UCF Grad helps bring FX Network visions to life
It all started with the dream of becoming a car designer. Mixing creative and technical work is something that Michael Viscione ’08 has been attracted to it for years.
âI fell in love with the art complemented by the technical side of the automotive design work,â says Viscione. âMy passion is to turn concepts into reality.
And while he doesn’t build cars for a living, Viscione fuses those skills into his job as art director and visual effects supervisor for FX – the television network that is home to original shows, like American Horror Story and Mayans MC However, a career path in animation was not always on its radar.
After high school, the New Jersey native landed in South Carolina where he studied international business.
âMy family thought the business would be a perfect fit,â he says. âBut after an accounting class, I knew it wasn’t for me. Sometimes you just need to try different things before you land on what you want to do.
Throughout his freshman year of college, he took the train to Florida as a getaway. During one of the trips he went to UCF where he soaked up the campus atmosphere.
âI remember how welcoming the campus was. The people were great and I could tell how much the university cared about their students, which attracted me here, âhe says.
After completing his first year of college, he decided to take the plunge and become a Knight. One question remained, however: what should he specialize in? It was only after speaking with a UCF advisor that he learned more about the BFA in Animation program and how it relates to his creative and technical interests. Throughout her classes, Viscione strengthened her skills in computer graphics and visual effects and began to think more about the future.
After graduating from UCF, he moved to New York City to pursue his dreams. Viscione jumped straight into the roles of artist, designer and project manager for big movie and advertising houses. But after 10 years in the Big Apple, he had a creative urge for something new and different that eventually brought him to Los Angeles.
Viscione shares his journey that got him to where he is today and gives an insight into what it’s like to work in visual effects for a major television network.
What attracted you to animation?
At first, I wanted to do industrial design. But after talking to a UCF advisor about my interests, I learned more about animation and this world I didn’t know existed. Back then, I never thought about the way 3D animation was done, like going behind the scenes in making a Pixar movie. But I found it interesting, so I decided to sign up for some classes and go from there.
What was your career path after graduating from UCF?
Right after college, I moved to New York City where I worked as a freelance writer, mostly under my own business name. I did this for almost a decade and it was awesome. I have gained experience with companies like The Mill, Method Studios, Framestore, MPC and others. After being my own boss for years, I was looking to push myself further into a supervisory or management role.
Around the same time, a friend contacted me about a potential opportunity in Los Angeles. He talked about building a high-end visual effects store inside a network and wanted to see if that was something I would be interested in. I jumped at the chance to help start something new – something that wasn’t the norm at the time. I was drawn to the idea of ââbuilding a team from scratch. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to merge my creative and technical experience.
What is your current role at FX?
I am currently working as Art Director and Visual Effects Supervisor for FX. My role is to help produce premium marketing for bigger budget shows – from full-fledged teasers to packaging graphics.
Take American Horror Story for example. Every year there is a campaign for the show. We create and upload advertisements before, during and after the show. Ahead of a season’s release, we’ll be posting a teaser to generate interest and create a buzz around different forms of media. Other elements include short clips that remind audiences what show they’re watching and where.
What is your day like in general?
Most of my time is spent developing creations for different shows. The process can start anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before a new show or season. My team will receive a creative brief or pilot script to review and start brainstorming. Once we get approval for a concept, we will develop and execute the creation.
I really like to take a concept and bring it to life. Our team takes care of all animation work in a traditional sense. We script the piece and help put it all together. After that, the piece moves on to sound design and final color before being sent to the masses.
Throughout the year, I will also be on set guiding the shoot and making sure the VFX team has everything they need. A few weekends ago, I did my first visual effects supervision on the set of Zoom. The shoot took place in London, so I was online at 3 a.m. There was a lot of coffee, but it was fun working on it.
From a technical standpoint, I can get involved to help solve problems or do some coding. One of our first big shows, Mayans MC, involved building these worlds out of motorcycle parts – thousands of them. To make things more manageable, I built a searchable library. It helped improve the efficiency of our team and was a great way to blend my creative and technical sides together.
How would you describe the feeling of seeing your work on TV and the web?
It’s one of those things that never gets old. The work I do can last from a few months to over a year. So when I see others – like fans of the show or family and friends – reacting and enjoying the work that we’ve done, it’s a really good feeling. It gives you that satisfaction of what you are doing.
One of my good friends who grew up pointed out to his family things that I worked on. If he’s watching anything, whether it’s an FX show or when I’ve done commercials and movies, he’ll tell people he knows who’s worked on it. It really touched me to hear about the impact of my work.
You mentioned working on different FX originals. Can you share some of your favorites?
Some of my favorite projects have been on our biggest shows, like Legions, Mayans MC, and American Horror Story.
Building commercials for Legion Season 3 has been one of the trickiest, yet fun, things I’ve worked on from start to finish. From the start, I had the concept for the show and had to find ways to incorporate the script into the creation – a character whose power is tied to his mental illness. It was fascinating and stimulating at the same time.
Then there was Mayans MC Season 2 which was done entirely in-house with a team of around five people. The 30 second spot is intense and beautiful. Our team is investing a lot in it – I don’t think a lot of studios would get this complex with it. So the fact that we were able to do it with such a small team was amazing.
Another favorite project to work on was American Horror Story Hour season 8. I worked on the skull cast, which took a lot of practice and learning new techniques to get the final visual.
Never stop learning. Always push yourself, even when it comes to learning something that is outside your comfort zone.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in animation?
When you’re younger, don’t be afraid to take occupational risks if you have the chance. Work in another country or take a job at a new startup if you want. I’m happy with the way my career has gone, but I would like someone to tell me to get out and take risks. Don’t be afraid to do something new or different.
What’s the next step for you?
This is something I think about a lot. COVID-19 has changed the landscape of many things. Before the pandemic, there was a lot of work to be done there. But now, after working remotely for over a year, it opens up other avenues that I never thought existed.
I really like what I’m doing right now. I can try to do different things and get involved in many aspects of this type of creation. I always strive to become a better artist and manager. Maybe one day I will be able to orient myself more towards the traditional realization. I think that’s my next goal. We’ll see, it’s a whole new horizon for me.