Getting a job: Specializing in one field or knowing about it all?


Excerpt from latest newsletter:
“A common misconception is that the “ack-of-all-trades” get the big jobs. The big feature studios are searching strictly for people who excel at one specialized art (be it animation, modeling, rigging/chaining, lighting, etc.), not for people who know a little bit about many things. Because of this, we want to be as focused as possible on animation. You will find that the most successful professional animators are consistently those willing to dedicate themselves to their specific craft.”

Now, I am attending a three year education in which we use 3D applications and compositing appliactions (during class) for two years. Some people have already decided to specialize in just one field (such as animation or modeling). However, I would like to see myself working as a VFX Supervisor in the future (this would probably be at a bigger company). Would it then be wise for me to also specialize in just one field or should I work as much as I can with all aspects of 3D and compositing? I am not talking about knowing a little about everything but actually trying to learn as much as I can about everything - which would include creating three 1-minute short films filled with CG VFX (cg character, greenscreen, matte paintings etc). I have seven months of dedicated time left of my education to do this - and I am working together with a classmate which is gearing slightly towards compositing. Myself I am gearing slightly towards 3D animation.

My plan would be to maybe start working with CG/VFX for commercials and then later on move on to movies… does this sound like it is realistic? Please hit me with the cold hard truth here.



I think being a VFX supervisor is a great goal for the long run, but looking for an entry level job with that in mind is a lot like looking for a job in the mailroom of a large company with visions of being CEO – there are just too many things that have to happen between here and there, too much combination along the way of your interests and happy accident, to be able to plan it.

Everyone’s better at certain things than others, and the largest studios like to see people with real depth in their areas of specialization. However, if you can achieve real depth in multiple areas, you’ll get farther, and it never hurts to have at least a minimally competent working knowledge of everything.

At the largest studios, the biggest division in skill set is between the character people (layout, animation and rigging, mostly) and the non-character people (lighting and effects.) Often riggers are competent animators and effects artists can light, but it’s a lot more rare that a really strong character animator is also a good lighter – there’s just too little overlap between the skills and technology.

Usually, also, top supervisors work with others who supervise areas of specialization. On a large and character-heavy effects show, you’ll often see that there’s a visual effects supervisor who runs the creative work on the project and an animation supervisor under them who just worries about performance. The visual effects supervisor may have come up through the ranks as an effects animator or lighter, and is expected to be able to offer an insightful opinion on the animation, but the animation supervisor is the one who’s really out there coaching the animators on how to get the best performances out of their characters.

Alternatively, you might find a VFX supervisor who’s a character expert and relies on effects leads and CG supervisors to get the best look while taking a more hands-on approach with the animation.

My advice, then, would be: Decide whether you’re more interested in character-related stuff or lighting/fx/compositing, be sure to pursue a balance of technical and artistic skills in support of that area, and if you’re particularly weak in something, make sure you team up with another student who’s good at it while you work on your student projects. After all, for example, it’s a lot easier to do a good job lighting a scene with great animation and strong character design than it is to do so when that stuff is weak.

Also, I think working in commercials is a fantastic place to start out. You have to solve problems really fast, every project is totally different from the one before, and there’s a lot more room on a small team to try stuff that you think you might find interesting but aren’t really sure.

– Mark


The bigger the place, the small the range of talents they want.

But at a place the size of our (27-50 people), we need well rounded people that can handle anything is thrown at them other than character animation, which I feel always needs to be a focused thing.

And on that note… we need to hire a really well rounded Maya/MentalRay ligthing TD that is also a jack-of-all-trades kinda person for a full time gig… Someone kickass with mad skillz and lots of heart. Anyone?


Sometimes it can seem that way, but it’s not actually the case – and the people with the widest range of talents are the ones who get promoted.

The people who have trouble in a big studio environment are the ones whose skills are spread around broadly but not deep in any area.

– Mark


Sorry, posted twice by mistake

– Mark


To be a great animator you need to know how to rig and model well. To be a great modeler you need to know how the model will deform when animated, to be a great texture artist you need to know how the model will deform and how light will hit it.

They are all related and you will be good at most things when you become an expert at one. It’s been said before so I will repeat it, big companies like to place people in pipelines so they can work faster and simultaneously. You can animate a base rig while your friend models the final model.

Think of pro sports as an analogy, all basketball players are good but you want a good blank who knows how to do that, it would be nice if in a tight spot they could blank also but that’s not your primary concern.


word of wisdom:

better to be Incredibly good at one thing, then to be mediocre in a lot of things.

Stick to one aspect you feel your best at, and work at it.


If you make your own animated shorts - then it’s obvious that you need to well-rounded. You just can’t brush any one thing aside and hope it won’t rear its ugly head later…

If you want to work for a studio then being specific in a certain area is kinda logical. However, if say that modellers aren’t in demand and thats your profession…I suppose you’re up shit-creak without a paddle… :hmm:


If modelers, as such, are not in demand, there’s a good chance that the reason is that everyone’s spending their time learning to model. After all, on the hiring side the number of open positions for modelers, lighters, and animators will remain relatively consistent with each other, as they’re all necessary for most kinds of CG work. (Character animators, again, may be an exception to this, as many kinds of work do not include character animation.)

Like in any other field, then, a trick to being valuable in the job marketplace is being good at things other people find difficult. My experience is that more technically-intensive areas like procedural effects and character rigging are the most in-demand, because it takes longer to learn the diverse range of skills necessary to do them well.

– Mark


Re: Mark_Wilkins.

Yeah, I’m a rigging kinda guy. I have to say that when I tell others this, they say “Euwwww! You like rigging? How boring!”. It usually comes from modellers and texturers, though… :rolleyes:

Saying that, I find skining to be the worst part of character set-ups… :sad:


I think being a jack-of-all-trades can be very good, but might not be good in a high-end situation as in movie-fx. They need the best people to do things fast, for as little money as possible. That means an extremely high skill level is needed as for instance a lead character artist on LOTR.
But being really good at one thing, and quite good at other things, might get you promoted faster. Being technical AND creative might be the ultimate skillset. Character animators might be up for a directors job faster then modellers though.

I also don’t know how the situation in sweden is, but in the US, very often people tend to specialize, and be really good at 1 thing only. And this goes for CG aswell as other fields. If you want to be a director someday, having knowledge of as much things as possible of course, is pretty important.


Im in the same kind of situation, Just finished a 3 year degree want to work as character animator, but some people say i can model better, and others say my texturing or lighting is better. Now that i think i got a fairly good grasp of all that I’m focussing on character animation! but if a modelling/texturing job comes along i’d be more than happy to…



Another good proverb is “don’t put all of your eggs into one basket”. If you know just one aspect of 3D and no one is hiring for that skill, then you’re out of luck… Many entry level jobs are at smaller studios and they need people who are well rounded. I was first hired as an animator, but eventually I had to become extremely well rounded at that company and ended up modeling, texturing, rigging, animating, designing UI, concepting, lighting, and rendering…


Animation does require a lot of work, but unless you go straight to Pixar-topia, chances are you’ll need to be good at several things. I’d say there are a few Superstars who can do it all at the highest level. More common are people who are really strong in one or two areas, and competant(sp?) in the rest with maybe a weak spot or two.


Jackdeth, I can’t believe no one has bit on your little piece action you dangled out there!! They just must see your avatar and not read your posts because you’re so mean!! Ah well, good luck in finding that lighting TD, there should be some available methinks.


Mean? I think you meant “brutally honest.” :slight_smile:

And on the job offer, I would have thought I would have gotten atleast 1 private message about it. I think tomorrow I’ll post a “real” offer in the jobs section. Hopefully a big fish will bite.


Thank you all so much for the feedback. It means a lot to me to receive all your thoughts on this, especially when it comes from such talented people, representing so great companies!

I wish I didn’t have to choose between specializing in character-related stuff OR compositing/vfx, because they are both so fun and I like working in both fields (meaning probably everything 3D and compositing)! But I guess that in order to get my first real CG job (most likely and hopefully in London) I have realized I should choose one field and focus on it but also work with someone in the other field(s) to experience what problems arise and learn how to efficiently solve them.

Again, thanks so much for all the feedback!


interestingly, i go tmy job at blur by specializing in modeling (see website, but realize its over a year old) but quickly found out, thats not all i would be doing.

wha tis good about specializing, is it shows how good you can be. if we get a reel where one guy did a whole animation, unless he spent 3 years on it, most likely, it sucks. granted he may be very talented, but theres just too much there to do. You can’t gauge how good the guy is in production, and we’re not going to give him the chance, thats what hte reel is for.

being broad range is great, but figure one thing out before moving on.
o, and if you animate, thats pretty much all you have to do, thuogh modeling, ‘usualy’ requires decent texture skills. fortunately i learned them fast enough :wink:


a lot of this will depend on the type of company/work you are looking at pursuing… but personally, i wouldnt be looking at specialization as being ‘the thing youre going to do for the rest of you career’. i think you should look at specialization as being the thing that gets you in the door. thats step one.

one youre inside - so to speak - youll have a much better idea of where you sit as far as knowledge in all those other areas are concerned, and youll probably quite quickly figure out that theres another department or area you want to work at long term. plus if youre quiet enough and listen for a bit youll probably come to the disturbing realisation that you know jack about most things. at that point just become a sponge. go about learning as much as possible, ask the right questions, show an interest, and talk with your co-workers. (but dont hang at their workstations drooling or bugging them)

i mean think about it this way… you might consider a year of doing compositing-type-stuff as being ‘specializing’ … but if you get your foot in the door at a big vfx firm, youll be working with people that have been comping 12hrs a day for the past 5 or so years… theyll have experience that you cant find in a book, cant read on any forums… and though they might not admit it, even they dont know everything

in our company we pretty much only hire for specialist positions, as we have so much proprietary code in our pipeline that it’d take a while for anyone to adapt and be able to be productive in all the facets of the pipe. the best alternative is to bring people up from more entry-level positions or fringe departments, as all that introductory knowledge is there.

if you’re good you’ll earn the opportunity to handle more… but youve got to get inside first.


“brutally honest”? ya, i guess you could say that. And don’t get me wrong, your honesty is always “brutally appreciated” :thumbsup: