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.

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