#2.78 – Practical Advice for VFX Artists

This is one of my favourite postcards, I’ve had it almost 20 years, since my time in Canterbury. 

Last week I published a post titled ‘Leave VFX‘ that hit a nerve within the industry. One of the messages that came out of it is that the majority don’t want to leave VFX or discourage others from doing so, no matter how tough it may be.

That got me thinking about practical advice that I might give someone who is in VFX to make their lives better today and down the road.

There are others who have written great advice for VFX artists, people like Scott Squires or Peter Plantec’s ‘Working the New VFX Landscape’, you’ll find invaluable insights there.

If your answer to all VFX artist woes is form a union, I point you to David Stripinis’s post about the topic from a year ago, and then his more recent blog on the matter, as I think that sums up where we’re at on that question.

So, with that out of the way, here are my 6 nuggets of advice.

#2.78 - Practical Advice for VFX Artists
#2.78 - back
sent from: London, UK. destination: Earlsfield, London, UK


Know Your Rights
Spend the money, usually around $200 or £200, to have an employment or contract lawyer review your contract. Arm yourself with knowledge, especially if you are going to a new country to work.

Far too many VFX artists do not know what the conditions in their contracts are, or do not take the trouble to understand what labour laws exist in the country or state where they are working. 

If you’re in the UK, you should know what the working time agreement is and why it’s important. 

If you’re in the USA, you should know what the local laws are governing overtime. Don’t let yourself be mis-classified as an independent contractor when you’re not. 

If you’re in Canada, don’t let yourself be classified a High Tech Professional

These are just some examples, you should be familiar with your own situation. Don’t believe your company’s HR representative, or your buddy at the desk next to you, or take internet rumours for granted, or me. Get a lawyer to look at your contract, help you understand what’s in it, and
 know which questions to ask. Are there loopholes? If your family situation changes unexpectedly, are you protected? Do not sign anything you are uncomfortable with; an employer who is unwilling to discuss a contract is not one you want to work for. 

Understand The Difference Between Needing And Wanting To Work Late
Don’t do it because everyone else is doing it. The compressed production schedule is not your fault, don’t let anyone take advantage of your drive to present only your best work at all times. There are real deadlines and false ones –  know when to push back on your lead or supervisor.

Read this post from Linds Redding. Don’t gain perspective on the choices you’ve made too late to be able to do anything about it. 

If you’ve already had shots in movies, remember how they passed by so quickly you barely registered what was on screen. Remember that when you’re looping the shot for the 50th time, agonising over some detail and your friends are wondering if you’re coming out for dinner. 

Save Your Pennies

Listen to those people telling you to start a 401k or other retirement plan.

It doesn’t seem like you’ll need it when you’re 25 but you will get old. And you will want to stop working at a desk for 50 hours week in, week out. Talk to a financial planner. It’s boring and adult but it’s important.
Note I say working and not creating, with any luck you will never lose that passion to create stuff. And on that note…

Keep Your Passion Alive

Don’t let working in VFX take time away from the thing that got you excited to be in VFX in the first place. Make time to create, to tinker, to go to the movies.

Whatever it is that made you that weird arty kid that people didn’t understand, don’t stop doing it.

Think Different

You possess unique knowledge in these image-driven times. VFX is not just feature films, commercials and gaming. Science, medicine, the military, insurance companies, the law, forensics, all might benefit from your skills and experience. Be an entrepreneur in a new area.

Some say there’s little transferability of skills from VFX to other industries, but I disagree. Everyone wants to tell stories, to use images to convey ideas, and need technically and artistically literate people to help them do this. You could be that person.


Think about what you want to be doing at 45, 55, 65. Many professional actors also get involved in writing, do stand-up comedy, do a podcast, have home-made videos, create a music group, take improv classes. Think of the things you might also want to do and make sure to nurture those things for that day when you wonder what else you might want to do other than VFX.

Many VFX artists will not find themselves on the path of artist – lead – supervisor, or if they do, it will go up and down over the course of 30 years. The norm in many other creative careers is that people pursue a
 diversity of jobs in related fields, which helps sustain a constant level of work, even if the income varies wildly.

If you want to stay in one city you may find yourself needing to fill quiet periods with non-VFX work, whether or not it earns you money to begin with. By not having your eggs in one basket you’ll have a better chance of staying fresh, and when it comes time to bid VFX adieu, you’ll have other jobs already on the go.

I’ve been trying to apply these principles to my own career in recent years. This postcardwala project began out of my wanting to keep writing and sketching every day. Now my wife and I are looking to expand where we can go with our VFX knowledge and all the other things we love to do as well.

I know it’s going to take a while to figure it out, but I’m excited.

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