Career Advice - Working as a Lighting TD by Dennis Müller
Want a successful career working as a Senior Lighting TD? Dennis Müller is a Senior Lighting Technical Director at Industrial Light & Magic in Vancouver, and he sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
Right now I am working as a Senior Lighting Technical Director at Industrial Light & Magic in Vancouver, Canada. When I was a kid I was always fascinated by movies, but to be honest I never thought I could make a living out of it.
I started relatively late, my mom got me a small mini dv camera for my 19th birthday, so I started making movies with my friends and editing it on my home PC.
I was lucky because the father of a friend ran a small television news company in my hometown, that is where I got my first internship. From there on I got further and further and finally applied at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is one of the best film schools in Europe.
Day in the life
First thing in the morning I come in and check my renders from last night. If everything looks alright I start comping the shot and submitting it for rounds.
My supervisors give me feedback and I might or might not get notes notes to address before showing in dailies later on. In dailies I might get more notes and I address the notes before showing it to the director.
I work in Katana, Arnold and Nuke. Since I do my own compositing most of the time, there are not many departments I interact with a lot. Key people are definitely my supervisor and my fellow teammates since we constantly help each other and share files setups etc…
One thing I really like about my job is the actual shot work. If I get lucky I have some freedom and create a certain mood or convey an important story point through my lighting.
I wouldn't mind if the render times would decrease though...
I think for me the time at the Filmakademie was really helpful to get an idea what the industry and the job is all about and it also helps a lot to have degree when it comes to visas.
But you don’t have to have a formal education; people are different and so are the paths in this industry.
I think I would look for a good mix of technical understanding and artistry. For my job as a lighter on an animated feature a good eye for colour and compositing is very important.
It is a funny coincidence...I was talking with my buddy today about a good project brief for a portfolio piece for an aspiring artist. So if you wanna be a lighter for an animated feature you will have to match a reference at some point. This could be a painted key or another shot that already got approved. What I did for example when I was still studying: I took a still frame from an anime I really liked and recreated in 3D. It was an awesome exercise to deconstruct an image and to analyse every aspect.
A big mistake I see a lot is that people don't tailor their application or showreel to the company they are applying to. For example I worked as a lighter in feature animation as well as in VFX. When I am applying to a VFX studio I make sure I put my VFX shots first on my reel and vice versa for feature animation.
First of all, VFX and Animation are very broad fields! Explore different things in the beginning to make sure you know what you want and more importantly what you enjoy doing!
I can just talk for myself, but at some point I knew I wanted to be a lighter so I talked to people that were doing the job. I remember I was looking for lighting reels online and then just writing an email to the person asking for feedback and the pros and cons about the job. I got very lucky and the person was super friendly and even gave me a recommendation.
My final bit of career advice - I would tell myself not to stress out so much.
Dennis Müller was born in a small town in the northern part of Germany. He started making short films in front of a home made green screen in his basement. He went on to study at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. So far, he has worked in New York, London, Los Angeles, Cape Town and Vancouver. Currently, he is working as a Lighting TD at ILM Vancouver.