In the industry? What's your story?


I’ve been reading a lot of “how to get into the industry” threads on here recently, and I thought it might be helpful for people who work in the industry to share their stories.

Lots of people have questions about education, how to make a reel, how to get a job, etc. I think maybe the best way to answer these questions is for people to give a little bio about how they got in and what they’re currently doing.

Good idea? Ya with me? :slight_smile:

Ok, I’ll start. Hopefully, you’ll all join in!

My story… by Vfxdude…

I’ve always had an interest in filmmaking – ever since I was a little kid. I was very inspired by Star Wars, of course, as were many people my age.

But… when it came time to go to college, I didn’t end up going to film school. Instead, I toyed around with being a music major for a while, then a sociology major, and finally ended up in Computer Engineering. (I was also a computer geek as a kid :wink:

I eventually ended up getting a MS in electrical engineering and spending about six years designing circuits for computer chips. This turned out to be a painfully boring and uncreative profession… so, I quit.

After that, I spent a couple years trying to get into the film industry. I got a lucky break. A friend-of-friend was co-founder of a small VFX firm, and he offered me a job setting up a render pipeline for his company. Though I didn’t know anything about VFX, I knew a lot about designing and implementing a pipeline; I knew how to program, how to design such a system, etc.

So, that’s how I got in. From there, I worked my way into production, taught myself all the tools (Maya, Shake, Digital Fusion, RealFlow, a few others), and starting working on shots. This is somewhat typical in small companies – sometimes, everybody in the company is working on shots regardless of their background; deadlines have to be met!

After working there for two years, I ended up getting laid off during a slump (which, by the way, happens all the time in VFX no matter how good you are – economics, not talent) Fortunately, I had done enough work during that time to put together a decent reel heavy on effects shots.

Fast forward…

Now, I’m at ILM working in the fluid sim production group. It fits nicely with my background because it requires both a visual sense – an “eye” for how things should look – and a science background. Much of the training I received in physics, image processing, and computer science in general comes in very handy for the job I do. We use some very complex fluid and rendering systems, and the science background really helps.

Anyway… that’s my story. I don’t think this is really an atypical story – many people at ILM come from a computer science background. Knowledge of science, art, and computers really carry an equal weight around here for TD positions.

So what’s your story? :slight_smile:




I’m not yet in the industry, but would like to be a FX TD one day.
2 questions:

  • Where did u learn the art portion - after getting a job in the vfx industry or on your own while trying to get into the industry? I am also coming from a technical background (software development) and don’t have any art education.

  • Did u need a contact to get a job in ILM? - i keep hearing on the forums ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’, which sort of contradicts the other ‘mantra’ - ‘it’s all about the reel’.

I hope I’m not hijacking the thread. If you think so, just say so, I won’t take offense.
Thanks in advance.


After flunking out of UGA as a computer science student, I went to a 3D school. I manage to graduate, but I couldn’t land a job right away. I went and sold cars for awhile. After finding 2 ugly lesbians in a Tundra pickup making out and chasing a bum out of a minivan, I figured it was time to get out of the car business and get serious about 3D. True story.

I took on some other crap jobs while putting together my reel, and I caught a break. I got hired at Omation as a rigger, and then moved to FX. The project ended and I managed to land a job with Sony back here in San Diego doing game cinematics for the PS3.

It could be worse I guess, but I’m really happy how things turned out. Dirty lesbians. :smiley:




I’ve been in “the industry” for a whole 2 weeks officially now. :stuck_out_tongue:

My path is a long one, and some of it’s at my CGPortfolio… In the end, I made myself an active member of a few communities, spent alot of time learning how the pipeline can work, and demonstrating here and there that I am a problem solver with technical and artistic sensibilities. I also made networking an important part of my path and now I am working on a handful of fun projects (well fun with a heaping dose of hard-knock learning).

With all the fun projects on the horizon, I’d say that I failed forward and succeeded. :bounce:


I was always interested in drawing and animation. When I graduated High School in `91 I took an interest in computer graphics. I went to college for “new digital media” at a 4 year school that had one of the only SGI Labs in the country at the time. I got kicked out of school twice because it was very expenisve and I couldn’t afford it. So I saved up some money and bought an Amiga to play with.

I worked as a professional sculptor for a short while, at a company making ornaments cast in pewter for Hallmark, and belt buckles for heavy metal bands like Metallica and SoundGarden. When that job fell a part I took a job working from 6 PM to 5 AM in my friend’s Pizza joint in Chicago, answering phones and making deliveries. Any time a delivery came in for WMS/Midway or anything related to games or computer graphics my buddy would send me on the delivery.

One night I delivered pizzas to a guy in a hotel room. The guy had about 15 computers set up and I asked him what all the Indigos were for. He was suprised I knew what an Indigo was. He turned out to be Brian Callier, and at the time he was the guy to go to in Hollywood if you wanted to film on screen computer graphics. All that “Unix System” crap people like to make fun of in Jurrassic Park, was his doing. I talked to him for about 10 minutes, he gave me a card and told me to come down to the set if I had time. I went, he introduced me to 24 frame sync, let me cut up some graphics for him and taught me a few things. After that I continued to deliver pizza and got friendly with one of the programmers at Midway. This turned into a short QA/test location tech job. At the time they were working on Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, so it was a blast. Just as the job was finishing up I got a job at another game comapny doing test work. Within 6 months I was modeling/rigging/animating on my first game.

11 years, several Playstation/N64/PC/PS2/XBox and Arcade games later, I am now doing Character FX research and development on my third movie.


I got in with a paper photocopied portfolio of regular sketches and a few small autoCAD printouts back in 92 0r 93

I answered a newspaper ad in San Francisco Chronicle

I spent 4.5 years at that first place making Gameboy, Gamegear, PS1, and Saturn games

During my time there I taught myself various 3d thingies and worked on a portfolio that wound up having samples of subject matter that were in my next employers “art test” so they didnt bother asking me to do it and they hired me…

and just about everything that has ever happened has had something to do with keeping good ties with ex-colleagues from every company I’ve been at.

don’t burn bridges, don’t be a pain in the _ _ _, because one day they 'll ask you to do a favor…


I was always into computer graphics as a kid, having gotten my first computer in 1986 along with drawing software. I always knew I wanted to work in some form of CG when I grew up, but it was when I saw Jurassic Park in 1993 that I knew I wanted to work in films.

I left high school when I was 16 because I was thoroughly bored with the subjects offered and disillusioned with the overly colonial and rigid schooling system of my home country of South Africa, where students are expected to be silent, unquestioning peons beneath the infallible holiness of the teachers. I went to a private art school and finished a high school equivalency doing just art subjects, which I feel have helped me a lot in my career - especially life drawing, sculpture and oil/acrylics painting. After I finished there, I took a year off and after that I went on to do a one year diploma course in graphic design - I chose the course because it was the only school around at the time in my home city that had any kind of 3D in its curriculum. In this case, the 3D was a short 3ds max module at the end of the year. This was in 1999.

A week or so after I graduated I got my first freelance job, animating interactive 3D icons for multimedia presentations. Not the most glamarous job, but it got my foot in the door. After about one year of moving from place to place doing freelance work (mostly simple stuff like the above, and simple broadcast design stuff, even CAD work), in 2001 I got my first job in a visual effects studio. I got in by showing a couple of drawings and renders I’d done in my spare time at home, because I’d started getting photorealistic results in my work and the studio were impresed with that. This was still in Cape Town, South Africa.

I worked there for about one and a half years, doing VFX mostly for commercials, music videos, some 3D broadcast branding, etc before leaving to go freelance. During the next two years I worked from home, on various commercials, and eventually feature films for American studios, while also writing for some books and magazines, as well as lecturing once a week at a local Cape Town CG school (just doing my bit to help the up-and-coming artists there). After these two years moved to America where I went to work at a studio in California for the next year and a half. After that I moved to London where I am now. I am currently working at one of the big film VFX studios in Soho.

So it’s been seven years now… working in various corners of the industry, but mainly in VFX, which I definitely enjoy the most. And despite many unpleasant experiences over the years, some burnout and even one point when I seriously considered quitting because I’d had such a bad time at one studio, today I genuinely enjoy my job.


I was playing guitar in various rock bands (one even had a record deal :wink: ) in my home country, studying at university and working part time as a graphic designer, playing with InfiniD on Mac, got my hands on SGI Indy somehow… so I could do really great chrome spheres on checkerboards…

Then one of my friends invited me to a party and hired as 3D modeller/designer for the upcoming game (released later by Epic Games and EA… and it was 2D sprite based game). I had to learn proper 3D and drop my rock star career ;).

I did 5 more games mainly as a character animator and rigger, then game designer, got a partnership in a company, had to hire people and then supervise them, released my author game (nothing big and worth mentioning), missed hands-on production a lot and got bored with games a bit, so I went freelance for 4.5 years, worked on commercials as a character animator/rigger/generalist (7 months distraction on small game project as lead), 3D market in my home country was going nowhere, so I moved to UK and got a 3D artist job here.
I enjoy what I do a lot and never have enough.

My main achievent is my 2 years old daughter!


I saw a studio looking for sketchers while studying in the academy of arts. I made a test several times, but each time failed. But later they called me and proposed a position of a texturer. So I worked there for 2 years.


Leigh, so you really exactly knew whar part of cg you want to work in from the very beginning?
You have so solid understanding of lighting! :lightbulb
Do you find the lighting as the most complex part to you? Or is it easy to you today? How were you progressing with lighting study throughout years? :slight_smile: I mean, you weren’t so good when you studied lighting first year, right?


left school (or was a thrown out, cant remember)…got a “real” job in a factory sorting turnips and carrots (good carrot-bad carrot)…then got a job cleaning toilets…then there was a posiblity of me getting one of my old jobs back at the local pig farm (smelly)…so after doing crap jobs for a few years I thought about going back to college. Trained to be an illustrator- im now an illustrator. And alot of my old frends from school still have realy bad low payed jobs and havent left the local area in years. Im very very thankfull that I dont have to do that anymore, and I now work from home.


I was always into computers as a kid. I used to program stupid games and very basic graphics. In high school we did a lot of sketch comedy on video and edited silly stuff together. Then I went to college and forgot all about it.

My life was on autopilot. I got decent grades and entered law school spending a ton of money. After my first year I thought to myself “what the hell am I doing here? I don’t want to be a lawyer!” It was an awakening.

So all the good and fun things that I enjoyed doing were coming back to me. I bought a computer and Photoshop and Premiere and a video camera. I started doing silly animations and abstract stuff. Taking photographs and drawing and building up a portfolio. I did this all while I was still in law school. I ended up graduating and decided not to take the bar.

I decided to apply to film school in animation while in law school. I got in! I busted my ass and made many films some abstract and some comedic. I learned a lot of software and techniques.

I graduated and sent my portfolio everywhere but I was still green. No bites. I had really unrealistic expectations as to getting hired. I had no idea what a good portfolio or resume was. I was unfocused. What was my job description? Animator, digital artist? compositor?

2 months later I get a call from an old professor who taught digital effects. He said “what are you doing tomorrow at 9am?” I said “nothing”

I was hired as a freelance After Effects artist on the spot. Two weeks later I was hired full time. I did not make a lot of money but I got my in. I learned Chalice, Unix, film aspect ratios, working at 2K, color correction, paint and removals. It was a small house so I had to wear many hats but I learned a ton.

I ended up moving onto to other houses and bigger projects. 7 years later and I am still going strong as a freelance compositor. :slight_smile:


Good question!

I’ll answer that question in a couple ways…

First of all, I did try my hand at making films in my spare time (on video, technically). From that experience, I began to get a sense for cinematography: framing, layout, lighting, editing.

Also, I’ve always been interested in art and try to keep current on contemporary art trends by going to museums and galleries.

And finally – partially due to my secret desire to be an artist :slight_smile: – I had a lot of art school friends all through college and afterward. From them, I learned a lot of the vocabulary of the art world, and vicariously learned a bit about what kinds of training they were receiving.

So, it was all very intuitive, for me. It’s all a matter of being able to notice the details in artwork, to understand things like color, lighting, texture.

Really, I think anyone with an interest in viewing art is half way toward developing the “eye” you need to do VFX.

The second thing I did happened after I started working in VFX. I started watching tons of films. (thanks to netflix). It’s important to watch all the big VFX films so you know what kinds of effects people are doing. It’s better to watch them on film than video (due to some technical stuff with which I won’t bore you), but videos help, too. Eventually, you start to understand how they are put together.

Also, I went to dailies all the time. Generally, you don’t go to dailies if you’re not showing a shot, but I would go even when I wasn’t showing something. This helped me learn the vocabulary of how supervisors critique work. It also taught me how I – as an artist – was supposed to respond.

[As an aside, there is one hard-learned lesson I should share: When a supervisor critiques your work, don’t think of his/her comments as suggestions – they are “orders!” This is very important. It took me a while to pick this up. In VFX, if someone says “jump,” you say, “how high?” :slight_smile: Prior to realizing this, I had a tendency to go off on my own tangents and follow my own ideas a little too much. Being creative in that way is certainly important, but the FIRST thing you must do is EXACTLY what you’re told; you need to trust your supervisors.]

So, I have an “eye” which is pretty well trained at this point and suits the job I do.

But, I will point out that I don’t have any fine arts training. Due to this, I lack some of the technical skills you pick up in art school; namely, how to draw, paint, and sculpt. I don’t know how to draw. I can “paint” in photoshop well enough to re-touch, color correct, and clone parts of an image. I really don’t know how to model much at all. I can fix or manipulate someone else’s model, but I’d be hard-pressed to model something from scratch.

I did manage to pick up some animation skills just from working on shots. That seemed pretty intuitive to me.

Another point to remember is that there are lots of different disciplines within VFX. Some of them are more “sciency,” some are more “arty.” Most are both. There are many disciplines where I would not be as qualified as other artists for the work. But, the people in those disciplines probably wouldn’t be very good at my job, either (nor would they be interested)

It’s important to asses your skills and target a specific area.

Oh – one other thing. From the art school friends I have, I got the impression that a lot of what they teach in “fine art” doesn’t really apply to VFX. Make no mistake about it – in VFX, you are a commercial production artist working for Hollywood. Your ideas about the loftier points of Art really aren’t part of the job. I would guess that people with an art school background are using much more of their drawing, painting, sculpting, and color skills in VFX than they are their “history of the Masters” classes :slight_smile:

  • Did u need a contact to get a job in ILM? - i keep hearing on the forums ‘it’s who you know, not what you know’, which sort of contradicts the other ‘mantra’ - ‘it’s all about the reel’.

Yes, who you know is extremely important; what you know is important, too. You need both. But, you definitely have to know some people before anyone will be interested in what you know.

Yes, I did have a contact at ILM who helped me get the job.

It’s extremely difficult to get a job by sending in a reel “cold.” Most hiring is through referrals, as it is in any industry.

The important thing to do is 1) Make a lot of contacts so you know which companies are hiring and when; and 2) Find the people with whom you’ll have the best fit based on what you know.

I’ll give you another example, here. I got another semi-“lucky break” while working at ILM. Originally, I was working on Pirates 2 doing cloth simulation. But, then they needed to shuffle some staff around to finish Poseidon. So, I got to work with the fluid sim people on Poseidon on a non-fluid shot. Once I got to know them, I expressed an interest in learning fluid sims and personally talked to all the important people in that area. Since I had the necessary background, they were happy to bring me into that group.

All that said, for your first job, I think the “who you know” is absolutely vital. You need someone to help you get your reel in front of the eyes of someone who can actually hire you.

I hope I’m not hijacking the thread. If you think so, just say so, I won’t take offense.
Thanks in advance.

Not at all! This is what I was hoping would happen :wink:



That’s frickin’ rad!! ROCK ON!!

(dern it, they don’t have the head-bangin’ emoticon on this site…)


Grew up in Toronto Canada. I was obsessed with video games and computer graphics as a kid. Didn’t have Nintendo so I’d borrow the instruction books from friends and copy the character pictures from the first gen games (Mario, Kung Fu, etc) onto graph paper. Around this time (approx 10 yrs old) Transformers happened and I started drawing more frequently and seriously, making lots of fan art. But somehow along the way I decided I wasn’t interested in a career in art…mainly cuz I had no idea what a career in art could be.

After grade 8 (about 14 yrs old) the school (John Buchan) recommended I commute to an art high school (Wexford C.I.) for grade 9. It was out of my area and none of my friends were there. I didn’t want to go but my mom politely insisted. So I politely took her advice. I spent more time playing video games than doing art, and I wasn’t doing too well by the end of the year. I wasn’t allowed to take the follow up course. It was all the same to me, so I went back to the school in my area where my friends were the next year (Stephen Leacock CI).

Leacock had a television productions course which I decided to take on a whim. They had a TV in every class we’d produce and broadcast the school announcements, news desk Style, right before lunch every day. Their gear surpassed most colleges in the area. I started to do on-air animations with Amiga/D-Paint. It was also there that I first saw Lightwave 3D. It looked ridiculously complex and I figured you had to have a degree in math to even play with it.

During the third year of TV Prod, I visited a friend’s house. He had Disney everything on the walls, and I asked him what the obsession was. He made me sit down in front of a tiny 13 inch TV and made me watch Beauty And The Beast, the WIP version (pencil tests, storyboards, cleanup, etc). Seeing that changed my life. That was the first time I was able to see a “career” in art, as I never really thought about it when I saw the final versions, like “The Little Mermaid” for example. Shortly after Aladdin and Terminator 2 came out. By then I had decided…it was CG all the way.

Right after the last year of TV prod, a man hired me and 4 others from the school and paid us to train ourselves in D-Paint, Lightwave, etc. making animations while he tried to raise money to make an educational video. He was mostly unsuccessful, but after 4 summers and one full year (pay being sketchy at best), I was his only employee. After this, I was hired by someone else doing something very similar. The difference is he WAS successful and we produced many educational videos. I worked for them doing editing, camera work, CG, and teaching groups of up to 10 kids to do the same. Soon I was only doing CG, and after 3 years with them, I left for my first job in an actual VFX studio in Toronto doing commercials and TV shows.

I’m 31 now. Since then I’ve gained about 6 or 7 film credits, usually as a TD or FX-TD. I’ve worked at Framestore CFC, Double Negative, Vanguard, Starz Animation (then known as DKP), and I’ve just completed a couple of freelance commercials. I’m being offered jobs all the time, and I’m back in Toronto, contemplating a move to Cali or Vancouver next year. I’m also married to the sister of one of my buddies that I hung out with at the art school, so at least I got something out of that :slight_smile:


You mean this one? :buttrock:


thanks a lot of responding so quickly and in such detail - it’s a huge help.

This thread is really inspiring, but I've got a question. How do you get to know people who can help you getting into the industry ? I can only think of an cg/art related school at the moment and there aren't that many in europe. Not to mention you have to spend a fortune on those schools.

Things might be completely different in the U.S. , too though.


Your already using one of the best tools available for that. :slight_smile:

Private message your peers on forums such as these and befriend likeminded artists and students through their publicised IM screennames. It’s more than likely that someone knows someone who knows someone. You can make friends and network quite easily through artist portals like CGS and the social internet as a whole, and it doesn’t have to cost a thing.


Be nice and go to the parties, share your knowledge and just be yourself, really you shouldn’t ask “how to get to know people”, most humans have that skill built it, we are social species, use your instincts, whatever :).