Career Advice: Working as an FX TD in Visual Effects

Career Advice: Working as an FX TD in Visual Effects

Looking for success in VFX? Meet Shivam Upadhyay, an FX TD at DNEG, Mumbai, India, sharing his journey and advice for aspiring artists.

Want a successful career working in VFX? Shivam Upadhyay is a an FX TD working at DNEG in Mumbai, India. Shivam chats with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.

The Journey

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

I specialise in crafting and customising Houdini setups for films, TV shows, and animations, adapting each setup to fit the unique needs of different shots. This role demands a mix of technical expertise and artistic creativity skills I've cultivated through education and professional practice.

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

I work at DNEG, a leading visual effects and animation company. We're known for creating groundbreaking visual effects for blockbuster films, television, and special venues. By leveraging cutting-edge technology and artistic expertise, we bring creative visions to life for major projects and we contribute to both blockbuster movies and critically acclaimed TV series.

"Nimona". Image courtesy of DNEG. Projects described are for illustrative purposes; actual tasks and responsibilities may vary.

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

I first realised I wanted to work in the VFX industry when I was around 15, inspired by my fascination with movies like Avatar and the MCU. This early interest led me to pursue VFX professionally, starting with simple 2D compositing projects in After Effects and eventually enrolling in a VFX school to sharpen my technical and artistic skills.

How did you get your first big break?

My first big break came when I was recognised for my dedication and performance on my first project, leading to a recommendation for a key project at DNEG. This opportunity validated my efforts and propelled my career by providing a platform to demonstrate my skills and abilities.

Describe the journey you took into your current role.

Since December 2021, I've been an FX Artist at DNEG in Mumbai, India. I create and modify intricate Houdini setups for diverse projects like movies, TV series, and various animation projects. With a blend of technical prowess and artistic sensitivity, I contribute effectively to the visual effects of projects. Notable projects include ‘Sonic The Hedgehog 2’ and Netflix's ‘Nimona’ alongside work on projects like ‘Meg 2: The Trench’ and Netflix’s ‘The School for Good and Evil’. This experience refined my ability to craft compelling visual effects that enrich storytelling. My passion lies in pushing the boundaries of creativity and technology in film and television.

Why did you choose to study at 3dsense Media School?

Choosing to study at 3dsense Media School underscores a commitment to excellence and industry relevance. Learning from seasoned professionals and engaging in projects that reflect industry standards equips students with the skills needed to thrive in creative and tech fields.

How does your education complement your work?

Attending school was transformative for me. It equipped me with not only fundamental concepts but also invaluable practical tricks essential for my daily tasks. Each class, project, and even mistakes were pivotal in preparing me for the professional world. The blend of theoretical learning and hands-on experience was instrumental. Every skill acquired, from technical proficiency to fostering creative thinking, is consistently applied to effectively address challenges in my work environment.

Student Project at 3dsense Media School

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team.

Our team initiates the day with a Scrum meeting, prioritising tasks and concentrating on daily shot objectives. Supervisors provide thorough instructions, ensuring clarity. Throughout the day we diligently work on our assigned shots, aiming to achieve a basic render by day's end. Two hours before wrapping up, we participate in dailies (work status meetings), where our work undergoes review by VFX supervisors or downstream departments, offering invaluable feedback. This structured workflow keeps us disciplined and aligned with project objectives.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use daily?

DNEG employs industry-standard tools like Houdini, Nuke, and Maya, ensuring our visual effects meet the highest standards. This keeps us at the forefront of VFX technology and creativity, delivering exceptional results that meet industry demands.

What does your workflow look like?

In my FX/Simulation role, I create simulations using Houdini, replicating real-world phenomena or inventing fantastical elements. I iterate based on feedback and scene specifications, collaborating closely with departments such as Layout and Lighting to seamlessly merge live-action footage with CG environments. This collaborative approach ensures cohesive integration and enhances the overall visual narrative.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

At DNEG, we collaborate closely with both downstream and upstream departments like Lighting and Layout to plan and execute visual effects for specific shots. This integrated approach ensures our work aligns with the client's objectives and contributes effectively to project success and client satisfaction.

The industry is increasingly embracing real-time approaches in VFX, reflecting a trend towards efficiency and interactivity. Combining traditional software with real-time capabilities reshapes workflows and output, blurring the lines between pre-rendered and real-time effects. This evolution promises new creative possibilities and efficiency in projects.

"Sonic the Hedgehog 2". Image courtesy of DNEG. Projects described are for illustrative purposes; actual tasks and responsibilities may vary.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

What I love most about my VFX job is the opportunity to bring cool ideas to life and be creative across various projects. I enjoy the challenge of enhancing stories in movies, TV, and games with our special effects. Pushing the limits in both tech and art to create new things is something I cherish and want to continue doing.

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

I think the VFX industry as a whole would benefit from refining the balance between deadline driven workflows and delivering the best-quality work. There will always be production and financial imperatives, but finding time to nurture creativity and innovation usually results in more inspired and refined results, elevating the overall quality of the project.

Career advice

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

Formal education in our industry is optional, as success can be achieved with or without it. While some thrive through self-taught methods like YouTube tutorials, I chose formal education. This decision equipped me with a comprehensive skill set from the start, making the transition into my professional role seamless. My schooling provided the necessary technical and creative skills to dive into work immediately.

The blend of theoretical learning and hands-on experience [at 3dsense] was instrumental. Every skill acquired, from technical proficiency to fostering creative thinking, is consistently applied to effectively address challenges in my work environment.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?

Understanding our strengths in specific types of effects is pivotal in streamlining our workflow. This insight allows supervisors to assign shots that align with our expertise, facilitating a smoother process. At times, we commence building an effect from the ground up, while in other instances, a senior artist may provide a master file as a starting point. Leveraging this foundation, we tailor the effect to suit various scenes. Should adjustments be required based on feedback, we adeptly modify the setup to ensure a perfect fit for the shot.

Describe your attitude towards your job?

In my role, I blend passion and professionalism, relishing the fusion of creativity with technology. My drive, shaped by education and refined through experience, fuels a commitment to surpassing visual boundaries. I embrace technical and artistic challenges, dedicated to our team's success and delivering client visions. This mindset is more than fulfilling duties; it's about collective innovation and inspiration in visual effects.

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

I find inspiration in the exceptional work of industry professionals and my mentors, who have crafted outstanding visual effects for acclaimed shows. Their achievements set high standards for my own projects, and I often seek their work for guidance and inspiration. Their innovative approaches and successful projects drive my passion and dedication to the field of VFX.

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

When assembling your portfolio, ensure to feature a variety of VFX elements, ranging from simple to procedurally complex shots. This diversity showcases your versatility and appeals to hiring managers. Additionally, include examples of your lighting and look development skills, as they are integral components. A well-rounded portfolio highlights your comprehensive skill set and creativity, making you stand out in the field.

Houdini 18.5 Multi Explosion || Avengers: Endgame Explosion || Explosion + Breakdown || Houdini FX

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

While reflecting on my job application journey, I've recognised the importance of seeking feedback following rejections. By not inquiring about the reasons for not being selected, I've missed valuable insights for improvement. Learning from these rejections, identifying skill gaps or presentation shortcomings, and diligently addressing them is highly beneficial. Taking a proactive approach to gathering and acting on feedback could substantially increase one's chances of success in the industry.

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

For emerging artists, I highly advocate maintaining an enduring sense of curiosity and an unwavering commitment to lifelong learning. The creative landscape constantly evolves, making openness to new techniques, technologies, and ideas crucial for standing out. Embrace feedback as a means of growth and don't shy away from experimentation and occasional mistakes – they're integral to discovering your unique voice and style.

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

Looking back, I would advise my younger self to learn real-time VFX techniques sooner, recognising their increasing significance over time. Additionally, I would emphasise the importance of patience in the creative process. Understanding that producing quality work takes time and that feedback is intended to enhance rather than stress, would have allowed me to embrace feedback as a valuable aspect of growth rather than something to fear.

In his role as an FX Artist at DNEG in Mumbai, Shivam focuses on creating lifelike special effects using industry-leading software like Houdini, Nuke, and Maya. Dedicated to visual effects, he continually explores new software and techniques, aiming to enhance his skills. With a portfolio including 'Sonic The Hedgehog 2' and Netflix's ‘Nimona’, Shivam's commitment to pushing visual storytelling boundaries is evident. Through meticulous attention to detail and relentless innovation, he elevates every project, contributing to team success and overall quality.

Reach out to Shivam via: LinkedIn | YouTube | Website