Interview with Iván Manuel Benítez Sanz – Lighting and Compositing Artist

Interview with Iván Manuel Benítez Sanz – Lighting and Compositing Artist

Meet Iván Manuel Benítez Sanz, Lighting and Compositing Artist. Founder and Mentor at The Lighting Lab.  He shares his experience working on Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse and the techniques of lighting for animated films. 

What factors contributed to your increased affinity for lighting and compositing within the animation pipeline?


In the beginning, I actually started studying animation, including 2D animation, then we had a subject about 3D Modeling and I knew I wanted to make a living within 3D animation, so I started doing my first 3D models, but soon I realized that what I really liked was the next step: LookDev and Lighting, especially lighting, since you can do the best 3D Model or animation but if the lighting is not on point, it will look way worse, but if the lighting is good, the animation will look completely different, and it will move the viewer, I always say that lighting is another character in the storytelling, that’s why it’s soooo important!

Could you kindly provide insights into your professional trajectory, starting from your role as a junior audio-visual creative and leading up to your current position as a lighting and compositing artist?


My first job wasn’t in the industry of animation, it was an internship as junior audiovisual creative, so my main tasks were video editing and graphic design, in the meantime, I was starting studying Animation and trying to make my first projects for my reel, after 2-3 years studying I finished my first demo reel and I started looking for a job, but my level wasn’t enough, so while I was searching a job, I was also improving my demo reel. Finally, I joined Jellyfish Pictures to work as a Lighting Technical Assistant, so my job wasn’t lighting scenes actually, it was mostly fixing issues in the lighting stage. Then I jumped into more companies in Spain, my country, as a lighting artist, until I went to Canada to work on Paw Patrol, which was my 4th animated feature film, and when I was in Canada, I was contacted by Sony to work on Spiderverse, it was a dream come true!


Given your prior experience working on a commercial project such as “Spirit Untamed,” what motivated your decision to pursue an apprenticeship at Technicolor specifically in the field of lighting?


I think every artist should pursue knowledge and try to do the best of ourselves, that’s why I’m always trying to improve and learn something new! The technicolor academy was about VFX lighting, which is very different from Animation lighting, and I wanted to learn to use katana and the pipeline in VFX (Plus we used Katana at Mikros Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks, so it was very helpful!)

What differentiates the lighting approaches for VFX in live-action films versus animation? Furthermore, do you have a preference for either medium in terms of your professional work?


Lighting for VFX is mostly matching the original footage, so it’s not very creative compared to animation, that’s why I prefer animation because I feel I can express myself through my art and I have more artistic freedom in general. Artists can work on both as long as they have a demo reel for animation and another for VFX! Or maybe they work for a company that does both VFX and animation.

Could you elaborate on your journey of entering Sony Pictures Imageworks, a renowned studio in our industry? Additionally, what advice would you offer aspiring artists who aspire to join Sony Pictures?


I would say the thing that put me closer to Sony was to take the step and go to Canada, I was veeery scared before taking the decision, but once I took it, it opened me a lot of opportunities, and now I can say that it has been the best decision I have taken in my life, I grew a lot as an artist and as a person, that’s what I would encourage to aspiring artist to be brave enough to face that fear if that’s what they want. 

Sony is looking for lighting artists who can work for a variety of visual styles, as we saw on Spiderman: Across the Spider-verse, even in only one film we did 6 different styles, so I think they are looking for creative and dynamic artists who can adapt their work. In my case I worked on a project at Illusorium Studios in Madrid, I loved working with them and the project was amazing and it had the spider-verse vibes, so I guess that was key in my case to join Sony because they saw my work there and they thought I could work on Spiderverse, at least that’s what I think!


In order to achieve the distinctive stylized lighting seen in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” were there any particular techniques or lessons that you acquired during the production process?


I had to pay attention to the details, now I’m very picky when I look at an image. Before Spider-verse, I didn’t pay as much attention to every detail as I do now. I feel like this project has pushed me further, and I definitely think that this has made me a better artist overall.

About the spider-verse style, we have the studio tools in Nuke to make the different styles in the movie, but about the artistic side, I had to have a bunch of references and try to match all my shots to previous/next shots, I spent so much time looking to references haha! especially to match colors, hatching, dots..

To all our fellow Spanish readers: Check out the video below as Iván shares his experience working on Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse :

A todos nuestros compañeros lectores en español: mira el video a continuación mientras Iván comparte su Experiencia trabajando en Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse :

Could you mention the specific shots within “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” that you were involved in, and share your professional experience while working on the project?


I worked on several sequences, but in two of them I worked on a bunch of shots, the first one is when Miles is in the bbq arguing with his parents, I really love the lighting in that sequence, and the other one is when they introduce Miguel to Miles in the laboratory, I really like the lighting in that sequence because of the red and blue lights, and it has a dark mood, it’s great because they are introducing Miguel and the lighting is matching his mood and vibes. In general, I loved this project because the feedback and notes were very demanding, which allowed me to learn so much. I really feel that it pushed me to the next level, also I met and worked alongside the best artists in the world, so I can’t be more grateful!

What served as the inspiration behind the establishment of “The Lighting Lab,” and could you please provide an overview of the courses that are currently offered by your organization?


My inspiration was basically that I noticed that there are not enough resources in Spanish to learn to lighting, I wanted to change that and give the new artist the chance to improve their reels and their artistic side, trying to teach them what I have learned through my journey in animation. At the moment there’s only one course focused on the artistic and technical side of lighting/compositing for animation, I’m working on a compositing course that will be available later this year. We also offer mentorships in Spanish and English as well, the main idea with the mentorships is to work together with the student to finish the lighting from scratch of one animated shot (which is provided by the academy, since we have partnerships with animation schools).

What is the significance of engaging in personal projects alongside commercial assignments for artists, and what advantages does it offer in terms of professional development and artistic growth?


I think commercial projects are great to learn to work on a team and under the supervision of directors, leads, and supervisors, but if you really want to show your skills and have complete freedom, you have to do personal projects, that’s why I would encourage people to do their own projects.

What are the key factors and essential skill sets that contribute to becoming a lighting artist in the field of animation and VFX? and what advice would you offer to students aspiring to pursue a career in this field?


I would say to have a very good knowledge of photography and cinematography, that’s the main thing in lighting, but also to be eager to learn more every day and try to improve and push yourself with every project, and last but not least, be humble and open to feedback! 


But if I must say some of the most important things in lighting.. I would say focus on the artistic side and don’t worry so much about the software and the technical side, since the studios are looking for artists who can do beautiful images, they don’t care that much about if you know this software or other software, they can teach you that in the training. At least that’s my experience!

You can connect with Iván at the following links:


The Lighting Lab:


About the author

  • Mohammad Khalikh

    Based in India. Khalikh is a Previs and Cinematic Designer with over 6 years of experience in the Indian Film Industry. His passion for films and animation led him to the city of dreams, Mumbai, and he found the world of filmmaking. He loves to share knowledge and he believes what J.M. Cornwell has rightly said "“Knowledge is wasted when it isn't shared.”

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