• In part one of our coverage on getting a job in the 3D industry, we spoke with Jason Schleifer from Weta Digital, Framestore CFC's Markus Manninen and Dennis Price from Blizzard Entertainment. This week, we continue our coverage with some more tips and advise from the pros on how to find a career in the 3D and visual effects industry.

    Carlos Saldanha - Co-Director, Ice Age, Blue Sky Studios
    Carlos Saldanha has been part of Blue Sky's creative team since 1993 after finishing his animated short film "Time for Love," which has been screened at animation festivals around the world. Carlos was Blue Sky's Supervising Animator for the talking and dancing roaches in the feature film "Joe's Apartment". Carlos' latest project was to co-direct 20th Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios' first computer-animated feature film, "Ice Age".

    Stefan Marjoram - Director and Animator, Aardman
    After many years in the animation industry, the lure of character animation brought Stefan Marjoram back to Aardman where he has designed and directed idents and ads, BBC being among the prolific clients. Stefan Directed the short film "The Deadline", which won the Best Animated Short at 3D Festival Copenhagen 2001 and has been spun off into a mini-series on Nickelodeon.

    David Gould - Technical Director, Weta Digital
    David Gould is currently a Technical Director at Weta Digital in New Zealand working on The Lord of the Rings. With over a decade of experience in the computer graphics industry, David Gould has pursued the dual paths of programmer and artist. He is the author of the book "Complete Maya Programming" and is also the developer behind the Illustrate! cel-shader plugin for 3ds max, which has been used in numerous productions including Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

    William Vaughan - LightWave 3D Evangelist, Newtek
    A recipient of several New Media Addy awards, William Vaughan brings broad-based experience to the position of LightWave Evangelist at NewTek, having done 3D work for print, web, multimedia, games and broadcast.

    Over the past ten years, Vaughan has established a strong reputation for his award-winning work for clients such as Compaq, New Line Cinema, and Halliburton. He has also worked in the LightWave® community as an instructor at North Harris Community College. Vaughan's other activities in LightWave® user education include training companies such as NASA, Fulbright & Jaworski, and KHOU Channel 11, the CBS affiliate in Houston to use LightWave®.

    << The 3D Career De-Mystified, Part 1
  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    Carlos Saldanha: Most of the candidates we interview for a job are fresh out of animation schools from all over the world. That's how I got started 12 years ago, but with computers and software getting more accessible we are starting to get reels from animators that are creating animation on their own, and that's really good because it's opening opportunities for more artists to show their work.

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

    Carlos Saldanha: It depends, if I use myself as a reference, I'd say yes. I've been at Blue Sky for almost ten years now, but the industry has it's ups and downs, sometimes forcing people to jump around looking for a project to work on for example, but in general most of the artists I know have managed to keep their career path going right.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    Carlos Saldanha: We always look for talent, and that should be reflected on the artist's demo reel. The demo reel doesn't need to be fancy or long, a simple animation test could do it, if the quality is good. We look for animators with great sense of posing, timing and acting skills in their animation. I'd say keep it simple and solid.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    Carlos Saldanha: Sometimes, it depends on the artist. Education is very important, knowing the computer software also helps, but natural sensibility is crucial.

    A good animator has to be able to convey the right emotion through their work, and that doesn't come by just knowing the techniques.

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

    Carlos Saldanha: When you see your name on the credits for a project you worked on, it feels really good, but the bottom line is you have to really love what you do, because it's hard work, and most of the time late nights, bad take-out dinners and working weekends is not glamorous at all.

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

    Carlos Saldanha: Go for it!! If you want to get into the business and love animation, try to do the best you can and send out the best work you've got. It's not easy, but keep trying to learn more and improve your work. Companies are always looking for new talents.

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

    Stefan Marjoram: When I left college I, and a lot of my friends ended up in gaming industry. They're possibly not snatching up people at such a fast rate now but it's still a huge industry and as the consoles get ever faster and the games more complex, the companies will need more artists. It's quite a good way in - some companies are subsidiaries of other larger groups like Sony who also does feature film work, so it might lead to other things that way. Also, it's a good place to get used to working at a fast pace and get great tips that you'll use for the rest of your life - there are some very talented people in this field. That said, if you used your time at college well and have a really good reel which shows you understand the basics of weight and timing you should approach whoever you want to work for and show them - you never know, you might get lucky.

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

    Stefan Marjoram: Some jobs are possibly more stable than others but often it's a matter of choice. You might prefer to freelance - doing a few months on a job in
    LA and then going to London for a bit and then maybe having nothing for a few months. Other people are happier in a full time position. Sometimes this has downsides - as an employee most places will have ownership of any characters/film ideas you come up with.

    The good thing is - if you have talent - you will always be able to get a job somewhere - and no computer or machine is ever going to take your job away.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    Stefan Marjoram: A showreel should be short and focus on your key skills. Only put your best work on - even if it means the reel comes out very short. If you're applying for a character animation job and modeling isn't your strong point - just animate the bones or a stick character and don't waste precious time making a badly lit, lumpen model that everybody will laugh at. Of course, employers are also looking for someone who's easy to get along with (especially when deadlines are looming).

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    Stefan Marjoram: A qualification isn't necessarily important (nobody's ever asked to see my degree in animation) - but learning the basics is. Whether you teach yourself or someone else teaches you (even in a college you might still have to teach yourself - as many are fine art based and don't place much importance in walk cycles) - learn the basics - how to draw or sculpt or animate bouncing balls and walks. You'll need these skills before you get a job.

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

    Stefan Marjoram: Occasionally, yes. You might get to meet or work with famous people and go to premieres in an ill-fitting suit. You might be lucky enough to win an award which does make you feel very important for a night. And to your Mum and Dad and their neighbours it will be very exciting knowing somebody who works in the movies or on TV. They'll be looking out for your name in the credits and they'll probably ring you after to tell you. It is however, sometimes difficult to remember how glamourous it is at 3 in the morning when your staring through bloodshot eyes at a scene that keeps crashing.

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

    Stefan Marjoram: Practice. And don't feel it has to be complicated to be impressive - keep it simple is one of the best bits of advice for any subject.

    << Previous Page - Carlos Saldanha, Blue Sky Studios
  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    David Gould: Rarely does one "break into" the 3D industry but instead "chips away". The road from starting school to a paid position at a large studio can take many years. As such, the most important attributes of a 3D artist are patience and persistence. Admittedly there are a rare few who leave school and immediately get work in large prestigious studios, but for the majority the road will be longer and therefore require greater dedication and persistence. My journey has been the latter and on reflection I feel that it has been more rewarding.

    While you'll hear many people give you the politically correct, sanitized version of how to get a job in the 3D industry, I'll attempt to give you the non sugar coated truth. The reality is that there are a lot of people wanting to work in this industry on the most famous projects but there is also an equally large number of qualified people who can fill those positions. Unlike the early 90's where anyone who could navigate their way around a 3D package was offered a job, there is now a very large pool of experienced people from which employers can dip into. Jobs that were asking for a miniumum of three years experience are now requiring a minimum of five, simply because they know that they can find people to fill them. The key to getting to work on the big projects is to have experience.

    So how do you go about getting it? Start by completing some formal training and education. I'll cover this in more detail in the training question below but without doubt formal training is very important. Once you've completed your studies start by working in smaller companies. Sure the projects aren't as cool but you will learn some important lessons and most importantly it will give you a chance to hone your skills. Cutting your teeth in the often ruthless world of commercials or TV visual effects will put you in good stead for the future. You will gain a far greater understanding of the dynamics of the industry including how productions are managed and budgeted. You'll see that your communication and team skills are as important, if not more, than your technical or artistic skills. Since you'll be working for a smaller company there is a good chance that you'll be asked to wear many different hats. As a result you will be exposed to many different areas of production. This will help later when working in a larger studio since you'll have a much better understanding of how other departments work and interface with each other.

    So you've put in a few years at some smaller companies and you feel you can now cut it on a larger production. Recalling your teachers advice you'll polish up your resume and submit it to the recruiter along with your demo reel. You'll now sit back and wait patiently for a reply. This is the single biggest major mistake of all applicants. Firstly, your resume and demo reel are put onto the pile with many other hundreds, if not thousands, of other applications. Secondly, if your submission is actually looked at there is a very good chance that it is done by someone who is less than qualified to assess your capabilities. The reality is that most recruiters/hr people don't have any experience in the 3D industry. Admittedly there are some who are very good but for the most part they are people whose backgrounds don't include any formal training in 3D production. They are often given a minimum requirements list. They will attempt to match your resume to that list. If you don't match then you'll most likely be trivially rejected. If the recruiter determines that you fulfill the criteria then they will often pass it to production for further evaluation or ask you to come into an interview. This system is unfortunately very flawed. Over the years I've seen many talented artists being rejected for positions that they are more than qualified for because a recruiter wasn't capable of accurately assessing their application.

    So how do you get your application to someone who can best evaluate it? Quite simply you need to know someone in production. There is no better means of having your application thoroughly reviewed than by having an actual production team/person take look at it. Unfortunately most people in production rarely have time to thoroughly review applications. They will often get a few that have already been filtered through the system. The faster you can get your application to a production experienced person the greater chance you of a fair evaluation. An experienced person can evaluate an application in a few minutes. The decision to bring you in for an interview or alternatively pass you over can be made quite rapidly. If the answer is negative ask for feedback on what areas you need to improve.

    So fostering good relationships with production people will be very important in improving your chances of future employment. This isn't to say that simply schmoozing up to someone will get you in. You must have the skills and experience to back up your claims. If you make claims in your application that you can't follow through on you will be quickly exposed. Just as much as word of mouth and relationships will get you jobs, making false claims will also get your fired. Word travels fast in this community so don't make this a common practice. Getting to know production people includes participating in online forums, networking at SIGGRAPH, participating in local chapters, attending presentations and festivals, etc. Get more involved with the 3D community. This is a great way to meet people and learn. It is also a good chance to create new friendships.

    On a small but related note, many large companies have an employee referral system in place. This means that if an existing employee refers you and you are finally get hired they often receive monetary compensation. This is an additional, though not necessary, incentive for an existing employee to want to get you hired.

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

    David Gould: I'd like to say yes, but for the majority of people the answer is no. Walk around any major production studio and count the number of people over fifty. Not including the higher level production staff, the majority of production staff are relative young. The reality is that production work is often very long and demanding. Often people become burnt out and move onto other less stressful careers. Sometimes physical injuries(carpal tunnel, etc.) can slow or stop people working. Some people simply become jaded with the vagaries of the industry and look for alternatives. However, this is not to say that you must begin looking elsewhere. With the right skills it is possible to move to a managerial or supervisory position.

    The real question isn't whether you'll have the skills to maintain a long career but whether there will be enough stability in the industry to sustain you.

    Unfortunately the possibility to start and end your career in the same company never happened in the 3D industry. All the large studios now work with a "hire and fire" policy of employment. Many won't keep staff for mere weeks between projects, preferring instead to lay them offer then hiring them back when the next project is greenlit. The profit margins are simply too low to pay for the overhead of staff during even short intervals between projects. What this equates to is that you'll be spending a great deal of your time working on a contract basis. For larger feature films this can mean a relatively long three year or run-of-film contract. For effects work this may mean just several months. In any event there is not a great amount of long term stability within any single company. It may be this continual need to shift from one company to the next that wears on some people over time.

    Some would argue that you there are people who have been at the same company for years. Yes, this is true, but they are clearly in the minority. In my experience, even the highly placed producers and supervisors never truly ever feel that their position is completely assured. Often ones future employment is tied to the success of a film or the company's current fiscal report. If you are a dynamic person and prepared to change jobs then you will definitely fair better than someone who is looking for a single stable job.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    David Gould: In this day and age the most important attribute of an artist is versatility. While it is true that many larger studios have pipelines with many specialized people I feel that that model is starting to change. Even the larger studios are being forced to be more dynamic and flexible. In the never ending effort to reduce costs companies are looking for people that have skills that can cross departments. If you can easily move from one role to another you'll be in greater demand. I would even categorically state that your future level of job security will be directly proportional to your versatility.

    What this means for you is that you should broaden your areas of expertise. If you are an artist begin looking at more technical areas. If you are a programmer look to broaden your artistic skills. Sometimes the new skills are just a variation on what you already know. A skilled programmer can often become a proficient technical director. A talented lighter may learn shader writing. A character animator may take on effects animation work. In all these cases the new area shared common traits with the existing area. By doing this you can leverage your existing knowledge to become proficient much faster and more easily.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    David Gould: Yes, absolutely! Completing formal training demonstrates to a potential employer that you have a real genuine interest in the craft. While it is true that most people can get a student version of a 3D package and learn from home the benefits of formal education include a wider and more generalized understanding of 3D concepts and practices. Complete an undergraduate/bachelors course, if you can. Focus on the area that is of most interest to you but also attempt subjects that may not be your forte. For example, if you are an artist take some programming courses and vice-versa. By doing a longer course that covers more areas you will be able to better determine which area you are really interested in. You may be initially interested in becoming an animator (often because of its glamor factor) then find that you are in fact better suited to rigging. I've met many people who have tried many areas before pinpointing the one that really excites them. Sometimes you may change from one area to another during your career so having a good foundation in general computer graphics will definitely help.

    For those who are non-US residents that may one day want to work in the US having an undergraduate is a strict necessary minimum for a work visa. Be sure to check that your course of study is recognized by the US immigration department. It would be a real shame to complete three years of study in your home country only to find out that the course wasn't recognized by the US immigration resulting in all your efforts being in vain.

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

    David Gould: If you aren't attracted to work in the industry because you loved a particular film or couldn't get enough of a particular game then I'd seriously question why you'd want to work in this industry. There is one underlying trait of every person I've met who is successful in 3D; they have an amazing and absolute passion for their work. Call me mad but even if I was a millionaire I'd still be doing this stuff.

    The reason why the underlying passion is so important is that contrary to what you may have been lead to believe the film, commercials, and games industries really aren't that glamorous. There is not a lot of glamour sitting up all night babysitting renders or dealing with buggy software or working on "impossible" shots that need to be done by the next morning. The veil of glamour is soon replaced with the reality that working in the 3D industry is really about long hours and hard work. I've known people who have been working many years in the industry and have become jaded and disillusioned. They are continually frustrated with production issues, pipeline problems, work hours, etc. The fact is that this is how the industry is. There is a good chance that you'll either love it or hate it. The key is knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect production or a perfect pipeline. Many artists are continually jumping from project to project in a desperate hope of finding this holy grail. Sorry but it simply doesn't exist!

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

    David Gould: Just do it! If you really love this stuff then there is nothing to stop you achieving your goals. Just stick with it and work hard. Apply yourself to the craft of computer graphics and it can be rewarding, both financially and personally. I've had the opportunity to work in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many other famous cities. I've learnt new languages and been immersed in other cultures. One thing I love about this industry that is that you often get to work with amazing people from all over the world. Most crews are made up of a very eclectic mix of people from every corner of the globe. This industry gives you the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects from feature films to video games. Skills learnt in one area can often open doors in another. Remain versatile and never stop learning. Get started now!

    David Gould's website

    << Previous Page - Stefan Marjoram, Aardman
  • Leonard Teo: How does one break into the 3D industry?

    William Vaughan: It really depends on what area of the 3D industry you want to break into. All it really takes to get going in 3D is the desire to work in 3D. Many people forget that 3D is used for more then just games and Hollywood. I know many people who got their career started using 3D for print and multimedia, before they made the jump over to film and broadcast.

    It all really comes down to your demo reel. A good demo reel will get you in at just about anyplace. But this doesn’t mean wait to get into the industry until you have a killer reel. My first use of 3D was creating 3D screen savers for a Multimedia company. That work lead into logo animation, industrial animation and more.

    The best advice I could give to someone looking to break into 3D would be to get a good foundation in traditional art skills. Learn to draw, paint, sculpt, etc. If you understand how to create good art, 3D becomes another tool or paintbrush in your kit!

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

    William Vaughan: A 3D artist can choose how much job stability they will have. If you want to work on the latest and greatest projects you will probably live the life of a Jobber, bouncing from studio to studio. The good artists are always employed. Hollywood seems to be the Holy Grail for 3D artists, but I’ve found that the real $$ in 3D is found in the “fly over states”, doing 3D for multi-media, motion graphics and game development.

    Leonard Teo: What are employers looking for?

    William Vaughan: A good demo reel is key, but a demo reel can only get you so far. I have found that the people that have a lot of drive and willingness to learn new things have been very successful. Having traditional skills like design and illustration also comes in handy. I’ve seen artists get hired with no 3D in their portfolio, but they had a good understanding of composition, lighting and design. Many employers are willing to give good artists on the job training in 3D.

    Leonard Teo: Is formal training and a qualification important?

    William Vaughan: Formal training can only add value to an individual. I do know a few people with very little training that have gone on to work at the big shops in California. It’s all about the talent and work in the end.

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

    William Vaughan: Seeing your name in the credits and seeing your work on the shelf or in the theater is a great feeling…but it really doesn’t make the work anymore glamorous. The payoff is just that much bigger.

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

    William Vaughan: I tell everyone that now is the time to get into 3D…and it truly is. There are more resources available today then ever to learn 3D animation. My number one piece of advice is to network with as many people as possible, and with the internet, this has become soooo easy.

    Don’t be shy! I’ve seen many great artists who never post their work to forums, websites, etc because they feel they aren’t “good enough”. Get out there and at least show your work to your peers, get some good suggestions and this feedback will help you take your work to the next level.

    With resources like CGTalk, you can meet so many people who are in the industry and others who are trying to break into the industry. I communicate with hundreds of 3D artists on a daily basis. Using online forums you can learn from each other, share job leads, and get your work critiqued by thousands.

    Join as many groups as you can, such as local user groups, SIGGRAPH chapters, etc. If there isn’t a group, start one. Again networking is key in this and every industry.

    Have a personal website to showcase your work, past and present. You’d be surprised at how many people will find you, and you would never have found them. One other benefit of a website is that potential employers and peers will see the progression in the quality of your work.

    Share your knowledge with the 3D community by writing tutorials and articles. Not only will this help the community, but you will also learn from creating them.

    Constantly send out samples of your work -- even if you are not trying to get a job. It never hurts to have options, and keeping your name out there is always a good thing.

    From the Editor - Leonard Teo
    That's all folks! I do hope that you found this series of interviews useful - I know that I certainly have! From what our friends have said, the 3D industry does suffer its fair share of economical ups and downs, but is an extremely rewarding field to work in. Underlying everything is a passion for the craft.

    I'll take this opportunity to thank Carlos Saldanha, David Gould, Stefan Marjoram, William Vaughan, Dennis Price, Jason Schleifer and Markus Manninen for participating in this community feature series.

    To all of you who are finding your footing in this industry, I wish you all the best and Godspeed!

    Render on,

    Leonard Teo
    Editor and Global Marketing Communications
    3D Festival

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