Career Advice - Working as a VFX Environment Artist with Hope Wolf Brackin

Career Advice - Working as a VFX Environment Artist with Hope Wolf Brackin

Hope Wolf Brackin is an Environment Lead Artist at Outpost VFX and recent graduate of The DAVE School. She sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.

Environment work by Hope Wolf Brackin, Courtesy of MPC.

Hope Wolf Brackin is an Environment Lead Artist at Outpost VFX and recent graduate of The DAVE School. She sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

I am an Environment Lead Artist in charge of both DMP and 3D.

My role involves being responsible for the work being done by my team as well as my own. I am a lead with a manager role but also have artist's tasks myself.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

Currently, I work at Outpost VFX, Montreal. We work on feature films and TV shows.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

When I received my first task for a feature film, I knew this is where I needed to be. Thinking back, I think I knew it for a long time, I just didn't have the guts to pursue it, and honestly had no idea even where to start.

Environment work by Hope Wolf Brackin, Courtesy of MPC.

How did you get your first big break?

I strongly believe that without certain people that we meet on our path we would not be able to get anywhere. My first big break was thanks to the people I met. Started with Michael Keith, Director of Career Services at DAVE School, believing in me and offering me different roles and jobs that allowed me to grow, experience different roles, meet more people, and therefore build a network. All that led to the MPC Academy where Garrett Fry gave me the opportunity and that “foot in the door” that I needed.

I am always inspired by my surroundings and always eager to learn, keeping the lightheartedness and joy in all that I do.

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

It was a long journey! I sure did take a scenic route to get here, but all the stops had a purpose.

I come from a traditional artist background, then I started expanding into digital photography, graphic design, book illustration, etc. All of those roles led me to finally take the leap and reach out to some digital artists I found online through CG Society, as well as catching the names in the credits of the movies I loved, to start making connections in the industry.

Taking that leap of faith was the most difficult part - I knew what I wanted to, but I did not know what that work was called. At last, I found the DAVE school. That is where I started to hone my skills and develop them for the role I am in today.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

Ideally, I like to start my day before everyone else. It allows me to check in with my own tasks, production deadlines, any dailies artists made that I might have missed, and clean up any leftover tasks from the day before. I set and organise my day and what needs to be done in these golden hours.

As soon as 9 am rolls around, the day can start to become hectic. Answering questions, running into meetings, putting out fires...It is all about reacting to things, but you do not have much time for action yourself. Of course, this can depend. Some days are calmer, some are crazier. Sometimes you cannot have that morning by yourself either because when working with a team in India, the UK, etc, they are already up and running way before you.

So typical is a rare word. It is good to be flexible and easily adaptable to situations.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

As an environment generalist, I usually use every single software that is available. The main ones are of course Maya, Nuke, Houdini, Photoshop, Mari, and Zbrush. At Outpost, we have some proprietary tools in the making, but I can not talk about them yet!

Environment work by Hope Wolf Brackin, Courtesy of MPC.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

As an Env Gen artist, we are everywhere in the pipeline. We work closely with Layout, Lighting, and Compositing and their leads, but also animation, FX, and CFX. Good rapport with all the departments is crucial for us. Also, the key people I work closely with are of course the CG Supervisor, 2D Supervisor, and finally the VFX Supervisor.

Always. “You snooze you lose”, really is the case with the digital world nowadays. You have to constantly stay informed and follow what companies are coming up with. One new tool can make a world of difference in your workflow.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

The variety of tasks, software and puzzle-solving it requires, as well as amazing people that I get to work with on daily basis.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

Production and clients expectations!

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

That depends on what you are after and the circumstances you are in.

In my case, I had a rough idea but no clue where to start. I needed a narrow focused sense of direction and time was of the essence. I was not able to afford taking a long time in learning, chasing resources around, pulling people’s sleeves to look at my work and give me feedback. And even after all that, hope for the best. I needed a precise focused introduction into the field that would check all the points and goals. With DAVE, within only one year, I had everything that I needed to propel me forward and allow me to hit the ground running.

It is important to realise that it is not all in the knowledge of software and your artistic skills. Making a movie is a team effort. You can be the most successful artist there is, but the movie is not going be done with you alone. Communication and team work is crucial and essential. This is something that you can not learn from courses online. Production environment is super important and something to consider.

What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?

No junior artist is the same. It depends on the person, and sometimes it simply comes down to who is available. Tasks can be minor, or really challenging. What is important is that the artist knows that they are not alone in it. They are fully supported all the way.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

The “eye”. And then even though it is not a skill, a good attitude key.

Environment work by Hope Wolf Brackin, Courtesy of MPC.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

To gather references. Reference is crucial in our line of work. No matter the seniority of the artist. We are here to replicate reality and we need the right reference to do that.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

Know what you are after. Do not be scattered all over. Being curious about it all is good but you can mention that in the interview.

Your reel needs to be clean, clear, and focused. Pick a small task. But do it well.

For example, if you are a lookdev artist - pick someone else's model. Buy it online, doesn't matter. That way you can focus on the lookdev of the asset.

Otherwise, everyone will first see a not-so-good model and focus on the mistakes in the model and not your lookdev.

Pick your battles wisely. Focus on your strengths and then make sure those strengths are what your reel is communicating.

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

Too confident.

Reels are too scattered and all over the place, or even a lack of reels.

Another big one is lying that they've worked on certain projects and companies or about what they did on their reels.

This is a very small industry. We all know each other and have worked with each other. You can't hide behind a lie!

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Be patient, work not just hard but smart. Know what you want and stay focused.

With that dedication, openness, and therefore the right attitude, you will reach exactly where you need to be. Have no doubt.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Take it easy, woman! Learn to say no and prioritise yourself.

You can find more of Hope's work on ArtStation, her website, Instagram and IMDB.