I recently set up a myspace account and decided to write my first blog on getting into visual effects. The article is simple (nothing technical and meant for people that know basically nothing about VFX) and cocky and very opinionated. Myspace seems like a place to rant anyway. But maybe someone can glean something useful from it.
So you wanna break into film?
I work in film as a visual effects artist. Remember in Mr. and Mrs. Smith when Angelina Jolie jumped off the building after snapping that dude's neck? I worked on that. And if you play it in slow-mo you'll see the building behind her looking a little "wobbly." Hey, nobody's perfect, but I'll bet you didn't notice.
I got into film about a year and half ago, and now I'd like to share a few key rules with you so that you don't need to rely on just luck to get in.
Rule #1: Visual Effects and Special Effects are two different things! Special Effects are done on-set, like props that explode, prosthetic limbs, and even make up. Visual Effects are done completely on the computer, "in the post." After the director has filmed the movie he sends us every shot that will need visual effects added to it. A lot of times it's an actor in front of a green screen, or just something that looks really lame that, by the time we're done with it, will look completely different, much cooler, and hopefully realistic.
Rule #2: Editing and Visual Effects are different! I don't know why the majority of people ask me which films I "edited." A film editor takes everything that was shot by the director (which could add up to hundreds of hours of film) and cuts it and rearranges it into the movie you see. It's an extensive and extremely important process which takes months in a room full of computer screens.
In visual effects, we do our work on a couple hundred shots and send it over to the editor so he can put them where they belong in the movie.
Rule #3 (the kicker): Art school is for suckers! Visual effects companies don't care about your college degree, because there IS NO college degree in visual effects. Visual effects needs to be taught on the job, a college cannot simulate a production environment. Teachers of visual effects teach because they couldn't get a job in the real world. They are fake! They are wannabes! They will give you a bunch of make believe projects, and worst, you're paying for it. After four-years you will end up thousands and thousands of dollars in debt with a degree in Graphic Design or Fine Arts, and NO real world experience. A degree in Graphic Design or Fine Arts will not earn you enough money to pay back your college loan.
Rule #4: Visual Effects companies want production experience! You will only be judged on two things when applying for a job; years of experience and your demo reel. Your demo reel is a short movie (a few minutes maximum) showcasing the best work you've done. Companies will either access your reel through your website or you will need to send in a DVD (or VHS). Aside from experience and your reel, little else matters! Look at any job posting for any job in visual effects. They generally require 2-3 years of experience on feature film and a demo reel.
The catch-22: How do I get production experience if no one will hire me due to my lack of production experience?
Here's what I did. I worked as an intern, for free, for six months, at a prestigious visual effects company. After six months I had worked on three major motion pictures and had gained enough experience that real job offers began pouring in. Since I had only six months of experience I was only offered entry-level positions, but my foot was in the door.
Here's where school will pay off: choose a college or course that has an internship program. Internships are ideal because you will gain real production experience on real projects, and you're not paying for it.
Rule #5: Don't work for free for too long! Sure, a big company is doing you a favor by letting you get your greedy little hands on a $100 million feature film, but after 6 months it's turning into exploitation. No one can withstand working without pay for too long. By the time a half of a year has passed they either need to hire or fire you, but you deserve a paid position.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There a tons of positions within visual effects; compositing, modeling, animating, lighting and rendering, texturing, matte painting, roto, matchmoving, TD'ing, etc etc etc.
And there's plenty of software and plenty of different companies and even some good courses you can take which will teach you the basics of any given program and get you started on a homemade demo reel. But maybe I'll cover these issues in another blog. For now, here's some good places to look for jobs where you can get a taste of what employers are looking for.
Rule #6: These comments are my own opinion and definitely do not represent those of my employer!
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My International Movie Database listing