How to start a career in 2D

Escape Studios Students

by Allar Kaasik (Compositing Tutor, Escape Studios)

If you’re looking to start a career in 2D your focus should be set on three main things: getting the right skills, building a showreel, and being a nice person to work with!

Apply to be a Student Volunteer at Siggraph 2016. 
Apply to be a Student Volunteer at Siggraph 2016. 
Apply to be a Student Volunteer at Siggraph 2016. 
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:
The SIGGRAPH 2016 Student Volunteer Program is a unique opportunity for students to engage in all areas of the conference while contributing behind-the-scenes to the overall success of this prestigious event. The benefits of being a Student Volunteer extend beyond the free full conference registration and include:

The right skills

The most common route to 2D VFX starts through roto. If you have a range of compositing related skills that you’ve acquired on relevant courses, then sometimes the entry-level roto jobs may be skipped (assuming that you haven’t forgotten about the other two main things), but learning to do roto efficiently and well cannot be skipped. The good thing about learning roto is that it does not depend too much on which software you use to do it. Mocha, Nuke, Fusion, Silhouette are all good for practicing the art of breaking your roto down to smaller shapes and setting the keyframes at just the right times, so that the software will interpolate as much for you (so you don’t have to…) and give you a good looking smooth result.

Beyond the basic transferable skills, you also want to start learning how to do photorealistic clean-up and then, how to do photorealistic compositing. And that’s where software choices do begin to matter, since when you aim for the high-end VFX (And don’t aim low! Think “Marvel”, “DC”, Chris Nolan, Ridley Scott, “Star Wars” etc…) and when you finally get to apply for jobs in VFX companies, they will be wanting you to also know the high-end software (e.g. Silhouette for paint/roto, Nuke for comp).

Simone Zuccarini's student work
Simone Zuccarini's student work

Simone Zuccarini studied on our 12 week full-time course and for his clean-up shot exercise he did a cool "magical floating sandwich maker" shot. A simple non-expensive setup, but a great opportunity to show artistic skill and technical quality. Simone's recent film credits include "Terminator Genisys", "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" and "Assassin's Creed".

Building a showreel

VFX companies are looking for people with stand-out skills; the main way (the only way, really…) of showing them is by making a kick-ass showreel! Your showreel should reflect the first thing that you should focus on when trying to get into VFX (the “right skills”, remember?). So, you want to demonstrate your technical abilities and that you’re willing to put in the effort to make your work as good as it could possibly be (so don’t show work in progress!). In addition to the final piece you also want to show breakdowns that illustrate, how you made it work. For example, if you’re demonstrating your roto skills, then show what your subject looks like over a high contrast background, show what the matte looks like and then show the actual shapes that you made to break down the roto to smaller pieces. Breakdowns like these prove that you can be honest about your work.

Does your showreel need to have amazing VFX with robots and explosions and space-monsters? If you’ve got some really good ones then go ahead and include them, but it’s unlikely that you do (if you do have some, ask yourself if they are actually good). It’s perfectly fine to shoot your own elements and to do something simple and creative (e.g. making a coffee mug magically float in mid-air by suspending it on wires and then digitally painting out the unwanted rig). Once you actually start working on big films you’ll get plenty of action-shots to add to your reel, but when you’re just starting out your main aim should be making things look photoreal. That’s what they are hiring you for in the first place.

Tim Adams' student work
Tim Adams' student work
Tim Adams' student work

Tim Adams did the part-time evening course and showed excellent rotoscoping techniques on his reel. This got him hired very quickly at MPC and a week later he moved on to Double Negative. Tim's credit's include the TV series "Jekyll & Hyde" and the big blockbuster "Jungle Book".

Be a nice person!

It may seem like a hasty recommendation to give before you’ve even started your first job, but when you begin to approach companies you definitely want to present yourself as someone who would be great to work with. The supervisor hiring you already has a team of artists he’s looking after, so he wants to be sure that you’ll fit in well with them. So, show enthusiasm, be courteous and take pride at what you do while staying humble. This matters in the way you present yourself on your CV, on LinkedIn and when you email the companies introducing yourself (if you don’t have LinkedIn yet, you should probably start an account and start building your network, but gradually! Don’t be that guy, who adds people he’s never met just because they have VFX job title!).

Once you get your first job, continue to show enthusiasm,being courteous and taking pride at what you do whilst staying humble. Also, learn to take feedback and cherish it, because that’s your way of becoming a better artist. Once you’ve managed all of the above, you’ve had a chance to prove your skills on your first job and they like you as a person, you’ll get called back for another project and that is when you know that you finally have a career in VFX!

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