The early gangster days of Computer Graphics in Rio de Janeiro – part 01
This was already in the nineties.
I had come back from Europe after the storm of the Fernando Collor years to begin my career as a computer graphics artist. In my luggage was the strange experience of being a salesman/semi-legal smuggler of visual effects equipment travelling between France and the UK and then as a Sales Manager for the same sort of goods in Portugal, this time in a bigger company where I wore suits and had a secretary. I promise to write on those crazy times in another post but this only comes in because it shows an unusual background for a Carioca at the time.
I had fallen in love with those image manipulation and three-dimensional softwares and my mind was made up to be part of the circus. However, succeeding in Computer Graphics in Rio de Janeiro was a steep mountain to climb: in 1994 one could count on the fingers the people who were doing it professionally. I didn’t care and reckoned that if I came back home, bought a PC and ran after my dream the chances of making it were higher than in the European market where the absence artistic or computer related training were a serious handicap.
My guess was spot on; I began calling production houses and most of them were happy to talk to me. As expected they had state of the art video editing equipment and were starting to open their eyes to the possibilities of Computer manipulated images. This was happening abroad and was bound to happen there sooner or later. The people I met were evasive about a possible partnership or about having me as a computer graphics department in their premises However something struck me: all the studios I visited had signs announcing that they had been recently mugged by an armed gang and asking for any possible leads.
In one of the houses, I bumped into an ex-colleague from University, she had studied art in London and had actually worked at Framestore a facility that would become one of Soho’s biggest. She was on her way out and with her recommendation the doors opened and I got my first job as a CG artist. The owner was the son of the Teresa Rachel theater, see my post about the venue, and it was not by chance that the studio was in the same shabby gallery in Copacabana. The job would not last long, the owner was into video art and had no patience for the slowness of what I wanted to introduce.
Magnetoscopio was quite a trendy place, they had done several music videos with the biggest pop names of the time: Renato Russo, Blitz, Titas and many others. The highlight of my three months there was an exhibition he organized with the american videoartist Bill Viola, for me the greatest artist of the end of the 20th century. It is not that I had an important role in the show, I was there helping to hang things from the walls and from the ceiling and making sure that the equipment had not suffered from the journey. Anyway I made some new friends there and one of them, Marcos, got interested in what I did and promised me to put me in contact with more people.
In the meantime my dentist sister talked about me to one of her clients who was a big shot in one of Rio’s biggest advertising agencies, Artplan. It was a thrilling invitation but in a few days I discovered that this was all about bringing in an extra computer for free to the office rather that doing anything related to footage for commercials. To my luck, the time as a useless artist for tests that the cocaine head art directors asked for was short-lived; one day I received a phone call of a guy calling himself Hoarse Duck (Pato Rouco) saying that Marcos had recommended me and asking me to come in to discuss about a commercial to be done in Computer Graphics.
Nervous, with a demo-reel containing the few experiments I had done with the software I went to meet the guy in his studio that was in one of the worst parts of town; the Feira de Sao Cristovao. As I came into his office the bearded muscular guy in his early forties who seemed to have popped out of a Honcho magazine was sitting with a fat man from Sao Paulo. He got up from his chair and greeted me as if we knew each other for a long time. He presented me to his client and said.
“This is our computer graphics artist!”
The next thing I knew was that I was working on a thirty second commercial for an English course in one of the roughest areas of Rio de Janeiro, and a few weeks later I was seeing my work on TV screens all over town.
Things happened so fast that I never stopped to think what I was getting into. After the second commercial, work went quiet and I started to observe better what was around me. Computer Graphics is a profession known for late nights and going home was one the unsafest experiences I have ever had; I had to walk alone through a unpoliced area famous for having the highest mugging rates in Rio. My work colleagues were all from the most modest areas of town and were street wise rough and kept on insisting that I bought a gun. Their stories were horrific, one of them had witnessed a gang war in a favela where the rival faction hung the head of the defeated leader on a post. On another occasion some others were stranded for three days in a favela at war.
The only two other guys from the South Zone were the editors. One of them only appeared occasionally, he lived in Sao Paulo and liked to brag about how much money he was making. The other one, Luis, was a more shadowy character who lived in Botafogo. He was my age, big and looked like a corrupt police officer, we got along well and were lunch companions; he was curious about Computer Graphics and I was curious about the crazy stories he had to tell. It must be said that I was considered the lovable nerdy guy and the conversations between me and my peers never went further than talking about computers, football and women.
One day one of the runners said that he had heard that Luis and his brother were part of the armed gang that was stealing the other production companies and that the owners had found him out and were going to kill him. Not sure of what to do, we approached him and said that we did not want to know if this was true or not but we had heard this, this and that and that he should be careful. His reaction was to laugh about it and get back to work.
However, a week later he received an urgent phone call while working, asked someone to finish what he was doing and rushed out. Two days later he was on the front page of one of Rio’s crime dedicated newspapers, dead with his body full of bullet holes. After that the owners of other studios left town while Hoarse Duck productions was in a pandemonium.
I over heard conversations about cameras that only went from his house to shooting sessions and back and other creepy stories. I though to myself that I had been introduced to the CG world through a very bizarre door and that now my new mission was to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.