Light it up one building at a time
“We want to think of design in terms of movement because the future experience is interactive and immersive — it’s about augmented reality and virtual reality. You can transform a room or a space into one where everyone can experience it at the same time so it becomes a digital playground.”
May 16, 2019
Emma Lopez and Pedro Narvaez are too modest to say it, but since graduating from Seneca’s Visual Effects for Film & Television graduate certificate program more than 10 years ago, the wife and husband have become two of the most prominent projection artists in Mexico.
But don’t call them artists. “If we had to choose,” Lopez said, “we’d be entertainers. I mean, if you can bring a little happiness to the world with memorable events, why not?”
Think Christmas projection lights but on a much grander and more sophisticated scale. For example, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest and the Temple of Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Querétaro. These are just a few of the projects the couple has worked on.
Indeed, Lopez and Narvaez have travelled the world for their work: Armenia, Chile, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United States and more. But the one place they keep coming back to over the years is Toronto, where they recently opened the Canadian chapter of their company AVA Animation & Visual Arts. One of their first collaborations here was working with the School of Creative Arts & Animation to design an immersive space for the 2019 Seneca Coalesce.
Emma Lopez and her husband Pedro Narvaez demonstrate their projection-mapping design on the Gallier Hall in New Orleans, where they were headlining artists at the LUNA Fete Light Festival in 2017. Since graduating from Seneca more than 10 years ago, they have become two of the most prominent projection artists in Mexico.
“We have a special connection to Toronto. There’s a market here that allows us to reach North America — the capacity to grow is exponential,” Lopez said. In addition, “Seneca continues to open the door for us. It allows us to explore outside the box by providing us with the skills we need. Going to Seneca is an experience that will make you grow.”
In fact, in 2007, Seneca brought the couple back together after they had broken up in Mexico, where they met while studying graphic design. At the time, Lopez chose to further her studies at Seneca and Narvaez stayed behind for a job offer. After he realized it was “a huge mistake,” Narvaez enrolled in the same program at Seneca to join Lopez.
“We were both interested in learning about motion graphics, but no one was teaching that in Mexico back then,” Narvaez said. “When we found Seneca’s Visual Effects for Film & Television program, we knew it was exactly what we wanted to learn.”
Following graduation, the couple stayed in Toronto and worked for companies like E!, Much and Sportsnet. They got married in 2008; their first daughter was born in the city. Upon returning to Mexico in 2010, they set up their company and worked on award-winning short films, broadcast design and motion graphic pieces. Since 2011, they’ve specialized in creative applications for projection-mapping techniques, placing first at the Amsterdam Festival of Lights, second and third in the most important mapping festival in Asia — in Niigata, Japan — and third at the Moscow Festival of Lights, among other competitions.
“With these powerful projectors, you can transform a space and have an amazing experience — you can create optical illusions on the façade of a building,” Narvaez said.
When projection-mapping on a building, Lopez and Narvaez have to first build a 3D model of the building before creating the design. From there, everything is custom-made and story-themed. They even create a storyboard, using everything they learned at Seneca to create engaging visual stories.
“Seneca gave us an edge and the professors gave us the tools,” Lopez said. “They were amazing. They were the first ones to give us job opportunities. We felt like we were being taken care of.”
With a desire to take their work to the next level, the couple moved back to Toronto with their two children last fall, with Lopez enrolling in the Interactive Media Design diploma program to experiment with projection and interactivity.
“Our first experience with Seneca was so great, this time, we want to think of design in terms of movement because the future experience is interactive and immersive — it’s about augmented reality and virtual reality,” Lopez said. “You can transform a room or a space into one where everyone can experience it at the same time so it becomes a digital playground.”
With eight years of projecting-mapping experience, Lopez and Narvaez have worked on more than 30 projects, each taking one to three months from start to finish. While Lopez tends to focus on the design, creative, sketching and colours, Narvaez looks after the technical and animation side of things. The two would decide on the final look together.
“We complement each other very well — we can both do what the other person does,” Lopez said. “Our relationship has always been with a lot of respect. Criticism can be hard, but when he tells me something, I know that he means well and that he’s probably right.”