Anyone who knows anything about the Visual Effects Industry knows that it is not easy to get your first job, especially in the current industry climate.  With companies constantly laying off experienced workers and schools turning out new artists every year; the job market has become flooded with talent, both old and new.  At some point it seems like finding a job is just a matter of luck.

Personally, I have spent the past half-decade or so making my way into the VFX Industry.  During that time I have worked various technical positions at five different companies.  I have been hired, laid off, rehired, left companies and started then finished graduate school.  After all of this I am finally in a position that I consider to be above “entry level.”  I mostly define this by the fact that I am a staff employee and I make more than just enough to pay my rent.

I am writing this article to share some insight, advice, tips and tricks that have proven useful for me during my journey into the industry.  I will preface this by saying that I do not believe that there is any one correct route to success in this industry.   This is just how I went about things and it seems to have worked for me.

Finding a job is no easy task, no matter the profession; but securing your first job in the VFX Industry can be a particularly daunting task.  Here is some advice for any VFX newbies looking for their first gigs.

Apply For Anything and Everything (That You’re Remotely Qualified For)

The job description says minimum two to three years of experience, but you only have six months and an awesome portfolio?..Fu*k it, why not apply?!  Or, maybe they want someone who knows Maya, Nuke, Linux, Python, etc. and you know three out of five.  Give it a shot!  Job descriptions often list many, many qualifications.  What are the chances that they will find someone who meets them all?  Sometimes it is good enough to prove that you know most of what they want and are capable of learning the rest.

Is there a job in Canada you want, but you live in California?  Give it a shot, it can’t hurt, right?.  Maybe there’s a company right around the corner from your house, but they don’t have any openings listed; apply anyways.  My approach to job hunting is to apply to every job and company I find, even if the thought of working there is far-fetched.  You can’t put all your eggs in one basket and you never know what might happen. (FYI, if you don’t like clichés, then you’d better stop reading now, or maybe three paragraphs ago.)

Take What You Can Get

If you’re a total rock star genius with a stunning portfolio then feel free to ignore this next part and, in that case…screw you man!  For the rest of us, back in reality, it is pretty much impossible to find the exact job you want at the exact company you’d like to work for.  Even if that position does exist, chances are you’re not the most qualified applicant.  That being the case, you may have to settle at some point.  Whether it’s a crappy job at an awesome company or a decent job at a company that is less than ideal, you’ll find that some less desirable jobs are a lot easier to land and they will look good on your resume.

If you’re going to apply for some non-artistic, entry-level jobs, there are basically two routes that you can go.  You can look for work as a production assistant/runner or you can find a low-level technical opening as a render wrangler, data wrangler or something of that sort.  PA jobs are going to be better for someone who wants to get into production, or anyone who is not as technically savvy.  However, I highly recommend going for something technical if you’ve got the chops.  PA work usually consists of running errands and getting people coffee, with the occasional intro to the duties of coordinators and producers.  I find that technical jobs take a little more aptitude, are more engaging and provide more of a challenge.  I also believe that companies view PA work as something that anyone can do, where as, adding a technical position to your resume proves that you can learn something of value.  Sorry PAs, I do not mean to insult your work but, that is how I feel.  However I may be a bit biased given that my background is more technical.

Don’t Be Afraid to Pull Strings

Do not be afraid to ask for a favor when applying for jobs.  The VFX Industry is like most industries; connections are king!  If you know anyone or know anyone who knows anyone that works in the industry, let him or her know that you are looking to get in.  What is the worst that could happen?  They might ignore your request, or tell you no.  Either way, it is worth a shot.

Even better, would be to try to meet them or get your work in front of them.  Most people want to see that you have potential before they are willing to stick their neck out for you.  Meeting them in person helps because you show them your personality and prove that you’re someone whom others can stand to be around for insanely long periods of time.  I got my first industry job from a guy who came to rent my mother’s condo.  When my mom found out where he worked she introduced us and he liked me enough to help me out.

That being said, make sure you are not hounding everyone you know, or annoying the people who you are asking to help you.  That might have an adverse affect.  You could end up alienating the people whose help you need most.

It is also helpful to apply for a job through the proper channels before or while you are contacting your connections.  This is especially true with larger companies.  Ninety percent of the time when I reach out to an industry connection, their first question is, “Have you applied for the position yet?”  The exception would be when you’re applying to a company that doesn’t have any openings you are qualified for.  In this case, just apply with a general resume inquiring about entry-level openings and hit up your connection.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Realize that any mildly successful VFX company has people lined up around the block itching to work for them.  If you’re going to apply to one of these companies, you’ve got to make your application stand out.  Do some research on the company.  Read and reread the job description.  Write a good cover letter and a good resume that tells them why you are a good fit to work there.

In this industry, attention to detail makes a world of difference.  Get all your applications in order.  Print up some snazzy business cards and hand them out to every industry contact you meet.  If you have a website or demo reel make sure that everything is polished. (Those of you who know me can feel free to call me a hypocrite on that one.)

Once You’ve Gotten a Bite

In closing, I will leave you with a couple bits of advice for the post-application process.  Let’s say you hear back from a company that you’ve applied at and they express interest; don’t get too eager and definitely do not assume that the job is yours.  You definitely do not want to scare them away by contacting them too much, and you don’t want to ruin your chances at other opportunities by discontinuing your job hunt because you think you’ll get this one.

From my experience, actually landing a job is something like a four stage process.  The first step, obviously, is applying for the job.  If you’re lucky the next step will probably be a phone interview or possibly even two; after which they will want to schedule an interview in person.  If they like your interview then you’ll probably receive a job offer of some sort, this will most likely come in the form of a call or email.

From my understanding, the interview process is there to double check your qualifications and make sure that you are the kind of person that they want to have at their company.  If you make it to the interview stage it means that they must have seen something on your application that they liked.  So you just need to prove two things; first, that you can back up the words that you put down on the application; and second, that you’re someone with whom they will enjoy working.  If you can do that you should be able to get the job.

My final piece of advice is to go into the interview with a couple questions that you want to ask when it is your turn to ask questions.  You can use this as an opportunity to not only learn more about the job, or the company, but also to prove that you are thinking about how you will fit in there.  One thing I would avoid is asking about what the job pays.  Some people may disagree with me here, but from my experience it makes people think that you only care about the money.  Besides, that information comes if/when you receive the job offer.  However, I will say that once you get an offer, you do not have to be afraid to ask for more or let them know if their offer is not exactly what you were hoping for.  Just don’t be rude about it.  It has usually worked out for the best for me.

Anyways, best of luck to everyone who is new to the industry!  I hear a lot of grim talk about the future of VFX, but I hope that these tips will help you to remain optimistic.

4 Responses to “Breaking Into the VFX Industry”

  1. Ricardo Lua says:

    Thank you for this post, James. I’m an animation major at Academy of Art University, but after reading the post I can easily relate this information to finding an animation position.

  2. Anthony D'Amico says:

    Good article….You are so right….New to VFX..so in saying that, can you hire me to rotoscope? I am a Mocha Pro guy and very dedicated.

    Thanks for the honesty,

    Anthony

  3. Nick says:

    Thanx for the tips, Atomicfiction team, very useful.

    When I see that even for a simple internship, you have to have an amazing demo reel, I wonder how juniors can get hired…

    But I hope I will get there some day. In the meantime, I keep on working on my stuff and learning new skills…

    By the way I love your website and show reel, beautiful and very impressive images, you are a model to follow.

    Cheers

    Nick

  4. David McMahon says:

    James,

    Thanks for this.

    I have heard good things about Atomic Fiction. Can I visit some time?

    Dave

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