So You Want to be a Visual Effects Artist

, by Marcus Wells and Kirsty Parkin | Peoplestudios

Looking for a job as a visual effects artist? Recruiters from Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures, one of the industry’s top visual effects studios, suggest a number of simple steps that you can take to make your resume and reel stand out from the pack.


Marcus Wells, recruitment and human resources, and Kirsty Parkin, manager of training and education, advise job candidates to research companies before submitting applications, work to improve their job skills, set goals, respond to critical feedback and network with other professionals in the field.


X-Men: Days of Future Past


Recruitment is a full time activity at RSP. The company, which has produced visual effects for such blockbusters as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, recognizes the importance of new talent. Wells, Parkin and their team sift through the more than 50 resumes and reels that arrive every week. They also attend job fairs and networking events, and comb through websites and social media sites, seeking artists with the very specific skills and experience their company needs for its projects.


X-Men: Days of Future Past


Animators and artists, even those with considerable practical experience, often don’t market themselves successfully. They apply for positions for which they lack suitable qualifications, or apply to companies that aren’t looking for their skills. Wells advises jobseekers to do their research. “The worst job applicants are those who are trying to get a job by the numbers,” he says. “They cast a wide net, hoping something will come back. They don’t know what size net to cast, so they cast an average size one. We consequently see a lot of average resumes come through.”


“RSP does a lot of naturalistic effects; that’s what we’re known for,” adds Parkin. “Yet we often get reels with cartoon-style character animation. Those reels aren’t the best match for the type of work we do.  That’s not our style. Good candidates research us. They know what we’ve done previously and they tailor their reels accordingly.”


Job seekers, especially those looking for their first industry position, need to be continually improving their skills. Artists fresh out of college sometimes fall into an institutional mindset”, Wells says, that can make it hard for them to develop new skills outside the classroom.


“At college they’re assigned tasks to do—it’s called homework—but they often don’t know how to self-direct their studies,” he says. “The standout applicants don’t list ‘dance parties’ as their hobby, rather it’s ‘programming’ or membership in an open source community. If they’re animators, they are looking for characters that they can animate or entering animation competitions. They push themselves a bit further than the pack.”


“I recall an applicant who was just a year out of college,” says Parkin, “and there was nothing on his reel that was student work. Everything was something he’d done from scratch since he’d left school. His reel stood out.”


Although it is hard not to become fixated on finding that next job, it’s important to have a long term goal. Young artists need to be flexible in their job searches, but a higher aspiration can give the search direction. “Although it’s unlikely you'll start out modelling the main character of a feature blockbuster, if you know that is where you want to end up it will inform every career decision you make,” Parkin observes. “You don’t need to know exactly what you want to be, but it’s helpful to have a general direction.”


“And you’ve got to love it”, Wells adds. “There’s no point to studying complex mathematics if you are no good at it when what you really love is doing art. Maybe you’re brain just isn’t wired that way. Focus on what you love and it will help you formulate a goal.”


Job seekers need to be responsive to application feedback they receive from potential employers. Wells says that he often offers suggestions to applicants about their reels and resumes. Acting on that advice can be key to landing an interview and ultimately a job. “The information you send us may be off target, but if we see potential, we may issue a response with suggestions or ask for changes,” he explains. “When we hear from you again, we look to see if you’ve adapted the work according to what we recommended you do. What you are doing is building rapport. It shows us that you can iterate your work, that you can take feedback. That for us is a good sign. We would likely be interested in talking further.”


Wells recalls a job applicant who had an unorthodox photo on his LinkedIn profile. “He looked mean, and not friendly. I wrote back to him and said, thanks for the resume but, by the way, your profile picture isn’t doing you any favours. Within five minutes, he’d replaced the photo with a smiling new headshot. This guy proved that he could take feedback on every level. He didn’t take it personally. When we offered suggestions about his reel, he was courteous and said, ‘thanks, here’s an update’. We hired him shortly after.




“Another artist took our advice about labeling his reel,” adds Parkin. “We often ask junior people to clearly label their reels so that we know exactly what they did. This particular artist labeled every shot in detail. It made it very easy to evaluate. He also got a job.”


Candidates who react negatively to feedback are unlikely to have the same success. “It’s no good when you ask a candidate to make some changes to their application and they respond, “None of the other companies that have employed me had a problem with my application,” notes Wells. “Your attitude is an incredibly important part of application process.”


Networking is important for job applicants in all fields, but perhaps especially so for those involved in visual effects, which has become a global business. “For me, networking means everything,” Parkin says. “In my role managing our training programs, I enjoy strong relationships with educational institutions, with artists I may hire as instructors. It’s how you find people.”


“It’s no longer three degrees of separation, it’s two,” agrees Wells. “I recently looked up credits on IMDB for a certain movie that was about to be released, I assumed that some of those people would be available for work. I then cold contacted my short list via social media. I quickly booked an interview with one of these crew. Without those networks, I don’t know how we would have found those people so quickly.”


Parkin says that LinkedIn is a particularly effective recruiting tool, but adds that many young artists, immersed in Facebook and Instagram, neglect it. “When we talk to students, we explain the importance of networks such as LinkedIn and all of the professional groups that they can be a part of”, she says. “Recently we hired a range of VFX Professionals from Bulgaria, Malaysia, Canada and New Zealand—some of whom we found by posting to professional groups on LinkedIn. It’s a wonderful way to connect with people all over the world.”


Traditional forms of networking are important too. “You have to do it on several planes,” Parkin advises. “You have to network with real live people in your own city. You need to know what industry-specific groups there are in your area. You need to join them and go to their events. If you are in the U.S., you need to go to events like SIGGRAPH. There are online networking sites like Art Station and especially CG Society, and forum-based sites where you can upload your work, get feedback and network with other professionals.”


Screening at Rising Sun Pictures


Visual effects job seekers need to understand that hiring is not an adversarial process. Recruiters like Wells and Parkin have positions to fill and are keen to find new talent. Applicants can make their job easier by marketing themselves better. “There are a lot of remarkable people out there, but they don’t all show it,” Wells says. “Some candidates may be uncomfortable in interviews or may not have the best social skills. Others may not speak the best English.”


Wells concludes that things would be easier on both sides of the hiring desk if applicants spent just a bit more time honing their applications and tailoring their skills to the needs of the market. “We shouldn’t have to do so much searching to find qualified candidates,” he says. “The visual effects job pool is filled with generalists. What we need is for some of those people to rise a bit further and become specialists. Those people will find jobs fast and probably get paid well for spending a few more minutes on their application.”



Rising Sun Pictures


About Rising Sun Pictures


Rising Sun Pictures are a passionate team of producers, artists and technicians, known globally for delivering complex visual effects on high profile feature film and television projects. Our clients are inspired by the creative and technical solutions we deliver, and our team is integral in providing a truly collaborative experience. RSP’s recent film credits include The Water Diviner, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Gravity, The Seventh Son, The Wolverine, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, Prometheus, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Green Lantern and the final five Harry Potter films. This year, Rising Sun will contribute extensive visual effects to Gods of Egypt, Tarzan, Pan, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Water Diviner and Deadline Gallipoli.
More Info at


Snack time at Rising Sun Pictures



Related links


Rising Sun Pictures Flinders course and


Rising Sun Pictures


Discuss this on CGTalk

blog comments powered by Disqus