SIGGRAPH 2014 from the Jobs Point of View

Fri 15th Aug 2014, by Pam Hogarth | Eventcoverage


Welcome to Vancouver, land of opportunity – for jobs in visual effects, animation and games, anyway. SIGGRAPH 2014 has certainly, not only shown how much opportunity there is for careers in high-end cg, it has given job hunters many ways to connect with those who are looking for talent.


Of course the conference has some of the best and most relevant courses and panels for individuals who are working (or want to) in digital effects, animation, visualization and research. But job seekers have many additional options to get the information they need and make valuable connections to the people who can further their careers: user group meetings, Birds of a Feather, the Educators Program, the Job Fair and, let’s not forget, the parties.


If you are serious about a career in high-end computer graphics, SIGGRAPH is the place to be.


Information is available in abundance. On Tuesday I attended the Studio View of Demo Reels. This session is something of a tradition at SIGGRAPH. This year it was hosted by freelance recruiter Stan Szysmanski and featured recruiters from visual effects, animation and game production facilities talking about what makes a good demo reel – and what doesn’t. The overflow crowd consisted mainly of students and educators who all got lots of valuable information.


On Wednesday my business partner and I hosted a Birds of a Feather for Freelance Survivors. BoFs are sessions based around a specific topic of interest. All SIGGRAPH attendees are welcome. This topic was obviously of interest to a wide range of people as we had students through old hands taking up space. Our panel included Dennis Hoffman, Senior VP and Managing Director of Framestore Montreal; Brad Falk, VP of Production at ToonBox; Debra Blanchard Knight of Fringe Talent recruiting agency and Todd Perry, freelance vfx supervisor. The 20-minute panel stretched to an hour with everyone glued to their seats. The major take-away from the session (besides the raffle gifts) was “it doesn’t matter if you’re the most talented artist in the world. If you don’t place nice in the sandbox, you won’t be invited back.” Your reputation is as important as your skills.


Debra took a few moments to speak to me after the session and she reiterated some of her points from the panel. “It appears that the Canadian job market is exploding. There are a lot of studios up here, all of them looking for talent. There have been difficulties with visa processing which complicates the hiring process. But it’s a great opportunity for candidates who are in Vancouver or are willing to relocate.”


“My advice,” she continues, “make sure your resume and reels are up to date and well-packaged. Hit the floor and network with all the studios you are interested in. Be open-minded and there’s a good potential you could walk away from the conference with one or more offers.”


Right from the beginning of the show, conversation centered around who was hiring, how much hiring was going on for Vancouver and how the changes in the Canadian government’s policies for visas were going to affect studio expansion in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.



Vancouver is exploding right now. Sony Pictures Imageworks is moving their headquarters from Culver City and is adding additional staff and artists. ILM is expanding. Method and Digital Domain are also looking for lots of additional talent. These are just a few. There are probably close to 2,000 job openings in Vancouver.


Even though the production industry has long been established in BC and schools such as Vancouver Film School, VanArts and Emily Carr University are graduating lots of talented students, there is not nearly enough talent in Vancouver to fill the job openings. So studios are using every avenue open to them to entice the right people to come on board.


In years past the exhibit floor was filled with booths for the major production facilities. This year Pixar was there, but primarily to tout Renderman and to give away this years’ teapot. Right near the main entrance of the show, ScanLine has a large booth staffed by young women in black and gold lame dresses handing out matching bags emblazoned with “25 Years.” You could certainly get information about the company, but most of the actually recruiting was done elsewhere.


Such as at their party on Tuesday night. Lots of meeting and greeting goes on at SIGGRAPH parties. Some parties are large, loud gatherings at clubs or other cool places that are meant to illustrate just how cool the company is. Others are much more sedate and select and more structure wooing occurs. But no matter the party style, lots of conversation about jobs, company culture and opportunities takes place. The Scanline party was one of the former. I had the following conversation with someone while we stood by the bar. Me: “So where are you BOOM CHICKA BOOM.” He: “Oh, I’m at BOOM BOOM BOOM. BOOM CHICKA BOOM happy there.” I still don’t know where he’s working, but I’m glad to know he likes it.


The most formal recruiting takes place at meetings and at the Job Fair, which saw lots of action from the moment it opened. With over 20 visual effects, animation, game and technology companies, there were a lot of options for the beginning and experienced job seeker.


Alan Chuck of Method Studios in Vancouver said that the flow of people has been steady for Tuesday and Wednesday, but had slowed on Thursday. He had found SIGGRAPH to be good for meeting programmers this year. “Over all there seem to be fewer students this year and higher-quality professionals. We’re seeing more international people, less local which is good for us.”


“We would love to hire local talent,” says Chuck. “It cost us more to hire foreign workers. Even the schools don’t have enough Canadian students. We’re not hiring foreign workers for financial reasons, like McDonalds was. We need the skilled workers.”


Lindsay Thompson, a recruiter for Digital Domain Vancouver, told me that they are recruiting for both locations: Vancouver and Los Angeles. “We’re seeing a big shift in Vancouver,” she says. “People are no longer so reluctant to move. That makes for a lot of great candidates.”


“We also think it’s awesome to work with the young talent coming out of the schools. We’re working at putting together an internship program, building relationships with school. It’ll take us the next three to six months to implement.”


With that thought in mind, I thought it would be interesting to talk to some student volunteers. One of the greatest opportunities a student who wants to go into high-end cg can have is to be part of the official SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer Program.


Student Volunteer Coordinator Brian Iankovs just graduated from Emily Carr U and is planning to begin his career as a production coordinator in visual effects. I asked him if he had taken advantage of the Job Fair. “The Job Fair is a great resource,” he said. “They have a variety of employers. If you spend time, you can make great contacts. You must be professional. Even if you don’t get a job, the info you get is valuable.”


Amber Alvarado, who has finished her third year at the Art Institute of San Antonio, wants to be a character animator. “After being able to talk to the head of animation on How to Train Your Dragon 2 and other people who have worked on films I found my passion again. I’ve met a lot of great character animators. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had no idea what to expect,” she says, “but this has exceeded any I might have had.”


It seems that this SIGGRAPH is the place to be to move your career forward.



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