Matteo Petricone: The Movies and the Magic of Visual Effects

A movie prop made by Matteo Petricone.

Matteo Petricone holding one of the props used in 'Il Racconto dei Racconti' ('The Tale of Tales') by Matteo Garrone. (Image: via Matteo Petricone)

In 1895, the Lumières brothers invented moving pictures and at that moment, the world changed forever and so did people’s lives. The magic era of visual effects arrived. Since then, many generations laughed, cried, felt inspired, and dreamed through the many stories the silver screen has been offering over the years. With that, the career of the Italian Matteo Petricone was born.

Techniques, images, and sequences became more and more complex and refined, following the development of technology. Today, I interviewed one of the “magicians” behind some of the most popular international movies’ visual effects: Matteo Petricone.

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I met Matteo two years ago in Sydney, Australia, through a mutual friend and I was immediately fascinated by his creativity and life story. He was born and grew up in Rome, Italy, but traveled to several countries and lived in London for four years in order to fulfill his dream: to become a successful Digital Compositor.

Matteo followed his dream

He is currently living in Melbourne, where he is working on new projects by Marvel and Disney. Despite his success, Matteo is very grounded and self-critical. He defines himself as both “lucky and capable,” but he believes that, with further effort and dedication, he could have done even better, considering how tough young competition is in today’s society.

Matteo at work as a Digital Compositor.
Matteo at work as a Digital Compositor. (Image: via Matteo Petricone)

Since his childhood, he has been driven by his passions — windsurfing and surfing. These led him to travel to California, South Africa, and Hawaii, which eventually pushed him toward his career as a Digital Compositor.

His mother’s iMac was Matteo’s first contact with digital movie editing

Matteo started to windsurf when he was about 5 or 6 and, growing up, he wanted to film his experiences. His mother happened to buy an iMac, which at the time was the only home computer with movie editing features. It was Matteo’s first contact with the world he is now part of.

Matteo's very first passions have always been windsurfing and surfing.
Matteo’s very first passions have always been windsurfing and surfing. (Image: via Matteo Petricone)

Some of the films whose “magic look” Matteo Petricone worked on include: Harry Potter (2011), Romeo and Juliet (2013), Independence Day 2 (2016), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Alien: Covenant (2017), Peter Rabbit (2018), It Chapter Two (2019), Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) and Men in Black: International (2019).

Matteo wanted to attend the Art School where his mother used to teach, but his father tried to discourage his creativity because he did not see it as an opportunity for a potential career. His mother, on the contrary, was very supportive. He studied Architecture and eventually attended a university course called Grafica e Progettazione Multimediale (Multimedia Graphics and Planning), where in his last year he learned a lot about videos, graphics, and editing.

Finds his path as a Digital Composer

It was a good experience and he met many creative people. He had then planned to complete a Master’s Degree, which unfortunately was canceled, so he underwent training in a well-established movie studio in Latina (close to Rome). There, he was able to be in touch with the many figures contributing to the movie editing process and found his path as a Digital Compositor.

Matteo during one of his windsurfing performances.
Matteo during one of his windsurfing performances. (Image: via Matteo Petricone)

I asked Mr. Petricone to talk about his job and life experiences.

Matteo, you are a noted Digital Compositor. What does this profession actually do?

My role is called Digital Compositor because I compose a digital image. Sometimes I add elements, other times I eliminate them. With the help of technology, I modify the original image in a video. But the visual effects job is teamwork and the team is made of many professional figures. Some create the storyboard, others design the textures, produce the animation, set up the lighting in the digital set, and so on.

I am the last key in the chain before the final product is delivered to the client; therefore, my job is quite stressful, as any delay or imprecision is for me to fix. Even though it is the entertainment industry, it is not easy and light, as there are companies, deadlines, and penalties involved. I did supervision in Italy and the stress level was even higher.

How did your first contact with Australia happen?

It happened by ‘chance.’ Even though I had some relatives here and had traveled to many different places, I hadn’t really considered Australia. Starting from Italy, the first step is usually working somewhere else in Europe in order to gain experience to reach the blockbuster studios. My first place abroad was London, but I would always go back to Italy as I did not love the English lifestyle and climate, even though I had fun and met many people.

I had a relationship that ended and I then decided to take a chance with a studio in California, as in my mind, that was the place to be. This studio had two offices, one in Melbourne and one in Los Angeles. When they asked me where I wanted to go, I picked L.A., but when I received the contract, I found out that I had been allocated to Melbourne. This was just before Trump was elected. It was a 5-month contract and I left with all my surf and windsurf gear because I thought that it was a temporary experience, which could end with a nice holiday. Five years went by.

What has been your most satisfying work so far?

The most satisfying job I did was The Tale of Tales (2014) by Matteo Garrone (original title: Il Racconto dei Racconti), which was admitted to the Festival of Cannes. The film was completely produced in Rome, Italy, and it included about 350 shots of visual effects, some of them quite complex. We were a young team working with basic tools, in an environment not comparable to those of the big foreign studios, but the quality of the movie turned out to be great and we were even awarded the “David di Donatello” prize.

We felt very proud because, along with the Director, we developed the look from the beginning to the end, integrating physical special effects (made in-house) and digital ones: The outcome was an amazing “Star Wars”-result. The only regret was that the Director decided to cut some of our visual effects from an underwater sequence, which we had worked on for months, in order to make the story more effective.

'Il Racconto dei Racconti' ('The Tale of Tales') won the David di Donatello award for the best visual effects.
‘Il Racconto dei Racconti’ (‘The Tale of Tales’) won the David di Donatello award for the best visual effects. (Image: Matteo Petricone)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on a Marvel show called The Eternals. But when we work, internally we do not use the official title of the movie, we use a code name. Also, we work on different projects at the same time, so at the moment I am on 3-4 movies: The Tomorrow War with Chris Pratt, a Marvel movie called Shang-Chi, and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

‘Il Racconto dei Racconti’ (‘The Tale of Tales’). The David di Donatello award was won by the team for the best visual effects. (Image: via Matteo Petricone)

Dream for the future?

That would be to design, and produce my own movie, be it a short movie or a standard one, but something completely mine, where artistically I have total freedom of expression.

Finally: One fun fact about your career?

When the opportunity in Australia came along, despite being happy about it, I felt a little broken-hearted and teary: My relationship had ended and I was leaving my own country and everything that I had created there. Years earlier, I had an office job and my movie-related works were happening through word-of-mouth contacts. One day, I got in touch with a group of boys in Saxa Rubra, Rome, close to the Rai (the national Italian TV) headquarters.

We started to work on a few little projects together, with very limited tools and in poor conditions, (it was winter and we didn’t even have the heater). We started with small jobs, which then became bigger as the clients were happy. The company improved through the owner’s and the staff’s efforts and dedication.

One day, I received a request for a job, an American production, and when I got the material, I realized Michael Douglas’ face was in it. It turned out to be one of his movies, Beyond the Reach (2014). I worked on the scene and he was so happy with the result that we were commissioned to do the visual effects for the whole film.

At the beginning, we panicked: All of a sudden, we were working with famous names who had been in Hollywood for years and we had no expensive computers and tools. We put our laptops, efforts, and ideas together and we did it! The client was so satisfied that the following job we were given were some scenes from Independence Day 2 (the first Independence Day won the Oscar for the visual effects).

What would your advice be to a young person who would like to pursue a similar career?

I would say to be curious and open-minded: Learn everything you can. I studied Architecture; that wasn’t directly related to my job, but it gave me guidelines on shapes, colors, and styles. I also recommend to find someone to learn from, with humility and dedication: I was lucky to work with people who are now very successful and taught me a lot. Last, but not least, be patient and true to yourself and others.

“I was lucky to work with people who are now very successful and taught me a lot. Last but not least: Be patient and true, to yourself and others.”

It was inspiring and exciting to listen to and write Matteo’s story, because it is about following one’s dreams, with passion and dedication, but it also teaches the value of being connected and true to oneself, with patience, humility, acceptance, and resilience, despite the pressures and twists and turns of life today.

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