Visionary VFX Supervisor Gurvand Tanneau Elevates the Visuals for Award-Winning Films & Commercials

VFX Supervisor Gurvand Tanneau in an interview with Arena Cinelounge

From the wild imaginations of the writers to the innovative and creative musings of the director, the world of visual storytelling continues to evolve and build upon what came before. As an audience, we’re often on the lookout for the next big thing — an outlandish fantasy world or a high impact action film that keeps us so engaged that we can’t bare to peel our eyes away from the screen.

There’s no question that the world of visual media, from films to commercials, has progressed exponentially in terms of what’s possible, and much of that is due to the miraculous power of visual effects. Throwback to films such as the “Tron” of 1982, which boasted some of the world’s first CGI, are a reminder of where it all began, but compared to the effects present in today’s films and TV series, those early origins look like child’s play.

Modern VFX has made whatever an artist or director envisions on the screen, no matter how far-fetched, possible; and French visual effects supervisor Gurvand Tanneau is one of the astonishingly skilled few that bring these visions to life.

“What makes Gurvand special is his fine touch, and meticulous attention to detail. His work is present throughout the film, but only exists to enhance the storytelling, never drawing attention to the work itself,” explains Tim Schaaf, the producer behind the film “Better Than Love,” which Tanneau was the VFX supervisor on earlier this year.

From multi-award winning films to internationally celebrated Superbowl commercials, Tanneau’s experience in the field spans the gamut. Beyond being a proverbial wizard when it comes to actually creating the visual effects we see, what’s arguably more valuable to filmmakers and the commercial clients he works with is the way he manages to seamlessly deposit his contributions into the overall production so that they remain undetected by viewers. In the VFX world, this is the mark of a true master, and Tanneau is undeniably that.

“I cannot say enough about this man’s talent,” says “Better Than Love” director Ted Carney. “There were many instances when Gurvand helped propel our momentum by being an attentive purveyor of solutions. In hindsight, not having him with us would have been a potential disaster.”

While many people tend to shy away from challenges, Gurvand Tanneau seems to live for them. Though a large part of the VFX we see onscreen are perfected in post, many times there are decisions that need to be made during the live shoot in order to determine how the VFX will work in post, and as the VFX supervisor, Tanneau is the one on set making those decisions.

“I’ve always loved on-set VFX supervision,” says Tanneau. “Imagine arriving on a set and having to work straight in the most efficient way with people you just met, under pressures of time and budget. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made on the fly, and some have big consequences on the work in post. For that, everyone on the set needs to be fast and precise, and so you end up working with very talented and experienced people.”

One collection of projects where Gurvand Tanneau has continued to be a vital force as a VFX supervisor is on the popular “Chicago” TV series franchise, which includes “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” “Chicago Med,” and “Chicago Justice.” As the VFX supervisor Tanneau is tasked with catching everything from the small to the massive details during the live shoot that could potentially pose problems for the VFX in post.

“There are many scenes that required a stuntman, so some security equipment was needed on set. Some characters needed some prosthetic on set, like wigs or fake burns on the skin, fake belly to simulate pregnancy. I had to make them match skin tones and textures, as well as remove glues and excessive make up,” he explains. “They have to be erased in post. And again making sure details in the background matched in the entire sequence, like clocks, shadows etc., as some parts may have been shot at different times, or the natural light may have changed during the shoot.”

Though Tanneau works regularly as a VFX supervisor, the head of the entire VFX department, and the one who’s responsible for the technical and artistic quality of the shots we see on screen, what makes him so good is the fact that he’s first and foremost a supremely talented and highly experienced VFX artist.

From the most minute changes to grandiose visual effects created from scratch, Tanneau has proven time and time again that he’s capable of creating exactly what his client desires. An incredibly sought after force in the commercial world, Tanneau has been brought in by the industry’s most recognized production companies to work as a VFX supervisor and flame artist, such as the Clio-Award winning production company MPC, the Visual Effects Society Award winning production company Method Studios, 72 & Sunny, Chapeau FX, Eight VFX, Logan, A52, Brickyard, The Chimney Pot and more. That’s nearly every major company in the world of visual effects.

Working with MPC, Gurvand Tanneau made an impressive impact as the flame artist on the internationally lauded Dark Horse commercial for Acura, which features a stadium-filled audience watching a horse race. But this wasn’t your average horse race. The horses in the commercial are robots — stealthy, beautifully designed robots that gracefully and powerful gallop around the track with precision, the perfect symbolism to represent the futuristic design of the cars, as well as the horsepower contained in the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, Acura NSX prototype and Acura TLX prototype..

Another hit commercial where Tanneau proved invaluable was the popular Rihanna x Puma commercial. Working through Eight VFX, Tanneau used his artistry to create images of waves, clouds, cities and mountains — all of which scroll across Rihanna’s body with fluidity as she slowly moves on screen.

“I really enjoy working on beauty and luxury products. I have been able to work closely with artists who come from photography, and mostly fashion photography,” admits Tanneau. “The work is very similar, particularly on the work of the light in the scene, except it’s moving and we can use that to enhance the details of form and quality of materials. It’s still a part of making images that uses a lot of “in camera” shoots elements versus 3D.”

Talent and skill like Tanneau’s doesn’t come along every day so it makes sense that he’s been the one to lead the VFX on commercials for the world’s biggest clients, including Apple, Target, Microsoft, Budweiser, Smirnoff, Lexus, Infiniti, Chevrolet, Mercedes-Benz, Gatorade, Sony Playstation — and the list goes on. To top it off, many of the commercials he’s worked on over the years have been heralded by the advertising industry’s leading publications, such as Ad Week, AdAge, Best Ads on TV, The Inspiration Room, and more.

With numerous Superbowl commercials to his credit, such as those for Mercedes-Benz and Suzuki, there’s no question that Tanneau’s firmly established himself at the top of the VFX food chain in the world of commercials; and he’s proven himself to be equally as valuable to the film and television industry.

Earlier in his career Tanneau worked as the VFX artist on multi-award winning director Moussa Touré’s dramatic film “La Pirogue,” which took home awards from the Lumiere Film Festival and the Munich Film Festival, and was nominated for an award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Set on the high seas, “La Pirogue” follows a group of African men who embark on a treacherous Atlantic crossing from Senegal to Spain where they believe better lives await them. As the VFX artist responsible for compositing water elements into key shots that were captured on shore, but need to appear as if they were set out at the sea, as well as enhancing the power of the storm in the film’s main scene, Tanneau proved integral to the realism in the film.

“I always like to work on photorealistic effects, those that have to be completely invisible,” says Tanneau. “Some other scenes were shot closer to the shore for practical reasons, so I had to erase every elements of land, or riggs, to simulate the look of the scene taking place out at sea”

The recent surf documentary “And Two if by Seas: The Hobgood Brothers” directed by Justin Purser (“The Underneath,” “Humans vs. Zombies”) is yet another film where Tanneau’s skill set proved to be invaluable to the completion of the project. Produced by Daniel Tosh (“Happy Thoughts,” “The Love Guru”), the film, which followed pro surfer brothers CJ and Damien Hobgood, was constructed largely from stock footage captured from television appearances and provided by the professional surfing association.

“The movie is mostly constructed on stock footage from the TV and personal recordings from the brothers. The quality of it was very heterogeneous and needed some uniformity. Some of it were damaged, and needed some work to make it usable,” explains Tanneau. “As a surfer myself I like to connect my passion and my job whenever it’s possible, so this was a good opportunity.”

Though VFX can bring us fantastical new worlds, characters and larger than life explosions, the art form is equally as valuable in making imperfect footage come off flawlessly on screen, such as removing unnecessary elements, even changing the appearance of an actor to make them look pregnant.

“The great thing about VFX is that, while the skills required are precise and can be specialized, the creative and technical opportunities across the industry are vast,” says Tanneau. “As the nature of VFX and the associated technologies and software continue to evolve, the most important thing I can do is grow alongside them and establish best practices that can further advance my teams and studios.”

Portia is a journalist & poet from Los Angeles. You can find her work through №3 Magazine, ElephantJournal.com, Gypsyrich.com, Stillstoked.com and more.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store