7 things I learned during my first year in VFX industry



Hey, guys! My name is Paul H. Paulino and I recently completed my first year working in the VFX industry. I am a Texture Painter/Look Development artist at Scanline VFX in Vancouver, Canada. In the past year I had the opportunity to work on big projects such as Independence Day: Resurgence, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Justice League, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Power Rangers.

I thought it would be a good idea to share my personal “soft skills” which I learned throughout the past year at Scanline and I hope this may come useful for some of you. These tips might sound generic but I would have loved for someone to have shared this knowledge with me when I was starting my journey. Some people focus too much on the technical side of this industry and forget that it is also about working as a team.

I know that working in the film industry is a dream for a lot of students out there and I remember being one of those students not long ago. I will never forget my first job interview, when I entered the studio and how amazed I was with the whole environment. It was a dream coming true. 

(Ps.: The images that I used in this article are only to illustrate the topics that I covered in a more funny and interesting way. I used screenshots from some of the movies that I worked at Scanline but It doesn't mean that I worked on all those exact shots, okay? :) )

So let’s get started:


1 - Always ask questions

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but from my personal experience I was so frightened that people would judge me if I asked something stupid, that I avoided asking for help.

Soon I learned that it is impossible to accomplish great results without any help from your colleagues. Always be humble and ask for help as soon as you can, otherwise, you are wasting time.

My former mentor Justin Holt gave me awesome advice when I was in school. He told me if I ever get stuck, try troubleshooting alone for 15 minutes. If you’re still stuck after that, ask your neighbor. If the two of you can’t figure it out after another 15 minutes, then ask your lead or supervisor.

It is always a good idea to ask questions, but before doing so you should try and develop your troubleshooting skills because they are as equally important. There’s no such thing as stupid questions. A question is always relevant but don’t ask questions just because you’re too lazy to figure it out on your own. So always try all the possibilities for a few minutes before asking for help.


2 - Listen and learn from your colleagues

After learning how important it is to ask questions, I noticed how fast I was learning just by listening to my colleagues. I am really lucky at Scanline because all my coworkers are always really friendly and helpful. I could not be more grateful.

Screenshot from Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) trailer

Screenshot from Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) trailer

When you’re starting and someone is trying to show you a method that they’ve been using for ages, do not be quick to tell them that you already figured out a faster and better way. Even though this may be true, just listen to them at first, learn their way, test their theory and experiment your own method afterward. After a while, if you are comfortable with your method and really think it is useful and faster, then try and teach them your technique.


3 - Share tools and resources

Sometimes you will find tools and resources outside of work that may come in handy at the office. You might want to implement them into the pipeline, this can save the company time and money. Always share with your friends and ask them if they have anything to share with you too!

Screenshot from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) trailer. Learn from these kids and share your resources!

Screenshot from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) trailer. Learn from these kids and share your resources!

You’ll be surprised by how many useful scripts and textures you can get from your friends.


4 - Take notes

When someone gives you a task, ALWAYS take notes. Keep a notebook and a pen with you all the time. This tip is really important! Unless you are a super human, you can not always remember everything. While taking notes, ask any questions regarding the task right away in order to avoid wasting time later.

For example, if you are going to texture an asset you should ask how close the object is going to be on the big screen. That way you don’t have to worry about painting unnecessary details and it will save you time unfolding UV’s. Always ask for reference images.

Defining how close your object is gonna be from the camera can save you a lot of time.

Defining how close your object is gonna be from the camera can save you a lot of time.

I noticed that people love when you show enthusiasm and care for your work, so if you ask the right questions they will know that you are prepared to make that asset look awesome.


5 - Be careful with perfectionism and keep an eye on the deadline

Ah, the deadline. This is such a horrifying word for so many people and for a good reason, right? I mean, the word “dead” is part of it.

Screenshot from Justice League (2017) trailer. Is that how deadlines make you feel?

Screenshot from Justice League (2017) trailer. Is that how deadlines make you feel?

But the thing is, if you keep your tasks organized, everything will run smoothly for you. I remember that when I first started I was always trying to impress everyone and I was making sure to put every single detail on my assets even though they were going to be in the background and covered by smoke and fire in the end.

Screenshot from Independence Day (2016) trailer. Do you see that crane being torn to pieces? Me neither, but it’s in there somewhere, with a lot of detail. I made it.

Screenshot from Independence Day (2016) trailer. Do you see that crane being torn to pieces? Me neither, but it’s in there somewhere, with a lot of detail. I made it.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally think that you should put all the effort you can in your assets, but nobody cares if you make the best object ever and missed the deadline. With my experience, I think you should consider the amount of time you have and how perfect you can make your asset/shot look within that period. Of course, sometimes they can be flexible with deadlines and give you another few days, but it is always a good experience to finish things on time.


6 - NETWORKING

A lot of people used to tell me when I was in school that I just needed  to get “my foot in the door” and then after that it would be way easier to get another job. That expression makes a lot of sense to me now.

Screenshot from Justice League (2017) trailer. He needs more networks...and friends.

Screenshot from Justice League (2017) trailer. He needs more networks...and friends.

I cannot emphasize enough how important networking is in the industry. If you have a good reputation in the office, your colleagues will definitely help you find another job if you need in the future, since they already know so many people around.

Screenshot from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) trailer. Again, N-E-T-W-O-R-K-I-N-G guys!

Screenshot from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) trailer. Again, N-E-T-W-O-R-K-I-N-G guys!

Reputation can also work against you if you happen to have a bad one. If you were lazy and performed poorly, the word will get around and it’ll be harder to find a good position in the future. So again, be nice and friendly to your colleagues. Also, always keep your LinkedIn profile updated and use it to connect to other artists around the world.


7 - Personal projects

After working an eight-hour day at the office, the last thing you want to think about is coming home and working on a personal project. The truth is, if you spend at least a few hours a week working on something , it will help brush up your skills and motivate you to perform better at work.

Sometimes you might end up working on something not very exciting in the office (I mean, this happens within any job, right?) that is why your personal projects can help you boost your creativity.

In the past year, I had the chance to finish two personal projects and they were a good opportunity for me to learn cool things and share them at work.

Another good habit is to share your process. I’m always trying to help other artists whenever with tutorials and articles. It’s good to give back to the community that once helped you when you were starting. You can check my other tutorials here.


Final thoughts

If you reached the end of this article I  thank you for your time and I hope you found this useful.
I want to point out that these are things I learned in my first year. I really want to help young artists to have an opportunity in a VFX company like I did and I will keep writing articles like this one in the future to help you get your first foot in the door. 

I also wanna thank my dear friends Anna Ivanova and Tito Ferradans for their help with this article. You guys are awesome! 

If you liked it, please share it with your friends who might be interested and if you still have any questions or suggestions let me know. I’ll be happy to help! And if you are interested in more content like that in the future, make sure to sign up in my newsletter below. 

Do you have any suggestion for my next articles? Leavea comment below and let me know what you are interested to learn about the VFX industry.
I'll be happy to spread the knowledge!


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