Getting ready for the VFX Industry #01: Organization
Hey, guys! My name is Paul H. Paulino, and I am a Texture Painter/Look Development artist at Scanline VFX in Vancouver, Canada and I recently wrote an article talking about my first year in VFX industry. After the article was published, I was amazed to see so many positive reviews and feedback.
I realize that most of the students who are trying to break into visual effects are still a bit uncertain whether they are prepared enough for the industry. Not long ago when I was a student, I remember having the same feeling.
That’s why I decided to write a series of articles talking about some specific topics that might help prepare you for your vfx career, such as organization, problem-solving, networking, time management, etc. Like I said in the previous article, I still have a lot to learn, so keep this in mind while reading. This is just an opinion from my own experience.
Again, I wanted to focus on “soft” skills that most people think are inherent to personality and cannot be taught. I disagree. I believe that you can become more organized and learn to problem solve faster by practicing more often.
Let’s get started:
TRANSFORMING bad habits into good ones
Being organized can be a hard task for some people. I know that because I used to be extremely disorganized. If you entered my bedroom when I was 16, you would freak out like my mom used to do. In my teenage years, being disorganized not only affected my room but also extended to other parts of my personal life.
When I was eighteen, I finally had an opportunity to work on something I loved: video-making. I was selected for an internship in college, this job consisted of editing college news articles and other advertising videos for students. It was an incredible opportunity for me but I didn't know back then that my bad habits would turn my life into stress.
In the very first week of my new job, I was instructed to follow the naming conventions, the team was very strict about file names. Even though I understood the process and pledged to follow the guidelines, my habits got a hold of me. Thinking that this wasn't very important and would be a waste of time, I completely ignored it.
A few days later a colleague had to take over this project and when he opened the file, almost all the video files were gone. Someone had deleted them because they were named incorrectly and since I didn’t add them into the project’s folder everything was gone. I had to apologize to my boss and to the students and start over.
After being through an embarrassing episode, I decided that I was going to be more organized with my files and I turned it into a routine. During every project, I dedicated time to label and organize files. I adopted this process at home with my personal projects and after a couple of months I realized that instead of wasting time I was actually being more productive, spending less time searching for my files.
Putting organization habits into practice
Six years after the event that triggered my organization habit, I moved to Vancouver, to study VFX at Think Tank Training Centre. I was finally pursuing my dream and during my first semester I had an assignment that would require a lot of organization skills. I had to build a 3D scene within one month timeframe.
Before my training at Think Tank I had no prior knowledge of computer graphics and even though each semester is 3 months long it’s still a relatively short time to finish a project especially when you have multiple assignments, so you can imagine how terrifying that was. But then I remembered all the organization skills I learned from previous years and it changed my life.
I talked to my two best friends in class, Christian Peck and Matias Trinchero and we decided to help each other hit our deadline. Using Photoshop, I mocked up a quick layout to help us track our process.
With the schedule in hands, we were able to focus on each part of the process and not waste time. During each step, we would make sure that we all hit the deadlines we established.
Why being organized can help you with your career in VFX?
So at this point, you might be asking yourself: “Why should I be more organized? When I’m working on my projects I have my organized mess and I can totally find everything with no problem.”
When I was eighteen, I also believed that theory. It’s when I started working with other people, I realized that being disorganized in a team means being selfish. We need to think about our colleagues and how we can make each others lives easier.
Within my first year in the industry, I saw how experienced professionals (specially coordinators) admire artists who are organized and keep their scenes clean and ready for other peers. Talking to my colleagues, I learned that most VFX companies will require you to be organized, so I want you to begin developing your organization skills as soon as possible so you don’t have to go through the same embarrassing situations like I did.
How can I start becoming more organized?
Keep it simple
As I mentioned above, being organized can be tough if you’re not used to it. If you want to develop this skill, I would advise you to start small, changing little habits in your daily routine at school/work or even in your personal life. In a short few months you will start to notice a positive change in your life.
Planning your projects is crucial. Before you begin, think about the process, the result and different methods you can use to problem solve. Keep it simple in the beginning in order to have a clear overview of what you are doing.
If you are modeling a scene, use simple planes and boxes to map a composition (see image below). This blocking phase helped me build this environment for an assignment at Think Tank. I was able to complete the whole scene within 1 week because I had an established plan of action.
Even tho I’m using modeling as a reference; the same principle can be applied to other specialties as well. For example, while writing my articles I like to break it down into simple topics and ask myself questions before I start writing paragraphs. This process helps me envision the entire article in my head before it’s done.
If you are working on a school project, I would highly recommend you spend at least a few minutes developing your own naming convention. That will make your life ten times easier in the future.
Don’t worry about the industry standards right now because each studio has a different pipeline and naming convention. If you establish your personal naming pattern, it will be easier to adapt to new patterns in the future. To show you an example, here's my personal naming convention that I use for my projects:
It doesn’t have to be complicating, as long as you are being consistent. Another good habit to get into is camelCase. It makes it easier to read, and people love it (at least I do, lol)
Being organized is not just about naming files and putting them into separate folders. Creating small lists while you are working on your project can be extremely helpful. Write down a routine of things you have to do to get it done. This way you’ll be able to have an overview of your task and tackle the priorities and estimate how much time you’ll spend on each step.
For example, if you have to texture an object, write down the things you think you’ll be able to get done that day:
As soon as you finish each step, cross it off your list. This act of crossing will give you a great sense of accomplishment, and it will get you closer to your final goal.
To help your organization process, I want to share with you a kind of cool idea I learned from my friend Paulo Fernando, back in 2012. It’s a type of “organization” background that helps to organize your files on your desktop. It’s a simple idea and I love using it.
You can download the high-res template that I created in Photoshop here, or create your own using the same principle.
Thank you for your time, and I hope you found this useful. I want to keep sharing my experience so you can feel more ready for when your time comes.
I also wanna thank Anna Ivanova,Tito Ferradans, Ricardo Eloy and Thiago Carneiro for their help with this article. You guys are awesome!
If you like my article please share with your friends who might be interested and if you have any questions or suggestions let me know. I’ll be happy to help.
Do you have any suggestion for my next articles? Write your comment below and let me know what you are interested to learn about the VFX industry.
I'll be happy to spread the knowledge!