Career Advice - Working as a Co-Founder of a 3D Education Platform and 3D Artist, with Henning Sanden
Want a successful career working as the Co-Founder and content creator of a leading online digital marketplace and education platform? Or how about a kick-ass Modeling and Texture artist??
Henning Sanden, does it all! Co-Founder of FlippedNormals, Henning has created an education platform focused on high-quality training and resources. Along with Morten Jaeger, he runs the FlippedNormals YouTube Channel with over 230 videos. Their background is from the VFX industry, having worked on characters for movies such as Pacific Rim Uprising, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Alien Covenant.
Henning sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring image makers, looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I’m the co-founder of FlippedNormals along with Morten Jaeger. We spend most of our time developing FlippedNormals.com, a highly curated marketplace for CG training and resources. Our YouTube channel is also actively being updated, with new videos every week.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I work at FlippedNormals! We have tutorials for the CG and animation industry, both from ourselves and from our amazing creators! Our own tutorials are based on our experience as senior artists in the VFX industry as character modellers. I’ve made characters and creatures for movies such as Pacific Rim Uprising, Alien Covenant, Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman V Superman and many more.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
When I was 17, I got my first gig at a local studio in Bergen, Norway - and I understood that 3D wasn't just a hobby but it could also very much be a career. You can actually get paid doing 3d and art? Sign me up!
How did you get your first big break?
I got an internship through the Rookies many years ago at Framestore, which helped me launch my career in VFX as a modeller. From there, I was able to get a creature artist spot at MPC where I stayed for 2 years on a bunch of amazing films.
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
Now that I’m running my own company and making training all day, I’m realising just how vital my VFX background was. Through it, I got experience from real productions, which seriously sharpens your skills and refines your craft. It also primes you for pretty intense and stressful work, which a startup most certainly is! My experience in film means that I can be really confident in the techniques we teach, as they have been properly tested over many years.
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
I usually have a clear tutorial in mind which I’m working on - right now that's ‘Introduction to Maya’. The first part of making the series is doing a lot of research and figuring out exactly what issues people are facing. After that, I build a general outline of the series, where I make sure all videos are prepped with scene files before recording. Recording takes perhaps 1-2 weeks for a series like this (12-14 hours of content). Editing takes a few days, then we need to prepare marketing materials, copywriting etc.
There’s also a lot of daily tasks revolving around having your own business and marketplace. There’s never a dull day!
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
We’re currently three people full-time on FlippedNormals, so we work very closely together. We talk strategy, ideas for videos and generally how to improve FlippedNormals.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
As schools are getting more and more expensive, people turn more to online training - both paid and free. Instead of spending £10k a year to learn CG, a lot of people realise they can get the same information online for a fraction of the cost.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
No matter how big FlippedNormals grows, I always want to keep producing content and solving the problems people are having. It’s really inspirational seeing how people improve by watching the videos we have, so keeping the core of always helping people is very important.
Work consistently towards your goals every day and you’ll reach them. This isn’t a 3 month sprint to get the skills needed but a many-year long marathon.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
We’re actively developing flippednormals.com and the more developed it is, the less technical management there will be - meaning I can spend more time being creative!
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
I'll approach this from my old job in VFX: It’s incredibly important that the person has a really solid portfolio, which is easy to navigate. Being a team player is also essential - this isn’t a job for divas who want all the credit. VFX is an incredibly collaborative process and a well oiled machine functions much better than super-star artists who refuse to talk to each other.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
Make projects which show the skills the industry is looking for, and show clear marketable skills. A lot of people want to become character artists, which is incredibly hard. Unless you're an absolute rockstar at this, it’s a very good idea to diversify your portfolio with props, environments, etc. Unity with variety.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
A common mistake is to use a fancy website where their contact info isn't displayed and where it’s hard to review their work. Keep your sites simple and make it incredibly easy for recruiters to review your work.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
I used to think that raw talent was the deciding factor, but it’s not! The single biggest factor I’ve seen for somebody becoming good is simple: Consistency. Work consistently towards your goals every day and you’ll reach them. This isn’t a 3 month sprint to get the skills needed but a many-year long marathon.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Focus on fundamentals over specific software skills! Nearly all the tools can do the same thing, so learn one tool well and focus on deep fundamentals, like figure sculpting, anatomy, gesture etc - basically anything which is universal and doesn't change with a software update.