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Career Coach: A World of Opportunity

In this month’s column, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson advises aspiring animators that Hollywood may be closer than you think.

There's no place like home.
-- Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
Nowadays it's not necessary to live in Hollywood to work on Hollywood films. Artists can live and work in places like Singapore, Beijing, London or Vancouver and help create Hollywood blockbusters. Courtesy of iStock.

Nowadays it's not necessary to live in Hollywood to work on Hollywood films. Artists can live and work in places like Singapore, Beijing, London or Vancouver and help create Hollywood blockbusters. Courtesy of iStock.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy dreams of greener pastures somewhere over the rainbow. But when she reaches the exotic land of Oz, she wants to return home to Kansas. She never wavers from that ultimate goal and must first enlist a few friends to help achieve it. Her goal is clear -- to return home.

Last month I traveled to Singapore and spoke to some animation students who wanted to work in Hollywood. I wondered if their goals were clear. I wondered if they dreamed of having a tiny apartment just below the Hollywood sign or if they dreamed of working on Hollywood-type films. To live in Hollywood is one goal, but it is entirely different than the goal of working on big Hollywood features.

When The Wizard of Oz was made, there were few alternatives for artists who aspired to work on big effects films. Most had to move to Hollywood to work in the industry. But now artists can live and work in places like Singapore, Beijing, London or Vancouver and create the spectacular effects seen in big Hollywood blockbusters.

A few years ago I recruited for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The studio was in Van Nuys, about a half hour drive from Hollywood. The original plan was to do all the work at the studio in Van Nuys, but when the deadline was not being met, the producer decided to outsource many of the visual effects shots. More than a dozen companies all around the world worked on that film, from Rising Sun Pictures in Australia to Hybride in Canada.

The visual effects and animation industries are a global business. It's now common that visual effects films are done by multiple vendors. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a global project with effects being done by Framestore and Motion Picture Company in England, WETA in New Zealand, and KNB Effects Group in California. Some of the companies working on Speed Racer are Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain, ILM and Café FX in California, and BUF Compagnie in Paris.

The vfx and animation industries are a global business. California's Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain, ILM and Café FX and Paris' BUF Compagnie are working on Speed Racer. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

The vfx and animation industries are a global business. California's Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain, ILM and Café FX and Paris' BUF Compagnie are working on Speed Racer. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

When I worked on Bebe's Kids, one of the last hand-painted animated films made, we hired painters and painting services from all over Southern California. But we also used services in Canada, the U.K., and Asia. Outsourcing part of an animated project was not new. Television shows had been using overseas studios for years to help them complete their labor-intensive shows, but the original reason outsourcing occurred was to try to keep costs down. Now, it is often done to meet the deadlines set for the films and to tap into the talents and skills of artists all over the world.

Many students and professionals dream of working at ILM or Pixar (both in Northern California), but few get their starts there. Today, the primary vendor on a big visual effects picture might be ILM, but ILM may not do all the shots. Work by smaller, lesser-known studios shares the screen with ILM shots. Those smaller, lesser-known studios could be much closer to you than Hollywood.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

Students often ask me about how to break into the industry. Sometimes opportunity is as close as your own backyard. Get a job at a lesser-known company near your home and start building your career and your resume. You might be working in Hollywood from your own home town. You might be surprised to find how close you are to Hollywood right now.

To find out what companies are working on the next blockbuster, visit VFXWorld.com. There are visual effects and animation studios on every continent except Antarctica. You don't have to leave your home to find work unless you are a penguin.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson worked in Hollywood, but never lived under the Hollywood sign. She lived close to the Walt Disney Studios in the San Fernando Valley for many years and has discovered filmmakers also live in Idaho. Last night she conducted a networking workshop for the Idaho Media Professionals. Last month she spoke to students at an animation workshop in Singapore. She is currently recruiting for Lucas Animation Studios in Singapore. To contact Pamela for a career coaching session, recruiting or speaking engagement, email her at Pambo@q.com.

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