This webinar on careers in VFX was hosted by Claire Vandenbroecke, from the admissions team at Escape Studios. Claire put questions to a couple of industry experts, Ben Owens and Anna Swift, to help you learn how to find, get and keep your dream job in VFX.
Ben and Anna talk about skill demands, career prospects, and share their top tips on how to produce that killer show reel to help launch your career in the VFX industry.
Ben Owens, Global Head of Recruitment, MPC
I have been working in recruitment for well over ten years the last eight years of which have been spent specifically looking after recruitment for visual effects.
I've been working for small boutique studios right up to the large VFX houses, and where I am now is MPC.
I'm global head of recruitment, looking after all hiring across MPC's multiple locations.
MPC as a studio has been around for well over 30 years working across TV, advertising, and film.
My responsibility is primarily looking after the film side of it, working mainly in London, London's our biggest hub, but we also have visual effects of films done out of Vancouver, Bangalore and Montreal.
Over the last few years we've seen MPC grow beyond all recognition to now having over 1,200 employees globally.
Anna Swift, Recruitment and Talent Development manager, Framestore
I work on the film side of the business, and my role is to recruit talent and company at all levels across all disciplines. I also look after all that if development of the junior, members of staff, so the runners, trackers, work out how we can progress them through the company and ensure they have the right skill sets that we need.
So Framestore has been around since the mid-80s, we're super big at the moment with about 1,100 artists globally.
So our main headquarters are in London, we also have offices in LA and New York which focuses on the commercial side of the business. And the Montreal office opened last year, and that's purely film related.
We have a very busy year this year. Obviously we won the Oscar for Gravity, which was amazing, and we're really looking to continue to bring talent into the company from the junior level upwards.
If I can produce a result in any software, will a company still consider me for the job, even if they don't use that particular software?
Software is definitely important for a studio.
I would say the primary softwares here at MPC are Maya, Nuke and Renderman. So having familiarity with any combination of the softwares we already use is an advantage.
But we also have a host of proprietary toolkits that have been designed in-house. So coming into certain departments at MPC you won't have the access to those tools, so you'll have to learn them from scratch anyway.
We look for potential, we do have a lot of in-house training to get candidates up to speed. When a candidate doesn't have the software skills, as long as we have the time, then there's nothing to stop us from bringing them in and training them up.
>> And that's actually the thing at Framestore, we find the software is an add on really, it's more about the work an artist can produce, no matter what software it's on.
And as Ben says, we offer full training, and with the majority of softwares, there's the odd tweak between them makes them different, but they're all doing the same thing. So people tend to pick them up quite quickly.
>> Certainly at the junior level, if someone does have the software that we use, it will make it easier in the long run for us to bring them in-house. And candidates also need to consider the fact that we have hundreds of applications coming in every week and anything they can do to better their chances of fitting in with a studio is going to be an advantage.
>> It also depends on what time of a project we're hiring, if it's right at the end of crunch time.
Obviously we do rely on people to know the software, so they can just sort of come in and hit the floor running and get on with it.
If it's early on in the project then as Ben said, you've got a bit more luxury of training time.
Are there more freelance opportunities for concept artists or are there still a broad range of full time roles out there suited to them?
>> We have a concept art department at Framestore and it's mainly made up of staff positions, people that stay at Framestore for the duration.
But we will still hire people in for specific projects as freelancers.
Some of our concept artists can also matte paint as well, so what we like to do is hire people on a long term contract, and if ever it's a bit quiet in concept then they might do a bit of matte painting just to fill the gaps.
The concept team is very small at Framestore, so there's not really a volume there compared to say, compositors for example, but there's short term and long term.
>> At MPC the in-house art department is relatively small compared to the other departments.
However, we do have an extensive contact list of freelancers. In fact, it's one of the only departments that still uses freelancers in the traditional sense of the word. In that we'll bring somebody in for a project as Anna was saying and have them work for maybe a matter of days at a time sometimes remotely.
So for a concept art, there are freelance opportunities certainly.
As the industry is constantly growing and getting more competitive is it getting harder to find a job?
>> The industry is definitely growing faster than it's ever grown before, certainly in the last few years, all of the London studios have doubled or even trebled in size.
There are bigger projects coming up all the time, and with that are more opportunities.
As to whether it's harder to find a job; I would say there's more opportunity now than there ever has been. So it's a good time for graduates and candidates in general to be looking to enter Visual Effects.
>> I think it's Always going to be competitive because the level that we require to come into all of our studios is so very high.
But I think the more people listen to what studios need in terms of softwares, and style of work, and stuff like that, would really help people.
And also having really stiff expectations as well.
So someone might finish a vfx course at Escape, or finish a university degree and say, yeah I definitely want to be a creature modeller and nothing else.
Chances are that's not how you're going to get in straightaway.
It's best for people not to rule themselves out by being a bit too picky.
How do you get into feature film from TV commercial experience?
>>Have a good showreel!
>> That's what it does come down to.
It's all about the work that candidates put forward. And, a huge amount of skills are transferable whether you're working in advertising or film.
I think both of our studios cater for advertising and film and we do have crossover.
Often, it comes down to the artist's preference as to where they want to go. But in terms of what we look for, we look for somebody who wants to be involved in a feature project which is often much longer term. And someone needs to understand exactly what's involved, advertising projects are often shorter, and somebody can move easily from one to another.
Someone coming from a generalist background, who wants to move into film, may need to specialize, certainly from MPC's point of view.
We have a department-based structure and all artists within that discipline are seated together.
In order to get to the skill level needed for film work, you'll have to be specialized. You certainly won't have the opportunity to do more than one task on a project. You may spend six or eight months purely animating those shots.
>> It's actually the same at Framestore really.
I think, some of the smaller studios do hire, and some of the biggest studios, hire generalist TDs.
So that would be quite a straightforward transition, because in commercials people tend to be a bit more generalist.
But it's not impossible but as Ben says, you do you have to focus on one particular area.
Start honing your skills in that area and then once you're in, then that's when you can move around our asset built team at Framestore.
The modelers and some of them can texture as well and we let them do both when we can, but it's pretty much separated for departments.
>> When it comes to either transitioning across from more of an advertising background or from outside the industry, it's about making sure that as an artist you can show your potential.
That your showreel helps us to see how you, as an artist, would fit in within the film side of the business. If you can do that, then we can bring you on board.
>> So even though they might want to move into a more kind of generalist advanced role if they show that willing and that talent in their showreel, but apply for just a very specific job, you guys could then actually bring them on.
>> Some of our compositors that we've hired this year, their background was working for studios that covered TV and commercials. And they had more generalist skills set. We brought them on and they honed their comp skills a bit more with us.
But the fact that they've got the understanding of the other areas in the pipeline that a generalist has, has helped them with their comp work because they know the relationship between compositing and lighting, so on and so forth.
>> Coming from, I think, a generalist background as well, into a more specialist environment such as that of film, you'd need to be aware that your level may be lower.
So somebody who's considered perhaps a senior within a more generalist role coming into the specialist field, would maybe start at a more junior level to begin with, until their skills get up to the required level.
Is understanding a pipeline as important as understanding the software itself?
>> I think we're looking at two separate things.
Certainly, understanding the software is important but software can be learned; pipelines change from studio to studio whereas the software skills can easily be taken from one place and plugged in a new location.
The pipeline is also always evolving; I don't think any studio's ever going to turn round and say that they have the perfect pipeline. And as software continues to evolve so do pipelines. They look at new software, new ways of doing the work that we do.
So having an understanding of how a large film pipeline works is good but it's something that can be picked up.
>> It's not essential at all. And as Ben said, it can change from company to company and also show to show.
We're often changing how we do our shows here at Framestore.
I think the one thing that's kind of missing from that question, is the actual skill to do the job that you used the software for and put it into the pipeline. Because if you're not understanding the basic principles of animation, for example, you're not going to get anywhere.
So they're a kind of add on for us really, as Ben said, there are things that can be learned and developed once you're in MPC.
What would look for in a junior without industry experience straight from graduating?
>> The key thing we look for in any graduate is potential.
We are looking for, not just the enthusiasm for the industry that we're in, but also that raw talent.
Understanding that a candidate can come in and learn the way we do things and use what skills they've learnt over the course of their education or their background within our environment.
>> I think the importance of teamwork is a really good soft skill that you can't put that on your showreel
But if your showreel shows clear breakdowns and then demonstrates that you've worked in a team, that you've done the modeling or you've done the lighting, that's really important for us to see.
It's really, really good for us to see how people got from the start to the end of a shot.
That might be looking at some concept and looking at different versions of models so on and so forth.
But it's honing your skills to what the studio does.
At Framestore all of our visual effects are pure photo-real visual effects. If we get a lot of showreels that are quite cartoony then it is really hard for us to see how that candidate will fit into our departments.
So it's doing your research, understanding the sort of work you need to do, making sure that’s on your showreel whether it be personal projects, group projects, individual projects, making sure everything's got breakdowns on it, clearly marking what you did and that's what we're looking for . No longer than a minute really for the entry level positions we'd say.
>> As a junior we are very aware that you won't have industry experience and we're not looking for something to be perfect or something to be very complex.
Often the examples that really show someone's potential are the simplest one the ones that have just been realized very, very well.
And I would say anything that you put on a show reel you should be completely happy with.
If you have a doubts about any of the work that you have on there, take it away. Even if it's shortening the length of your reel.
We would rather see well finished work rather than work in progress.
It’s quality over quantity.
If you've applied for a job at a studio and you know the name of the recruiter. Should you connect with them on LinkedIn when you apply so that they recognize your name or would this be frowned upon?
>> Yes definitely.
>> Most definitely.
LinkedIn is the primary networking tool that we all as recruiters use and we want to be able to keep in touch with candidates who are interested in working at our studios.
Find us on LinkedIn, connect with us.
Now, how much ongoing contact you have with us after that should be kept in check.
We don't want to be spammed by candidates.
But whenever someone creates a new piece of work that's relevant we want to know about it.
And likewise through LinkedIn we send out updates not just about positions coming up but also news about the Studio.
Certainly MPC has a news feed that goes out talking about a new project as we win them and it's a great way to keep informed what's happening.
>> I’d definitely encourage LinkedIn and I think your LinkedIn is a professional networking tool. Don't try Facebook. Unless you're our friends anyway in real life!
Sometimes you get followed on Twitter and then you get your Facebook and all sorts so try keep it professional with LinkedIn.
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