• If there's any one question that I get asked most, it's "How do I find a job/career in the 3D industry?" I decided to go out and get some friends who have "been there and done that" to share with us the reality of the 3D/VFX industry.Due to the sheer amount of interview data that came back, I have split the article into two parts so that you can digest the information easier.

    This week, we speak to Jason Schleifer, Markus Manninen and Dennis Price:

    Jason Schleifer - Senior Animator, Weta Digital
    Jason Schleifer is currently a Senior Animator at Weta Digital in New Zealand working on The Lord of the Rings. In addition to animating, Jason as taught two Maya Master Classes on setting up Animation Rigs (SIGGRAPH 2001, SIGGRAPH 2002), co-taught a SIGGRAPH Course on Character Rigging (SIGGRAPH 2002), and spends way too much time chatting away on www.cgtalk.com. Before his gig at Weta, Jason worked as a product specialist at Alias|Wavefront in Santa Barbara helping the R&D team think of things from an animator's point of view.

    Markus Manninen - Joint Head of 3D Commercials, Framestore CFC
    As Joint Head of 3D Commercials at Framestore CFC, Markus Manninen has worked on award winning commercials as Animation Supervisor or Animation Director. The client list includes Levis, Microsoft, Shell, Fiat, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s. A MSc graduate of the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, he discovered Computer Graphics at the University of Massachusetts, USA. Markus joined Framestore CFC in 2000 from Filmtecknarna, an award-winning traditional animation studio.

    Dennis Price - Digital Cinematic Artist, Blizzard Entertainment
    Dennis Price has spent the last 4 years in sunny Southern California, which is a far cry from his origin of 20 years in Houston, Texas. He is currently a Digital Cinematic Artist working at Blizzard Entertainment - his most recent accolade being part of the cinematic production for Warcraft III. He drives an '02 Black Mustang GT convertible, likes to attend car shows and play computer games with his square-headed girlfriend.

  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    Jason Schleifer: People break into the industry in a number of ways. Many that I've talked to started out doing smaller jobs like interning, or loading a tape robot, or working at the front desk of a company. I started by interning at a software company, which meant I got to use software before it was released. That also meant that by the time people were beta-testing the software, I knew it well enough to meet people already working in the industry, and help them with it. I think there are many ways to get into a facility and once you're there, you've just gotta show that you have talent and are willing to work hard and smart to get a job done. Once you've made it into one facility and have made contacts, as long as you're easy to work with, will complete your job on time and under budget, and are talented at what you do, getting another job will be relatively easy.

    Leonard Teo: Does the 3D industry have a stable career path?

    Jason Schleifer: I don't think it's extremely stable. Studios are constantly hiring and firing for the specific jobs they need. If a studio is doing pre-production on a film, they don't need 30 compositing artists sitting around twiddling their thumbs. However, at the end of production if they don't have those same 30 compositors they're screwed. If you're lucky enough to work for a studio which can juggle projects so they can have people working constantly, it's relatively stable as long as you're good. However, if you work for a studio which gets one job, does only that job, and then has a few months off between that and another job.. unless you're one of their core members you may get told to take a 3 to 4 month holiday.. unpaid, of course. :)

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    Jason Schleifer: When looking to hire someone, employers always look for two main things:

    1) A good demo reel. No matter how good you say you are, or how good others say you are, it's very difficult to convince those with the purse strings to loosen them for someone who's work we haven't seen. Unless the job allows for time to ramp up, most likely we'll be looking for someone who has either done the type of work we've done before, or someone who obviously can handle it. That's why a demo reel is so important. You should focus it specifically on the type of job you're trying to get (i.e. if you're going for a modeling job, don't show any compositing that you've done, unless it's spectacular.

    If it's anything less than amazing, people will focus on that instead of on your model). If you want to show how the model moves when being deformed, make it obvious that's what you're showing. Create diagnostic renders of how the model moves through deformations, if you're a good animator then do one animation to show it. If not, see if you can get a friend who's a good animator to move the model in a convincing way, but note that on your demo reel.

    2) References. The most common way people get jobs in this industry is through their contacts. Attitude and professionalism are extremely important when working to the tough deadlines that we all have. If you're an amazing animator, but have the personality of a psycho pit bull, the director may decide to go with someone who may not be as good as you are, but is a lot easier to direct.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    Jason Schleifer: It depends on where you're trying to work, and how much experience you have. Formal training and qualification is very helpful when trying to work overseas, as it helps convince the government that you can indeed do the job the company is trying to import you for. Formal training is also helpful in making contacts, which again is one of the best ways of getting a job. In addition, it gives you a chance to experiment and play with different ideas that you may not get a chance to do once you're working. That being said, obviously the most important thing is what's on your reel. If you have a fantastic reel but never passed the third grade.. well.. people can overlook that if you have good references, too.

    Leonard Teo: Does working on films, TV commercials or games make it glamorous?

    Jason Schleifer: Nothing beats sitting in a theater seeing your name go by and watching your parents go "eeeee!!" It's a great experience, and it does sometimes feel like you're a star. Especially when you have kids (or parents) running around going "AAAGGHHH!! YOU WORKED ON !! AAAGHH!! I LOVED THAT !!! YOU ARE MY HERO!! "

    Leonard Teo: Any other advise that you’d give a 3D wannabe?

    Jason Schleifer: Make sure that this is what you want to do with your life. It takes a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of long hours. But if you try hard, you can succeed. Just remember not to forget that you should have a personal life, too. And try and get out and do some sit-ups.. 20 hours in front of the computer every day can make anybody a wee soft in the belly!

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  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    Markus Manninen: There seem to be very different cultures in different countries on how to break in. I see people working their way up from being runners in London and talent walking in from the street who are self taught. I think the key element is getting a stunning show reel together and showing it to the correct people. When developing the reel, it is really you as a person who has to figure out how to get the reel together. Do you go to school, learn the skills, and do the extra hours to create a reel? Do you spend your time at home learning it on your own, and putting together the material? Do you work at a facility and try to get as much time in front of the equipment to learn and use the talent there to feed off to make your reel? It's all possible. The key element is that your reel has to show your talent, your ability. It has to show the person watching it that there is something that they can use in production. I always find that the best reels are from people who have learned to criticize their own work. It is a talent we all have to have, and we all use every day to get the work done to our client's specification, or even better.

    Leonard Teo: Does the 3D industry have a stable career path?

    Markus Manninen: There is a career path, but it isn't as corporate as the traditional traits may have. I think there are several different ways to go. There is the usual path of "junior" to "senior" which often reflect on people's artistic abilities as well as ability to take on responsibility.

    You can also become a specialist in a particular area and hone your skills to the maximum. Usually these people are called "leads" - as in lead animator, lead TD. Then there is the supervisory roles that tend to come with both artistic and creative decision making as well as inter-personal skills. Supervisors need to be more generalist due to the fact that they need to communicate during productions.

    As far as this goes it is similar to other traits. However, because our business is so project-driven, there is a tendency for people to move in two separate title areas. One which is a job title, the title they got when they were hired, one which is a credit title which is specific to a task performed on a specific show. So the path isn't as clear perhaps, nor stable. It is production-driven if anything.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    Markus Manninen: Show reel that tells us the ability of the individual. It always helps to have a reference from someone who has been around and has a good reputation in the business. But it only gets you to see the right person. The show reel needs to speak after that.

    Self-criticism. Do you know what you are good at? And if so, can you communicate it to us.

    I like meeting people face to face. How they communicate their strengths and weaknesses to me is also important. An awareness of one's abilities is important.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    Markus Manninen: I think there is a certain trust derived from the knowledge that a person has earned a degree and consequently should know something about what we do. And that they've lusted enough to get into the business to go and learn it. Maybe even a software. However, unless we see real talent no formal training will help you land a job. Some schools obviously are very well respected in the business and will certainly enable a proper exposure to the community.

    Leonard Teo: Does working on films, TV commercials or games make it glamorous?

    Markus Manninen: Glamorous. Maybe not. I think it has more to do with the fact that a lot of people actually want to work in the business simply because the actual work is what we love to do. If we wouldn't be doing it during the day time, we'd probably do it as a hobby in our spare time. I think many of us are very fortunate to have a hobby as our day job. I think many also find great satisfaction in seeing the end result of hard work up on the screen or on the TV. And it is always satisfying have some creative input in what you do. But on the day to day business I think we all find it as frustrating as anyone else in the work force. Remember the last time your renders crashed? That's the feeling I am talking about.

    Leonard Teo: Any other advise that you’d give a 3D wannabe?

    Markus Manninen: Learn, enjoy, don't give up. It does take time to become a fully-fledged artist, animator, or technical director. Everyone seems to be in such a hurry in our business to get somewhere. I'd say get good at what you do. Learn to listen to creative direction and input. Learn to be comfortable working in a group, you will most likely do. Make sure you can criticize your own work to reach the best standard. Make sure you have a good work ethic. When you do, and when you are able to take on the responsibility to get the job done comfortably, so that people know you'll get the job done with out them having to worry, that's when you will see your career really take off. Then opportunities will find you.

    << Previous Page - Jason Schleifer, Weta Digital
  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    Dennis Price: This is a tough question. Its not easy getting into 3D. It is a very competitive industry, especially right now! There are hundreds of kids out there struggling to get their feet in the door. Fortunately, for you the artist, a lot of them aren't very good at it. But they are getting better at an alarming rate. It could be easy for me to say: Hard work, Determination, Dedication, Focus... It all applies, but there there are a few attributes that are most important.

    Confidence, be sure of yourself. When you go to the interview make sure that the employer believes they NEED you for that job. Don't ever let them think they don't need you, don't let them doubt you. This is an important attribute not only for the interview, but also when you have to go to work and apply yourself. Being confident will wash doubt from you and allow you to enjoy your job and your work will wield better results. If you're not sure of yourself, then you will doubt yourself, and this can only lead to fear, and fear is the path to the Dark Side.

    Knowledge, so that you can back that confidence up. Understand and know what it is your are doing. You want to be a modeler? You want to be an animator? You want to composite? Know your software, know the tools, know the jargon. A good interviewer will ask you applicable questions, so be ready for them. Read everything you can get your hands on. Absorb information from everywhere. Go to user group meetings, especially if there is a guest speaker. Use the online forums. Use newsgroups and mailing lists. Ask questions, etc.

    Skill, obviously when comes down to actually performing you need to be able to do the work. Some people have it and some people don't. If you don't have it, you won't last long. I've seen it time and again. Don't get me wrong though, good skill is practiced. You can't just open up the software and be amazing, it takes practice. I always say "The second time you do it, you do it better and faster.". So practice, practice, practice.

    Networking, this is an important item to utilize in this industry. It always amazes me how small the 3D industry is. It's tiny. Everyone knows everyone. Make friends, mingle and you'll find yourself with a contact that can get you into a job that otherwise may not have been attainable.
    There is so much ground to cover. One more important point.

    Reality, be real about your expectations. Not everyone ends up in their dream job on the first go. Sometimes (most times) you have to pay your dues. It is a hard industry to break into, don't be discouraged. If you're passionate and you want it bad enough, it will happen.

    Leonard Teo: Does the 3D industry have a stable career path?

    Dennis Price: Blizzard has been solid as a rock. I've noticed that the FX industry in general has been very flexible. One tends to jump around from project to project. Commercial projects can normally last about two months, but some games have a four year development cycle. That may be a factor in the stability of your job.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    Dennis Price: Potential. Sometimes its hard to find good people with experience. Mostly because those kinds of people already have a job. Ninety-eight percent of us in the industry will cringe at our demo reels from when we started out. Don't expect to create the most amazing piece of work in the world (but always strive for that). If you put your 110% into your reel, then that will show. There are hundreds of little items you want to be mindful of when making a demo reel, but I'll just list a few. I don't want to say "your as best as your worst piece on the reel", but it's true. Do not put something on your reel that you are unhappy with. A silent reel is boring as hell to watch, put SOMETHING in for sound. Don't make the reel too long. Two minutes is a good general time. Include a description of what your role was on the reel with your resume.

    It's not always the best work that the interviewer desires, its the personality. If you don't seem like you'll "click" with the team, or can do well with others then you may not be the best person to hire.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    Dennis Price: When I started out, about 5 years ago, it didn't seem like the degree was all that important. There weren't many schools out there with the proper programs and/or knowledge to properly teach the subject matter. All that mattered was the reel. Nowadays the competition is getting fierce. Schools have gotten 200 times better. School can not only provide you with adequate knowledge, but also provide a way to network better. The more people you know that share your interests, the easier it is to be motivated. I do feel that schooling may make or break a hire decision, but if someone shows up with an amazing reel and no schooling, it would be almost dumb to not hire that person.

    Leonard Teo: Does working on films, TV commercials or games make it glamorous?

    Dennis Price: There is something to be said about seeing your name on the big screen....but I have never had someone from off the street walk up to me and ask for my signature! There is a certain level of pride that makes it all worth it when you see your work published. Be it on the big screen small screen or in a video game.

    Dennis Price's Webpage

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