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'VFXWorld' Training & Job Survey: How Did You Get Started?

VFXWorld polled its readers to see how they are training for their careers and getting jobs. Rick DeMott reports back with the findings and highlights.

A few months back AWN and VFXWorld surveyed its readers to discover trends and stories about professional training and education. Questions included:

More and more artists are taking education into their own hands.

In order to get up to speed and get a job, how did you get

your training?

Self taught with offline/printed materials such as books,

magazines and/or tutorials?

Self taught with online materials such as articles and tutorials?

Video training and/or DVDs

Art school courses

University courses

Technical school training courses

Online workshops, courses and/or other distance learning


Please describe your training/educational experiences

What was your big break into the industry?

Did you have a mentor that helped your career? If so, what did you learn from him or her?

Explain your career path and how it shaped what you do today.

More than 1,000 people participated. 45% of those people surveyed were from the U.S., 10% from Canada, 9% from the U.K., 8% from India and 3% from Australia. However, the responses came from all parts of the world, including the United Arab Emirates and Kenya.

It seems that a large percentage (64%) of the people surveyed have self-trained using books, magazines and/or tutorials; 44% self-trained using online materials; 37% and 36% took art school or university courses, respectively, while 24% went through technical school training; 22% have used video or DVD training with 9% partaking in online workshops, courses or distant learning; and 80% of the people surveyed have trained using at least two of the above criteria.

Below we have a sampling of what people said:

Ron Roberts of BIG Designs in Australia received a degree in architecture, which led indirectly to him becoming a set and production designer. An interest in CG from experimenting with CAD led to going out and spending about $50,000 on gear and just making it work.

Australia-based Melov Designs Tony Melov drew medical illustrations by day and at night trained on a Quantel pbox in downtime at a TV network. After some time, be convinced the promo people of his skills and became the promo designer at the network. Through contacts made there, he left and freelanced as a HAL/Henry designer; later he took a full-time position at a production house. After that he went on to open his own company, specializing in title and TV show design, which moved into animation, after the title sequence industry collapsed.

Andy Hayes went to NCCA, where he learned animation. He used to program as a kid but the course introduced him to C++ and openGL. When script based animation packages became the norm it meant that not only was he well prepared for just animating, but could tackle technical issues as well. It gave him the opportunity to explore so much in such a short space of time something he believes he would have found hard doing to the same degree working in a busy production environment. He stayed on at the university working as a lecturer and then progressed into some effects work in London. He moved at the beginning of the year to Australia to work on the CG feature Happy Feet.

Francisco Lima took Autocad lessons in college where he began modeling in 3D. He got in as a trainee in an English company and was hired as a CAD operator. Soon he started using 3D in the job and began studying 3D animation programs. He worked really hard on a specific project and was awarded with a trip to the U.S. Lima trained at the School of Visual Arts and supplemented his education there with books and magazines.

After returning from New York, he consulted in the building of a small CGI department at a production house in Rio. From there, a friend called to start a multimedia/CGI department at a new educational TV channel. He soon became the manager of this department, which had 20 3D/2D animators.

Though you may start in one area, you never know where your career will lead.

From there his curiosity in compositing grew and he constantly read about Discreet Flame and how it was revolutionizing the world of VFX. So he went to Discreet in Montreal to learn the program. After the training he looked for opportunities in Brazil as a Flame artist. Discreet had an office in Rio that was in charge of Latin America and he was hired directly by Discreet to work in this office. He worked at Discreet for five successful years and got the opportunity to fly all over Latin America and work with the most important broadcast and post production companies in the region.

After that in 2001, he decided to move on and went to work for 5D Solutions who was releasing a new VFX solution called Cyborg. He worked there for a year and made several important sales, but then 5D Solutions shut down. So he decided it was time to go back into production and stop selling technology. Now hes a vfx supervisor/technology consultant at TV Globo in Rio de Janeiro. However, he did say that he has never stopped studying, reading, researching, investing in magazines and books and now reading all of the great content online.

Brent Lowrie works at the Canadian gaming company Rare Method. He began his career at Disney and then freelanced in Vancouver doing storyboard clean up, character design and Flash animation. His move to gaming happened when he took a position in Calgary as an animator at Idea Machine, which would later merge with Rare Method, where he is the director of games and animation. The company produces online games and interactive learning and is producing its first commercial videogame and in development on series and film IP.

Lee Gabel, founder of Lee Gabel Visual Effects in Canada, was self-taught and used the money he would have used to go to school to instead buy the necessary hardware and software to learn and produce the work he wanted to do. After about three to four years of working on his own skillset, his talents were recognized by another fellow CG artist, and, as a result, he became part of a vfx team for a highly rated TV show. His mentors were all the professional CG artists whom he has met via the Internet, that have generously shared information with him, which he now does in turn for other emerging artists. His passion has always been visual effects for TV and film, and now it is all beginning to pay off.

Morten David Bartholdy of Denmark started in the computer graphics industry in 1985 doing 24-bit compositing and paint for stills. He worked on the traditional-animated feature Valhalla as a clean up and inbetween artist. After that he switched to starting up the graphics department at the post-production facility CTVP. Five years later he was hired as a 3D animation specialist at independent CGI production company Vinther Grafik, where he worked for four years. In 1999, he founded his own company and works freelance on project based contracts with commercials and feature films, producing visual effects and 3D animation.

Antonio Carrozzini of Ecuador was mainly self-trained in CG and visual effects and had opportunities to learn new skills working at computer graphics or advertising companies. His key mentor was Emmy Award-winning illustrator Lee Seiler, an extraordinary graphics artist and pioneer of computer graphics. But to start he received a degree in Fine Arts as well as taking advertising, marketing and computer graphics courses.

Now based in France, Rubín Salgado Escudero grew up in Madrid, Spain, and moving to the U.S. when he was 10. He quickly became addicted to videogames in high school and knew he wanted to make art for videogames as his career.

In 1998 and at the age of 17, he enrolled in the University of Manchester in England, where he began to study computer software engineering. Quickly realizing that programming was not what he wanted to get involved in, and that visuals and the creative aspect was more of his field of interest, he began to e-mail people in the industry from all the big players from Pixar to DreamWorks. They all sent him in different paths but he decided to go and study four years at the Savannah College of Art and Design. There he learned the basics, and built a good basis in the world of 3D and computer imagery.

However, most of his learning came from long hours in the computer lab. Working as a lab assistant at the university helped him tremendously. He was there all day, every day his senior year working on his projects. After getting a demo reel out, he went to SIGGRAPH as he had done for the past three years, working as a student volunteer. This time around he looked for jobs. He found some companies that were definitely interested, but his goal was to go back to Europe to live and work. Then on a vacation in Spain, he met a woman from Berlin and fell in love. He ended up going to visit her in Berlin, really liking the city, and found a job at Rotobee Realtime 3D as one of the only three people working on Singles: Flirt Up Your Life. After having unexpected success with the game, the company has now 20 people, and have just finished doing Singles 2: Triple Trouble.

Success stories can occur anywhere in the world.

Alex Nowotny graduated from the University of Applied Sciences in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the area of film and broadcasting technology in 1999. The title of his thesis was Programming of a Softimage Plug-In for the Optimization of Motion-Capture Data. After working for a couple of smaller vfx-studios and broadcasting-stations, he landed at German vfx-house DAS WERK in Munich, working on vfx-film projects such as Enemy at the Gates, Eight Legged Freaks, Fear Dot Com and The Musketeer. In 2003, he started working at Arri Digital and from he moved on to Weta Digital in New Zealand, where he worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Raj Thadani from India finished his Masters degree in the U.K. at Bournemouth University, but could not get a permit to work in the U.K., as he was an overseas student. So he came back to India and started working as a freelance artist for various channels in India. After working for about six months as a freelancer, he got an offer to work as a project coordinator for a 3D film being developed in India called The Legend of Buddha. After working on it for more than a year, he was offered a post at a Vancouver-based vfx company to head their Indian division.

Andrew Whitehurst, who worked as lighting supervisor on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Framestore-CFC, trained at an art college. After school he got a job at a vfx house until that facility went bankrupt. He moved onto another runners job at a DVD design studio where he moved up the ranks to become a designer. From there he moved to a new studio to be a 3D artist on a kids TV series where he also had the opportunity to work on a CG feature. But then that studio went bankrupt. He freelanced on a couple of small jobs then worked on Tomb Raider 2 at Double Negative. He moved over to Framestore-CFC to work as a technical director and later senior technical director on Troy.

N.V.R. PhaniKumar of India began his training at an institute but didnt think it was good enough. He learned a lot through online tutorials and training DVDs. Later he applied at animation company DataQuests training program and was accepted with a specialization in vfx. He credits the Gnomon series of DVDs as the best and lists Gnomon director Alex Alvarez as his guru.

Roberto Raio of Italy took a course where he learned the basics of Maya, but honestly believes he learned much more studying books that he bought on Amazon such as The Animators Survival Kit and The Illusion of Life. He learned a lot of tricks and tips taking a one-week animation class with ex-Pixar animator Kyle Balda.

He started his career, like everyone, doing a little bit of everything modeling, texturing, rendering, compositing, animation. He was able to hone his skills for a company doing flying logos and graphics for web. Then he worked for some architects, doing photorealistic renderings of houses and buildings. Now he works for visual effects company, Horizon, as a digital artist and teaches Maya at a school in Italy.

Marchand Jooste attended university studying advertising plus architecture, and then, did some animation part-time courses in the School of Visual Arts, NY. After which, he attended full-time classical and 3D animation at the Vancouver Film School.

After he left VFS, he got offered a job as a Flash animator that no one would take, which allowed him to break into the industry. After gaining experience there for two years and focusing on animation, he landed a job at Weta Workshop.

Inspired by his father Nelson Gonzalezs work as a graphic designer and animator for 45 years, Cristian Augusto Gonzalez Rodriguez of Peru began studying graphic design in 1991. Since then he was always been interested in 2D and 3D animation and had the opportunity to work at Gen X and on others projects.

Today he owns a visual effect boutique, Cuarta Esfera, where they do post production, 2D and 3D animation, visual effects for TV commercials, multimedia and 3D architectural renders. Now he is able to work on a personal project, where he can express his ideas and tell the stories that have been on his mind for 11 years.

Hasan Ahmed of the United Arab Emirates suggests that his training in art school helped him not only learn the software, but also the terminology. He started his career as a graphics designer. After taking some editing courses, he landed his big break editing 700 episodes of a TV series. Now he is working as a smoke artist for compositing.

Double Negatives Stewart Ash of the U.K. started in stop-motion in Bristol, making a couple of short films. He felt that there was limited opportunity in that field, so he moved to London and became a runner in a small post-production facility. There he learned Maya in his spare time, and even did vfx on some music videos to beef up his showreel. Many of the artists working at the post house served as his mentors. This gave him the material to move into the vfx film industry where he has been for nearly two years.

Sometime luck is a huge factor.

Pieter Warmington concentrated on computer studies at college. His demo reel landed him a job doing low-poly graphics for a ships bridge simulator. He then trained himself on 3ds Max version 3, using the Inside 3D Studio book. After moving up the ranks in the gaming industry, he was able to secure a job on a full CG motion-capture childrens TV pilots and music videos, which spawned work in commercials. Now he works on feature visual effects at Double Negative in the U.K.

Daniel Camp was self-taught and credits being in the right place at the right time for getting his break in the industry. He started as a videogame tester and got promoted to motion capture. Moving from his first job, he helped start a MoCap studio for another game company. After building up experience, he then got hired on as motion capture for movies at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

David Drury Allen actually earned an English degree and worked in non-artistic jobs for the videogame and web industries. Those jobs were very helpful in teaching him professionalism as well as uncovering his likes and dislikes in work environments. He then attended the Gnomon School of Visual Effects and studied animation books like The Illusion of Life and The Animators Survival Kit. One of his teachers tipped him off to Rhythm & Hues new apprenticeship program, which is geared toward recent graduates. That has led to more animation work at Rhythm & Hues.

Raffael Dickreuter is a native of Switzerland, where training opportunities are limited. He gained his education through books and tutorials. His big break was landing an internship at a major company. As for advice, he says to not give up. One needs to know what areas they have to be improve in and stresses the importance of networking skills. He personally moved from being a cameraman to advertising desktop publisher to web designer and finally a 3D animator, who now works at Pixel Liberation Front.

Hal Hickel of ILM graduated from CalArts, then spent four years at a small motion-graphics house in Portland, using old-school Oxberry, no CG. From there he spent six-and-a-half years at Will Vinton Studios, a year-and-a-half at Pixar (on Toy Story), and had been with ILM for nine-and-a-half years. He started at ILM as an animator on Lost World, and has been an animation supe since 2000.

He started out being really interested in all aspects of vfx, especially stop-motion, but focused on back-lit effects animation and motion graphics once he was at Cal-Arts. He says he got chased out of that by the advent of CG. Will Vinton is where he got into stop-motion, where he wanted to eventually end up at a place like Phil Tippetts doing the Harryhausen thing, but, again, CG reared its ugly head. After Jurassic Park, he figured it was all rocket scientists doing the animation and that hed either have to go back to school, or be stuck pushing mud-puppets (clay animation) for the rest of his life. He really wanted to be working on feature films, rather than the commercial work that Vinton was doing. Then he got a lucky break when a friend told him that Pixar was hiring, and that they didnt care if you knew anything at all about CG as long as you could bring a character to life. Turns out that Hickel was much better at CG than stop-motion. So the evil CG demon that had been chasing him since the early 80s turned out to be the very thing that got him into the company hed always wanted to work for: ILM.

Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he worked in various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the book Animation Art as well as the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloose.

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