Kristiania University College Alumni Share Insights on Their Path from Studying to Getting Hired in VFX

Kristiania University College Alumni Share Insights on Their Path from Studying to Getting Hired in VFX

Kristiania University College graduates share their journeys from studies to VFX careers, highlighting the importance of internships, networking, and continuous learning.

In this article, Kristiania University College graduates Oskar Brenne Rugås, Sara Rydding, and Thomas Balcon recount their paths from completing their studies at Kristiania to securing positions in the Visual Effects Industry. Through their experiences, gain valuable insights into the pivotal role of internships, networking, and continuous learning in launching successful VFX careers.

Could you tell us about your path from finishing your studies at Kristiania to getting hired in the VFX?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: I started my first professional compositing job at Qvisten Animation as a compositing intern during my 4th semester at Kristiania. I worked there for six months. I was very motivated by internships. We were supposed to have internships during our final semester, but I thought the wait was a little long! So, in January 2022 I reached out to Ghost VFX to apply for a summer internship. They did not have an opening for me during the summer, but I got accepted for an internship during my final semester. I think being eager and expressing interest early helped me get the job.

Nearing summer 2023 I was almost done with my internship at Ghost VFX and I was not getting my contract renewed due to the strikes. I sent an application to Storm Studios and got an offer. I started working there right after graduating from Kristiania.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: I landed my first job in the industry during my final semester at Kristiania as parts of my bachelor’s degree.

The bachelor programme at Kristiania has been structured in such a way that it allowed us to do parts of our bachelor as interns in a studio. In this case we would work full time somewhere and then do some additional tasks at school, all of which would happen in the final semester.

Kristiania has done an excellent job in networking with the studios in our area as well as some in our neighbouring countries - studios reach out directly to the school, in some cases they also come in person to visit, to get in contact with third year students who wish to apply to intern. It certainly did make the process easier, and finding an internship more attainable.

Along with a classmate, I managed to get a position at a VFX and Animation studio in Oslo called Expanse. They were looking for a couple students to help them with their first feature film, as well as their other commercial projects. This was my first job in the industry and it was incredibly exciting.

The education at Kristiania played a significant role in easing my transition into the internship and eventually into the studio. The program was highly specialised and closely aligned with industry standards, preparing us extensively for roles as compositors. From day one, the focus was on teaching us the essential skills needed for the job. We spent many hours learning about the entire pipeline process, from developing ideas to filming and gathering on-set data, all the way to compositing our own shots.

Having the opportunity to intern while still in school was incredibly beneficial for my career. It allowed me to gain valuable experience working on professional projects in a collaborative environment alongside seasoned professionals. Despite initially feeling like an imposter, the internship provided me with the confidence to transition to my first studio job and later to One of Us in Paris, where I spent a year after graduating. Eventually, I returned to Oslo to work at Storm Studios, where I am currently based.

Thomas Balcon: For me, one of the most important steps to landing a job in the VFX industry is to reach out to the different studios early on. I sent my first showreel to a big Scandinavian VFX studio like Storm, Ghost and ILP after just one year of studying VFX. I didn’t expect a reply or a job offer this early on. What I wanted to achieve by doing this was to get the studios familiar with my name and then later recognise the progress I made. When I then later would pop up in their mail box I would be less of a stranger.

By letting us finish our Bachelor at VFX studios, Kristiania gives us a great opportunity at starting our VFX career. The amount of experience you get with just 5 months as an intern is very substantial and makes it easier to get a job after graduating. You will get great shots to showcase on your reel and have some good contacts in the industry.

By working closely with different VFX studios, Kristiania gives us a direct route into the industry. We get to show our work directly to industry professionals and get great feedback to help us elevate our skills and career. By giving us the opportunity of an internship we always had something to work towards. - Thomas

How does your real-world experience in the VFX Industry match up with what you imagined while you were in school?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: I think Kristiania prepared me for what a job at a studio entailed. The main difference from school and work was the amount of shots I had. I went from working on three shots per semester to over 30. I actually found it nice to have a lot of shots to work on at the same time. If I am starting to get bored, or blind to one shot, I can switch to another shot as a break.

I was already used to dailies and having my shots critiqued in front of others from school, but I was expecting the dailies to be more harsh in real studios. Every supervisor and coworker I have had has been great at giving feedback in a positive and encouraging way.

The main difference between working on school projects and a real show was the tech check process. Edgework has been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. Every edge has to be perfect. It can feel a little unnecessary sometimes, but it definitely makes the end product better.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: To be completely honest I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into when I started at Kristiania. I had never heard about being a compositor or anything about the VFX scene, and somehow I didn’t think too much about what working in the industry after school was really like. All I thought about at the time is that I really liked to make visually cool images that were part of a story, and that I really liked and was passionate about what I was doing.

Working in the industry now I‘m quite happy to say that I’m getting to make visually cool images that are part of a story, just wayyy cooler than what I was making in school! And I’ve already got to do some projects with some talent I really admire both on and behind the camera, which I wouldn’t dare even think about when I was starting my first semester.

Thomas Balcon: For me, the transition from school to working in the industry went pretty smoothly. I worked at a couple smaller studios whilst studying, before I joined Ghost VFX and Storm Studios, and this definitely helped me prepare for working at bigger studios. I would say that the biggest difference might be the pipeline you work in. Every studio has a different pipeline, all of which focuses on not having to spend time browsing through folders. At Ghost I rarely spent time outside of Nuke because I could access everything I needed from that one software.

Can you share a cool project or accomplishment you have achieved in your career so far?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: I am very proud to have worked on “Star Wars - Ahsoka”. A character and franchise I grew up watching. Seeing my name in the credits of a Star Wars show was a bit surreal. I had great teachers at Kristiania who taught me all the skills I needed to work on a high end show. I never thought I needed much help during my internship thanks to knowing the core skills from school.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: During my internship I got to work on the studio’s very first feature film called "Teddybjørnens Jul", which was quite memorable as it was also my very first movie credit and my very first VFX job. I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon!

Sara Roxanne Rydding's latest compositing reel.

Another highlight is getting to work on Jonathan Glazer’s movie "The Zone of Interest" during my time in Paris. It was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, as well as winning Best International Feature there and getting numerous accolades from different awards. Needless to say, it was an honor to be a part of that project.

On both of these projects, and all my projects for that matter, my education at Kristiania really helped. I learned some additional techniques in the studios, but learning how to problem solve on my own really built the necessary fundamental skills that were just improved upon once I got into a more professional environment.

Thomas Balcon: Although I’m not a huge Star Wars fan it was really great to be able to work on “Star Wars - Ahsoka” during my time at Ghost VFX in Copenhagen. Getting to work on awesome looking plates with some of the leading characters in the Star Wars universe was a really cool experience. Being an intern at the time, this was a very big project to work on.

Kristiania really laid the foundation for me to succeed on this project. By teaching me all the basics and then some more really gave me the confidence to work on those kinds of shots for a big client. The knowledge I had built up over the course of my time at Kristiania helped me work efficiently and independently making me a usable asset for the team. I felt I was able to work at the same speed as the rest of the team and deliver at a high level.

What's the best part about working in VFX?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: I love the fact that no two shots are the same. I get a different challenge on every shot and find new ways to improve my craft. Everyone I work with is passionate about what they do, and that motivates me.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: I think the most rewarding thing is that I get to work on epic movies and TV shows for a living, providing entertainment and having fun at work! It’s both challenging and exciting to figure out how things are supposed to look and solve various tasks to make the best outcome possible. Sometimes certain things can drag on, and once we get into pixel territory nitpicking or things just don’t turn out how you want them to, it can be draining and frustrating, but somehow you always get there in the end. There’s also something about seeing your name in the credits that makes you forget about the bumps it took to get there. Right now, it’s a rollercoaster I don’t feel like getting off just yet! (Another challenge about my job is explaining it to other people; I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do this. Tips are welcome, hah!)

Thomas Balcon: What I love about VFX is the combination of logical problem solving and creativity. I find figuring out a cool technical way of solving a problem just as rewarding as creating beautiful looking images. As a compositor I get the perfect blend of those two things. Being able to work on cool shots for big franchises is something I always find very exciting.

How do you continue to grow and develop as an artist in the VFX industry?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: A good way to learn new techniques is to look at other artists' nuke scripts. There are many different ways to achieve the same goal in nuke, and maybe you'll find a better technique.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: I feel like I’m constantly growing every day by having very talented and hard working colleagues. There are plenty of people with way more experience than me, and for now just being at work is an ongoing learning experience.

Kristiania University Campus Brenneriveien

Thomas Balcon: When you work in a studio and do a lot of similar shots it can be easy to rely on the same techniques. I would recommend to sometimes approach things a different way to learn new techniques. When I get assigned to a shot where another comper has already done some work on I like to look through what they have done. Almost every time I learn something new by doing this.

I would also recommend looking at photographers and movies to continue to develop artistically. I often find inspiration and ideas from looking at photographers on Instagram. By watching a lot of movies I have learned a lot about composition and use of colour for example. Often the client has their say on how this should be in the shots you are doing, but sometimes you get  a lot of freedom to create what you like.

There are also a lot of resources everywhere. You can find a lot of videos on Youtube for example. A lot of people also post nodes and comp tips and tricks on LinkedIn which I find very useful.

What are your career goals in VFX? Any dream projects or roles you're aiming for in the future?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: My interest in VFX started after watching Avatar in 2009. I would love to work on an Avatar movie one day.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: I always want to improve and become a better artist, especially on the technical side which I daresay is not my strongest suit. I just want to learn as much as I can, and be more confident in my skills and manage to take on more difficult shots and deliver them. I’ve also had the privilege to meet a lot of great people in this industry, and I hope to meet and work with many more. As for projects, I would love to work on more theatrical released movies and I do have a dream list of directors who would be amazing to work for, but right now I’m thrilled to be at Storm and I just want to get my hands on everything that comes my way!

My aspiration is to continue to have fun, keep making cool things, and that the passion is as strong as ever in the future!

Thomas Balcon: I want to reach a point where I’m in a position to do some of the coolest shots on the biggest shows. I would love to work on the last season of Stranger Things. I love the series and it has some great VFX in it. "Dune" and "The Last of Us" are also some awesome projects I would love to work on. It has always been a goal of mine to become a Lead compositor. I think I would like to have the responsibility whilst still being able to work on shots. I think I would also like being a Comp supervisor, but I would miss working on shots.

Lastly, if you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring VFX artists, what would it be?

Oskar Brenne Rugås: I suggest working on real projects during school. I worked on a couple of music videos that taught me a lot. I think it also helps you stand out having shots on your reel that no one else has. I think the most important skills to know are edgework and integration of elements. Another important skill is working with other people and not taking feedback personally.

Take every opportunity to learn something new. Pass on knowledge between students, and don't try to keep anything for yourself. Learn how to give and receive feedback in a positive way.

Sara Roxanne Rydding: One of the things that are important to remember that I felt wasn’t really stressed on in school, is that the VFX industry is a team sport. You can always learn the technical and have a good visual eye, but being a collaborative and good co-worker is something you don’t really learn in school. Communication is extremely important. Even if your imposter syndrome tells you not to, I implore you to never be afraid of asking questions or to seek help. I am still working on that personally, but in my experience no one has yet to not make it a bad experience, in fact it’s always been the exact opposite - in a studio the ultimate goal is to make a great end product and everyone wants to help each other out to make it happen.

Being in the VFX industry requires a lot of work, but as long as you love the visual image and want to work with likeminded people to make incredible stuff, there are no limits!

Thomas Balcon: Create what you like and what inspires you. There is not a formula to what you should create. Draw inspiration from the things you like and enjoy. VFX can be really absorbing and time consuming so remember to take a breather and do something else for an hour or two. I often come up with new ways to solve a shot when I do something else.

I would try to figure out which aspect of VFX you like the most and then focus on becoming super good at that. Is it compositing, FX, lighting, animation etc? As a compositor I would recommend becoming pretty good at all the basics. Your showreel should showcase a wide aspect of skills. It's easier to get a job in the industry if you can show that you are able to do a lot of different shots and are not just limited to keying or roto. Also make sure to show that you are able to take a shot to final. The last 10-15% of a shot are often the most difficult.

Lastly, as a compositor I would recommend picking up photography. Not just to learn how a camera works and how different aspects affect the camera but also to study composition. If you want to work on big Cg shots where you build something from the bottom up you need to have great knowledge about composition. A great way to practice this is to learn photography. It's also a great way to study natural light and how to use it in a composition. By editing the photos later you can learn to direct the light to create an even more interesting looking image.

Reach to out Oskar Brenne Rugås, Sara Rydding, and Thomas Balcon at their respective links.