“Part of my job is to make sure we have a structure in place for our expansion to be successful. We want to empower everyone and make sure they have the support they need.”
Zaira Brilhante, our Head of Production at DNEG Virtual Production, joined us in January 2022 to work alongside Steve Griffith, Executive Producer – DNEG Virtual Production, and the rest of our talented VP crew. In case you were wondering, not everyone in our industry comes from a VFX, Animation or Production background: Zaira’s work journey started as a journalist in Brazil! Keep on reading to discover part of her story – from covering the Rio Film Festival, to working on set in the UK as a Junior Script Supervisor, to transitioning to VFX Production, working on The Lion King and moving to Virtual Production.
Hi Zaira! What brought you into the world of VFX and Animation, and specifically Virtual Production?
That’s a multi-part answer! I’m from Brazil: I grew up in Brazil, I went to university there – I did a BA in journalism, and I was working as a journalist for a newspaper for three years after university. At some point I was given an assignment to cover the Rio Film Festival. I always liked films and with the festival I got to meet a lot of filmmakers, and interviewed many people from the industry, from all parts of the globe. That got me thinking how much I’d like to be on the other side, making films myself. So I came to the UK to do a Master’s degree, initially about making documentaries. I got a job opportunity after my Masters and then the rest is history. I’ve been here for the past 14 years!
Back in 2011/2012 I was working on set as Junior Script Supervisor, and I was finding the work-style very erratic. One of my friends was working in VFX and recommended I consider joining the industry as it was more structured than being on set. So I applied to join as Production Coordinator and although it was a little bit of a setback, going from supervisor on-set to coordinator in VFX, it was one the best decisions that I made. It kind of shaped everything else that followed.
During my early career in VFX I had the chance to work a bit with the virtual production tools used on both Jungle Book and The Lion King. In March 2020 I was contacted by Verizon Media to join as Virtual Production, Production Manager. A year or so after I moved to Scanline, then moved to DNEG. When I joined Verizon I wasn’t entirely sure Virtual Production was for me but I was looking for a change, a new challenge. I love technology, process, and coming up with new workflows, so it’s actually the perfect match.
What is your day-to-day like as a Head of Production for DNEG Virtual Production?
That’s the thing about Virtual Production: no two days are the same! But if I had to generalise, I would say that my day is mostly about understanding what projects are out there, requiring Virtual Production. Then I work with our in-house producers on putting together the pitches that we’re going to put forward to get these shows awarded. Once the shows are confirmed I work with the Production team to organise the crew and come up with a structured plan to map how we’re going to go from turnovers to delivery. It’s almost like a massive mind map, it’s like playing Tetris with lots of elements, and figuring out what we’re going to do, where we need to go, who we need to hire.
When I joined in January 2022, DNEG Virtual Production counted about 20 members of staff. Today we are close to 60, and growing! It’s a quick growth but we are doing it just at the right pace for it to be productive and sustainable. Part of my job is to make sure we have a structure in place for our expansion to be successful. We want to empower everyone and make sure the team has the support they need.
What do you like the most about your job?
I like working with a more junior production team. They join us as production assistants and coordinators, and embark on the career journey that I went through myself. What I like the most is to point them in the right direction, so they can progress in their careers doing what they like, discover their strengths and what they need to work on to develop themselves. Getting to know them and helping them thrive is my favourite thing.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Be curious, don’t get too settled. Find what’s out there, be resourceful, do some homework and research. And then… just go for it! Because it’s exciting and, you know, we need more of you! Join DNEG Virtual Production 🙂
Time for some rapid fire questions – What’s one thing that is always on your desk when you work?
My coffee mug.
What’s your ‘special power’ at work?
I don’t know if people who know me would agree but, I would say that I am a little bit of a mediator: I try to listen to all sides of the story, and then find the common ground. I think I’m good at that, and bringing people together.
What are you most looking forward to every day?
I’ve got this thing that I share with my team, which is to write down at the start of your day the three tasks that you want to accomplish that day. You know, it’s so easy for us in this industry to end up with an impossible to do list with hundreds of items on it. So I try to just break it down to three things and then achieve those tasks that I set for myself at the start of the day. If I accomplish them, then it’s a win.
How did you feel on your first day at DNEG?
I was a bit terrified but excited at the same time. Terrified because I was thinking “this is the biggest VFX company in the world, and Virtual Production is such a new thing”, but at the same time I was feeling so privileged to have been offered the role of Head of Production. Yes, it was very exciting!
What is your proudest moment to date?
It’s funny because it’s not really my moment but it is a little bit mine at the same time. When I was at MPC I worked with the team who did The Lion King – I was Set Production Manager for the show for two and a half years. The team won for ‘Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature’ in 2020. They sent us a little video of them receiving their awards, thanking the whole team, and they mentioned myself and the Environment Supervisor when they thanked the crew. That is my proudest moment I think. Because the people on stage receiving the awards were Junior TDs when I started my career alongside them. Then they became Supervisors and Leads, and it was a very special moment to witness their progression and hard work pay-off. It was a huge achievement for them.
Finish this sentence: DNEG is…
An incredibly exciting place to make films!
DNEG Virtual Production, a partnership between DNEG and Dimension Studio, offers filmmakers and content creators an industry-leading, end-to-end virtual production service. To find out more about DNEG Virtual Production click here.
Interested in joining DNEG’s Oscar-winning team? Stay tuned for our next ‘FOCUS’ and click here to find out more about our open positions across our studios in North America, Europe,India and Australia.