Life in the VFX lane: Breaking in

Breaking in to the VFX industry (or the games industry for that matter) seems like an impossible feat. 98% of the job offers ask for at least 1 year experience, but how do you get that experience if no one ever gives you your first chance? For me it was a long and winding road. I was 30 when I got my first job working on a movie. I had been working as a 3D artist on and off for about 6 years, but never in a big studio and never on a movie. For my background story (studies and career up until I decided to finally pursue my dream job) please see my previous post. Now let’s pick up where I left off…

Although I didn’t work at Pixelux anymore, I still had very good relationships with the managing directors (..and still do!). So, even though it wasn’t public news yet, I knew that MPC was really interested in DMM and  was talking about integrating it in both its Vancouver and London studios. For me that was it: the perfect opportunity, my foot in the door. DMM wasn’t widely available yet and few artists knew how to use the technology. Maybe MPC would be interested by my profile even though I lacked production experience and my reel only had R&D demos on it. So I contacted them… several times. I wrote emails and sent letters. I also tried to meet them in Paris during one of their recruitment road shows. No success. Finally I managed to see them at the View conference in Torino in November. The feedback I got there was pretty positive, but still, I didn’t hear back from them…

Thanks to several professionals at tradeshows who were kind enough to critique my reel, I knew my main weakness was that none of my work was actual production work. So I decided to try and acquire more experience in small commercial companies. I had forgotten about  MPC and was working at boutiq ag in Zurich when I got an email from their recruiting team in February asking me if I could do a phone interview with the Head of the FX Department. I was over the moon… and sooo stressed! On D day, I had a massive flu and didn’t feel I was at the top of my game. I thought the interview didn’t go too well. I was so depressed. But a couple of days later I got an offer to start as a Junior FX TD in London… 6 months later in August! I was in!

So what made it happen for me?  I would say work and persistence did help, but also quite a bit of luck and good timing. What advice would I give to the new starters out there?

First of all be sure this is what you want to do. It’s not an easy career. The industry is unstable. You never know when you will be out of work. When you have a job, you often work long hours and week-ends. When you don’t, you can’t really relax and unwind from all the crazy work because you have to look for your next gig.  The schedules are unpredictable so it’s hard to make any kind of plans. You might need to relocate several times to follow the job market. All of this can be quite a strain on your personal life. Also, you will not always get recognition for your hard work and you will definitely not make loads of money.

That being said, I love my job and hope to be able to do it for years to come… For me it’s all about the passion.  My childhood dream was to be a ballerina. Everyone would tell me that it’s  a gruesome career: it is very hard on your body, most of the time you are in some kind of physical pain, the majority of dancers never become soloist and spend their whole career in the shadows of the corps de ballet, you usually retire around 40, the pay isn’t good, etc. But I didn’t care. That’s what I wanted to do, no matter what. To a lesser extent, I feel the same way about VFX. The conditions aren’t ideal, but I am willing to put up with them to do what I love. Don’t get me wrong, it would be nice to have an easier work environment and if there is anything I can do to help make it happen I will. But right now these are the circumstances and if you want to get into this industry, you have to be aware of them and be prepared to make do.

Once you are sure you are ready for this, be persistent. It might not work right away, but don’t give up, just continue building your skills and try again later. Also, get some honest advice. Knowing where you stand and what you have to improve is very important. Don’t be too shy. I have a hard time showing my work, I never think it’s good enough, but getting criticism is the only way to improve. You can post your work on forums like cgtalk, but the best is getting advice from professionals. If you don’t know any, go to tradeshows and meet people. I found that if you ask them nicely and they aren’t too busy, most artists are happy to give you feedback.

Finally one factor I really underestimated is timing. At the end of the day, studios have work and need you or they don’t. You can be the greatest, most talented artist out there, if there is no work, there is no work! VFX is a very irregular industry: one day the studios are bringing in artists from everywhere to handle the massive workload and the next they are letting everyone go because a production has been pushed back. So try to know what’s happening in the industry: where the work is, who is hiring, who is firing, who just landed the next big project. The news on the studios’ websites aren’t necessarily up to date but I find social networks, LinkedIn and twitter to be very effective.

I hope these humble tidbits will help a few of you out there. Don’t hesitate to ask if there is another subject you would like me to talk about. My next post will probably be about my first days at MPC and life in a big studio.