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Art Institute of Pittsburgh alum works visual effects magic on new X-Men film


If you haven’t had a chance to check out the new X-Men film X-Men: Days of Future Past, you are missing out on visual effects by Pittsburgh’s own Joseph A. Spano III. Spano, who received his bachelor’s degree in visual effects and motion graphics from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2009, worked as senior compositor for Digital Domain on the film starring Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan and Jennifer Lawrence.
 
Prior to his graduation from The Art Institute, Spano sold nearly all of his belongings in preparation for his cross-country move to Los Angeles. Determined to hit the ground running, he packed up his car and embarked on his journey the day after receiving his diploma. He’s since made himself at home in Hollywood with more than 29 films under his belt, including Iron Man 3, Wolverine, 42 and A Good Day to Die Hard. He's also worked on numerous  television productions, including True Blood, Behind the Candelabra, Mad Men and CSI.
 
Spano says the highlight of his career has been getting a job with Digital Domain, which was his “dream studio” in college. As part of the Digital Domain team, he worked on Iron Man 3, which was nominated for an Academy Award for its visual effects.
 
“A career in visual effects is interesting in that almost every day I have a new, unique challenge to face,” says Spano. “Specifically as a digital compositor, my job is at least 50 percent problem-solving.”
 
Spano is responsible for the final shot as it appears on screen. To do this, he combines the work from other departments like CG, Environments and FX, and is responsible for color corrections and green screen keys among other preparations. 
 
Spano says the visual effects work is a much heavier process than people tend to think. Things shot in front of a green or blue screen do not magically vanish. Spano says they spend sometimes hundred of hours to attain photo-real results.  
 
The technical work is just one aspect of the challenges Spano faces in his career.
 
“If I were to single out the absolute most challenging aspect, it would have to be the difficulty of leading a normal life while working,” he says. “We constantly have to move for work, often working 12- to 20-hour days, six or seven days per week. This starts to put a huge strain on your day-to-day life, as well as your social life."
 
Spano recently worked 47 consecutive days without a day off.
 
It may be exhausting, but Spano says he loves his career.
 
“I absolutely love knowing that my work is going to be around long after I am gone -- living on in these films.”
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