Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
Juanito Olivarria: I am Juanito Olivarria and the newest partner at LUXIGON as well as the Director of the US office. I’m currently living/figuring things out in Los Angeles. Actually, to be even more specific, I am currently sitting at my desk in our office in the Arts District enjoying a coffee and some peanuts..as well as one of the coldest mornings I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in LA in the past 2 years. I think it’s like 50 degrees or something.
I studied architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but it wasn’t until my 4th year, while studying abroad in Copenhagen, that I started really getting into computers and computer software like Rhino, Grasshoper, V-Ray, and Photoshop.
"San Luis Obispo is nice…but it is no Paris. I chose Paris."
A professor introduced me to Luxigon’s work: I had always been amazed by the images I saw everywhere from REX, OMA, BIG, MVRDV but I never realized that they were not actually done by the architects but by studios that specialized in renderings. This caught my immediate attention as visualization work was slowly becoming my biggest passion. When summer came around, I emailed Luxigon on a whim asking if they needed any help over the summer and to my surprise Eric de Broche des Combes [Luxigon's Founder, Ed.] emailed me back himself telling me that I was welcome to join their team in Paris for the summer. That was probably one of the best emails I have ever received!
San Luis Obispo is nice..but it is no Paris. I chose Paris.
Fast forward a couple years and I'm drinking coffee and eating peanuts in the Luxigon LA office, answering your questions.
Novedge: Luxigon is based in Paris and you are the director of the team in Los Angeles. What are some of the advantages of being part of an international company?
Juanito Olivarria: Every French person I have ever met has this incredibly weird fascination with Los Angeles. I think I understand it now. It is basically everything Paris isn’t. Just like I'm sure every American falls in some ways for the seduction of Paris. Growing up with a city like Los Angeles in my backyard, I took it for granted and never really spent much time down here except to visit some family and go to Disneyland. So when we initially started the discussion of opening up a US office, LA was my last choice. But I was a recently graduated 25 year old vs. 3 wise French men…well we went with LA. As you can imagine having an office both in Paris and LA has its advantages, as well as a certain ring to it. Paris has a certain association with chic, class, and of course, history, while LA has an association with youth, punk rock and culture. Paris is who you take home to meet your parents…LA you never text back.
We started the LA office to try out new things, stay young and fresh. In general I would say that it’s working.
"Our design approach is simplicity, but with intelligence and style. Half Nirvana. Half Bill Gates."
Traveling is important for both teams, we all love it and try to travel as much as possible. We call it the revolving door and want to establish a come and go way of thinking. When the 347th day of 75 degree sunny weather has become a bit less exciting, we can fly out to Paris, do some Photoshop work, eat a baguette and drink a beer along the Seine. This has always been one of the main ideas behind having both offices.
Also, for more practical reasons, in some ways it's like we have a 24 hr a day office. Luxigon 7-11. For better or worse.
Novedge: What has been most important in developing and growing a successful team?
Juanito Olivarria: In my opinion the most important aspects of any team are honesty and friendship. We are sitting now in the LA office and I think what has made this team so successful is that we are all friends. We work together, we get drunk together, hell, some of us even used to live together. There is not one person doing everything, and I think this also plays a big role into being successful. Everyone is on the same level as far as input on images goes, and each person has something incredible to contribute.
There is a guy working at this office who is in every way the complete opposite of me. He will research a record player for 2 months before buying one and I will be on my way to a grocery store and see one that I like and buy it on a whim. He drinks tea, I drink coffee. I listen to loud Autechre most days in the office, he prefers silence. But it is this Yin and Yang that makes the team. He focuses on what fascinates him and that just so happens to be the least interesting aspect of a project for me. Our French colleagues call us "the Computer and the Artist." And in a broader sense it is not only the friendship at the LA office, but our overall feeling of being a big family with the French team that makes working for Luxigon more fun than anything else. Eric, Laurent, and Spig (a nickname to tell the two Laurent’s apart) have all invited us to stay at their flats whenever we go to Paris [Eric de Broche des Combes, Laurent Théaux and Laurent Ménabé, Ed.]. Even my mother stayed in Eric’s home with his family when she came to Paris to visit. They became immediately best friends.
So the short answer to your question of what has been most important in developing a successful team, in my opinion, is keeping it fun..keeping it family.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
Juanito Olivarria: A favorite project of ours that was recently finished was for a group of architects that go by Morphosis. I personally have always admired their work, so when they approached us to create images for them I was beyond thrilled. Everyone was. But that excitement soon became anxiety as we discovered the quick turn around they needed and of course, because we have always admired their work, we really wanted to impress them with ours. We tend to work a little differently than other visualization studios that have long deadlines and a lot of time for specific details on a project. We prefer to work quickly, with a sort of fast pace "punk rock" attitude. We also tend to not sleep much. I know that time is of the essence and I know what has to be expressed through the images for a project. It’s this pressure that has added a few grey hairs in my beard but also what keeps my work fresh and interesting.
"“WE NEED TREES TREES TREES!” Then in the final image mark up they will for sure want maybe one tree..and a very tiny tree at that. Like the smallest tree you have ever seen."
On faster pace projects the architects we are working with also tend to trust us a lot more to make important last minute decisions. I think with mOrphosis, the fact that they trusted us to go with our instincts and to deliver a certain quality of images made this project a "success". It has never made sense to me why someone would want to work with us, but then try to control each aspect of the image, holding our hand the entire way, not giving us any breathing room to express our interpretations of their project. These usually tend to not be the most interesting images or even collaborations in general.
Novedge: What software do you use?
Juanito Olivarria: We are constantly trying out different software for each specific project but our bread and butter is Cinema 4D and of course Photoshop. We chose C4D as our main modeling/rendering engine because we find it super intuitive and reliable. Also the object buffer function, even though other programs offer the same, tends to work best for us. In general, we like to set up a pretty neutral rendered base image (which sometimes scares clients upon receiving an initial preview), and then add the “funk”, atmospheric, details in Photoshop. This works best with our fast pace mentality as well because if we were to spend time putting in 3D objects like trees, for example, not only would it triple the render time but also it would not allow many changes at the end. Most clients seem to be a bit "schizophrenic", especially at larger firms where they have lots of people working on the same project. Each person wants different things. “WE NEED TREES TREES TREES!” Then in the final image mark up they will for sure want maybe one tree..and a very tiny tree at that. Like the smallest tree you have ever seen. The ability to make changes is fundamental in our work and Cinema 4D allows us to do that.
Novedge: What is your approach to design?
Juanito Olivarria: Our design approach is simplicity, but with intelligence and style. Half Nirvana. Half Bill Gates.
Novedge: What innovations do you find most exciting in your field?
Juanito Olivarria: Real time 3D. Yes. This is the future.
Novedge: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self before embarking in your current career?
Juanito Olivarria: “The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.”