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Visual Effects and Filmmaking with Luke DiTommaso ’97

Luke DiTommaso ’97 was the featured speaker at this year’s 107th Founder’s Day Chapel. After graduating from Packer, he studied computer art at the School of Visual Arts and worked in post-production at DuArt Film & Video and as a freelance visual effects supervisor around the world. He is currently a co-founder, chief operating officer, and visual effects supervisor for The Molecule, a visual effects and virtual reality studio in New York and Los Angeles. He has worked on popular shows and films such as The Americans, The Path, Ballers, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Zoolander 2. He is an active member of the Visual Effects Society, Post New York Alliance, and the Directors Guild of America, and a senior thesis advisor and professor guiding the next generation of visual effects artists at The School of Visual Arts.

After his Founder’s Day speech, Luke shared some thoughts on his Packer days and his career in tv and film.

How did Packer’s faculty influence you beyond the years you spent here?

I remember having remarkably frank conversations with George Boutis in health class that were both eye opening and hilarious. But as a coach and Peer Support leader, George was a formative model for me of quiet and centered leadership.

Back then George Snook had a ponytail, leather jacket, and coffee mug in the shape of a skull. History class with him was like hanging out with a rock star. His courses were so vivid (and rigorous) that the Italian Renaissance and French Revolution somehow became an indelible experience in my life.

Linda Gold was so gentle and nurturing, with a dose of quirky that was simply disarming. When she spoke about authors and read passages, her voice and passion were transfixing. She brought the page to life for me, like playing a movie in my mind.

All three engaged me directly in a way that I hadn’t experienced before coming to Packer.

And then there is Ken Rush, the legendary art teacher who changed my life. He welcomed me to the fifth floor art studio and nurtured me as an artist. He encouraged me with boundless, infectious energy and gave me the confidence to focus my attention and apply to art school. I remember him telling me, “You’re already an artist — go do what you’re supposed to do. The success will come.”

 


What’s your typical day like at your company, The Molecule?

Some days I’m VFX [visual effects] supervising on set or on location. Typically there will be a scene that requires something impossible, or dangerous, or magical, or simply impractical. I will be involved with a production from discussing the very first concepts, then scouting locations, planning logistics, guiding the shoot, and often shooting additional photography.

Other days I’m at the Molecule facility, where we have an open floor of VFX artists, supported by producers, tech people, and administrators. For a specific project that I’ve supervised, I will communicate the director’s creative intent to the team, review the technical methodology of how to achieve that vision, monitor their work in progress, and approve final shots before they are turned over to the client to be cut into the show. I’ll often review our work with the filmmakers directly.

What is your proudest moment as a visual effects artist and filmmaker?

Over the years as a VFX supervisor, I’ve had the privilege of working with many talented filmmakers, sometimes on big productions, sometimes on critically acclaimed shows. Having my name in the credits has always been a thrill. But in the full scope of filmmaking, VFX is a relatively narrow contribution. Important, but specific.

My proudest moment was being invited to be a director. Through circumstance, one day the producers of The Path asked if I was interested in directing the show for a day. That set me on a course to join the Directors Guild of America and take a leap forward in my career. I’ve directed only a few times on a couple shows, but to be given the trust and responsibility of helming productions on that scale was deeply gratifying.

What advice do you have for student filmmakers?

Be as prolific as possible and avoid being precious and self-conscious about your ideas. Just go out and shoot, improvise, experiment, pay homage. Then cut it together and see what works and doesn’t. You can shoot and edit a short movie on your phone. Next time you catch yourself scrolling, make a two-minute movie instead.

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