How This Woman Is Changing The Face of Virtual Reality
Everyone may be talking about how hot the virtual reality space is getting, but sadly nearly all the quotes and photos on the players involved feature the same monolithic, gender. While there may not be many women in this intriguing sector, one thing is certain, the few women in this game are extremely talented and racking up achievements in a highly technical world. Gio Minaya is one such woman. With over 20 years of experience in animation production, she is at the helm as VFX Supervisor at a leading American digital studio called ReelFX that specializes in virtual reality, short-form content, and award-winning animated films. Minaya has been nominated for two Visual Effects Society (VES) awards and is helping to break new ground by developing virtual reality content at ReelFX.
Lauren Coleman: What does your title entail as its intersection with VR?
Gio Minaya: As the VF Supervisor at Reel FX in Dallas, TX, I’m in charge of daily show management including approvals, strategic planning, brainstorming, and guiding technology to support production.
Coleman: What is a typical day like for you?
Minaya: Right now I am in charge of several different projects at Reel FX. We have some very exciting VR projects in development and production. First thing every morning, we have our quick huddle together with the technical department. Then I meet with my production managers to chart a plan of action for the day. Next I attend “look” approval reviews and provide guidance for the supervisors and artists. Whenever I can, I say yes to lunch—staying socially connected to my co-workers is important to me. After lunch, I often investigate solutions to Issues that arise, and I am always looking for new ways to make our process and workflows more efficient. I also interface with the director and art directors of our films, listening closely to align myself with their vision.
Coleman: What first attracted you to your field?
Minaya: Since childhood, the art of music has been my creative outlet. I also have a strong aptitude for math and computer science, and I studied engineering at Berkeley. I later learned that my technical skills could be applied to the art form of Animation, and so I said yes to a career path in the industry, starting out as a compositor and technical director. I soon began working on award-winning commercials for such brands as Coca-Cola, episodic television such as The Simpsons and Ren & Stimpy, as well as the feature film PowerPuff Girls. Then I went on to work for Walt Disney Studios on a number of projects, including The Lion King.
Coleman: Of what achievement are you most proud?
Minaya: I’m most proud of delivering the animated feature film The Book of Life at such a high-quality level and being recognized and honored with a VES Award nomination for my work on the film. Bringing the rich cultural symbolism of Dia de los Muertos to life on a large scale and staying so true to the original concept art was very rewarding. And of course, the crew was thrilled when it was nominated for the Golden Globes. One of the films I delivered for Disney, Bambi 2, also stands out in my mind. We needed to match the look of the original Disney classic, Bambi, and I’m very proud of the end result. I’m specifically proud of how we were able to revive the classic by honoring the past.
Coleman: What was the most challenging aspect of The Book of Life from your end?
Minaya: We needed creative solutions to some very challenging and complex issues. As the Backend CG Supervisor, I was responsible for approving the shots technically which included the stereoscopic delivery. One aspect of this was moving frames through the lighting and rendering department as efficiently and quickly as possible without affecting the quality of the final frames. I was able to keep the team motivated and deliver a stunningly beautiful, award-winning film on time, within budget with very little overtime. I believe it looks like a movie that had a much larger budget, which is a great compliment to the entire Reel FX team.
Coleman: What part do you think gender played/continues to play in your career ascent?
Minaya: I live in Texas and people often have a stereotype that Texans resist female leadership. I choose not to believe that. I think people find comfort in what they are used to. Being a woman at a very high level in my industry is a new experience for many. If someone is treating me oddly, I don’t let it bother me. I know who I am: someone who makes awesome films solves problems like a heat-seeking torpedo and cultivates good energy. I don’t look at my gender and think it holds me back. If I personally ever feel like I’m being passed over, I figure out why. Usually, it is because there is something I need to improve or learn or because there is truly someone more qualified. In those situations, I get curious and work hard to advance my skills.
Coleman: Why do you think the conversation around diversity and technology, as it pertains to women, still seems to yield few changes in terms of hard numbers?
Minaya: Women and men should be treated equally but in most cultures that is not the case and this is not confined to the tech industry. It is in most industries. Women need to believe they can do the job and start to show up in greater numbers. Men need to open their eyes to the reality that paying women equally not only is the right thing to do, it’s also beneficial to businesses. Richard Branson and Sheryl Sandberg recently published a great article to this point. To change this situation both men and women need to have greater selfawareness. Then we can work together to create the kind of equality that is the birthright of every human being. I try to live by example as someone who rises above this imbalance
to create a world where people of all kinds live and work together, feel valued, and produce at the top of their game. One of the best ways to improve the numbers of women in the field is for people like me to show younger women that it can be done. That is what I’m doing.
Coleman: What suggestions do you have for women interested in transitioning or currently struggling with positions in a techrelated field?
Minaya: If your skills are honed and you present that ability in a professional way, the respect will follow. There are plenty of men out there who don’t have any prejudice. Focus on the positive, spend your time with those who will partner with you and lead by example. Be someone who collaborates and gives credit where credit is due. Your great work will speak for itself. Don’t listen to the critics. Listen to the sense of accomplishment you feel inside when you know the job is well done.
Coleman: What do you think the future holds for VR and what place would you like to best leave your mark?
Minaya: I’d like to see more innovation to create more communal VR experiences. Today VR is mostly a solo activity. People are social creatures, and this problem needs to be addressed. Also, I’m very interested in developing VR that allows the user to be in control. The feeling of moving around in an actual space and interacting with that world is what excites me, and I have many ideas of how I’d like to do this. I want to give people a perspective of the magic of life that they might not normally experience on their own. For me, this is what being an artist is all about.
Attendees experience Nickelodeon’s SlimeZone Virtual Reality experience at VidCon 2017 at the Anaheim Convention Center on June 23, 2017 in Anaheim, California.