Career Advice: Working as a Junior Build TD at DNEG

Career Advice: Working as a Junior Build TD at DNEG

Alex Gilmore, now a Texture and Lookdev Artist at DNEG, shares valuable insights for aspiring artists aiming for careers in the VFX Industry.

Join us in conversation with Think Tank Training Centre alum Alex Gilmore as he talks about his journey from VFX student to thriving as a Junior Texture and Lookdev Artist at a world renowned VFX and Animation studio. In this article, Alex shares his insights for budding artists aspiring to work in Visual Effects.

The Journey

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

My current role is a Junior Texture and Lookdev artist at DNEG. My job is to take the provided 3D models and bring them to life essentially. I texture and shade these assets to a photo realistic standard that will then make its way down the VFX pipeline and eventually end up on the big screen, or little if it's a TV show :).

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

I work at DNEG, one of the world-leading visual entertainment and animation services companies! I have worked on numerous projects so far including the upcoming Dune Part Two, recently released Haunted Mansion, and more upcoming releases in 2024. Currently, due to the two recent strikes in Hollywood I have been involved in a Bollywood project with some really challenging and interesting CG.

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

I took an interest after high school and I have always been an enjoyer of video games. At the time, I didn’t realise creating 3D assets was very similar for games and film. When I really got a grasp of the magic that goes on to bring a film to life I was fascinated. I grew up being a huge fan of the Lord of The Rings films and Star Wars and the idea of being able to contribute to such inspiring projects really resonated with me.

How did you get your first big break?

I got my first big break when I landed the greenlight internship at DNEG. It was a really amazing learning experience and definitely a good foot in the door. Since being just a nervous little intern I have made my way up to a skilled  team member at DNEG.

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

My journey was not easy at all. I started my VFX education at Capilano University, and I found their program to be mostly compositing focused. I knew on week one that I wanted to texture. So I spent two years there learning a general scope of the VFX pipeline, but I didn't gain enough experience or knowledge in the discipline I knew I was destined to be in. After a few interviews post graduation and no success I was feeling like I had failed. I sat with that for a little bit, but while at Spark, the VFX convention back in 2019, I met Paul Paulino who had trained at Think Tank Training Centre. I looked at the website and I was astonished by the quality of work their students were producing.

It was really a make or break sort of situation for me at that time, I had not had any success with the minimal texture training I had received at Capilano, but I knew I wanted this career. I was working at a busy restaurant in the meantime and decided to take on extra work and save up to go to Think Tank.

Fast forward to the end of my last term at Think Tank and I had finished my asset “Le Helicron” with my brilliant mentor Reilly Lohr. I started shipping off my reel and I waited for the interviews to come in. Patiently. Waiting. I finally got my first interview after a week or so and I remember I was in England at the time visiting my family. Seeing the invitation for an interview I broke down into tears. I had been so anxious considering the position I was in 3 years ago, waiting for responses but ultimately not succeeding. I ended up having an awkward interview when I returned home from England, and didn’t land the job. I had another interview and it went really well but I didn’t hear back. Then, I finally had my interview with DNEG for the Greenlight Program and it was by far the most comfortable I had felt, the people were welcoming and I made them laugh a couple times. They thanked me for my time and we parted ways. A month later I got the email I had been praying on for the past 3 years. It was truly one of the most relieving and emotional moments in my life. I had finally got my foot in the door.

Day in the life

Describe a typical work day for you?

My work day starts at 9am and ends at 6pm everyday with an hour at lunch. I work at home for the majority of my time. I log into work in the morning and review the notes I have made from the evening before and get to work! I usually throw on a podcast and start painting my assets. Around 10-11am it’s time for rounds with the team. We present our progress and receive notes from our leads and supervisors and crack on during the day. I really love what I do.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use?

We have a lot of custom tools at DNEG, the pipeline is honestly very well maintained and structured. Software I use everyday is Mari, Houdini, Renderman, Nuke, Maya, and Substance Painter.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

We work with a very helpful production team that essentially runs the show while we do our work, they make sure  we are set up for success and the meetings are on time, and the deadlines. We also work with lighting and rigging sometimes.

Using Renderman and Houdini for USD has been our latest implementation and it’s new but very interesting. I’ve learnt a lot of new softwares since I joined the team.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

I would never change the collaborative nature of our work. It is so fun to create with a team and at DNEG we are very collaborative.

What is one thing you would like to see change?

I think working from home is a blessing and a curse; I’m a bit too much of a homebody these days, however, it’s comfortable. We do have the option to work from the office though which is nice. I would also like to note DNEG has unionised recently and personally, I feel that’s an incredibly positive step for artists in the industry.

Career Advice

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

Not necessarily, I have a friend who is self-trained and very skilled, however, I think it’s definitely the easiest way to learn.

What are some of the transferable competencies or skills you have developed on the job?

Communication and responsibility. It is crucial to communicate when you are stuck, or have questions rather than shy away from learning. I have learned so many new techniques since working on the job.

What do you wish you knew about the industry before you started?

I  had a really good  idea of what to expect having worked so closely with industry professionals for a long time, but one thing that surprised me was how fast  some turnover on assets was.

Where do you get your inspiration from, and how do you implement it into your work?

I love  movies  and  everything CG. I still take inspiration from Lord  of The Rings and Star Wars to this day!  

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

Something hard surface for texture artists that requires a lot of layers of dirt. Demonstrate as many materials as possible.

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

I see a lot of people render their assets in low resolution. I did this for my reel  and regret it now but rendering in 1920x1080 can cause you to lose some sharpness. Your final comp can be HD but  rendering the CG in higher res will prove  to be helpful.

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

Be passionate. If you aren’t passionate you won’t improve the way you need to. Watch tons of movies with CG for inspiration.

Alex Gilmore is a Junior Build TD at DNEG and Think Tank Training Centre alum. He has been in the industry for over a year and a half, and specialises in Texturing and Look Development and has decent knowledge of Sculpting and Hard-Surface Modeling.