A Career in VFX: A Journey from Bournemouth University to 3D Generalist

A Career in VFX: A Journey from Bournemouth University to 3D Generalist

Starting with a Computer Science Access Course, Curtis Hardy later pursued a BA (Hons) Visual Effects program at Bournemouth University, and now shares his journey from student to skilled 3D Generalist in this article.

In the world of VFX and animation, many people dream of creating spectacular visual effects for the big screen. But how do you make that dream a reality? For 3D Generalist, Curtis Hardy, this journey began with a childhood obsession with behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs. However, it wasn't until the end of 2017 that he decided to take the leap and pursue a career in VFX. Curtis joined an Access Course in Computer Science and subsequently enrolled in the BA (Hons) Visual Effects course at The National Centre for Computer Animation – Bournemouth University, and the rest is history! In this blog, Curtis shares his journey from 3D student, to 3D Generalist.

The Journey

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

I’m currently a 3D Generalist at Freefolk in London. My role covers the whole 3D pipeline, meaning depending on the project I can pick up tasks such as modelling, texturing, lookdev, tracking, layout and anything else 3D!

When did you first realise you wanted to work in the Animation/VFX industry?

Not to sound cliche, but since I was a kid I was obsessed with the VFX, specifically the behind the scenes of films. I remember waiting for films to be released on DVD so I could get the second disc out, and watch the bonus BTS content that was normally included.

Project entered to the Rookie Awards 2021

However, I never considered a career in VFX until much later in life. It wasn’t until the end of 2017, when I was working as a butcher that I realised I should take a shot at my dream, and set out to discover what I needed to do to make that happen.

This is when I looked into BA (Hons) Visual Effects at The National Centre for Computer Animation – Bournemouth University, and joined an Access Course in Computer Science to meet the requirements to join, while continuing my existing job, and started learning VFX in September 2018.

How did you get your first big break?

Shortly after graduating in 2021, I was contacted by one of the recruiters from MPC Film about setting up an interview for a modelling role I had applied for, and a few weeks later I was officially part of the team, working on my first industry asset for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts!

Car Asset by Curtis Hardy on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts
Car Asset by Curtis Hardy on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Describe the journey you took into your current role.

I’m lucky to have had a long relationship with Freefolk, when I was applying for jobs after graduating I applied to various roles they had available, including their Futurefolk internship. While I was hired by MPC before I could join them for any of these, we always stayed in touch about potential work, and one of these discussions started around the time I was looking for my next role, so everything lined up and I became part of the team.

Day in the life

What does a typical day look like for you?

At Freefolk it depends a lot on the project really, bigger projects with larger teams will usually start off with a catch-up to check priorities, give feedback and update us with any information we may need. Smaller projects typically don’t have dailies in the same way, instead a quick check-in with your Lead is all you need to keep you on the right track with your tasks.

What types of tasks do you do in a day and how do you manage your workload?

As a 3D Generalist my tasks can be anything related to 3D, but normally I’m focussed on assets, so lots of modelling, texturing and lookdev. Sometimes this can be for multiple assets or shows, so there’s a bit of jumping around, but managing the workload is quite simple as the priority will be made clear, so I’m just going through in that order.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

When I’m just modelling the most important people I work with are my Lead, Supervisor and the artist that will be picking the assets up for texture/look dev. As a generalist it’s more of my lead and supervisor since it’s likely I’m the one picking up the tasks in the other disciplines too.

What software and tools do you use and how have you managed to keep upskilling?

Maya, Zbrush, Mari, Substance 3D Painter, Arnold, Redshift and Nuke are the programs I’m using every day. I don’t use many third-party tools, but I’m a big fan of Polyraven UV tools. It’s a great quality of life tool for laying out UVs, especially anything with lots of UDIMs.

Most studios have learning resources that help you upskill on the job, and even if you’re not using them on a work task, practicing on a personal project is a great way to keep learning! There’s even internal masterclasses that will be run to demonstrate some of these workflows.

There’s a big uptake in real-time, I see a lot of roles and projects utilising Unreal Engine now, sometimes exclusively. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

The constant evolution of software, and practices is always exciting, being on the cutting-edge of that technology is fascinating, but nothing quite compares to how silly this sort of job is. Not many people get to make fake robots for a living!

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

Work-life balance can be tricky, especially when you first start, having boundaries in place to protect you would be nice.

Career Advice

How do you stay connected to other artists in your industry?

LinkedIn is the best way, it’s a very small industry and you quickly realise everyone knows each other! Attending somewhere like Bournemouth University also puts you in touch with a lot of industry contacts, through events and network of alumni working in the industry.

What kinds of collaborations are you involved with?

Most of my collaborations centre around students. I've had some ask if they’d be able to use some of my personal/uni work to practice with or use as reference, and I attended a Q&A workshop earlier this year at Bournemouth aimed at preparing third years for their entry into the industry.

My favourite publications for industry insights are 80lv and beforeandafters, but always find great resources shared and posted by my network on LinkedIn and ArtStation.

Work done for an advertisement by Freefolk for Virgin Media

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

In general it’s nice to make something from the real-world so you demonstrate recreating it accurately. Something with complexity will help you stand out, for lookdev a variety of materials, for modelling a variety of details with varying topology challenges.

Make sure [your portfolio project] is something you’re passionate about. Having passion and knowledge about what you’ve made will come off really well in an interview, and you’re far more likely to pick up on nuances with the project if you understand what you’re working on.

What skills do you think recruiters are looking for when hiring a student coming out of Bournemouth?

I think Bournemouth’s reputation means that it’s not often about industry specific skills, as they know a graduate will have covered a large amount of disciplines and know how to apply their learning from one specialism to another.

It’s much more about the soft-skills, good communication, working well in a team, being willing to take criticism, and having a passion for the industry with a desire to keep learning more will go a long way.

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

Recently I’m seeing a lot of reels that put a lot of emphasis on editing it together with a dozen effects and cuts to sync it to music for an aesthetic. While it’s very impressive, it distracts from what the reel is really for.

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

Try a bit of everything, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone, you might like what you find there!

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

Enjoy the journey more, take in the other parts of life that come with it instead of working 24/7!

Curtis is a 3D Generalist with a specialism in modelling, currently working at Freefolk, who graduated from Bournemouth University in 2021.

You can find Curtis on LinkedIn, Instagram and ArtStation.