The VFX Industry
Within the VFX industry there are both large and small companies. The work and structure between large and small companies differ greatly.
Larger companies have a more structured management system, generally have departments and work on multiple long-form projects at the same time. Larger companies usually have an R & D department and write proprietary software.
Smaller companies will do projects with less shots and most focus on work for television, independent film or advertising. They will rely on off-the-shelf software and will probably not have an R & D team.
There are 2 types of artist. Those that are 'generalists' or those who are 'specialists’. A smaller VFX company will look for ‘generalists’ who have multiple skills across a number of disciplines. A larger VFX company requires ‘specialists’ to work within specific departments.
Most VFX companies hire their employees on a contract basis. The contracts generally run the length of a project. It is extremely common that artists will move from studio to studio, going where the work is.
Many companies have studios in multiple locations and countries so there can be opportunity both home and away.
Qualities that a VFX artist should cultivate
The ability to be able to work both independently but also in a team is extremely important.
Independently at desks with assigned assets, shots and tasks but alongside other artists, supervisors and production personnel.
Often, an artist must work quickly but with great attention to detail.
Be able to take critical feedback with out feeling it's personal.
VFX work is deadline driven with many creative voices contributing to the final product.
The ability to receive critical feedback in a positive way is a must.
To be able to own yet share the work at the same time. VFX is a team effort.
Having a focused demo reel showing your best work, clear and concise resume and a good interview will give you the best chance for employment.
Creating a Demo Reel
Your demo reel needs to be specific to the discipline you are applying for. Your whole reel should last for no more than 2 minutes and your best work should come at the start.
You should always include a breakdown of your included shot/s. Begin each section by showing the final, finished shot. Then breakdown the work to show each element or layer being added. Most effective is to use simple wipes. At the end of the breakdown, show the final finished shot again.
If your reel includes shots where multiple artists have contributed to the work, state clearly on the reel what you did.
Also don't worry to much about music, often demo reals are played with the sounds off.
Remember: your demo reel and resume should always be up to date.
See this page for compilations of student demo reels and detailed descriptions of the requirements for compositing, lighting and FX reels. These are compilations of student work of those who were hired into MPC Academy.
Applicants need to show their potential for creating photo-realistic images. This can be either all CG, a mix of CG and Live Action or all Live Action. For a demo reel, one or more examples of each would be most helpful. Show a mixture of invisible effects and more noticeable ones.
Make sure all of your elements fit nicely into the perspective of the shot. Keep an eye on the horizon line, two point perspective, parallax, and relative scale.
Where possible, include a number of keying shots using proper blue or green screen backgrounds. Show in your breakdown specific details such as the quality of hair detail and spill suppression. Showing accurate roto work is very important and you should avoid wobbly, boiling or extended edges.
Another important skill to show is 2D Tracking, making sure objects don't slip or slide. Examples of one point, two point and four point (corner pin) tracking are all good.
Colour correction, tonal manipulation and integration techniques are also key. Showing how you have integrated an object into a plate, graded the high-lights & shadows and balanced the midtones are very useful. Showing an understanding of subtle edge integration techniques, lightwrap effects and motion-blur matching are very important too.
Along with adding elements into a shot, show how you can remove them too. This could include basic examples such as a person being removed from a background or more complex shots including motion-blur, lens flare or depth of effect effects.
A common example to use is that of CG passes, don't go overboard with these as most VFX houses have custom gizmos setup to recombine them at the click of a button. However, a single example showing you understand how to accurately recombine them to be mathematically correct is useful.
In the vast majority of companies in the VFX industry Nuke is used for all Compositing. However, examples done in another tool such as Fusion, Flame or After Effects are also valid.
Applicants need to show their potential for creating realistic and hyper-realistic dynamic simulations. This can be destruction, soft bodies, particles, fluids, liquids or other effects.
It's important to show a strong understanding of physics and maths. Also important is a realistic use of gravity, forces, general scale and weight. Timing is key. Show the effect starting and finishing with a realistic dispersion.
Working in the correct "real world scale" is critical. Make sure that your geometry is set to the correct size. This will ensure that physical constants like gravity and force respond accurately to scale and that velocity and dynamics will be true to life.
Along with the more physically correct effects you could also show more stylized ones such as magically forces or super-hero energy bolts.
Work can be shown on either a neutral background, rendered with basic setting or be more elaborate, using motion blur, shaders and composited into a background plate.
If you have used a scripting language such as MEL, VEX or Python, show examples of how the script has been used in the creation of your effects work.
Many large studios use proprietary tools however, a good understanding of either Maya (nParticles, nCloth, Bifrost, Fluids, Bullet Physics, etc) and/or Houdini is essential.
Experience with some secondary tools are useful to show. These can include XSI (Ice), Modo (Effects), 3dsMax (Particle Flow / MassFX), Chaos Group (Phoenix), and RealFlow.
An effective demo reel includes the reference material used alongside your CG effect. Remember to use real-world examples as reference and not ‘Hollywood’ effects.
In the reel, state what specific software and technique you used to create the effects for each shot.
Applicants need to show their potential for creating photo-real lighting on a CG element which matches a background plate. Showing strong look development skills, i.e. creating the look and feel of a CG element to appear photo-real is also important. Finally an excellent understanding of rendering is essential.
For lighting, the key areas to focus on are the matching of light direction, texture and exposure with a specific focus on colour and shadow and highlights quality.
For lookdev focus on both technical setup and artist interpretation, showing a photo-real CG asset.
Finally, for rendering, the main focus should be on quality. A lack of noise, render-pass setup and functionally all with a good understanding of optimization for speed and memory control.
Lookdev should exist in a 'physically plausible' environment. Shaders should be build to adhere to the natural laws of physics as much as possible and with a clear focus on things such as BxDF, IoR, Albedo and Fresnel. A good selection of reference examples showing different materials is very useful with the original real object composited next to the CG render. Include things like rusty metal, glass, skin, water, car paint, wood, fire, smoke, hair, and fur.
Lighting, like lookdev, should exist in a 'physically plausible' environment. A good understanding of photographic terminology such as f/stops, exposure and fall-off is important. Other areas to focus on include the use of blockers, gobos and projectors. A good understanding of HDR images and their use in the lighting process is essential.
As with other disciplines, showing breakdowns is imperative to explain what's been done. For this discipline, focus on lights rather than passes. i.e. key, fill and back lights as opposed to diffuse, specular and reflection passes.
Regarding software, a strong understanding of either Maya, Katana or Houdini is important, not just in the areas of lookdev and lighting but as a broader skillset too. Knowing a mainstream renderer like RenderMan, V-Ray or Arnold is essential though Mental Ray is useful as well. Finally having a good understanding of a nodal based compositing tool such as Nuke or Fusion is helpful.
Writing a Resumé
A resumé by definition is a short summation of your skills and work history. A recruiter receives a great number of resumés and you want yours to be easy to read in order to ensure it’s reviewed. Make it clear and to the point so the relevant information can be found quickly. Limit your resume to 1 or 2 page max.
What should you include?
Your personal details including name, address, email, phone number. If applying for work outside your country include your work visa status (if applicable). Details for links to your demo reel and work projects. State the position you are applying for. Your resumé needs to be focused on one job position. If interested in more than one job, make multiple resumes with each one focused on the position you are applying for. List your previous employment starting with the most recent first. When applying for your first job, it’s common to include summer or part-time employment in the absence of related work experience. List the software you know and can use. Include the number of years you've been using it and a level of proficiency. Do not include software you are only vaguely familiar with. Include any operating systems and programing languages you are familiar with. List professional memberships you are a part of. i.e. The Visual Effects Society, Siggraph, etc. Finally, include relevant educational history and any awards or recognition you have received.
Make sure all your information is up-to-date. Do not use any acronyms, jargon or abbreviations. Always check your spelling and grammar. Your resume must be easy to read, black text on white. Avoid colours or creative fonts. Many companies scan resumes into a database for future reference so keep it clean. Do not exaggerate your skills, people will find out! If coming from a degree path explain your dissertation or studies simply. Don't include too much personal information, this can be discussed in your cover letter.