Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Visual Effects Career

Getting started in a career in Visual Effects.

[For anyone considering visual effects career please check out this article:
VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless  Puts things in perspective.  Much has changed from when I wrote the original article]

The pros and cons as well as learning and applying for jobs.

1:39 The Upside
2:49 The Downside
7:30 Education
13:04 Self Education
14:33 Hands on
17:58 On the job training
18:32 Company Projects
19:49 Hiring practices
20:50 Applying for a job
23:21 Demo Reels


Today I'll be talking about Visual Effects Careers. This is primarily for those considering visual effects careers but there may be some items of value for those already in the business.

The big question
The first question is do you really want to do Visual Effects for a living.
Just because it sounds kind of cool isn't a good enough reason.

Fame and fortune – forget it, this is not the place for either of these.

If your main goal is to do something else such as direct or write I would not suggest starting in visual effects. It's no shortcut to other jobs in the industry, especially since you're exposure to the live action side of production will be minimal.

The upside:

If you enjoy creating visuals whether it's art or photography then visual effects can be a good fit.
Moving images can be very compelling and provide even more room for creativity.
It involves technology and problem solving with art so can be rewarding for those who have an interest in both of these areas and like a challenge.
There's a wide range of jobs from computer programming to art direction so your interest level can be quite diverse.
There's certainly a sense of accomplishment when you finish a shot and a project.
Your work is likely to be seen by millions of people whether it's a commercial or a feature film.
If it's a feature or TV show there's a record of your work in the form of a DVD that others can still see years later.
The work is usually a combination of individual and teamwork.
Each show and most shots have different challenges so you're not likely to be bored.
The money is good.

The downside:
Some people work 8 hours a day in this field but most work 10 to 12 hours a day. That's 50 to 60 hours for a 5-day week. The number of hours can go up toward the end of a project. If you're involved in live action shooting you'll be working 12-hour days. That's 50% more hours a day than a typical job.

Sometimes you have to work Saturdays and even some Sundays, especially toward the end of the project. I worked 90 days straight at 12 hours a day at the end of Star Trek The Motion Picture. I've also worked a few 24-hour days. Luckily it's usually not quite that crazy in the digital age. [Update: It's actually now worse in the digital age than it was before. 24hr work days not as rare as they once were. Certainly 16-18hr days are on the rise.] Needless to say this can put a damper on social events such going to concerts or sporting events. If you're married it can be difficult on you and your family. If you're not married it can be difficult to have a social life

There are only a few locations where visual effects for features are done on a large scale. Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and New Zealand are the largest. There are other pockets of work throughout the world, especially if you work in TV or commercials. That means it's likely you'll need to relocate to one of these metropolitan areas with all their pros and cons. Some of the downsides include a higher cost of living and heavy traffic with longer commute times. 12-hour days combined with an hour travel to work and hour back gives you only 10 hours to sleep and spend time with your family.

In the future more work may be able to be outsourced so it may become possible to live elsewhere. Some matte painters are able to do this.

In the digital age you will probably spend the majority of your time sitting in front of a monitor working on very detailed issues.

Much of the work is ultimately freelance. You may get a staff job at an effects facility but a sizable number of people are hired on a project-by-project basis. . You may work long days at the end of a project and have no break to the next project or you could find yourself out of work for 6 months. How much you work at one facility will be dependent on how efficient management is on obtaining new projects and scheduling them.

You may have to switch to different companies to keep working. This is when it becomes problematic to be working in a location with only 1 or 2 effects companies. You'll need to make contacts and start developing a credit list to try to keep working. The higher level you go (such as an animation lead) the less number of jobs there are available. It's not unusual for a director of photography to be without work for 1 to 2 years. So keep that in mind when looking at wages. This also causes problems maintaining health insurance. ILM is one of the few places (maybe the only place?) that have some of their employees, including CG, in a union. One of the reasons for Hollywood unions is to allow for the freelance nature of this business.

The business of visual effects goes through cycles of feast or famine. You may get multiple job offers one week and at other times there may not be anything available for 6 or more months. Some facilities reduce to a skeleton staff just to keep the doors open when there's no work. Other times they'll be turning down work since they can't expand and handle it.

Even with the expanding need for content, the number of jobs available is less than the number of people trying to break in. This is probably better than filmmaking in general where hundreds of schools are now producing thousands of film school graduates for a very limited number of jobs.

Out sourcing- with the speed of the Internet it's becoming easier for companies to start outsourcing work to less expensive locations such as Asia. This happened with 2D animation and now the same process is occurring for 3D animation and lower level or entry-level visual effects jobs.

[Update 8/8/2010 - Be sure to check out the links on the right under the heading VFX INDUSTRY - STATE OF THE INDUSTRY.  All of these are worth reading for those considering visual effects as a career. Today there is much more outsourcing and more work going outside the US due to tax incentives and other factors. How easily you can get a career in vfx will be very dependent on where you are located. If you're in Canada, England, India, China and a few other places you're likely to have an easier time than someone in the U.S. currently.   See Globalization and VFX for more info.]

[Here's another insight into the work place: Letter to the Animation Guild]

[Update: 11/19/2011 Worth reading: 7 Reasons You Don't Want To Work in the Video Game Industry - There is some overlap of Visual Effects and Video Games and some people move between the two.  Visual Effects isn't quite this bad but there are some sad similarities]

[Update 5/3/2012 I've posted What happened? that explains some of the facts of life in the visual effects industry. Check the comments as well.]

[Update 11/19/2012 Lesson in perspective is a note from a creative person in advertising. Same issues. ]

[Update: Most areas have now reached a saturation point of visual effects artists. That means it's becoming more and more difficult to not only get a job in visual effects but to keep it long enough to make it a career. All this in contrast to what some school recruiters and web sites may want you to believe.  It's important to understand what you're up against before you commit to a career in it and potentially spending a lot of time and money on specific education that may have limited usefulness outside visual effects and video games. Even though places like the UK are pushing for more students they too will become saturated shortly and the incentives there will not last forever.]

I've covered this not to scare you but to give you an idea of what the realities are. If you have a real desire for it, have some talent and are willing to work hard then you have a reasonable chance possibility of succeeding.

When I started there were few film schools and certainly no effects classes. While in high school I shot Super-8 and 16mm film, was a newspaper photographer for the local paper and was a theater projectionist. Since film schools at that time required you to be a junior before doing any film work I opted to go from high school directly into visual effects. I was fortunate to find work as Doug Trumbull's assistant and to work on Close Encounters.

You don't have to have a college degree to work in this business and having a masters in film is not going to get you a job by itself. If you're planning to focus on the pure technical aspects such as computer programming a college degree will more likely be required. Many of the larger effects companies have Human Resource departments and they're the ones likely to put college requirements in job postings even though they're not required by the people who would actually be your boss.

Having said that there are certainly some advantages to going to college and getting a degree. If you have problems getting work in visual effects or wish to switch to a different line of work a college degree may be required for an alternate job. A good college should be exposing you to a wide range of ideas and experiences. I would suggest a college that has film and other liberal arts classes.

There are now a few specialized schools that offer visual effects and animation training. I don't have any direct experience with any of these.

The specific school is up to you but you might contact some of the effects houses and see if they have any preference. For a time a number of animators at ILM came from Sheridan College in Canada. Some effects companies send recruiters to specific schools but that's certainly not a guarantee. Be sure to check out information and opinions for the school as much as you can before you commit. If the school is near an effects company it may be possible to intern there or that someone may come to you school to speak.

[ Visual Effects School post]

While you're in a school (high school, college or tech school) take full advantage of it. You're unlikely to get the chance again once you graduate. Make friends and start networking with your fellow classmates. You never know who might call you at a later date with a job. Help out on a variety of film and video projects.

Don't limit yourself to only classes in your specific film area.
And please don't focus all your attention on one piece of software. There are no standard software packages that all companies use. A company may have their own in house software. It's important for you to understand the underlying principals and develop your eye. If you know the reasoning you can learn to use any software but if you only know how to push specific key commands then you're going to have a tough time. When ILM was doing Casper they were hiring 2D animators and training them to use the software. It's much faster and easier teaching someone to use a tool than to develop the artistic skills and underlying concepts.

Take art classes to get a better understanding of color, composition and developing your visual sense. You don't have to be an expert artist but you do want to be able to communicate ideas with sketches and doodles.
Make sure you cross train yourself.
Animators should take TD and composting classes if they offer them. TD's and compositors should take animation classes.
Take editing, writing, sound and other film classes. You're part of the filmmaking team and it's good to understand these related disciplines.
If you want to be an animator take acting and dance classes.
If you want to be a TD or compositor take photography and cinematography classes to understand how the real world appears. There are a lot of people entering this area who don't understand such things as depth of field or image compression caused by telephoto lenses. Since you're trying to recreate a virtual photoreal world or to augment a real world on film it's vital to understand these factors. Learn to really look at shadow from different sources. See how lighting and bounce light affect the image. Observe atmospheric haze.

Explore Theater classes. Set lighting is good for TDs. Set building may be worthwhile for modelers.

Team up with others in your class. If someone is a great modeler and someone else is a great animator you could work together to make demo material.

If your school has guest speaks from the film industry go to see them.

Chances are you school has video and film cameras so you can shoot some tests or shorts on them. They may have some advanced computer or editing systems that you can take advantage of.
As a student you also have access to a lot of software and computer hardware at education pricing which can be 1/3 or ½ of the retail price. Take advantage of this to learn and work with these packages.

Take some art and film history classes to get a frame of reference.

There are a number of other sources of information to explore whether you're in school or already working and want to cross train.

If you have a software read the manual it comes with and do the tutorials.

Publishers have a large selection of books covering specific packages to general techniques. Some good, some not so good so you should review it in a bookstore if you can. Does it provide real information and examples? I've posted a few I recommend in the effects corner store and I'll be adding to this. If you have any recommended books or other info you can post it on the effects corner website.

In addition to books on specific software packages there are plenty of DVD and even online learning available. Do an Internet search for material and reviews by users. Many feature films with effects have extras on their DVD's that you can rent or buy. Some provide more details than others. Some foreign films do a good job as well. The Japanese film Avalon had some nice behind the scenes.

For magazines there's similarities does a good job of covering visual effects.

Always take any of this information with a grain of salt. It's very easy to make even a process such as dirt removal sound very grandiose and new, especially in the world of sound bites.

Hands On
The fortunate thing about the current state of digital technology is that you can do it all at home reasonably easy. When I was in high school if I shot a stop motion animation test the film would have to be dropped off at the drug store and then I'd have to wait a week to see the results. 3 minutes of film without sound would cost $20. Today you can shoot an hour of MiniDV for $5. All visual effects had to be done in the camera when you're dealing with Super-8. Optical printing was not feasible for personal projects.
Yusei, a matte painter at ILM, learned how to machine to build his own Super-8 optical printer so he could do his own matte painting composites. So a MiniDV camera and even a simple home computer will provide a better starting point than previously available.

If you want to do compositing or matte painting get some hands on experience with Photoshop. If budget is an issue take a look at Gimp or other applications. Make sure to explore all the different composite modes, creating masks, blending and layering of images. If you have a digital still camera then go ahead and plan out a shot and shoot the pieces for it. Assemble it as a final still image. Does it look real? Does everything fit together as planned? Did you take into account the lighting of the background and foreground? By working on stills to start with you can focus on the actual final image and the process to create it.

Once you've done this a few times you now have a taste for some of the complexities involved in doing a real composite. You might have had to make some compromises or do a lot of hand paintwork to get it it finsihed. If you hand cut paths then you know how tricky this can be.

As Dave Stewart used to say "Now show me frame two." Dave was a motion control operator on Close Encounters who unfortunately passed away a few years ago. The point being that when you add motion the difficulty suddenly increases since you have to make 24 perfect images for every second of film.

If you have access to a MiniDV camera shoot some test footage. Experiment. Pick up a piece of green poster board at a craft store if you want to try green screen tests. Some people are locked into doing nothing until they have the ultimate system with the perfect camera. Don't wait, start doing. These are tests for you.

If you have access to compositing or 3D software go ahead and put it to the full test. Don't worry about making a full short, just try different scenes.

A note here: Please don't pirate software. People have worked long and hard to create it. The more a program is pirated the less it will be developed. And I'm sure you'll want to be paid for your own work.
As mentioned if you're still in a school of some type you can get an educational discount. Most software is available in a demo form that you can try out. Some, like Maya, are available as a downloadable learning edition.

On the job training
If you're not in a major effects center you might see if there are any related companies or jobs around. Anything to do with film or video would be useful. Look at working at a tv station or small post production company if one exists where you live.

As mentioned look into internships with effects companies. Be warned that some are more paperwork than hands on. These days most companies have a web site that has contact info as well as internships and job information.

{Update 5/3/2012 Be aware that some companies that are not totally legal or ethical may have you doing productive work for no pay. If you're in college then some intern jobs offer credits in return for interning. However if this is displacing someone that's a problem. And it's even more of a problem if you're paing for schooling and working for free. Internship issues. Paying to work.]

[Update 8/12/2014  Do you legally qualify as an intern and what are your rights as an intern?]

Company projects
Here's an average scenario for an effects company.
There's no work. Then there's a possible job. That goes away. Suddenly they get a greenlit picture and need to start immediately. They bring on the key people and the art dept. Now each area will be hired on as needed, usually in limited time windows. Modelers are hired early on but animators, TDs and compositors are brought on when the edited shots are going to be turned over. The project may continue with the staffed crew and then if a major crunch happens toward the end they may farm out some of the work or bring on additional crew for a short time.

Depending on the company they may not even be reviewing resumes and reels during the down time.

Most big effects films come out in the summer or Christmas time and take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in total. The summer is usually the slowest for getting projects started and hiring people.

Hiring practices
Employment in the visual effects industry goes something like this:

When a company has a project they will employee the people that already work there first. Next on the list will be people who have worked there but had been laid off or temporarily working elsewhere.
The next level recruited will be people from outside the company who are recommended (and have worked with) by someone on the current crew.
Next on the list will be people with credits and experience on feature films.
Last on the list will be the people with no experience.

Companies know that most people without hands on experience are going to need some additional hand holding and possibly training. Note that even those employees who have come from other places will need some training to learn the systems and possibly any specialized software used at the new company.

If two inexperienced people are up for the same job and are similar in other qualities, they will give the job to the person that knows their software (assuming it's not proprietary software)

Applying for a job
Check the company website to see what jobs are currently available and what their requirements are. If you don't quite match the qualifications or if your job isn't listed you can still submit an application just note this on the cover sheet. Large companies will have a human resource department or possibly a department manger that will do the initial review.

You can apply to multiple companies at the same time. You might as well start with the biggest ones rather than submitting only to small or obscure companies.
Keep track of when you sent it and who, if anyone, you spoke to. You can follow-up with them if you haven't heard in a few weeks. Some companies will have a ‘we'll call you if interested' policy since they receive so many applications.

Many companies recruit at SIGGRAPH and other conferences. SIGGRAPH is a computer graphic conference held once a year in a different city. There are also large animation conferences around the world. Check on the company web sites and see if they will be recruiting. They may require you to signup or submit your resume and reel before the show since they will have a limited time to interview people. Recent Visitor Activity

[Update 5/3/2012  The Visual Effects Society (VES) now has a yearly career fair that is held in major visual effects centers around the world. Be sure to check this out since it's specific to visual effects.]

Don't contact a supervisor or crewmember that you don't know. If they don't know you it's unlikely they'll make a recommendation. Also note that most of the crew is either 1. Not working 2. Shooting on location 3. Very busy so your submission may end sitting on a desk for months. Better to get it to the actual people doing the hiring.

The main things you will need to provide are a resume and a demo reel.
Your resume should be focused on any and all applicable work experience you've had. If you've worked on any productions be sure to list these credits. Be clear about what it is (student film, feature currently in production, etc) and what you did (compositing, PA, etc) Your work experience and credits are more important to these people so cover that first before your education. You want to make everything sound good but do not lie on your resume. This will bite you at some point in the future. If you say you know specific software and don't then they will find out even sooner.

[Update 5/3/2012  Please read about getting a Deal memo with the company who is hiring you. You don't want to move across country or to another country only to find out it's not what you thought.]

Demo reels
If you're an experienced effects artist with a list of credits a demo reel probably isn't necessary but if you're inexperienced this can be more important than your resume. This demonstrates to them several things. The range of work you've done, the complexity of the shots you've worked on, and the quality of your work.
Hopefully you've been working on some great pieces while in school and working on your own.

There are no standards for reels so I'll just run through some of my own preferences.
Check the company web site to see if they have any specifics for demo reels. These days they're on DVDs and usually 3 to 5 minutes in length. Put only your best work on the reel. It's better to have 3 great minutes than 5 minutes padded with poor shots.

Be honest. Would these shots hold up in a feature film or TV commercial? If they aren't then your odds of getting hired are much lower since you'll be competing against people who do have polished work.

You don't need to create a short as your demo reel. If you've already done a short that has won a number of awards then you might consider including it or a snippet of it but don't bother writing and completed a full short just for the purposes of a visual effects demo reel. It may be a little bit more appropriate for animation but take a hard look at it.

When you create a short you're going to be spending a lot of time, money and effort on things unrelated to what you're applying for, which is visual effects. A short will end up being judged to some extent on how good the short is, how well the music works, etc. You're unlikely to show a range of different techniques or processes in one short and more likely to be showing a number non-effects scenes. If it's animation then you'll only be showing one style of animation.

Put that same amount of time and effort into different shots that show case your work.

Avoid using tutorials, no matter what their source. A tutorial just shows that you were able to complete something with the help of a teacher or book. When a company hires you they expect a professional who can figure out what steps are needed to do to finish the shot. You also want your work to stand out but if 30 other people from a class submit a demo with the same tutorial it doesn't make a good impression.

Try editing your shots to determine what shows off your work the best. You might want to show the finished shot and then the original image and then back to the finished shot. This is showing the before and after so it's clear what you changed or added. If it's a complex shot you could quickly show the build up of each element. Look at some of the behind the scene DVD's to get a sense for this. Don't spend the entire DVD breaking down one shot. The point here is to show the complexity and finished quality of a number of shots, not to teach them.
Include one to three seconds of black between sections. You can include a shot or two before and after if it is from a larger project and if it's relevant to the visual effects shot.
Don't turn on auto-run for the DVD and don't have motion menu that shows them the demo in a thumbnail. You want them to see it at full quality all at once.
Don't go fancy with the titles and transitions on the DVD. Keep it simple.
You don't need to run your name at the bottom of the DVD image. You don't have operators standing by and the potential employer doesn't have a limited time to call in. Just a simple start menu with your name and contact info is fine.
Include your name and contact info on the DVD case and the DVD insert as well as your resume.

If you have long segments consider putting chapter markers and or an index so they can jump ahead.

I suggest printing on 5 x7 paper for the DVD inside insert. List the shots that will be shown and list what you did on each. You want to be clear about what role was on each shot.

Sound track – Many people watching will turn off the sound but sound does play an important roll when viewing visuals. Keep it simple. Avoid things like electronic trance or heavy metal since that quickly becomes grating when watching dozens of demo reels. Likewise don't put them to sleep with very slow classical or new age music. Keep the music level down, especially if you have sound effects.

You can use a permanent marker to write your contact info on the DVD cover and the DVD itself. If you have the option you might consider printing the cover label to make it a bit cleaner. They sell DVD cover in matte and glossy finish for inkjets. The DVD can also be printed on if you have a printer that can do this. Watch out for stick on labels since they can cause problems playing the disk.

Don't bother doing a full mass produced disk. You probably have access to a computer than can burn DVDs. Check each one before sending it out and put it in a bubble pack for shipping. Don't use the paper filled padded envelops.

Don't get fancy with the final package. A hand carved wood case isn't going to mean anything if the content of the reel is poor.

Well that concludes this weeks Effects Corner podcast. There may be some delays with the next few podcasts with the holidays.

As always this podcast is copyright by Scott Squires 2005

Another reference: Demo reel notes from vfxhack
Making a Demo Reel that Doesn't suck

And Digital Tutors has a helpful page on making visual effects demo reels.
Making a Demo Digital Tutors Demo Reel help

Making Demo Reels for technical directors and riggers tips
Rigging Demo Reel tips

Additional Notes-
For printable DVD (Not required but certainly nice looking)
Epson R200 Printer
Epson R220 Printer
Epson R300 Printer
Epson R320 Printer

Latest which is relatively inexpensive and much improved DVD transport
Epson Artisan 50 Color Inkjet Printer (C11CA45201)

[Just a heads up for those with Mac 10.5 or newer. Epson seems to have a hard time updating their print drivers and their tech support is very poor so make sure whatever printer you select runs on your system and can print to DVDs]

Printable DVD's
Avoid Memorex since they have their name printed on them.
Ridek have the nicest printing surface.
Fuji is fine in a pinch (available from some local camera stores)
Discmakers Premium have the smoothest edges but aren't as opaque

Taiyo Yuden WaterShield - 50 x DVD-R - 4.7 GB 16x - white - ink jet printable surface - spindle - storage media

Check the disc order. Since some of these come with no spindle order a cake box for the discs or you're likely to see them spill over your floor. Dirty discs aren't great for burning.

If you plan to print photos on the cover of your DVD case get Meritline Photo Gloss DVD case inserts. Avoid Memorex- printing quality and look is substandard for any photos.

Related posts:

Visual Effects Positions

Getting  A Visual Effects Job
What to do when you're laid off

 What makes a good visual effects artist?
 Visual Effects union, Tk 2

Other site:
Why is the VFX business failing at its moment of greatest success?
Tom Cruise info on schools, companies and software for vfx


  1. Great podcast, full of useful and specific information. I really liked the advice on building skills for the various career paths - e.g. the recommendation to take classes that go beyond a specific field of interest. There are 2-3 books on the subject, one of them is 'Getting a Job in CG: Real Advice from Reel People'.

  2. I enjoy these very much and find them very helpful. Please continue posting them!

  3. Scott, it's absolutely amazing that after years of seeing your name on the now-dead Commotion splash screen I can finally hear you speak!

    Your material is a brilliant advice for newcomers (or students) like me. It is especially useful for me since you are outlining the management side of things which I'm unfamiliar with.

    Please keep'em coming, this kind of advice is invaluable for the beginners.

  4. Hi Scott!

    These vfx podcasts are simply great and it is really generous of you to donate your time and experience back into the vfx community.
    I've recently graduated from the NCCA in the uk and landed my first job at an effects house in london.
    I have to back up everything you said about demoreel advice, as that is exactly how i approached it, and the hard work paid off.

    Thanks again, I look forward to any future topics.

  5. I'm a compositor in a VFX house in Canada, and I just found your podcast. I love it, although most of the material seems to be geared towards the beginner so far.

    I'd love to see some advanced topics covered like comping techniques, especially how to do tough blue/green screen composites. Still to this day, there's horrible bluescreen comps in some major films, and I'd love to hear how you tend to deal with some of the horrid bluescreens that we're given sometimes.

    I espscially have a tough time with blurred edges and wispy hair. We have our techniques obviously, but I'd love to pick your brain to see how other people deal with these issues.

    I'd love to have the chance to go to ILM for a few days and spend in their 2D dept to see how they handle some of these same issues, since their comps tend to always look really good.

    Thanks for the podcast! I look forward to the next one.

  6. Unfortunately there aren't many magical tricks to getting good blue/greenscreen comps. Obviously try to get it lit and photographed well is the key starting point. Unfortunately situations come up where the VFX supervisor has to take what he can get.

    The next step is to have great, experienced people who can work as a team and mentor others on things to try. Isolate different areas with roto. As a last resort paint and roto.

    On the much of the Jedi battle in EP1 we had to just roto. The reflective floors and the lights was going to be a losing battle to key so many shots were rotoscoped. I've seen people spend more days trying to pull a great key than it would have taken to roto.

    I plan to cover compositing and some specifics in the future. Maybe I can get an expert in the field to make a guest appearance. I'm fortunate as an VFX supervisor to be a little isolated from every painful detail of a specific shot.

  7. Yet again, extremely informative!

    A question... One of the characters in my script is a water-based mutated human. I'm thinking about using a puppet for the live action parts, but I need to place the actor's face on the puppet, there will be dialogue as well.

    Without cyberscanning, is it possible to use high res digital photographs to map onto the puppet's face?

  8. The old water-based mutated human thing :-)
    Puppet- stop motion? CG? marionette?
    Clear, water?
    Face - clear, water as well?
    (ala The Abyss ?)

    >Without cyberscanning, is it possible to use high res digital photographs to map onto the puppet's face?

    Depends on the amount of detail and final look.
    You can use photomodeling. Take multiple photos of the actor (possibly with dots on his face) and the computer program helps to construct a model. Do a Google search.
    You could also do a manual construction from multiple angles.
    Depending on the final results it may be possible to photograph the actor to use as a displacement. (graduated lighting, white makeup with gray setting depth to create poor man's depth pass)

  9. Marionette probably, and the water (in the script anyway) is murky. And he has a jellyfish-like quality, so some of his organs can be seen. So possibly made of a clear or opaque material.

    I must say though, that after being involved in amateur film-making for the last 20 or so years, it is nice to have someone of your standing passing on the expertise.

  10. >he has a jellyfish-like quality, so some of his organs can be seen.
    We were considering this look for DC Thriller before it was put on the back burner. It was later rewritten and done as HollowMan with a different look.

    So you want to apply a human looking CG face or head to this marionette? See if you can get a simple head model to render with the look you're after before building the model in detail. This will also require 3D tracking I assume so think about how you can setup markers on your puppet.

  11. Hi, Scott

    Very usefull and generous like others said. Keep doing this podcast, it's a great way to illustrate your experience.

    Now that I'm involved in a 3d animation project it's amazing how important is the "pre" tasks that "post men" have to plan first!!!

    Greeting from Spain

  12. Thank you for your help!

  13. Thank You for the podcasts.
    Especially for the career one. It was very insightful.
    I am in the post production biz now, but if I heard that podcast 15 years ago, who knows?
    For someone who may not live near EFX or know someone who does efx, I think it will help them alot.
    Thank You, Thanks You!

  14. What a great Podcast! It's obvious you put a lot of time and effort into these and it's much appreciated! Keep it up please!

  15. AnonymousJune 20, 2006

    Wow, these are the ABC's of the VFX world. I wish everyone who attempts to get into VFX reads this as this is the TRUTH about this field. Please, keep on posting these important podcasts. Thank you!

  16. It's good to have knowledge about Visual Effects and build career out of it.

    Michelle Arcenal

  17. Hi Scott
    I find the article very helpful, and I am going to subscribe your podcast faithfully.Currently, I am fighting with the idea of should I stay in University or go to college. I know I have art talents and want to apply them into animation and visual effects, and University just doesn't offer me that. I am thinking to go to Sheridan College in Canada to be exact. What do you think is right to do, stay in University or go to Sheridan for my interest? Scott, as an industry insider, can you tell me is there a need for special effect artists or is the market being overwhelmed and saturated? One of my tentative thought is to do TV commercial making or film making with visual effects in Mainland China, do you know anything about the market down there? Sorry for so many question, I just want to make sure that I am going to the right direction. Thanks for putting up the awesome article again!

  18. Hi David,

    If you're near Sheridan it's probably worth checking out. The main issue whatever you do is to learn visual effects and animation. Some people learn better from a teachers, others are able to learn from reading books and doing it on their own. A school education from any school isn't a guarantee for getting a job.

    There have probably been more people interested in VFX than jobs available for quite some time. The number of 'seats' for VFX artists is always changing. One year there may not be much work and the next year companies are looking for people. Things change monthly depending on the studios and the types of projects they're doing.

    Since you're in Canada I'd contact some of the VFX companies in Toronto and possibly Vancouver to see what they're looking for in people.

    Is this really what you want to do, are you going to hone your creative and technical skills to be the best and are you willing to put in a lot of work?
    Remember there are quite a few avenues for VFX These days there's online videos in addition to commercials, TV and feature films.

    China - Sorry, I have no direct information about VFX in China. There are certainly animation houses doing work there. I wouldn't suggest traveling halfway around the world just to get itno visual effects. Any credits you get there may not mean anything to people in other parts of the world.

    Good luck,

  19. AnonymousJune 07, 2007

    hi Scott,
    Im Pradeep and im from India.I was planning to have a degree in the Anim&vfx field.but in our country dere r only very ltd colleges which offer these i was forced to take a B.COM degr.but now im planning to do a PG DIPLOMA COURSE IN VFX.The college also offers PG IN ANIM.Im now confused whether to take VFX or ANIM. Plsssssss help me sir as only u can help me to make a right eagerly waitng 4 a reply from u.

  20. Main issue is what you enjoy the most. Do like to create animation and making things move or do you prefer to work with images and deal with it more as a photographer (technical director)?
    No sense in going into something that you don't love or prefer.

    You can download trial software and things like Maya personal edition if you wish to try out some things. You can also try out 2D animation packages to get some basics of animation.

    On a VFX film there are more positions for vfx people (over a wide range of jobs that include roto, match move, td, compositing, etc) than there are for animators.

    There are of course a number of animated movies (and more being made all the time) that employ a lot of animators.

    There's not a significant salary difference between most VFX and aniamtion jobs. VFX has more entry level (lower $) positions (dirt removal, prep, etc)

    I'm not sure of the colleges in your area or the specific types of work available there. I would suggest trying to contact the various vfx and animation companies near you (or check for their web sites) to see what jobs are available and what there requirements are. Note that jobs will be changing all the time but that might give you a sense of what's available now.

    In any case I would suggest it worthwhile for VFX people to take some animation classes and for animators to take some VFX classes if that is an option. It helps you become more rounded.

  21. This was really helpful. Thanks so much for doing this!

  22. Great post Scott, it's great to have people like you who are willing to help out beginners, THANKS! You had said that the pay in this field in good. Just wondering what the average salary is that you see most for someone who is just starting in VFX?


  23. Hey Scott thanks for a wonderful kinda got me thinking twice now about VFX. A few question to you in regards to that, I will be attending Art Institute, for a BA in VFX and Motion Graphics in the city of Santa Monica, CA. I'm paying around 25K a year. Of course I am paying this with Loans and Grants, but do you think paying that much and receiving a BA is worth it for this field, knowing that I will be 30-50K in debt because of school? You wrote in the Podcast that you worked on Star Trek, so my next question to you is, how hard is it to get up to this stage? Working with big Hollywood films such as Star Trek, Transformers, etc.?

  24. Schools - That's up to each person.
    All depends on what you want to get out of it. For most vfx a degree isn't required. They'll put it on the requirements and if HR is only doing the hiring then it's a requirements. If the people you'll actually be working for do the hiring (likely) then the best thing is a reel and resume. School and degree is still useful if you decide to do something else.
    If school helps you to learn then look at it as an investment. Flip side is you can also buy the computer gear, books and videos to get technically proficient.

    Difficulty getting on a show: New, inexperienced people will be the lowest on the list to be hired since they will require training at the company and some real experience. However if you have a good reel and check the vfx company sites (and all the vfx job sites now available) then you certainly have a shot at it. Get as much hands on work as you can at places near you or smaller shops so you can continue to build your resume but always shoot for the places you want to work for, even the big ones. No point in focusing at the bottom. Small shops are good to learn a variety of things which you may not get to do at a large shop.

  25. hm... maybe things have changed since 2005 but about that "Don't bother doing a full mass produced disk."

    in an issue of HDRI3D, a guy who is actually involved in the hiring process said seomthing like "who still sends self-burned reels anyway?". so i'm not so sure if it wouldn't be wise to have them pressed....

  26. It's important to understand that you can make DVDs that are as good or better looking than mass produced version. (i.e. not burning to a plain disk and scribbling you name on with a sharpie i).

    All depends on the current rate and quality and how many you plan to send out. Most places have a minimum for a batch. How many are you actually going to send out? If there's only 50 places but you have to buy 100+ disks then that may not be so great.
    How customized can you make them and who's doing both the DVD material layout and the artwork for the cover, disk and insert? All things to check on.

    Are you going to be updating it frequently? Now you have a stack of disks that are out dated.

    Do you want to sent a customized disk? (i.e. if you have a wide range of material but the potential company is looking for a senior compositor you might want to have a disk that focuses on one type of task)

    End result is every one should review the current state of disks, what their needs are and what they need to get done with what they have.

    More demos are being handled online and possibly blu-rays may be required in the future.

  27. Hey Scott,

    I really enjoy the technical aspect of VFX. I have recently been doing a lot of work in CS4 After Effects and really enjoy making motion graphics and what not. I would like to take that to the next level and try to get into a job that makes special effects for movies or a T.V. show. I know in the tv/flim world you got to work your way up.

    Im not a 100% sure on how to pursue this career. I am currently in my senior year in High school and have taken 4 years of Television production class. It really has helped me see what the television world is like,but i have always liked the technical part of putting it all together and adding in that special effect that tops of the piece. The class will help me make my demo reel and etc, but what do you think? Is it worth going to school for a career like this, or is there an alternative.In this type of work field lot of things are self taught and things are always being added, so you have to continue to teach yourself. Right now I could use some guidance from someone in the VFX world.

    Thank You for your time!the post was great and really got me thinking, can't wait to hear your response.

  28. Hi Chris,

    Everyone should make a reel for the type of work they want. If you're targeting feature film or television work then do your own shots that involve what you see in feature films and television. (i.e. reality based composites, animation, etc). If you want to work in motion graphics then a reel demoing motion graphics would be the best bet. Keep in mind that the company probably have a tall stack of other vfx demo reels. To make yourself compelling to them you have to have a compelling reel. It's all about the quality and range.

    From High school-
    As noted a college degree isn't required to work in this field but I would seriously recommend it if possible, especially at this time.
    1. HR departments become the guardians and require a college degree. It's easier for them to put that in and filter people rather than take the time to review their experience or reel.
    2. Life experiences - Hopefully a good college will provide a variety of educational and social experiences that you can't get elsewhere. Once you're in the deep end of production it's not like college. You're too busy working or unemployed and looking for work. A number of your fellow employees will be married or at a different point in their lives.
    3. Security - VFX is going through some tough times. Having a college degree is required at other, non-vfx jobs. Or you may get tired of it at some point and wish to move on.
    4. If you go to a college consider taking a wide range of classes. Art classes. Those seem to now be missing from most US schools. Photography classes. Film production, acting, etc are all useful to give you a rounded education and viewpoint.

    You can take classes at specialty schools or take online classes or be self taught via books and DVDs.
    But in these cases you have to make sure:
    1. You understand the basics. The principals behind how things work. Not just which button to push.
    2. Try to cover a range of different software packages.
    3. Develop your eye. Understand why things don't look right and how you can make them better. Once again art and photography knowledge is great to have.

    Actually all that applies to college classes as well.

    The problem is some people (and some schools) focus on one software package. You may be great with it but what happens if a totally new product is introduced? Your eye and understanding are what makes the difference to you and your employer.

    Bottom line is everyone has to evaluate their own situations and desires. People get into this business from all different paths. It's not like some other types of jobs where a BA in a particular major is required and would likely provide you a job. In vfx it's not technically required and in any case may not help you with getting a job.
    Good luck.

  29. HI is also an Educational portal,which provides information related to colleges,schools,results,jobs exams notifications etc.
    Here is the link
    Education and career

  30. Very much interesting and long read..Hope to purchase this book soon! Have bookmarked!Seems to be a Visual Effects GURU!

    Office CV

  31. Thanks for this valuable education on career in Visual Effects. I have just started my career in Visual effects and this was great post to come across..keep it up


  32. AnonymousMay 12, 2011

    Hi scoot,

    Is it the same career path for those who want to work as a 3D designer for digital agencies or smaller animation/interactive studios like big spaceship or MK12?
    I know they are less specialized more designy.

  33. Each area has it's own needs so working for an interactive company may be a totally different process. Even for those in film VFX there's no standard requirements and steps to get hired. I've written this as a starting point but each person and job will be different. Good luck to all on your journey.

  34. Hey Scott,

    This is Giridhar from India. I am very interested towards VFX and dynamics in the CGI. Are they both somehow interrelated?

    One more query, how can I get internship(paid/non-paid) in the reputed firms as I am always looking for boosting my knowledge in this dept. What is the procedure?

    Thank you.

  35. Hey Scott,

    This is Giridhar from India. I am very interested towards VFX and dynamics in the CGI. Are they both somehow interrelated?

    One more query, how can I get internship(paid/non-paid) in the reputed firms as I am always looking for boosting my knowledge in this dept. What is the procedure?

    Thank you.

  36. VFX and Dynamics in CG are very much intertwined.
    Dynamics is used for things like cloth, water, fire, sparks and other simulations. Even things like breaking objects, dangling earrings and other physical world simulations. There are artists/technical people that specialize in these things for films and TV.

    Internships - Here in the US unpaid internships are by and large illegal for companies unless it's tied to a education (school degree)

    Your best bet is to contact vfx companies near you and express your interest and current level of skill/education in the area of VFX. It can be rough because most companies tend to be very busy in production during the show so don't want to be slowed down by someone. The also have to be concerned about anyone not fully on payroll having access or viewing images of productions in progress.
    Explain you want to help and learn.

    The other learning optiosn for dynamics and other vfx approaches:
    1. Check YouTube and google for references
    2. Check bookstores online for books specifically on these subjects. There's at least a few. Probably game programming related may also have some coverage.
    3. Consider one of the online school classes (see my school post)
    4. Try some of the various trial software available (not cracked). After Effects, etc have trial versions available which at least have basic particles. Same for some of the 3D apps and i think even the free apps such as Blender likely have particles and other dynamics.

    With experience you could do some basic demos and add this experience and skill to your resume.

  37. Thanks for sharing you knowledge Scott :).

    I'm quite skilled in Adobe After effects, CG dynamics or say other 3D software/s ( but I'm at an intermediate level with no professional experience as of yet).

    What I need is an in-depth knowledge of the workflow, insight of how the professionals works or how they do there time management, etc.

    By the way I will keep in mind your valuable thoughts.

    Best Regards.

  38. I'll try to cover workflows and pipelines in a future post but a few points-

    Each company has a different workflow and each show may have a different pipeline. These are like to be somewhat similar but details will certainly be different. If you're doing a project with a lot of furred animals your pipeline will be different than for shows without furred animals.

    In a nutshell the shots come in to vfx editorial, they are entered into some type of database and the images are brought online with the a directory structure and naming as defined by the company. Since they have to write scripts to automate what they can there has to be a consistency.

    Someone in the match move department match moves it, once that's done the animator starts roughing out the animation while a technical director starts working on the lighting. If there are to be sims or animation another team starts work on that so those issues are working before the shots need to be finished. The compositor reviews the shots and requests roto as needed or other elements. Members from each time are working as an efficient assembly line with an overlap of most most actions (i.e. lighting is happening while animation is still going on)

    At a smaller company people may be doing multiple functions. At the extreme are people doing all of these functions themselves but that requires skill and knowledge of all of these. Less likely for most people and typically not as efficient for larger projects.

    Time management - When the show was bid time for each task would have been entered. That was based on people with experience - head of the department, supervisor, producer, etc. That's how much time you will have to do it.

    As a newcomer to vfx don't worry about the specifics of the workflow or time management before working somewhere. That will vary and that's the reason there are leads, supervisors and others. They will be telling you what your priority is and what the different deadlines are. They will be telling you where you get your elements and how the flow works there on that show. Your focus should be on knowing vfx techniques and knowing your tools well enough to do good work efficiently.

    Just as with a regular job you don't need to know every step of the process, especially the business side. People forget that experience plays a very important role and that you need to get hands on experience to start to understand the various ins and outs. it's not something that can be taught. That's why it's always a mistake for beginners to want to be a lead or supervisor from the start. There's no substitution for experience.

  39. So true.

    Now I will work more exhaustively to at least get into good experienced and hardworking environment.
    There is lots to learn.

    Thanks for replying to my queries. I will keep in touch with you.

    God bless you.

  40. Here's a comment from a reader:

    Hi Scott,

    I'm at a crossroad in my life, and could use your advice.

    In May 2012 at the age of 22, I earned a BA in Film, Video, Interactive Media with a minor in Interactive Digital Design at Quinnipiac University (QU). I had no exposure and/or formal training to VFX until January 21st, 2012 (Yes, I remember the date I first opened up After Effects), which was my last semester at QU but that's okay because at the time, this was the only class QU had that pertained to VFX. I fell in love, but there were no further classes and since May 2012, my VFX has been self-taught.

    Since graduation (May 2012) I moved to New York City and have worked as a freelancer in the field of motion graphics and VFX, gaining increased knowledge of the tools and methods that are used in today’s practice. It has been a period of VFX opportunity to increase my collection of assets, develop skill sets and tool utilization. My clientele includes filmmakers and production companies. I have also taken the time to independently study VFX software and techniques, as well as researching VFX companies and networking with people of all related disciplines. I have applied everywhere I could, almost everyday.

    You may view my latest demo reel at It's a good start, but shouldn't I have been able to land a job by now with that? All my jobs were straight from Craigslist... literally. I can't land a VFX Gig from any other site, or through friends, and believe me I have tried. I've applied, then followed up via LinkedIn with human resources, sometimes called (unless asked not to), went in person, I've tried so many tactics. That's sad.

    My self-taught VFX education has developed at a fair pace with no teacher/mentor, but I stand at a crossroad where one road means a continuing education at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design -- MFA in Visual Effects), or back to school for a BS in Computer Science (CS). Let's put money aside... forget money... (either way I have to take out loans on top of existing loans)...

    On the one hand, I absolutely love VFX and its artistic/technical approach, working on-set and creating content, but the job instability is driving me nuts when I see many of my friends have part-time/full-time jobs that are paying with insurance/benefits and my only possibility of landing a gig is Craigslist.

    On the other hand, CS is great too because it has a more logical approach to solving real-world problems, something I'm good at, and I could perhaps gear-shift a CS education towards Multimedia Applications, especially VFX (I foresee this route will lead me to attending/participating in more SIGGRAPH events on the programmer's side).

    I just don't know which route would be better Return On Investment... or neither. Keep doing what I have been doing. Do you have an opinion which is more likely to land me a job in VFX? It seems to me there could be a greater chance to land a job if I go the CS route.

    What are your thoughts/comments?

    Oh, and I'm 23 now. Now's the best time to explore options, and choose wisely for the sake of my future. And if it helps, I plan to stay in the US. East Coast. NYC, NJ, CT, Atlanta, Philly. Never considered going to LA, because don't have anyone to network with out there. Thank you for looking into this matter, and I look forward to a positive response.

  41. A few comments:
    Do not get a Masters or Phd in vfx. It's of no value.

    Programming - Yes, this can provide more potential opportunities for jobs, even outside of vfx. Realize this won't be typically working directly on shots but on the tools to do vfx or special cases. Of course programming can be applied to iPhone apps, video games , databases or many other types of work. Most companies want to see some type of college degree for programming. You want to make sure you get practical programming and not simply theory. You might want to learn Python (scripting language), C and C++ 9general programming, Objective C (mac, iPhone programming), etc.
    If you're interested pickup a book and download a free compiler. See if you are interested, if you can pick it up and you enjoy it. If so then you may want to consider going into it.

    For vfx work -
    Split your motion graphics and vfx work. People interested in vfx will be unlikely to want to see motion graphics and visa versa.

    Review your work honestly and see if you think it could be used in a feature film or national television as it is. Be honest. It has to have a certain level of complexity and refinement as well as subtle control.

    Lose page wipes and other easy things. Try to avoid classroom assignments. There are likely others with the same exact demos and if a teacher took you by the hand to do it then that's of no value to you or your employer on future projects. You need to be the one to figure how to do it knowing your tools and then be able to execute it on your own.

    A number of the shots were very simply. Too simple. Models, lighting, textures.

    Don't try to hide things with instagram filtering tricks.

    Take a look at your contrast of fg and bg. In many cases there's a mismatch. The shadows should change density if there is more bounce light.

    Debris and particles should look dimensional with shading and variation.

    The main thing you need to work on is your eye.
    This is the problem with most vfx students and beginners. View real footage and real atmospherics. Shoot a test on a DSLR video with and without an object. Composite or model/render the object and see if you can make it match the live action.

    Does this look real should be what you keep asking yourself. Do you know the tools well enough to do it? Can you tweak the values to make it work?

    You don't have to go college to learn vfx. It's not bad to have a degree (and given the state of vfx it might be worth having it as a backup for jobs that do) but not truly required.

    Take a look at fxphd or similar classes online to get more technical training if desired. Consider learning Nuke for advanced compositing. There are educational versions and most schools, even fxphd, offer free or special rates.

    If you do go to school one of the main things to focus on is looking at the real world and comparing your work. Most places don't actually teach that type of stuff. They simply teach the tools but the tools without an eye are worthless.

    Good luck.

  42. i am from India, i am doing my Btech computers final year i am very good at progamming i am sure i will get a software job..
    but i am mostly interested in visual effects ..
    i would like to make my career in visual effects
    can any one please tell me how will be the career in visual effects ???
    am i in correct path of choosing my career in VFX??
    please help me..

  43. You have to determine your skills and ability. You also have to research the potential jobs in India. Very mixed messages regarding if it's worthwhile for those there currently. Check and

  44. hi mr scott...
    my name is pranit and i am from india.
    i like your posts about VFX and it is very very helpful for vfx students.
    i am studying vfx at a institute.
    after reading your posts. i understand that my institute is teaching me very shortly and fast.
    they are not teaching studio techniques and technical knowledge about software.
    after all this i am thinking that i will study at home with the help of Books,dvd, online school,tutorials etc. and i have PC at my home.
    so please can you tell me is this good decision to study at home.
    please help me.

    thank you

  45. Hi Scot i'm in high school ,im interested in Vfx and must choose my subjects next year which ones do you recomend me choosing?(Vfx related)

    1. Much depends on the classes offered. VFX companies seldom care about specific classes that you have taken. They just want you to be able to do specific tasks and ideally use specific pieces of software.

      However to make yourself into a better vfx artist you might consider the following if they offer it:

      Art or design class- composition, sketching, color, sculpting, etc. All good for any type of vfx artist
      Photography - composition ,lighting, image manipulation, lenses, exposure, etc.
      Filmmaking - Story telling, editing, camera, acting, etc Working as part of a team.
      Theater - lighting, stage construction, acting, etc. Stage and prop construction useful for modelers. Lighting for TDs and lighters. Acting for animators.
      Yearbook or newspaper - working with others as a creative team and with images
      Math - Geometry, Trig, etc. all useful, especially for more technical aspects of visual effects.
      Physics - Understanding of physics good for animators and simulation artists
      Computer Programming - Basics of computer programming useful for most vfx artists, especially more technical oriented.
      English - Good communication skills are useful anywhere.

      To become a well rounded individual for future vfx work all creative and technical classes are useful as well as life experiences. Don't limit yourself to just the singular that you're planning to do.
      (i.e. animators can still learn about photography and lighting, technical directors can still learn about acting)
      In many cases your specific goal will change so being exposed to a variety of things early on it allows you to move to other areas of visual effects or to filming or any type of media production.

      Good luck

  46. Hi Scott,I've just gone through your above mentioned podcast about visual effects and the industry.
    After reading all i found you above my institute's education counselor as you have shared so straight and clear about the image of the industry and the life a visual effects artist.
    Now sir,i want a strong and straight forward advice for me. My question is, i am a graduate and was thinking to pursue my career in visual effect industry as i am so fond and passionate about visual effects.But after reading your article i am so much confused that should i go for visual effect study as my career or should not i? Please help.

    1. People can still get into visual effects but they have to realize that there are a number of obstacles and they have to be willing to really to succeed. There's a lot of competition, lots to learn as the complexity of visual effects and software become even more complex, moving fro country to country is now the expected process and most will not be likely to be employed in this career for a lifetime any longer. Part of this is due to subsidies which we are try to stop. The subsidies just cause long term job prospects to disappear.

      In the end it's up to each person to determine if they have the love, passion and determination to make it in this business. I just want everyone to consider the risks and rewards and be aware of what the path presents. Good luck to all who are determined to follow through.

  47. Scott,

    I've been reading a lot of your articles and exploring many of the other VFX-related sites out there. Thank you for sharing your candid advice and experience. I hope you will be just as candid with me.

    Like many people out there, I was first inspired to want to work in visual effects way back in 1977 when I saw the first Star Wars movie. I remember the chill I got on the back of my neck-- for a youngster of twelve I couldn't wait to start making my own movies, building models, shooting off rockets, filming them with my dad's Super 8 camera. (I still have my original copy of "Special Effects in the Movies: How They Do It.") Other interests included writing, music, drawing & painting, electronics, video games & computer programming, and photography. But as time went on I was convinced that many of my heroes in the film effects world were also technical geniuses with engineering, science and/or film degrees and how could I ever be a part of that world-- I was just an average kid growing up in Florida of all places.

    Out of high school I first worked full time in radio, then went on to television after college. I had a great opportunity to move to Los Angeles after graduation with a former roommate who's still working in the business there, but at the time passed it up for other opportunities here at home-- a decision I have often regretted.

    However, since college, I have been actively employed in the television and video post-production industry for the past 25 years-- 12 in various positions for companies as a staff writer/producer, videographer and editor, and the last 13 quite successfully as a freelance Avid & Final Cut Pro editor. I've had a chance to work on all sorts of different projects, both broadcast and non-broadcast, within this state and other places as well. Besides editing, I also do motion graphics work, as well as color correction, keying, motion tracking and compositing in After Effects. I first dabbled in 3D using 3D Studio Pro, then later in Maya. I've had VFX-related experience on various projects through the years including online editing, color correction and effects work on about 16 un-credited episodes of a network TV series. Overall, I'm very familiar with video post-production workflows, meeting client deadlines, working with clients and other teams/ individuals as well as the ups and downs of the freelancing world.

    All this being said, I am now at a crossroads of sorts. Some personal changes have occurred that have made me stop and re-examine where I'm currently at and where else perhaps I'd like to be. It's been an interesting ride so far, with happy clients and fairly consistent work. But I long for a change. And 25 years into my career I still haven't yet fully managed to do the thing I was most inspired to do-- to work in visual effects for motion pictures. I'd be thrilled with doing more VFX for network television and commercials-- even games, though every time I see a movie and watch the credits, I long for the day I can see my name up there on the big screen, too. (Even though it might be one of thousands; there aren't many opportunities for credits in the work I've been doing).

    The biggest concern for me now is my age. I'm 48 but can anyone still make a successful career change at such a late age? I actually I do look pretty young for my age so maybe I could pass for 10 years younger, though that is still probably pretty old in this business. And location is still a factor, though considering the global nature of the industry now, perhaps one has to be flexible to move not just to Los Angeles or San Francisco, but now to some other country as well?

    So any suggestions for someone with industry-related experience wanting to go further into VFX later in life?

    1. Mike,

      Age isn't really a factor to smart managers. Unfortunately there are very small minded HR people and dumb managers. The main thing is to get a great demo reel, get up to speed on what ever specialty you wish to focus on (compositing, lighting, rendering, modeling, animation, etc) and create your credit list. You can list your role and projects and just list as uncredited. Realize your demo reel will have to match the quality of vfx in films.

      Most vfx work in Los Angeles is gone. Vancouver, Montreal, UK and New Zealand offer the best subsidies and are the mostly source of work. You can also consider higher level TV work since you have experience there already and take a step up in the type of projects. Many of those are in LA or Vancouver. From there shifting into feature work might be easier.

      Another approach is to check in with indie films and smaller vfx companies that may need people. I can sometimes be easier to get your foot in the door.

      Good luck,

    2. Thank you so much for the advice, Scott. It truly means a lot coming from a visual effects veteran & pioneer like yourself. I will get going on your recommendations including creating a quality VFX reel, getting more up to speed on the tools and techniques, and building a credits list.

      Thankfully, there is a wealth of information and training available nowadays-- I've had a subscription for a while now which has been great and have tried an online class for "Intro to Maya" via Gnoman which was very good. For VFX, I've also been considering some training via FXPHD and possibly Digital Tutors. There are several schools teaching VFX courses in Florida, but they cost a fortune plus I don't think I can afford to take a year or more off. However, Gnoman does offer some week-long intensive courses at their location in LA for a very reasonable price-- I was contemplating that option as a way to further "test the waters" as well.

      I'd like to continue working in After Effects for compositing but I've also started to learn NUKE, too. And I want to learn more about 3D modeling and photorealistic rendering using Maya and Cinema4D.

      There are some companies here in the southeast and locally that are doing effects work that I can approach first and probably some indie film projects as well. I've also been able to get some experience helping out on indie projects via And I'd like to go for the higher-end TV VFX work like you suggested.

      I understand it's a very competitive business (especially with so few jobs yet all the training and schools so readily available) and you've really got to be talented, passionate, resourceful and work extremely hard to possibly make it. And even though hard work has no guarantee of success, I feel now, more than ever, I am up to the challenge!

      Thank you again Scott for pointing me in the right direction!

    3. Yes, don't spend a fortune going to specialized schools.

      fxPHD and others do offer good classes. Online vs in person classes - Online requires a certain amount of discipline on your part. Some of the online classes, such as fxphd, have the teachers available via forums so you can get interaction. A physical school provides more discipline for you since you know you have to show up and be there on a specific day. It does offer more eye to eye communication. For some people starting out in specific areas, such as basic art, a classroom where you can clearly see the steps and the teacher is constantly evaluating your work as you do it is vital. Most vfx classes don't require that level but it's up to each person how learn best. If you're already taking classes you already have some online class experience.

      And at this point it's not like HR goes - this person went to 'x' school so we should hire them.

      In any case online or classroom check what the teacher's credentials and credits are. See if they offer a sampler or demo clip of their classes.

      Nuke is the more dominate of compositing packages in feature films (more than After Effects typically). does have a nuke class or 2.

      You don't necessarily have to be an expert at everything (Nuke and Maya) although it will be helpful, especially if you're working at a smaller place or on an indie project. On large features most of the people are specialists to some extent but the smaller projects require people who can do multiple tasks.

      Good luck.


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