VFX Voice

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January 02
2020

ISSUE

Winter 2020

VFX HR Lightning Round for 2020

By JIM McCULLAUGH

VFX Voice asked Human Resources executives and recruiters to share their thoughts on several important questions about the VFX workplace of the future. Here’s what they had to say.

VFX Voice: What is the most important skill to develop for a long-term career?

Susan O’Neal

Brooke Brigham

Anna Hodge

Susan O’Neal, BLT Recruiting: “To me, the most important skills to develop for a long-term career are those ‘soft’ skills that are ingrained in a person’s character and shaped by experiences outside of the studio. Each project will have different needs insofar as technical expertise, but all projects need people with well-developed communication skills – people who are great team players, and a team player who is curious and adaptable with a solid work ethic and problem-solving skills. When hiring producers, I look for people who have worked in and around customer service. I find people who are used to working for tips have wonderful insights into the subtleties of human nature and can adapt the project’s voice to gain greatest creative and fiscal success. When reviewing résumés for junior artists, I tend to look for extracurriculars, and will ask questions not only about proficiencies on the technical side, but also about the individual’s background and interests outside of the studio.”

Brooke Brigham, Head of Recruiting, Zoic Studios: “Soft skills and the ability to get along with all personality types. VFX is highly collaborative and global. Having great technical and/or artistic skills will be a given and having leadership, teamwork and adaptability skills along with interpersonal skills will take someone to higher level roles.”

Anna Hodge, Manager of Training and Education, Rising Sun: “In visual effects, it is crucial for an artist to understand the principles of composition and light, observation, anatomy, movement, aesthetics, and have a general passion for watching films. A basic understanding of a programming language doesn’t hurt either! These skills will assist you becoming an artist, but if you are looking at a long-term career in VFX, you also need to adapt and change to industry needs.”

VFX Voice: What are the most important things producers are looking for when hiring?

O’Neal: “Depending on the role and the project, producers will want the most talented, smartest and most accountable person possible on their team. The talent part can be ascertained by the reel, which is the artist’s calling card. Vimeo and YouTube links are sufficient, but as I work primarily in high-end commercials, the preference is for the artist to have a well-presented website with reel, bio, résumé, contact details and, ideally, a ‘personal’ section which may showcase work done not-for-pay – personal projects like photography, sculpture, improv comedy. I’ve seen all kinds of interesting things. The first thing on the reel should be the most recent and best work.”

Brigham: “Outside of technical or job-related skills, the most important thing hiring managers are looking for is culture fit. That doesn’t mean the person has to be like everyone else, but the hiring manager has to see the candidate within the team and environment, and would the candidate’s unique personality and skill set add value to the team?”

Hodge: “When hiring, VFX producers look for good communicators, team players and people that can work calmly under pressure to a schedule and budget. They need to be organized, great multitaskers, be able to forecast, be resourceful and solution focused, ensuring that things run smoothly behind the scenes at all times. Even at peak times of craziness when there is a lot going on, a good hire will never panic!”

VFX Voice: Should you specialize? Or be a generalist?

O’Neal: “The decision to specialize or be a generalist depends largely on where the artist wants to work. If you want to work at a large animation studio where projects last three years, you may enter a generalist, but at the end of the show you can become a specialist due to the nature of large projects. It’s much more cost-efficient in these cases to have artists specialize (layout, rigging, lookdev, etc.). If you choose to work in short-form projects with quicker turnaround, you will likely be valued more if you’re a generalist with a specialty.”

Brigham: “We have a really great mix of specialized skill sets and generalists at Zoic, so this is a tough question for us. We like having a mix of both. Even if someone has a specialization, they tend to also have secret skills that also come in handy in our fast-paced environment.”

Hodge: “This really depends on the company that you’re looking to work for. In a small facility, it’s a good idea to have a variety of skills, as this will carry you through to other roles in that company where hiring a specialist may not be feasible. At a larger facility, being a specialist allows you to really master a particular skill like FX, compositing and animation. You can also progress faster from junior through to senior artist. Most importantly, don’t restrict your opportunities to just feature film VFX.”

VFX Voice: What’s the most important tech to understand right now?

O’Neal: “I am seeing a rise in the need for people to be proficient in real-time VFX production. It’s interesting how old-school techniques like rear-screen projection (so that everything is shot ‘in-camera’ with only cleanup to happen in VFX) are being employed again in a real-time capacity. I often get requests for artists who can develop game- engine-ready assets, and I’m seeing more and more finished VFX being delivered in time for the live-action shoot with the artists. The line between previs/postvis/VFX production is blurring.”

“Change is also inevitable given that the overall industry has shifted so much in the last 10 years in the areas of client expectations, tax incentives, outsourcing, and delivery platforms with streaming services and Netflix emerging.”

—Anna Hodge, Manager of Training and Education, Rising Sun

Brigham: “The tech to understand right now and which will be important in five years is Game Engine Technology. It’s going to change how lighting, layout and environment pipelines are currently run and affect all sorts of production. Learning Unreal Engine and C++ and understanding where it excels and where the current weak points are will put you ahead of the curve.”

Hodge: “There’s a lot going on in the area of AI and machine learning and its influence on VFX. AI serves many purposes but, ultimately, it makes many tasks easier to do in less time. It also provides opportunities for advancement in areas like motion-capture, facial-capture systems and content creation. Several companies are already ‘dabbling’ with AI and machine learning, and the results are pretty amazing. Real-time rendering and the blending of games and VFX is another area to keep an eye on.”

VFX Voice: What will be the most important skill to have five years from now?

O’Neal: “As in any industry, adaptability and curiosity are key skills for growth. It’s important for an artist to show mastery of specific skills insofar as software usage goes, but keeping an eye out for current trends in production and dabbling in the unknown assures a cutting-edge advantage over those who ask no questions about process and presume that status quo is here to stay.”

Hodge: “Given the nature of the VFX industry, with technology changing and advancing rapidly, a successful artist should expect change and embrace it. Change is also inevitable given that the overall industry has shifted so much in the last 10 years in the areas of client expectations, tax incentives, outsourcing, and delivery platforms with streaming services and Netflix emerging.”


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