Career Advice: Working as 3D Animator and VFX Studio Founder with Mark Pullybank
Head of the 3D Animation Department at CG Spectrum, Mark Pullybank, sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
Want a successful career working as a 3D Animator? A lecturer of Animation? Or how about a Founder of a VFX Studio? Head of the 3D Animation Department at CG Spectrum, Mark Pullybank, has done it all. He sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am the founder and head of the VFX company Non-Stop Motion VFX, as well as the head of the 3D animation department at CG Spectrum and a Lecturer at California State University, Chico.
What passions or interests do you feel guided you in the career you are now in?
My first love was drawing but I also worked as a musician for years. Mostly what I enjoy is solving problems in a collaborative fashion.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
I never lost my love for drawing so animating just seemed like a natural choice. I struggled for years not knowing if I could ever have a career in animation, but I eventually jumped in. It’s been great!
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
I wasn’t sure how to break into the industry. I sent out reel after reel and didn’t get any responses.
Instead of focusing on rejection, I decided to focus on what I actually had control over and that was animating.
I began animating short shots, no longer than 120 frames, and updated my reel every week. I landed my first job at Rainmaker VFX working on Garfield. In the 5 months between graduation and my first job I had replaced all of my student work twice over.
What I wanted to do was achieve a level of skill that I could be confident in. That meant dialing into my determination and keeping a direct focus on practicing animation over a prolonged period of time.
Once I achieved a professional level of skill, I set about making my work environment conducive to self directed productivity with my fellow artists. What that means is that I let my enthusiasm for the process of production run wild and it seemed to be infectious.
What challenge did you face when you got your first job?
I was terrified and very meek when I first started and that translated into my fellow artists not feeling confident in my abilities. It wasn't going well and I didn’t feel supported so the most important thing I did was to advocate for myself. It’s not easy to do but it delivers great results.
What about the industry are you most passionate about?
I love collaborating with almost anyone! Almost.
Day in the life
What does a typical day look like for you?
- 4:30am - Wake up
- 5:00am - Gym
- 6:00am - 8:00am - Wake up my kids, make breakfast, early morning dance party, send my kids off to school.
- 8:00am - Dailies with my animation team.
- 9:00am-5:00pm - Meet with students, clients, etc.
- 6:00pm-7:00pm - Dinner, evening dance party
- 7:00pm-9:00pm - Animate shots for clients.
- 9:30pm Bedtime!
What types of tasks do you do in a day and how do you manage your workload?
I work with students to improve their animation skills.
I meet with clients and help them meet their goals.
I meet with my animation team and give them feedback.
I create educational videos for the local university students.
I live for google calendar.
Tips for working from home?
Avoid YouTube and your refrigerator at all costs.
How do you manage a work-life balance?
I’m wired to connect with people. That’s when I feel I’m being my true, authentic self. I’ve been able to wrangle that into a profession.
What software and tools do you use and how have you managed to keep upskilling?
I use so many but mostly Autodesk Maya. I keep upskilling by training and hiring young, smart, energised people who end up training me.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
The industry is quickly moving toward Real Time Rendering. Learn Unreal and learn it now!
One thing you’d never change about your job?
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
No, but it is helpful in nailing down a goal with a finite deadline. The most important thing to remember about your education is that it’s YOURS. You paid for it, you are spending the time, if you’re not getting your money’s worth SAY SOMETHING!
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
Something that tells me something about you. That comes across when you create something you’re passionate about, not something you think a recruiter wants to see.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
The work I like to see has a quality that tells me that the creator has a personal relationship with their craft that can only come from hours of concentration and dedication led by an obvious passion for the process. Once I see that, I just need to make sure that their flavour of crazy matches mine so we don’t kill each other when the production inevitably goes haywire.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
I hear a lot of complaining from people who blame others for their problems. That’s not unique to any specific industry, but it’s bloody annoying. If you have a problem with someone it’s YOUR PROBLEM. Fix it!
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
Assuming that they aren’t qualified so they don’t apply at all. Huge mistake. You should apply like a lawn sprinkler whose owner died before they could turn off the water.
Also, demo reels that are too long. Give me 1 or 2 good pieces and leave it at that. If you have a beautiful piece of animation, I know you have a mountain of frames underneath it that got you here, I don’t need to see it, cut it!
What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?
The same tasks I’d ask a senior, I’d just take a bit more time to help them sort it out.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Get good at your craft, period. It’s not easy, and you’ll be racked with self doubt. Good. Self doubt just means you know the difference between good work and bad and yours is bad.
So what do you do about it?
Easy, do more.
Schedule your day so you feel good at the end of it. If the process of reaching your goals feels like a task, then you’re doing it wrong and you’re setting yourself up to fail.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Stop talking. You’re not nearly as funny as you think you are.
Learning at CG Spectrum
Become an animator for film and games! Whether you’re advanced or beginner, our 2D and 3D animation courses are led by industry mentors, like Mark, who practice a curriculum that teaches the tools and techniques used in major studios. Our 100% online lessons and monthly intakes allow you the flexibility and freedom to study when you want and where you want.
With 1-on-1 mentorship or small class sizes (max 4), you can enjoy a more personalised education, including direct feedback from your mentor, a dedicated portfolio term, and access to career services (portfolio reviews, CV/job application assistance, interview prep, job alerts) to help you progress faster and achieve your career goals.
Enroll today, and join other CG Spectrum graduates currently working in the entertainment industry!
CG Spectrum is an Unreal Authorized Training Center, Unreal Academic Partner, SideFX Certified Training Provider, and Toon Boom Authorized Training Center delivering quality programs worldwide. Learn more at cgspectrum.com.