Mearg Taddese, a self-taught FX artist hailing from Ethiopia tells us about how his journey from stumbling upon the Rebelway FX Challenge to securing a remote job with ElementX and contributing to the local VFX landscape. In this article, Mearg shares his inspiring story of determination and success and it all started with a Rookies Contest!
How did you come across the Rebelway FX Challenge, and what prompted you to participate?
Mearg: I stumbled upon the Rebelway FX Challenge trailer unexpectedly while browsing social media with a friend. Instantly recognising the potential, I knew I had to seize the opportunity, invest my time, and go all-in to enhance my skills. I must admit, the enticing prize was an extra motivator, especially considering the challenges of acquiring a decent computer here in Ethiopia.
Funny story! I misread the schedule, mistakenly believing I had only 7 days left to submit when, in reality, it was indicating 7 days until the challenge begins. Then, I completed the entire 8-week challenge in just 7 days and promptly submitted my work. I remember The Rookies team commenting on my proactive approach via Discord!
Completing an 8-week challenge in 7 days is impressive! Can you walk us through your strategy and the effort you put in during that week?
My strategy revolved around concentrating solely on the types of FX that I excel in and genuinely enjoy. By focusing on these specific effects for the shots, I aimed to minimize last-minute surprises and ensure the functionality of my work within the days. it was not a great result, but that later helped me as a guide to the final one.
Being among the top 9 finalists out of 113 submissions is a significant achievement. What were the standout moments for you during the challenge?
Mearg: Regarding the standout moments during the challenge, my initial step involved studying movies and cinematic references to precisely define my artistic direction. I opted for a minimalist approach, creating FX visible from the camera and running simulations when necessary, relying on procedural motions for added detail. To manage my time effectively, I conducted early tests for rendering and compositing, determining optimal thresholds. This approach led me to render different FX types separately, relying heavily on compositing due to limited time and resources.
The beauty of participating in a community challenge lies in the camaraderie and support. Throughout the journey, friends like Mohamad Tabbaa, John Fanny, and Christopher Akpala provided invaluable assistance and inspiration. Their support, coupled with the collaborative spirit of the challenge, made the entire experience even more rewarding.
Weeks down the line, I was over the moon to find myself among the top 9 finalists out of a whopping 113 submissions...a real highlight for me! But the best part? The journey introduced me to some amazing artist pals, let me rub shoulders with seasoned industry pros, and even brought in feedback from cool folks like Lewis Tyler, Will, and other experienced artists. Getting tips from Kieran Ogden-Brunell during the review was like the cherry on top. What more could an artist ask for when starting out? This experience was a game-changer, setting the stage for my future adventures in the industry!
Can you share more about the doors that opened for you after the challenge, leading to your first remote job with ElementX?
Mearg: Following the challenge, doors began to open. I made connections with a lot of artists in the industry, like Eddie Chew of Griffin Animation School, which led to trust and opportunities to work on student animation projects.
And, as you mentioned, I secured my first remote job as an FX TD/Artist with ElementX, establishing connections with other studios and fellow artists.
The journey introduced me to some amazing artist pals, let me rub shoulders with seasoned industry pros...What more could an artist ask for when starting out? This experience was a game-changer, setting the stage for my future adventures in the industry!
I am now also working with Urban Bradesko on his Double Jump Academy, and giving back to the community and contributing to the community through a mix of free and paid workshops. We are striving to become the premier destination for FX and CGI expertise! Excitingly, we have a plethora of workshops in the pipeline, and I can't wait for these opportunities to unfold.
We know that you are doing more for your own community at home, can you tell us a bit about your endeavours in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia?
Mearg: With newfound confidence, I ventured into starting a local VFX studio in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—a country without an established VFX industry. We also face resource limitations which can be challenging. Obtaining a decent workstation remains a persistent challenge, as making FX simulations are resource demanding. Despite these hurdles, the experience has been a valuable lesson in optimisation and finding creative solutions to make things work. In addition, the experiences and connections facilitated by The Rookies and Rebelway empowered me to take the risk and start on this journey.
We encountered a significant hurdle due to the lack of a VFX school, established studios, experienced VFX artists, and awareness from film production companies and other stakeholders. Achieving the status of the first VFX studio in the region marked a notable milestone. While individuals had previously worked on diverse projects, the essence of VFX extends beyond the capabilities of a one-person shop. The collaborative and team-oriented nature of VFX, coupled with the importance of proper management, has been a focal point of our efforts to implement sustainable practices.
Our approach has involved learning from the experiences and knowledge of other studios that I have been gaining over the past couple of years while simultaneously training our artists to be disciplined and enhance their skills for effective studio functioning. Admittedly, we acknowledge that we are still in the early stages of development, considering the evolution and maturity of the global VFX industry over the decades. that's why we named our company "Bazeto"
A few years back, I initiated a local CG/VFX community called "EMVC," an abbreviation for the "Ethiopian Motion Design and Visual Effects Community." This community has been gradually growing, fostering connections among local artists. Through these connections, the increasing recognition, and the collective experience, we aim to lay a solid foundation for the Ethiopian VFX industry.
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Rookies, Rebelway, Eddie, Pam, and Urban, and to the talented and humble artists in the industry who have supported and guided me from the outset.
Discover how Mearg Taddese's journey, from participating in global challenges to establishing a local VFX studio, has not only shaped his career but also empowered his community. Follow Mearg's story and connect with him on LinkedIn.
Explore Mearg's Rebelway FX entry and prepare for your next challenge! The Rookie Awards 2024 is about to open so keep an eye on the contest page.