I'm considering a doing PhD in this stuff am i mad?

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  08 August 2009
I'm considering a doing PhD in this stuff am i mad?

Hi

I'd appreciate some honest advice from you experts! What do you think about the idea of doing a research PhD in Digital Entertainment?

I'm a student who's just completed a masters in Visual Effects after a first degree in Maths and Comp Sci. I love CG and working on technical problems like cloth and hair etc though being completely honest I don't think i'm a good enough artist to deliver work at the higest production level. I'm not bad but the work I see others producing, i know would likely be beyond me (maybe i just need a boost of confidence).

However I'm good at finding ways to do things and i'm techincally good with things like cloth and mental ray and other technical aspects.

There is a programme run here in the UK that offers a 4 year "Professional Doctorate" that involves 3 years working at a production company working with their research team on what ever they're working on (say Framestore are working on a new fluid system or something) and 1 year doing my own research/thesis/whatever.

It sounds a really exciting scheme and i'm very interested in doing it (fees paid and a nice stripend help persuade me ) but of course I'd like to know what sort of career path one would be led down doing a PhD in this stuff. I'd love one day to get out to america and work for the likes of Pixar/Dreamworks though like i said i don't think i'd ever be good enough to be "an artist". Would a PhD be beneficial to getting to the top of the R'n'D tree?

I'm at the end of my Masters degree and don't quite know if i'm ready/good enough to enter the professional world just yet. Perhaps a PhD would be a bad idea and just stalling the inevitable?

Confused myself now. Advice appreciated.
 
  08 August 2009
I have a friend who did a PHD in real time rendering of soft shadows, (you can read a bit more about his research group here) he's lucky enough to actually be able to have an own research group now, working as an assistant professor but I guess he's doing about the kind of thing your thinking about?
The things they are researching can be applied to a lot of platforms (basically, everything that renders something, from mobile phones to computers) and that's a good thing. If you have that kind of competence, the world is your apple.

So.. eum, conclusion; Do it!
(that programme seems to be a good way of actually heading into production work whilst still developing/researching something.But... don't trust in what I'm saying since I dont work in the technical field myself )

Last edited by Alice : 08 August 2009 at 03:19 PM.
 
  08 August 2009
Originally Posted by FluidEdge: Hi
...Perhaps a PhD would be a bad idea and just stalling the inevitable.


Hey.

When you write "the inevitable" you mean a day-to-day job kinda thing, where youll be artistically challenged?

I think alot of people who make a PHD are people a little afraid of leaving the school-life. But only a little. Mostly I guess taking a PHD means that you are absolutely obsessed and interrested in furthering your skills in a very specific area, be it micro-processors, fluid simulation or optimizing the transportation of milk from the cow to the consumer...

I definately think, that you should apply for that programme. It sounds like its the perfect solution for you, especially doing a PHD in a company instead of a school/university.

There's only one way finding out if your good enough for professional life, and that is starting out.

I would say take the programme. If you have any self-doubt it seems like a good way to start out!

-Thomas.
 
  08 August 2009
Originally Posted by FluidEdge: Hi

I'm at the end of my Masters degree and don't quite know if i'm ready/good enough to enter the professional world just yet. Perhaps a PhD would be a bad idea and just stalling the inevitable?

Confused myself now. Advice appreciated.



I hate to say this, but I don't think getting more schooling is going to help if your goal is to work in production. 4 years of actual experience in the industry will get you ahead much more so.

I have a friend who got his masters and then got a job as an animator. They hired him as a junior because he had no work experience. In the same 4 years (we're both the same age) I had gone from junior to senior animator and had worked at several big studios. I don't want to undermine the choice he made, but it seems like it was a bit of a waste of time and it put him in a lot of debt.

Animation is different than FX and technical stuff, but my philosophy is get on with your life and stop delaying that big step out into the world.

(but ignore this completely if you are after a more pipeline/programming department career)
 
  08 August 2009
cheers for advice everyone. All make valid points. When i say the inevitable I do mean finally getting a job in this bloody industry!

If it was a purely academic PhD i wouldn't even consider it but the fact that 75% of it is spent away from uni's and actually in production work (games companies, soho production studios etc) makes it quite appealing. The companu do not actually employ you so you're effectively an unpaid intern for 3 years however there programme pay's ~16,000 p/y and all fees paid.

One side of me is saying it'd be great to have 3 years experience under my belt with these companies and i'd be doing valuable work in the field, it's just if I go for it, i'll be 27 by the time i graduate and never have earn't more than 16,000 - not exactly big bucks, where as 3/4 years spent actually doing the work and i'd go from junior --> senior and be on closer to double that 16,000. It's just having to enter the job market and fight it out with everyone else rather than going through the back door IYSWIM!

I think my head is saying get on with life and get a proper job, but there is something about being called "Dr..."
 
  08 August 2009
Definitely go for it!

Some of the top studio R&D and in-house software problem solvers are armed with PhD degrees. Yours sounds like an excellent program geared towards that end.

If you are interested in pursing a career as a top developer at a major studio and publishing new papers on cutting edge cg techniques for every year's Siggraph, it sounds like the training will be very valuable indeed. On the production side, you will definitely be in the trenches solving every technical problem they can throw at you to get the job done.
 
  08 August 2009
Originally Posted by quaider: I hate to say this, but I don't think getting more schooling is going to help if your goal is to work in production. 4 years of actual experience in the industry will get you ahead much more so.

I have a friend who got his masters and then got a job as an animator. They hired him as a junior because he had no work experience. In the same 4 years (we're both the same age) I had gone from junior to senior animator and had worked at several big studios. I don't want to undermine the choice he made, but it seems like it was a bit of a waste of time and it put him in a lot of debt.

Animation is different than FX and technical stuff, but my philosophy is get on with your life and stop delaying that big step out into the world.

(but ignore this completely if you are after a more pipeline/programming department career)


I tell you what mate, you might never know how influential that comment turns out to be.

I've been thinking about that one a lot for the last couple of hours and i think you've hit the nail on the head.
 
  08 August 2009
as a senior you should be making a fair amount more than 2x16K.
you can make 30+K just writing PHP/Javascript...

Originally Posted by FluidEdge: ... i'd go from junior --> senior and be on closer to double that 16,000
 
  08 August 2009
Originally Posted by FluidEdge: I tell you what mate, you might never know how influential that comment turns out to be.

I've been thinking about that one a lot for the last couple of hours and i think you've hit the nail on the head.


Uh oh, I hoped I wouldn't come off too strongly in my reply. If the academic persuit works with your life plans, I'd hate to scare you away from it. But if you want to work on movies, you just have to work on movies. You'll be so much more proud of the accomplishments.

Everyone's life works out differently and there's nothing wrong with that. I've just seen too many friends and family members waste time and money on extended schooling, and half of them only really seemed to do it so they could stay kids and have their parents pay for them.

Plus, there's always the possibility that after 10-15 years in the industry you'll be burnt out and want to persue something else. You could save getting your PhD for then, and get it for something completely different.

Just my two cents. Best of luck!
 
  08 August 2009
Originally Posted by quaider: Uh oh, I hoped I wouldn't come off too strongly in my reply. If the academic persuit works with your life plans, I'd hate to scare you away from it. But if you want to work on movies, you just have to work on movies. You'll be so much more proud of the accomplishments.

Everyone's life works out differently and there's nothing wrong with that. I've just seen too many friends and family members waste time and money on extended schooling, and half of them only really seemed to do it so they could stay kids and have their parents pay for them.

Plus, there's always the possibility that after 10-15 years in the industry you'll be burnt out and want to persue something else. You could save getting your PhD for then, and get it for something completely different.

Just my two cents. Best of luck!



haha. Yeh I really do want to get into movies (or games actually) so perhaps it's best to get on and try it!
 
  08 August 2009
This was about 5 years ago, but...

A friend of a friend of mine did his PhD on physically based modeling of hair. At the time, he had finished his degree a year ago and was working for Dreamworks, I believe. His work was pretty much the pure science of computer graphics.

There were several students at my uni who were PhD students in comp sci and their specialties were physically based fx and animation. I don't know where they are now but they were all working closely with artists during the course of their studies.

Best of luck!

Last edited by KangtheMad : 08 August 2009 at 09:24 PM.
 
  08 August 2009
my main concern is where i'd be in 4 years time. Would i be "employable" with a PhD or is there a chance i could be "over qualified" if you know what i mean.
 
  08 August 2009
As someone who's been there, if you want to get into research, in or outside of academia, a PhD is definitely worth it, provided you give it all you've got.

I went for a PhD for similar reasons to yours, enjoyed the art side of things but had more "natural talent" with the technical side of things (and a degree in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence). Your professional PhD seems brilliant, as it will give you both research and industrial experience. It will also serve to make your PhD research more "relevant" in terms of industry, which you'll find is a problem with a lot of strictly academic PhD projects. Where's this offered out of interest?

Due to circumstances (well.. money issues really!) I had to move to complete my PhD part-time a few years back, and am still in the process of writing up, but over that time, my research experience has definitely opened doors for me.

In my experience though, the effect a PhD will have on your employment prospects is a mixed bag. In the games industry, unless you're going for a job somewhere with an established r&d department, all the PhD is going to do is get you through the first hurdle of getting an interview, it won't necessarily greatly affect your salary etc early on, until you've proven yourself. I can't speak for the film industry as I haven't really been in it What you will find though, is that a relevant PhD will really make a difference in specialist R&D type companies, many of which won't hire you unless you have a proven track record in research.

My PhD research is related to parallel global illumination (won't bore anyone with the exact title), and when I was last looking for a job, I was quickly offered interviews at a good handful of R&D companies developing high-end lighting solutions, both for games and film, all of which were offering more than twice the pay that I was on in my games programming job at the time. Ultimately, I actually decided to go back to academia (yes, am one of those, plus it meant I didn't have to move anywhere close to London!), where obviously, a PhD does wonders for your career prospects.

I wouldn't indiscriminately recommend anyone to do a PhD, but an option of doing a PhD which gives you industry experience as well sounds like a brilliant opportunity (wish I'd had the option of doing that!)

Feel free to fire me off a message if you'd like.
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Last edited by Carina : 08 August 2009 at 07:05 AM.
 
  08 August 2009
I'm guessing this is regarding the DProf (Professional Doctorate) at Bournemouth University?


I believe when undertaking a doctorate their are two schools of thought:

A) A doctorate may get me to posts that otherwise would be unattainable or more realistically take longer to get to without the relevant qualifications.

B) The time spent actually aquiring the doctorate would have been better served simply entering the profession and moving up the 'ranks' via experience.


In your situation, I believe it's really down to where your focus lies.


From reading through quite a few posts, in the field of computer graphics/animation if you want to work at production level, on things such as films, vfx, games, then it's more down to what you can do, as opposed to what you know (ie the qualifications you possess). At the end of the day, the studios want to know one thing, can you actually aid the project. Therefore, possesing the DProf if you want to work on projections, I don't believe will help you, over someone who doesn't have one.

On the other hand, if you want to work at a research level be it at an academic institution (lecturing, research groups) or within a R&D dept. at a studio, I would suggest taking the DProf. At the top fleight studios a doctore qualification seems mandatory, if not highly desirable to work within their R&D depts. Just take a look at Weta Digitals job page at the moment.

Like I said, at the end of the day, it's what you want to do in your career, and where your focus lies. An alternative plan, if artistical (or skills wise) you don't believe you're up to the job, may be to undertake an internships, or take up the DProf and work on your skills in the meantime (however, I'm not sure how instensive the work load would be, so this might not be a realistic option). Otherwise, if a R&D dept. sounds interesting to you, the fact that it's a professional doctorate (and you'll most probably be working in smaller R&D depts) is a double barrelled shotgun, if you want to apply for a major studio's R&D dept. down the line.


Hope this helps, and good luck, in whatever choice you make
 
  08 August 2009
That's the one

I think i'm going to have a go at getting a job in the industry (probably games) and if I can't find anything or it doesn't work out then look into the PhD option.

Thanks for the advice guys! (Keep it coming!)
 
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