what she does. If she didn’t, then being available 24-hours-a-day 7-days-a-week at the drop of a hat would get old quickly. Apart from the seemingly endless list of organizational aspects, a major part of her work as a management coordinator is being personable. Before ever meeting or speaking to the band, she’s often the first one the booking agents, venues and sponsors are in contact with, so making sure she represents the vibe of the band and creates a relationship that makes people want to keep working with them is imperative to their success.

Daria says being a strong management coordinator “[Is all about] being able to juggle a lot of things at once and prioritize, plus assertiveness and the ability to act as a mediator, when needed. A good sense of humor doesn’t go amiss either. It’s all about working with people.”

Aside from going on the road with the band and organizing their bookings, Daria has been hugely responsible for securing endorsement deals. Earlier this year she secured an endorsement for the band with Danish audio equipment manufacturer Ortofon, as well as one from music industry leader, Marshall.

Despite the need to be in constant communication with a large amount of people and the challenges that come along with managing multiple egos while ensuring that everything runs smoothly, Daria’s personal love for music and her relationship with Allah-Las make it all worthwhile at the end of the day.

“I feel grateful to be working with the people I like… [Allah Las] take you in, you become part of a family… there is a certain magic in being on the road with a close-knit group of best friends,” says Daria. “Driving through Texas to get to a festival in Marfa was so fun, and then seeing them live score a surf documentary starring themselves on a vacation in Mexico, ‘Self Discovery for Social Survival,’ was pretty magical.”

Staying Ahead of the Film Industry’s Technological Curve: VFX Artist Tati Leite

VFX Artist
Brazilian VFX Artist Tati Leite

For decades, the film industry has been waging an arms race with no end in sight. In the dark of the theater, ever more elaborate spectacles of cinematic magic shine upon the screen like portals to distant worlds and forgotten times. The popularity of cutting-edge effects among moviegoers has fueled the growth of their use, making them absolutely essential to the success of virtually every blockbuster in modern cinema history. As quickly as audiences are thrilled by the latest magnificent visual feat, however, the bar is raised for all films that follow. As technology and expectations grow exponentially, it falls on visual effects artists like Tati Leite to keep up with our hungry demand to not only see magic, but to believe our eyes when we do.

Leite’s story is one of dedication begetting success. For as long as she can remember she’s been enamored with the way movies use special effects to awe, amaze and inspire audiences to believe the unbelievable. That early fascination stayed with Leite during her time as a computer engineer, a field which demanded and sharpened complex technical skills that would prove invaluable to her career as a visual effects artist.

“I have always been passionate about movies and computer graphics, and visual effects is simply the perfect combination of both worlds,” Leite said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve never missed an opportunity to create videos, learn tools to modify them, create effects, and everything that could be done at the time. I paid attention to all the details of every movie I watched, and I’d watch it over and over to see the effects, the animation and all the aspects that had been introduced to the footage.”

Her years of schooling and experience as a computer engineer gave Leite more than just a leg up when she entered the field of visual effects. As a visual effects artist, most of what she does demands an expertise in computer operations and design that few without her computer science background possess.

“I love to use technology in service of a story,” she explained. “Being able to create visuals that take people’s breath away, even if only for a few seconds, is the most exciting thing about being a VFX artist.”

The spectacular effects Leite creates are never anything shy of breathtaking. Her credits to date are as impressive as they are fitting for an artist of her talent. She’s worked her VFX magic on blockbuster films including 2018’s “Mission Impossible: Fallout” starring Tom Cruise, Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and The Wasp” starring Paul Rudd, and Disney’s upcoming live action remake of “The Lion King,” starring Donald Glover and coming to theaters in 2019. When it comes to productions like these, with big stars and bigger budgets, studios don’t take chances on unproven talent. Leite is consistently chosen for such high-stakes projects because she’s garnered a reputation for being an effects artist of the highest caliber.

“I think what excites me most about VFX is exactly that race. The challenge of doing something better, faster and differently is something that drives my passion for this industry. It’s not only about art, and not only about technology. It’s this thrilling mix of both that makes me want to become better and push the bar higher and higher,” Leite said, describing the thrill of being on the frontlines of the visual effects arms race. “Working for big budget productions [intensifies] the challenges because not only do we have to do our very best work to get it just right, but we also have to contend with tight deadlines and the pressure to deliver something even better than the last time.”

Grossly oversimplified, Leite’s job is to visualize, design and create the brilliant spectacles which astound ever-more discerning audiences. Her every keystroke is a meticulously calculated marriage between her unrivaled technical abilities and her unbridled imagination.

Her success has been guided every bit as much by her computer engineering experience as it has by her lifelong love of films, comics and games — and the ways they all use visual artistry to immerse their viewers, readers and players.

“My work on the movie ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ has special meaning to me because it was my first Marvel movie,” Leite explained excitedly. “As an old fan, I couldn’t be more glad to be a part of it.”

While her skill as a VFX artist has led her to be tapped to work on some of the year’s most highly anticipated films on a global scale, her love for her craft and her passion for film means Leite doesn’t choose her projects based merely on blockbuster status. She recently edited and led the VFX for the upcoming indie feature film “In Transit” from esteemed Brazilian director Julia Camara (“Open Road,” “Occupants”). Starring Oliver Rayon (“Workaholics”), award-winning actress Kim Burns (“Painless”) and Karina Federico (“Piel Salvaje”) “In Transit” tells the inspiring story of Olga and Daniel, two strangers whose chance encounter while waiting at an airport restaurant for flights to their respective countries change one another’s lives forever.

“In Transit” is yet another film where Leite’s finesse in post-production has proven to be crucial to the success of the production. Camara, who’s earned more than 25 awards for her work, including the Silver Telly Award and the Platinum Award from the European Independent Film Awards, needed a talented VFX artist and editor who spoke both English and Brazilian Portuguese for “In Transit,” and she found just the post-production superhero she was looking for in Leite.

“She was instrumental to the completion of the film… Not many others would have signed on to work on an experimental feature film… In an industry saturated with male editors, working with another woman was so refreshing. She brings her unique world view and sensibilities this industry desperately needs,” explains Camara. “The success of the film is largely due to her contribution to the project.”

With its festival run is just getting under way, “In Transit” has already been chosen as an Official Selection by the Glendale International Film Festival and is slated to screen between October 5 to 13 in Glendale, California.

There was a time when films had a monopoly on visual effects. But over the last two decades another multi-billion dollar industry has emerged, one which has fueled an explosion in demand for visual effects artists with talents like Leite’s. The rise of the video gaming industry seems to have no end in sight, and VFX has become as crucial to this growing field as it is to Hollywood. The largest video game development studios have already begun to compete with film production studios for VFX artists and other talent — as illustrated by Leite’s extensive VFX work within the gaming industry. As blockbuster video games continue to generate billions of dollars for the burgeoning industry, game developers increasingly realize the importance of visual effects artists.

In just a few short decades, the industry has evolved from a niche market of serious gamers to a cultural powerhouse with serious market control. Video and computer games today are far more than mindless entertainment, evidenced by their use in a vast array of educational settings. Working with the award-winning development company 7 Generation Games, Leite has helped create games that serve as interactive learning experiences for children.

This tactile approach to learning has come a long way since the days of iconic classroom games like “Oregon Trail.” Through games like “Aztech,” “Fish Lake” and “Making Camp,” Leite is helping to shape and grow the next generation of curious young minds. Her work has also earned 7 Generation Games the distinction of being named one of Homeschool.com’s Top Back to School Resources, a highly influential accolade in the world of education. The group is also the only U.S.-based firm to be a finalist at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India.

“It’s fantastic that 7 Generation Games has won so many awards, but for me personally, the best award is when I see the kids playing it without even blinking. 7 Generation Games creates educational games, and it’s kind of hard to keep children as interested in them compared to ‘regular’ games,” said Leite, describing the challenge of creating a product that is both informative and engaging to the young audience. “All the awards we won are very gratifying, but seeing kids playing over and over, even though they include math, social studies and learning, is priceless. It’s one of those moments you think, ‘Hm, I think we made something right.’”

In the field of visual effects, knowing the audience is key. Leite has an innate understanding of what audiences and players want to see; for all her immense technical know-how, she never treats the creative process as a formulaic affair. Just as each production is unique and wholly original, so too is her approach to every new challenge that comes her way. Whether she’s working alongside industry effects giants in the Marvel universe or helping young children discover a lifelong love of mathematics and science, Tati Leite is an unrivaled force within an industry that continues to fascinate and captivate imaginations of all ages.

 

From Rehearsing in a Church Basement in Norway to Producing Music for International Artists: Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee

Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee
Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter

Today internationally recognized music producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee is best known for his work as a music producer on the BMI award-winning song ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ by Nico Farias, the multiple songs he’s produced for international artist Naïka, such as the world pop chart-topper ‘Ride,’ Lexxi Saal’s new single ‘Break a Bottle,’ Lauren Carnahan’s ‘Criminal,’ which has streamed over 600,000 times on Spotify, and more.

Etholm-Idsoee’s musical journey began back home in Oslo, Norway when he picked up the guitar at the age of 6. “This is when my rock star dream really started” he recalls. “At that time, I dreamt about playing in a band, touring the world just playing shows and making music on the go. I think somehow everyone that does music for a living has had that dream in one way or the other.”

Though he wouldn’t go on to become a ‘rock star’ in the traditional celebrity sense, that was a decision all his own. Instead he would become a major behind the scenes figure in the careers of many of today’s prominent artists.

By age 8 he was fully immersed in voice lessons, which he says he is now ‘extremely grateful for,’ and by age 10 he’d started teaching himself drums and bass, two instruments that fuelled his passion and led him to begin playing with rock bands in his youth.  

Often times rehearsing in the basement of the local church, Etholm-Idsoee recalls during one heavy metal rehearsal in particular that, to the band’s surprise, the church priest casually walked in. “We all thought that we might be in trouble because of the nature of the music we were playing.” Rather than scolding the young musicians, the priest had something else in mind. “He came over to my drum kit and he looked at me and said ‘that looks fun, do you mind if I try?… He sat down behind the drum kit and to everyone’s surprise, started shredding like a god, no pun intended, which ended up in an amazing jam session with the priest. I quickly jumped on a guitar, and we ended up playing for hours.”

Etholm-Idsoee marks that experience as one that taught him to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ a vital lesson to his work as a producer, and a good rule of thumb for us all.

But it wasn’t until the age of 12 that he got his first recording equipment, and that is when he began laying the groundwork for his career as a music producer. “When my cousin installed my first DAW, the software to produce and record music, that really sparked my interest in the craft of producing. This resulted with me starting to produce and arrange for every band that I was in.”

After playing gigs in Norway with several bands in his youth Etholm-Idsoee soon realized that, while he loved creating and playing music, the celebrity appeal of being a ‘rock star’ was not all that appealing to him.

Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter
Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter

“I never really had the urge to be a frontman,” explains Etholm-Idsoee. “I’ve always been interested in the recording and arranging aspects of music in many different genres… I’m a nerd, I love when I can sit down and make sounds and really geek out on the technical aspect of this type of work, something that never gets old for me at all.”

By that point he’d achieved an impressive skill level on multiple instruments and had several years of experience recording and producing for all of his own bands, so it came as no surprise when he was accepted to the highly competitive Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA., where he would go on to graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Music Production and Engineering.

Whilst living in Boston, he was invited to work as a music producer on Nico Farias’ single ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren.’ With Farias already having the song written, Etholm-Idsoee and his co-producer Jason Strong came in and arranged the song and made additions to the melody. Earning Best Song of the Year from the 2015 Latin Billboard Awards and ranking No.1 on Guatemala’s iTunes chart, ‘Que Los Mares No Se Enteren’ was the first Latin pop song Etholm-Idsoee produced, and it quickly became a major international hit.

Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter
Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter

At around the same time that he began working with Farias, Etholm-Idsoee came on board as a lead music producer for the artist Naïka, who has since signed with Capitol Records/Universal Music Group.

Naïka says, “Peder and I have been working together for almost 3 years, and he has been a part of many of my projects. Our first release together was my first single ‘Ride,’ which has done extremely well, and led to me to my record deal with Universal Music Group. Since then, Peder has contributed to most of my upcoming singles that are to be released under UMG including ‘Serpentine,’ ‘Sleeping Pill,’ ‘Oh Mama’ and ‘Lose Control’.”

Taking the No.2 spot on Spotify’s Global Viral and US Viral charts, and being selected as one of the top 50 tracks on the Viral charts for more than 12 countries, Naïka’s not embellishing one bit when she says the single ‘Ride’ has done extremely well.  

Earlier this month Naïka released the track ‘Serpentine,’ and like ‘Ride,’ music producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee played a pivotal role. Present from the very first session, Etholm-Idsoee created the bass riff in the chorus of ‘Serpentine’ using one of his synths, a key element that sets the dark and sexy mood of the track, and is the basis on which they built the rest of the song.

Amongst the many things that set him apart from other music producers in the U.S. is the fact that Etholm-Idsoee grew up in a different country. His Norwegian cultural background has not only had a huge impact on his musical influences and his approach to producing, but it has created an avenue for more creativity when it comes to working with artists in America.

“It has been such a pleasure having Peder by my side along the way,” Naïka explains. “Not only has his talent elevated my songs with his production skills, he has also helped me develop and define my artistry and my sound.”

Aside from being one of the lead producers for Naïka, he is also the music producer behind the rock band Migrant Motel, who’s newest single ‘Blue’ made it onto Spotify’s Rock Total playlist earlier this month. As Migrant Motel’s music producer since 2015, Etholm-Idsoee recorded and produced their debut album “Volume One,” which was released last year, and is currently working on the next releases, which are scheduled to drop later this year.

Peder Etholm-Idsøe - Studio Shot 2
Music Producer Peder Etholm-Idsoee shot by Alex Winter

“I love being ‘the guy behind the glass’ working for the project. So producing for other artists is just right up my alley of what I like to do,” says Etholm-Idsoee. “I honestly just want to create music that provokes an emotion in people, either it is happiness you can share with your friends, being able to relax and enjoy the present, or helping a person through a tough time in his or her life, and I can keep doing that for the rest of my career, I would say that I have achieved my goal.”