Whether you're an aspiring or established VFX artist, future-proofing your career is a smart move. Besides staying on top of the latest VFX software and ongoing improvement as an artist, there are some lesser-known skills you can start nurturing today to help secure your next VFX job, and stay in demand in the industry.
In this recent webinar, SideFX Software's Julie Lottering and CG Spectrum's FX Department Head Daniel Hourigan discussed the universal abilities employers look for when hiring, and how they can assist you in sustaining a long-term VFX artist career.
We delve into the repertoire of skills that will help you get a job in VFX and contribute to a successful career in the industry.
Future-proof your VFX career by cultivating these skills:
Developing Your Strengths
Being Task Focused, not Self-Focused
Practicing Curiosity, Flexibility and Humility
Believing in Yourself - You Are Not an Impostor!
Here's a detailed look at each of these and why they're so important for long-term career success as a VFX artist:
The ability to adapt is now a highly sought-after skill by employers. We are seeing AQ (Adaptability Quotient) emerge as a new buzz word in the labor force. It refers to a person’s aptitude in changing at the same speed as technologies, workplaces and world events.
The neuroscience of adaptability refers to the plasticity of the brain to alter paths in order to survive. These are innate skills that hark back to the stone age - the ability to read and act on signals; the ability to mobilize in the face of change; the ability to experiment to break down habits and barriers; and the ability to adapt to new ecosystems to better understand a world in constant flux.
The good news is that adaptability is a skill that can be learned and developed over time.
There are three keys to developing your adaptability quotient: Flexibility and Openness, Critical Thinking, and Emotional Regulation.
Let’s take a closer look at these.
Flexibility and openness to change is a discipline that will assist in both everyday workplace practices as well as sustaining an open mind about where your career will take you. The ability to remain calm and grounded in the midst of what seems like chaos in the heat of the moment shows resilience and the ability to think of the big picture. A mindset that is pliable will remain positive in workplace storms and establish you as a solid force in the face of flux.
Critical thinking is what will enable you to identify, analyze and adapt to changes in VFX workflows and job requirements. The talent to think independently, competently and reflectively is a leadership skill that will place you at an advantage as a VFX artist, allow work to continue smoothly, and get you noticed by VFX supervisors. This is where critical thinking links back to flexibility and allows you to focus on the work and get the job done.
Emotional regulation requires probably the most difficult discipline in the workplace, but it will get you the farthest in your VFX artist career. When we care passionately about our work, we often become emotionally attached to our personal contribution and/or our team’s output. Putting those feelings aside for the good of the project is the product of a mature outlook. Again, this is big picture thinking that removes the personal for a higher purpose. The ability to be grateful for the work and to feel compassion for others are also disciplines that assist in dealing with the complexities of creative work and workplace issues.
2. Nurturing Mentorships
When we are starting our VFX artist careers, relationships with mentors and senior film and game industry practitioners are crucial.
Starting out in the VFX industry can be daunting, we are competing with others who have more experience, we have yet to establish industry contacts, and we don’t know how the VFX industry works.
The role of the mentor is one of nurturer and teacher. They give us the inside knowledge we crave, reassure us we have the talent to succeed and steer us in the right direction.
How do we build such important relationships when we are starting out?
The first step is to make initial contact to have a chat, virtual or IRL, with a VFX industry professional. This could be someone you have encountered in a course, someone you have interacted with online, or someone you have contacted cold because you admire their visual effects work. Give yourself a weekly quota and stick to it, you may decide to have 1-2 chats per week.
Like any relationship, your connection with a mentor depends on chemistry and needs to develop over time. So cast a wide net and meet as many VFX artists and other industry professionals as possible.
One strategy to increase your contacts is to ask each person you meet to recommend someone else to engage with.
You will see your network expand exponentially by doing this, and even if you only meet with a person once you will have made a new connection which may pay off in the future.
Planting these seeds and watching your circle grow outwards into the industry keeps you moving closer to the career you want while meeting people who have carved their own path and can offer valuable advice.
CG Spectrum students are all mentored by industry professionals who have worked on blockbuster films and best-selling games. Mentors offer their insider knowledge of studio life, and provide highly personalized feedback on each student's work. This prepares students for what it's like to what in the industry and develops critical soft skills such as communication, and receiving constructive feedback and using it to improve as an artist.
3. Developing Your Strengths
What you love will be your strength. We are all multidimensional souls. Creative people especially tend to have a broad range of interests. Your ultimate career goal may be to be a 3D animator, but you may also have side interests in education, pottery and astronomy.
As you navigate your career, be sure to cultivate your curiosity for the world. Your unique knowledge-base may make you the ideal candidate for a job one day.
You may be asked to teach visual arts, a job may require animating a pottery-making sequence, you may be hired on a feature based on the solar system.
We tend to look at our career as a linear movement, but try a different metaphor to help you create the vivid canvas of your career. If you see your career as a picture with many moving parts, with sections that are refined and filled in over time, and areas that can be revisited again and again you will have a fuller idea of what work can look like. Develop all your skills in tandem even while you are concentrating on one job, this will keep you moving in all the areas you are capable of excelling in. It is up to you to engineer your own opportunities and strengthening your many talents keeps you in good form for the next job role that comes up.
4. Being Task-Focused, not Self-Focused
To twist on the old existential question If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?, if you work hard on a sequence and it gets cut from the final product, does your work still count? The answer is yes. Yes to both questions.
Being task-focused is one of the best ways to ensure work satisfaction regardless of the final outcome.
When you are employed on a large production you are a part of a collective whole, working equally individually and within teams towards a common goal.
You may find yourself in a position where your work is cut, revised or needs to be re-done from scratch. This is all part of a process. Effort is not canceled if it is not seen, it is not undone by major revisions or if it is re-imagined. If you remain concentrated on the overall task ahead you will be rewarded for your effort and attain the satisfaction of having put in a major effort.
Receiving critiques can be the toughest part of a creative’s job. It is important not to take these personally. They are not a reflection of you or of your talent. Producers and supervisors work towards a cohesive brief, they are thinking of the big picture. Your job is to knit your work into this whole, to integrate your work seamlessly into the final product.
Staying focused on the task ahead and not on your personal views of how a production should proceed is one of the most valuable skills you can bring to a workplace. And remember, one day you may be in charge of making these tough decisions when you have enough experience.
A career as a VFX artist can be a lot of fun! See some of the work CG Spectrum's Houdini FX students are creating
5. Prioritizing Teamwork
Following on from the team focused discipline, it is important to develop team camaraderie skills early on. Courses don’t tend to provide experience in teamwork because it is such a tough lesson to teach. It is something that is innately learned on the job, you can theorize in a course all you like about working as part of a group but each job will present its own unique set of rules and experiences.
Once you are in the workforce you will quickly need to pick up on the rules of engagement within a team. These are essential skills, they will affect your workflow and those of others, it will also affect if you are employed on future jobs.
Being easy to work with, being cooperative and adaptable are qualities that will get you re-employed over and over again.
You can be the most creative and talented team member but if colleagues do not have a good experience with you they will remember that over your output.
6. Practicing Curiosity, Flexibility and Humility
Working for a greater whole requires the virtues of curiosity, flexibility and humility. If you stay curious about the entire process and occasionally remove yourself from your individual tasks, the process will be all the more interesting for you.
With one eye on your own work and one eye on the entirety of the project you will have a fully-rounded experience. This will also inspire compassion and understanding for the needs and challenges of others.
As a creative your greatest life-force is your curiosity, practice this relentlessly in all aspects of your life.
We have already touched on the skill of being flexible, use this trait within your teams to take on extra work if you can, to support your co-workers with difficulties they may have. This builds trust and strengthens collaboration, building cohesive work environments whose output is more likely to soar.
Working in teams and within workplaces requires humility. We rarely are the sole auteurs of a work, we are usually busy bees slugging selflessly to produce sweet honey. Achieving success in our career goals is a humbling experience.
7. Believing in Yourself - You Are Not an Impostor!
The creative field is rife with practitioners who suffer with Impostor Syndrome. This is because artists tend to be perfectionists. They hold their idols in great esteem and seek to emulate them, leading to intense feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness.
Although feelings of inadequacy come wrapped up in the parcel of being an artist you must work on recognizing your gifts, developing them, and believing in yourself. You are good enough. Concentrating on forging your own path is a focus that will lead to success. Head down, don’t look up, don’t overthink. Just keep going!
With practice and experience one day you will stop, look around, and realize you have carved out a place for yourself. That you do belong, and that you can mentor the upcoming generation of artists and help them in the way that you were assisted by those who guided you.
The future looks bright for the visual creative field, and with this advice, you can future-proof your skills in a competitive market.
Careers in entertainment have proven robust and sustainable during financial and health crises. With remote work becoming increasingly viable, creative work is further consolidated as a secure form of employment. Add to that the increased demand for gaming, visual storytelling and online selling during tough times and your career prospects as a creative are evermore solidified.
So what skills can you nurture now that will propel you into your next job, or the job of your dreams? What traits will assist you in weathering the rough patches of your career?
As you work on implementing the advice above for your career as a VFX artist, consider also expanding your technical skills with one of our visual effects courses.
Classes are virtual, students are mentored by industry professionals, and class sizes are kept small to ensure highly personalized instruction. There's no better way to get industry-ready than with an industry expert as your guide!