Rookies judge and VFX industry veteran Andrew Hodgson discusses his journey of getting in to the VFX industry. I really interesting and inspiring read.
Over the years lots of people have asked me how they can break in to the industry and what my own path in to the industry was like. There is no clear set path. What's important is that you just persist towards your goals whatever they may be.
There are a few reasons why I decided to write this up. Firstly it gives people that are thinking of getting into the industry a look at a potential path and I want to talk about what I actually wish I did differently in hindsight. A few people that have heard my story also contacted me thanking me for inspiring them to keep going when they thought of giving up.
Honestly that is the most heartwarming thing to hear that my story has inspired someone else and a big part of why I wrote this up. I know how helpless it can feel sometimes. The blog will be split into 2 parts as it is a lot of information and I hit the word cap for a blog post.
So I actually didn't really study 3D or at least do a VFX related course. I have an Advanced Diploma in Graphic Design. I always knew I wanted to do something art related but had no idea what. At first I signed up for Interior design and dropped out of that within the first 3 months because it wasn't for me. The next year I picked up Graphic Design instead and still wasn't feeling it, so within the first 6 months I dropped out. it took me 2 years to do the 1 year certificate 4 in graphic design.
My Diploma was the same process and I still wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I was introduced to a new 3D unit I thought, "why would I want to do this 3D thing?" Well aware that I wasn't going to finish my work again I started staying back after classes getting extra help from the lecturers and pretty much spending all my time in the building. I started to notice the more effort I put in the more rewarding it felt even if I wasn't doing good work. I also noticed that my lecturers were actually very supportive of me trying so hard so they helped me more. It was towards the end of this year that I realized I actually enjoyed 3D. I was using cinema 4D at the time and the image above is actually the first thing I ever did during the course.
After finishing my Diploma I started my Advanced Diploma. Since I was in a graphic design course I still had to complete all of the graphic design units but because I had built up a good reputation with my lecturers, when they saw how hard I worked, they let me alter all my units to be 3D focused. This was when I realized that if I worked hard and my passion showed, it made my life much easier in going after what I wanted.I finished my Advanced DIploma much easier than the previous years because I found what I enjoyed but I still didn't really know what I wanted to do with this 3D thing.
I decided that going in to the film industry sounded pretty cool and I picked Modelling ENTIRELY because I was by myself and couldn't work with other people. I also realize I had no idea what Sub D modelling was at the time or how to model for VFX so I pretty much took a year off self teaching myself and screwing up a lot at the time. I even had to stop and drop Cinema 4d and teach myself Maya when I realized Maya was actually the tool used. This is one area where I really wish I did it differently.
I was never involved with any online communities and didn't really know where to get good solid information from. It was mostly just a lot of trial and error then discarding 5 projects because I realized they were wrong. This is one of the reasons why I post a lot now, because I know how it feels to have no idea what to do. At the end of the year I had put together my 5 best works in to a demo reel to send out into the world to try to get a job. I included a snail for some reason because I thought I needed something organic in it. I am eternally grateful for my mother supporting me through the whole process and letting me focus on teaching myself.
Sending out the Reel
So the first thing I did was I looked up every single demo reel, vfx breakdown and article I could find to create a massive list of VFX studios around the world. I came up with a list of 90 studios from the biggest well known like ILM and MPC, to the most random unknown studio I could find in countries I had never even thought of living in before. I sent my reel out to every single one of these companies. I applied for jobs, sent out speculative applications or just tried to contact the studio in some form. I heard back from almost none of them...
So what did I do, I spent the next 3 months working non stop to recreate my reel. I replaced most of the work and found another 40 new studios to add to my list so we are at 130 now. Once again I sent my reel out to everyone with the hope just ONE would be interested, that's all I needed, just ONE. As you can guess there wasn't one. This was very disheartening, breaking in to this industry felt impossible, something had to change.
Moving to London
That change was the best decision I have ever made and was the boldest thing I will probably ever do. I said “screw this”, I'm getting in to the film industry no matter what it takes. I booked a flight to London because I wanted to be in one of the VFX capitals, the other side of the planet from everything I know in Australia. My flight had an exact one year return date on it so I forced myself to stay in London for 1 year and to give it a proper shot. My plan was to get a job at a bar or something and just constantly be around, pushing in to the industry until I got in. This is something you will have to keep in mind if you want to go in to this industry. You have to accept the fact that there is a very high chance you will have to move and that means leaving loved ones and your homes behind. It doesn't even stop when you get in. Our industry is based on tax incentives and just because there is work in this city now, doesn't mean it will always be there.
So that's it, the next thing I knew I was sitting on a train heading towards London city center after 17 hours of flying and thought, "holy shit I'm in London". I had no job, no family there, knew almost no one, had no accommodation aside from 1 week in a hotel and I had never lived away from home before. I had this energy though, there is nothing that gives you more drive than being by yourself and having no choice but to make it work.
My only lead I had in this massive city was that I had emailed an Australian FX artist at Double Negative a year before who said if I ever swung by London we could grab a drink. So I emailed him saying hey I'm in London. This man I won't use his name for his privacy, without even intending to, set my whole life up. I spent the day with him after about 5 days of being in London and we just grabbed some Lunch and dinner. At the last minute he invited 2 friends that happened to live close by, a CG sup and someone from HR at MPC London. We had a nice meal and I told them how I had literally just arrived in London with nothing and I wanted to get in to the VFX industry. At this point I was just so happy to be around professionals, I already felt like I made the right decision moving here. The woman from HR asked if I would be interested in being a runner at MPC, a job position had just opened up. A runner is someone that cleans the kitchens in the studios, serves the clients coffee etc and are the lowest title and paid position. I jumped at the opportunity though, I just wanted to get a foot in and this would beat working at a bar any day.
The next day I sat in Starbucks across the road from MPC for pretty much the whole day just refreshing my Ipad over and over. Eventually I got an email from MPC asking if I was free for a chat at some point where I instantly responded. "I am across the road, I am free right now". I went in to MPC and after a quick chat they asked for me to come back the next week as a MPC Film Runner. I could not believe it, I still wasn't an artist yet but I had made it into one of the biggest studios and this was within my first week of being in the city. Everything just seemed to fit together because I made such a drastic move and went after it. I will be eternally grateful to my 2 friends who helped me out when I first got to London and literally set my entire life up. I wouldn't be who I am now if they didn't agree to meet this random guy from Perth.
MPC (Moving Picture Company) - Runner
So I was a Runner at MPC now and they had never seen such an enthusiastic Runner. I would turn up to work an hour early, and work as hard as I could. I was just so excited to be in the studio and walk past peoples monitors and see cool movie stuff. Being a runner wasn't the goal though, it was being a modeller. I found out where the asset department was and started talking to artists and found out who the head of modelling was. I sat down with him and we had a look at my reel. He said, “yeah your reel is pretty cool, we just unfortunately won't be able to hire you in the foreseeable future.'' I won't go into the exact reason but it was about the restructuring of the company. This felt like walking through a door and smashing your face against a brick wall.
Damn I had gotten in and now I was stuck again. What could I do? Look for other companies? I still had no modelling experience. What I decided to do was use the fact I was in MPC to my advantage and started talking to the artists, getting feedback on my work and general advice from them. I had even started talking to environment artists considering that as another avenue in to film work. In the end what I did was I would do my running shift then go sit in the asset room during my spare time and work on my own personal work or do training on one of their computers. I had a rule, I had to be the last one in the room every night. I just made sure people saw me, that was what was important. After 3 months of doing this something happened where they needed to quickly get more modellers. Who do you think was already sitting in front of them every day? They said OK fine we will give you a shot. I signed the contract to be a modeller the day before my 24th birthday. It was the best day of my entire life.
MPC (Moving Picture Company) - Modeller
So I was now a modeller, I had finally achieved what I set out to do. I was very fortunate that my first film was Guardians of the Galaxy because not only was it a pretty cool film, it had a lot of spaceships in it. At first as a Junior I was given mostly supporting tasks helping other artists but I took on each task with such intense enthusiasm that I started to get the work done faster and faster. I continued the same mentality of if people see my passion and I work hard I will be rewarded. I was. The team started to trust me more and I started to be given better work.
After few months I felt I was in a pretty good spot I actually started asking for specific jobs. This is something I have done throughout my whole career. I have always been very vocal about the work I wanted to do AFTER I had proven myself to my superiors. It makes business sense to give the work to whoever does it fastest and if they have someone that is super passionate about the task and is very fast, you will give them the work. This was how I was able to build up my portfolio in such a quick time. I would constantly be looking at what was coming in to the studio, what new shows, what new assets on the show I'm working on. I would ask if it would be possible if I could work on them, without demanding it.
I also worked a lot of hours. This is a very touchy subject in our industry especially when it comes to free overtime. London has different labor laws to Vancouver and the Overtime is not paid. I did at the start of my career work a lot of free overtime. I would never do a second of free overtime these days but at the start of my career it felt like the right thing to do. It's not something I will condone, as in reality it does hurt our industry. At the start of my career though, it did give me a massive experience jump and the one film pretty much set up my career. A lot of time people say I'm talented but I don't really believe in talent at all, especially where I am concerned. I just work A LOT. I did 1 years worth of work in 6 months. That is entirely up to the individual though. At the time I was so happy I was doing spaceships but I was also so scared that what I had fought so hard to get might end so quickly, so I felt an intense need to prove myself and learn as much as I could.
Now is entirely different though. If you do this for too long you will burn out, which I did eventually. In hindsight I do wish I had more balance though. I still would have worked a lot but I barely traveled Europe which was a waste and I pretty much put aside breakdancing for this time which I regret now.
That Kermit Onesie video a few people might have seen actually took place in one of the MPC kitchens when working a weekend. Some of the production staff were wearing onesies for fun so I asked if I could borrow one for 5 minutes.
After a year of the hardest I will ever work in my life, the film came out and I got my first credit. I cannot explain the joy of seeing your work on the screen and your name for the first time in the credits. I hope this is something you will all be able to experience one day and use as fuel to go after your goals.
In total I was at MPC London for two and a half years and worked on the following films in this order. I was very proud of the work I had done and feel so fortunate to have worked on these films. I was working with some of the best artists in the industry and had learned so much during my two and a half years at the company.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Finest Hours
The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay part 2
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Independence Day: Resurgence
The MPC asset team I was with, is still the best asset team I think I have worked with and I learned so much from my time there. It was the hardest I think I will ever work in my life but I was also very fond of how life changing the experience was. I had built a very strong portfolio by now and it was time to move on however.
Original post was made on Andrew's ArtStation Blog