How I Became a Visual Effects Artist


How I Became a Visual Effects Artist

I have been working in Visual Effects for nearly 20 years, spending most of that time as a Senior 3D Generalist and Compositor. Much of the last 10 years I’ve spent working as CG Supervisor and Technical Director with the last five years developing artist tools and entire pipelines. I have worked professionally doing rigging, dynamics (cloth, hair, particles, fluids and crowds), lighting and rendering, texturing, modeling and compositing. I have lead teams of artists to great success with my high degree of knowledge and expertise, and have developed entire pipelines for several studios, including Aaron Sims Creative and Masters FX.

My career in the film industry got its beginnings in the late 1990’s, doing simple cartoons, some indie-film movie titles and local advertisements in 3DS Max, After Effects and Premiere. Within a year or two I got my first production gig as a PA on a film called “Take Out”, and then spent the next four years splitting my time between production work (primarily as a sound man, but occasionally as camera, grip or gaffer) and doing as many visual effects jobs as I could. By 2005 I began working in films and games exclusively. I worked at THQ’s Rainbow Studios’ Motion Capture house for a year as a TD on “Smackdown vs. Raw”, and then went on to become an Avid and Final Cut editor for a series of Phoenix based television shows and a commercial/film house called SNT Video. When I wasn’t doing production work or editing for them, I was doing their visual effects, or VFX for some outside freelance job.

My time in Phoenix proved valuable since, outside of the major film industry, if someone is looking for visual effects, they are looking for someone who can do everything. This gave me extensive experience in match-move/tracking, modeling, texturing, lighting, rigging, animation, rendering, and compositing, by this time doing most of my work in 3DS Max, Maya, Combustion and Shake. In 2007/2008 I decided that I was done being an editor, and working production, and that I wanted to focus my efforts exclusively on visual effects. For the next two and a half years I worked as a freelance VFX artist continuing to work for local clients in Phoenix, but also doing work for houses in Los Angeles and London. This still meant that I was being handed raw plates, and that finished visual effects were expected to be returned, which also meant that I had to get good at everything in the pipeline.

After working on several films and television shows in Phoenix, I was asked to teach a few classes at my alma mater UAT in Tempe, where I taught camera tracking and match-move, lighting and rendering and illustration.

By late 2009 I was tired of remoting-in to studios in LA or driving back and forth from Phoenix to LA and thus I decided to relocate. I finally moved to LA in March of 2010 and found that my extensive experience in Phoenix, including my production, editing and vfx work had over-prepared me for an industry that was used to working with specialists. I quickly moved up in the ranks and got my first CG Supervisor position within a month.

Shortly after that gig, I got a job at Prime Focus working as a stereo conversion compositor. Once again, I excelled and advanced very quickly, but I left before accepting a lead position. I took on another CG supervisor role for Flight 33, a studio in Sherman Oaks, that specialized in History and Discovery channel programs with very fast turn arounds. Again, I excelled, and it was the first (but not the last) time that the VFX Supervisor pulled me aside and literally ask me “can we clone you?” and “do you know anyone else like you?”. I have since been asked that at several studios, a flattery that I’m very proud of.

As I advanced in my career, my programming and dynamics chops got better, I began taking more TD and advanced roles, focusing more on rigging, cloth/particle/fluid simulations, hair, and artist tool development, but occasionally I still get hired for more standard tasks, including compositing (almost exclusively Nuke, but also Fusion), animation or some other CG task.

After nearly 20 years of visual effects, I now work primarily as a CG Supervisor, Technical Director and Pipeline/Tools developer for various studios around Los Angeles. I have spent the last several years at Aaron Sims Creative where I worked as CG Supervisor on several shows, including the Mist, Stranger Things, Midnight Texas and a number of other commercial and international feature films. I developed their Shotgun pipeline from the ground and completely customized the entire system to meet their unique needs. I developed a time-tracking system that works in most DCCs, including Maya, Nuke, Mari, Photoshop, Houdini, SoftImage, and 3DS Max, and updates time-sheets whenever an artists changes the current file they’re working on. I developed a new publishing system that automatically processes working files, final images, geometries, references and archives by simply moving the files into the appropriate folder, which dramatically decreased the amount of time that it takes for artists and supervisors to ingest new things into their pipelines.

My unique and extensive experience in visual effects has made me an asset that most studios would love to have on their roster. I am an expert problem solver with a vast knowledge of the industry and it’s ever evolving needs.