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Employee Spotlight: Miguel Perez

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The generalist artist at Lucasfilm Animation combines the technical and creative.

Back in 2012, Miguel Perez was at the beginning of a career that would lead them to their current role as a generalist artist with Lucasfilm Animation. They’d just graduated from high school in Laredo, Texas, and visited their neighborhood theater to see Pixar Animation Studios’ newest film, Brave (2012). “I was amazed by the reality of Merida’s hair, its physics and lighting,” Perez tells “It was beautiful. I thought, I don’t know what that is, but that’s what I want to do. The art and technology were coming together and it clicked for me. Animation was the kind of field where I could pursue both.”

Originally from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, at age six Perez immigrated to southern Texas with their parents and siblings. Growing up, they were equally fascinated with making art and experimenting with technology. “I was always into pop culture,” Perez explains. “I played a lot of video games. My mom would draw a lot and my dad would build and paint these really detailed aircraft models, and that led to my interest in art. We’d go to the library and check out books on how to draw. I was always using my hands to make things. I’m a curious person, and I like to break things apart. My parents hated it because I would dismantle all of their electronics!”

Perez attended an engineering high school where they were able to study everything from computer science and programming to graphic design. They became involved in robotics and also started a writing club that published stories, poems, and photographs. But when they planned to attend the University of Texas at Austin, they enrolled in the business program.

“It was difficult pursuing a risky career in art and being an immigrant, you take into account the sacrifices your family made to give you better opportunities.” Perez explains. “I’m the middle child, and the first to leave home, so to move three-and-a-half hours to Austin was a big thing for my parents. I wanted to make my parents’ efforts worth it. UT’s business school was a tough program to get into, and because it was such a good school, I thought I’d do that instead of animation.”

But soon Perez was admittedly frustrated. “I wanted to make art and build technology and be nerdy,” they say. “The next closest thing at the college was advertising, so I transferred. It had some of the analytical thinking with putting together campaigns or commercials. It had some art with graphic design. I enjoyed it for what it was, but after graduation, I was reflecting on what I really wanted to do and what I was passionate about. My parents had made this sacrifice. I thought that pursuing what I wanted would make their sacrifice worth it. It’s not just, go out and get a safe job, it’s go out and do what we came here to do. So that’s when I decided to go to grad school and pursue my dream of animation. I worked hard for those couple of years and learned as much as I possibly could. That led to my first gig at Disney Animation as a lighting trainee on Frozen 2 [2019].”

That Disney experience, which began late in 2018, provided them with an influential group of early mentors. Lighting artist Iva Itchevska was “really into the art of lighting,” as Perez explains. “She taught me how to see, how to light, how to compose an image with light and shadow, how to frame the story with those elements. Another was lighting artist James Newland, “a technical lighter, who knew how to program, write tools, and do the set-ups that require complicated layering, especially for shows that are stereoscopic. James’ mentorship helped me realize how I could use my technical skills to become a better artist.” Altogether, Perez felt like they had “a brand-new set of eyes” after their experience on Frozen 2.

Perez’s growth at the time of their work at Disney wasn’t limited to on-the-job responsibilities. Photography also became a new passion. “I was honestly really bad at photography all the way up until I started at Disney,” they admit. “I took classes in college, shooting on a very outdated Canon DSLR, but my pictures weren’t very good. But once I got to Disney, I got my own film camera. Now I only shoot film, which I love. Knowing what a camera is doing in real life, understanding exposure, really gives you a sense of what happens when you take a picture. Working in CG animation, we’re doing everything from scratch. We have so much control that sometimes it can get too out of control and the shot doesn’t look quite right. That’s when you fall back on your photography experience. You know what your camera should be looking at, where your light is coming from, what your exposure level is. I’ve grown with photography, and it mostly came after I became an artist.”

As Perez continued exploring their photography, their career also expanded with more lighting and compositing work at Disney, live action visual effects at a small commercial house, and work as a technical director at DreamWorks Animation Television. At the latter, they even collaborated with a vendor studio, CGCG, Inc. in Taiwan, which has also been Lucasfilm Animation’s partner for almost two decades. The opportunity to work at Lucasfilm itself was really a culmination of this diverse experience, as Perez explains, albeit a bit of an unexpected one.

“I grew up on Star Wars,” they say, “but I had never thought that I’d one day get to be a part of it. I had a last-minute interview at Lightbox Expo with [Lucasfilm Animation’s cinematography, lighting, and visual effects director] Joel Aron. I’d had previous interviews for jobs in artistic or technical roles, but we’d never talked about the why of what we do. It was really nice to talk about that with Joel and understand why we’re creating this art and why we’re passionate about the craft. He also had his film camera and we totally geeked out on that. I had been struggling to find a place where I could be both technical and creative. Joel came and offered me this dream job where I would have opportunities to really sink into my craft as a creative and technical artist. Studios have different cultures. At some places, they want you to be one or the other, an artist or a technician. But this was a great role to settle into because I could do both.”

Perez was hired as a generalist artist in November of 2022, and quickly made the move to San Francisco. A role that’s usually reserved for visual effects rather than animation, generalists mix different skillsets and tools, often creating entire shots or whole groups of elements themselves. “I have a very wild day-to-day most of the time, because my role encompasses lots of different things,” Perez explains. “In general, I do lighting and compositing for what we call ‘shot plussing.’ Shot plussing can be as small as painting out stray artifacts or adding in small painted elements to generating environments, creating fluid simulations and explosions. Lately, I’ve focused on building shots that are outside of our usual pipeline. I’ll build a lot of really heavy stuff that you can’t necessarily hand off between departments.”

Perez jumped into the fray with the production of season three of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and from the beginning found opportunities to mix the creative and technical. “I’ve written tools,” they say, “and having that programming background helps me in a pinch. If I have a lot of data to manage, I know I can fall back on those skills to support myself.”

Working remotely their first three months on the job, Perez found Lucasfilm Animation to be “full of energy and passion,” as they note. “I was completely struck by the tenacity of the team. My first impression was really of this unstoppable force of art and talent. It has been an incredible experience collaborating with them and growing together.”

“One of my tasks on the last season of Bad Batch was creating a forest valley with a river running through it,” Perez continues. “Our upstream departments, story and layout, provided a base scene with simple shapes and a camera. The art and lighting department provided concept art and reference material to work from. I started by generating the meshes and textures that would make up the mountains of the valley, then scattering foliage that was created by the asset team for this environment. Not all effects work necessarily requires running complicated simulations. The river in the scene would only take up a small portion of the image and running a full fluid simulation would give more detail than necessary. Instead, I used a simple noise deformation that roughly matched the motion of the river. For the crowd simulation of birds flying out of the forest, I animated a cycle and ran a simple particle simulation that I art-directed to look like a flock of birds. I then instanced and offset the animation cycles on the simulated points. After that I moved onto lighting the scene, adding in atmospherics and finally integrating the cyclorama and matte for the far background environment.”

No matter the demands of a particular shot, Perez strives to focus on what they describe as the energy communicated by the image. “I’m always thinking about how the composition supports that energy,” Perez says. “It’s really about seeing and reflecting on what you’re doing. Is this image matching the energy of the story, supporting the mood, and revealing the information the audience needs to have in that moment? Curiosity is really important, especially for a generalist. Don’t be shy about trying scary things that might not work out. If you have an idea about how something should work, it’s best to attempt it. There are not always clear answers to these questions, so being curious, taking things apart, and putting it all back together is important. It’s a sense of adventure. Discover new things, run into challenges, and learn from them.”

Working on Star Wars is something that Perez doesn’t take lightly. It’s “still a little shocking,” as they admit. “You know that going to work on a Star Wars show you will be working with some of the most creative, intelligent, and passionate people who will bring out the best in you. All the while contributing to this world and the stories that mean so much to so many people. It’s been very rewarding and fulfilling working here in that community.”

Looking back on their own journey so far, Perez would tell their earlier self to “pursue what you love and lean into it. Fall in love with the process, geek out about your craft, and continuously take small steps out of your comfort zone to keep growing as an artist. And pragmatically, take it seriously but not too seriously. It’s always worth it if you’re doing what you love.”

Employee Spotlight Q&A

Who is your favorite Lucasfilm character?

I love Cassian Andor. He’s such an interesting character and his commitment to hope and the rebellion was inspiring and heartbreaking. But personally, Diego Luna is a Mexican actor who’s been on an amazing journey. He grew up acting in telenovelas, Mexican soap operas that when I was growing up, my mom always had playing in the background, to voice acting in film and television animation, to leading a Star Wars film. I’ve looked to Diego Luna’s journey as a source of inspiration.

What is your favorite Lucasfilm production?

Of course, I love Rogue One: A Star Wars Story [2016]. It had such a unique, dark and grounded tone with cinematography that felt very much in the language of the original trilogy.

What is your favorite Lucasfilm company tradition?

In the year that I’ve been a part of Lucasfilm my favorite company tradition has been that of sharing knowledge with each other. From internal talks put on by the Studio Talent Group to bringing directors, actors, designers, and cinematographers to the Filmmaker’s Forum, these events have been my favorite to participate in.

Do you have a favorite part of your Lucasfilm campus?

I love walking by the wall panel that displays all of the Lucasfilm projects. It’s great to see the expansive universe we are contributing to.

Describe Lucasfilm in one word.


Lucasfilm | Timeless stories. Innovative storytelling.


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