Looking back at my first ten years in this field


…ain’t that the truth.

I don’t have any experience within ‘the industry’ but I’ve always made a point of outlining my relevant experiences when going for jobs in the past. I’ve had a few jobs where I’ve never done the work before but I’ve had experiences from other jobs that I could draw on. As an example, if a job asks for experience in XXXX then they obviously want experience in XXXX but if they ask for relevant experience that’s pretty open to anything that you consider relevant…it could be working within an office, dealing with the public, graphic design…whatever you feel is relevant.


Yeah I agree. No place for this stuff on the forums. I think someone hijacked leigh’s account. Surely the real leigh wouldn’t be posting this contradictory trite on cgtalk.


really? It seems to me general discussions is as good a place as any.

In an industry such as ours, where overtime and burn-out are rife, a story of this kind, from a community member / leader, is surely a good thing? Hearing that a cg artist can have a good career and maintain some life-balance around that is refreshing and (I think) important.

I’m as interested in how our peers get through ‘it’ as much as the work itself. It could be argued that this is as much a part of cgtalk as the art.



Thanks, Leigh, interesting read. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of somebody I look up to greatly. Your views have always been candid and insightful, both in the local scene and as CG careers go in general.

I doubt you remember but you’re the person who helped me into CG in the first place. I posted on the Prophecy forums, looking for a way in and you responded telling me about the college you were lecturing at, at the time. Unfortunately I missed your lectures (the year ahead talked about you with a weird sort of informal reverence) but I got through college and I have a decently paying job.

Keep up the brilliant work and I hope you have the time to be as helpful as you have been (and hopefully want to continue being :P).

Anyway, enough ass-kissery. How’s the slush? We’re struggling here with the sun and the beach and no wind. Hope you have a good New Year’s :smiley:


Odd, I rarely see posts “about this same type of material” here. I see a LOT of posts that get deleted/closed because people are complaining about their jobs or whining about something, but its pretty rare that someone gives their honest insight without the whining.

That said, congratulations to Leigh on your 10-year anniversary! And to all a Happy New Year!


everything you have said has been posted a million times before…

but its nice to see it all together in one post.



Well I guess my keywords suck. But look at what I fouuunnnnd!

EA might be moving a studio to Atlanta


Leigh, thanks for posting this.
I particularly liked the bit about not needing to be “god-like”. Although I consider myself successful and satisfied with my current position as a video-producer/game artist, the truth is that my heart is in vfx movie work.
Maybe I should get off my ass and revamp my outdated demo reel. :smiley:

I would like if you could elaborate a little on the whole generalist VS specialist topic? It seems that there are two trains of thought, you are either “god-like” in everything, OR you are the best left-eyebrow/pinky finger animator this side of the milky-way.


There are places in Atlanta, there are places in every big city. I’m in ATL now and came from Kansas City, which also had a handful of 3d shops. EA is eyeing Atlanta currently, though I personally couldn’t see myself working for a place with their reputation. There are shops and even user groups in Atlanta. With SCAD and AI though, there is also a bit of competition if you don’t have a lot of experience yet. I started out in Kansas in a small shop doing mostly architecture stuff, but that opened the door other places as I met people and made contacts to people that now work at Blur, Pixar, Dreamworks etc… Get in where you can, make connections/friends and a bunch of other doors will open up for you as well.

Like Leigh said, be likable and be skilled. The more jobs you have the number of connections you have grows exponentially. And if you are likable and skilled, those connections can vouch for you when you need them to.


Thanks for sharing, Leigh, very interesting read.


Very nice read. I always wondered what your life story was like.


That is so insightful… and I defiantly don’t think this is Facebook material. Not even close.

I have 4 years of experience myself, 2 of which that include lots of stumbling around. My experience is kinda non-orthodox considering Cairo is not the place for CG industry. I’m trying to find my chances in a place with more vibe in the industry.

This is Not along the lines of whining “If only I were living elsewhere…??”.
It’s more like “I have a location disadvantage and I need advice so I can address it correctly”

along the lines of NOT being godlike…
What would you say about having a reel that shows decent skills in one aspect only??
I’m a lighting artist most of the stuff on my reel are shots done in a limited budget production. The modeling, animation and character design on my reel are not things that I can be proud of and most of them I didn’t do myself. The demo reel breakdown states clearly what I’ve done on every shot.
However “all in all” the reel does NOT look that good. Would that hurt my chances when applying to lighting positions??

In case you wanna waste a couple of mins watching my 2008 reel I can drop you a link in a PM. I don’t want to turn this into a reel feedback thread.

Wonder if I can be that picky with the location disadvantage I have??

Even with only 4 years of experience I can second that advice.

I also work 8 hours X 5 days… but would you call that “standard” for the industry??

…to the point where it can hinder a plan for relocating??

10 years of experience and a successful career… and the one thing I envy you for are the metal gigs in the UK :slight_smile:

Happy New Year :slight_smile:

       Huh? I have a few friends in Atlanta doing CG for a living. One at Primal Screen and the other at Turner Studios 3D. I've actually heard that the 3D field in Atlanta is actually booming pretty decently. Try Midwest Indianapolis on for size.
      By the way, great read Leigh. I agree with every point you made.
     Two reasons as to why I believe this post was a necessity: 1) It is utterly shocking to me, how clueless people are about the industry they want to get into. 2) The extremes of thought that you either have to be a god to get a job (which in my experience is simply not true). Or vice versa and most certainly worse, your work sucks and you think it's brilliant and companies should be banging down your door. In my experience, it's a combination of things, including who you are as a person, commitment, quality, ambition, and consistency. I've said this before and I'll say it again, if you have to come on to this forum and ask people how to get a job, without even searching it, then I think we all know you'll never have a job. Unfortunately or fortunately, some people are simply intelligent and will almost always have a position, and some people are not.


congratulations on a decade in the industry and thanks for the advice.


Interesting reading.


Thanks for typing this up, I definitely see some of my own experiences in there. Now I’m just waiting for the part where the hours are decent and the pay is awesome :smiley:

But having worked far worse jobs, I agree that being able to get paid for doing CGI is pretty damn cool.


from my experience and people ive talked to or met from even bigger companies like ilm and weta, “standard” is 50-60 hour weeks. Thats from my experience and what others have said they went through.

I think if you average out the hours overall though you probably get around 50 moreso. North America vs Europe workloads are worlds apart as well.

here 44 is normal work week and 60ish is the norm for OT per week although some studios go even over that. Vacation, assuming you’re not on contract, is at best 2 weeks. you might get 3 weeks after 3-5 yrs of working at the same company.

Europe you’re looking at 40 hour weeks, crunch times maybe getting up there to 50-60. Vacation time is usually 4 weeks, best i know is 6 weeks.

In europe you generally work to live, in north america you live to work. Its 2 different mindsets and the workplaces reflect it. Thankfully i have dual citizenship so i can jump ship and have a bit of both worlds if it comes to that. There’s good things and bad things on both sides im sure. Just do whatever is good for you.:buttrock:


Ok as leigh has done this I thought I too would share my experiences. I have been working in the industry for over 10 years and my story is.

I went thte college route and got a BSc and an MA in Special Effects specialising in compositing. In my final term of my MA, Mill Film contacted my college tutors asking if there were any compositors graduating. 2 Days later I was down having an interview and at the end of the interview they offer me a job as a compositor. You can imagine I was amazed but also very scared. Jumping from college into the real world was a big jump and I had fully expected to start as an asistant of some kind but I was lucky to be starting in my chosen career.

2 weeks later I left college with the agreement that I hand in my final project before deadline and I would still graduate. Talk about beeing thrown in the deep end, my first day I was given a workstation and my first ever shot a greenscreen for a hollywood film. ( I still have it on my reel as I am proud that I actually pulled it off:). I think our hours were 45 hours a week plus lunch break but we did work overtime to finish the film.

Since then I moved on to other major studios and got to work on many amazing projects working with very talented crews. Over the years I rose through the ranks from artist to supervisor. I think I have always worked a 50 hour week including lunch breaks no matter where in the world I worked.

Do I work OT? YES but I have always been paid OT no matter where I have worked and I am thankful for this. People ask how much OT, this depends on very show but the most I have worked is 126 hours in a week but these are rare. For all the OT I work I nmake sure I take time off when we are not so busy. I have been lucky that I have really cared about many of the shows I have worked on so often its not so bad. That being said you really need to find balance between work and play. This is different for every artist.

What about wages. I cant say I ever struggled I just lived within my means. My first job I was paid 350 pounds a week and in London thats not much but I lived in a room above a beauty salon so I managed just fine. As I moved up my wages jumped up and very quickly I was living very well. One thing to remember is that many of us are effectevly self employed so remember to put money aside for your future (pension, holiday pay, taxes) Also budget when work is slow so you may not have work. The summer is a prime example when alot of post work goes quiet.

In general I love my work and do think myself one of the luckyones. I have never been out of work and worked with many great people. Sometimes things can be rough but in general I an excited that everyday I get to wake up and make movies. Other people work alot harder for far less in other jobs.

As for people starting out, there will always be jobs and just belive in yourselves and you will get work. That being said be truthful about your skill level and what you can do, if you bullshit your way in be prepared to back up that talk with good work. This is a small industry and we all remember those who cant follow through and they find it had to get jobs later on. But for me this has been a great career and hope it continues for many more years.


This is a very good post. I hope lots of people read it carefully.

Although my own more-than-25-year job history is chiefly in an ancillary field (computer programming), it’s pretty much a carbon of that story. I suspect that every intense, creative but precision field is like that, in the end.

It bears repeating that there are many truly exploitative, truly abusive employment situations out there. I encountered one just two years ago. I got the hell out of there, but there were some forlorn people there who’d lived with it for six years and as far as I know they’re still in. To me, this sort of thing is very much like the “men who beat women and the women who love them” syndrome: some women die but never even try to get away. I’ve had some training to recognize signs of child-abuse, and these folks (though they did not realize it themselves) were positively screaming-out all the classic signs.

This is a danger that you need to be cognizant of, and you must take prompt action when you encounter it. You don’t have to live that way; you put yourself in very real danger if you try.


Great write-up Leigh…!

I agree with evolucian regarding hours. I would like to add a few bits as well. Currently I do an 8 hour day, 5 days a week. In my experience, most good studios work similar hours. I am making a move to London next month to another studio that also does the 40 hour week, + benefits.

There has been a bit of a shift over the last few years getting away from the ‘endless crunch hours’. These days, most experienced people won’t work past the 40 hour week unless they are completely compensated. The studios that do 50+/hours a week are finding themselves unable to compete with the 40hr/week studios (+ overtime as needed).

You are working for studio A that pays $1500/ 40 hour work week, and are approached by studio B that wants a 50 hour week. Depending on how your OT was paid at studio A, you need to make $1800-$1950/week at studio B just to break even!

Some studios are still able to attract artists by having more glorious projects. This is especially the case in Vancouver where most studios don’t get to work on blockbusters. Things are shifting out here though. Better projects are coming in all the time. Pixar and Digital Domain are opening shops in Vancouver as well. The top people will gravitate to the best places, and the studios around town that slave their workers will only be able to attract entry level artists.

This industry is young moves fast. The difference between a junior and a senior is <5 years. I’ve met Leigh. She is as experienced a VFX artist as they come… and she doesn’t have a single grey hair on her head.

**40hr/week is working hours, and does not include lunch.
**Rates mentioned above are no kind of a guide, just numbers I pulled out of the air