Throughout November 2020 the ACCESS:VFX team hosted an epic virtual careers fair. ACCESS:VFX 'Meet The Industry' kicked off with our 'What Is VFX?' session where we introduced the visual effects pipeline and the careers that exist within our industry.
We had so many questions on the webinar that we couldn't squeeze them in to the 60-minute running time, so we gathered all of your questions from the Q&A and have written this blog that we hope will answer those questions and more.
At what age can I start gaining experience in this sector? I know I want to pursue a career in the graphic design spectrum but I have no idea how to go about starting? What things can a teenager do in their free time that's useful for getting a job in VFX?
You can start gaining experience in the sector at any age! As long as you are making things (films, photography, drawing, stop motion etc.) then you are getting useful and valuable experience! However, as far as traditional work experience goes, most companies start offering that for 16 year olds and older.
There are lots of opportunities for you to learn and progress your skills in the meantime though. Some of our suggestions would include:
Access:VFX Mentoring - as long as you are age 14 or older then you can sign up for an industry mentor on our own website to assist you with career choices, portfolio development or any questions that you’re burning to ask!
Access:VFX Summer of Animation Masterclasses - make your very own animation from start to finish by following along with our masterclass videos from industry professionals
Some great app suggestions for making stop-motion animations at home:
3DAmi - join a 3DAmi animation camp in the school holidays to learn and develop your skills and to meet other like-minded young people
BFI Academy - lots of courses available for young people interested in film and visual effects careers
NextGen - find out more about college courses in visual effects, games and animation along with a range short courses in collaboration with other organisations such as the Prince’s Trust
Creative Careers - find out more about careers in the creative industries more generally and about future careers events
ScreenSkills - find out more about careers in the screen sector and about future short courses, bursaries and other support with accessing the sector
IntoFilm - lots of resources, competitions and other events for those interested in careers in film
My Kids Time - Apps available for stop-motion animation
How do you get work experience age 16?
Most studios will advertise their own work experience programmes and it is best to contact them via the contact details on their websites. However, there are also some virtual work experience programmes you could look at via Speakers for Schools and soon on the Start platform.
Is your mentoring aimed more toward building skills in specific areas of VFX, or is it a general aid in getting internships/jobs?
The Access:VFX mentoring programme can be for whatever you need! If you are looking for a mentor to help you develop your skills and give you feedback on your work then we have mentors who can help with that.
Or if you’re looking for advice and guidance on an educational/career path then we can help with that too!
Or if you’re looking for advice on how to find a job or internship and what you should do with your CV or LinkedIn profile then we can also help with that.
It really is up to you on what you need from the partnership.
As someone who would like to get into animation, what software would you recommend for a beginner?
If you’re interested in making computer generated characters/environments/objects etc. then a great place to start is Blender and there are TONS of free tutorials available on their website and on YouTube to get you started (along with our own Summer of Animation Masterclasses linked above!).
If you’re interested in compositing, graphics or editing then a good place to start is with the Adobe Creative Cloud.
Are there many apprenticeships around the UK?
Currently there are two apprenticeships available in visual effects:
You can find out more information about what you would learn on each of those apprenticeships on the Institute for Apprenticeships website at the links provided but essentially the Junior 2D Artist apprenticeship is more artistically orientated and could lead to a career in compositing and the Assistant Technical Director apprenticeship is more technically focussed and could lead to a career as a pipeline or VFX technical director.
There are more apprenticeships that we hope to bring online in 2021 in other roles such as Junior Animator, Media Production Coordinator, Junior VFX Artist and more.
At present most of the apprenticeship opportunities are located in London as that is where the majority of visual effects studios are also based. However, we hope to be able to spread apprenticeship positions further afield in 2021. Additionally, this year has taught us that physical location isn’t everything so the possibility of more remote apprenticeship opportunities is certainly something being considered.
You can find out more information about applying to the current VFX apprenticeships and register your interest in them on the NextGen website here.
If a young person wanted to get an apprenticeship as a VFX artist would you recommend an Extended Diploma in Creative technology or would A levels be acceptable…do you need to be good at maths!!?
You can do either an extended diploma (we actually recommend the NextGen one!) or A Levels - either would be absolutely fine!
If you are interested in the Junior 2D Artist, Junior Animator or Junior VFX Artist apprenticeships then maths is by no means compulsory! It’s always handy to know a little bit of maths when working with computers but you certainly don’t need to be a maths genius or whiz! ;-)
If you are interested in the Assistant Technical Director apprenticeship then a little bit more of a maths brain is helpful but you will learn a lot on the apprenticeship too so don’t panic!
What is more important - gaining certain qualifications or extra curricular experiences?
In the visual effects, games and animation industries we are not looking for specific qualifications. Your application to the industry will need to include a portfolio of work (for an artist role at least) and that is much more essential to us than a qualification. Whether you chose to develop your portfolio through formal education or personal study is entirely up to you and what suits you best.
It is always good to pursue your interest in the field outside of formal education regardless of whether you decide to pursue a certain qualification or not. Getting out with friends to make films, taking drawing or photography classes, making play-doh stop motion pieces - it doesn’t really matter what you do, just make things!
There is one thing we should mention here though and that is that one of the opportunities this industry presents is to be able to travel and work in other countries. There are centres for this industry in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, China and beyond and your career could take you to any of those places. But, you would obviously need a work visa to work abroad and most countries will require a minimum of a degree level qualification OR several years experience in industry before you would qualify. So that’s worth keeping in mind if working abroad is of interest.
I do feel as though when people say you don't need a degree, the alternative that they offer is working really hard and spending all of your free time on learning and damaging your mental health. How much work in your free time is normal to get a job in the industry? I am willing to work hard, but I never feel like I'm doing enough. 1 hour a week? 3 hours? 10? 20?
There really is no requirement from industry on how much of your time you need to spend learning. It really depends on what works for you and your career. There are lots of people who get into this industry while working in a different industry and then coming home and spending an hour or two in the evenings or a few hours at the weekends working on personal pieces which get them a job in our sector. But there are others who study on a short course full time multiple hours a day and achieve the same thing. No one rule will work for everyone. Certainly we don’t encourage people to sacrifice their mental health in order to get a foot in the door and we want all of our staff, current and future, to achieve a work life balance for themselves.
I am going to college next year. I am currently aiming to have a career in video editing in the industry. What subjects/qualifications would you recommend I study?
Our recommendation, if you want to get into animation, games or VFX, is to study the NextGen Level 3 Extended Diploma.
However, if you would prefer to study A Levels, then any combination of art subjects (art, photography, film production, textiles, design etc.), maths, science or computer science would be relevant for the industry.
What factors of engineering are used in VFX?
There are lots of engineering skills used in VFX! From computer science to data modelling, statistics to advanced physics. We might use it all! You can find out more about a couple of graduate engineers who are now VFX Supervisors in the industry in this magazine.
Is there a requirement for maths, science or comp-sci knowledge or can you go into the industry on art/design alone?
It really depends which department you end up being interested in. All of the jobs in visual effects, games and animation sit somewhere on a spectrum that has art at one end and science at the other. Different jobs fall in different places on that spectrum.
So, for example, a concept artist or character designer would sit firmly at the ‘art’ end of the spectrum and science/maths wouldn’t be a requirement for their job. However, a software developer would sit right at the other end of the spectrum where those skills would be crucial and an artistic background would be much less helpful.
That’s the great thing about the industry - if you are an artist who likes a little bit of biology or a mathematician looking for a more creative outlet for your skills or someone who likes physics AND textiles, then there is a job for you somewhere in our industry!
What are some of the leading unis that have amazing routes into jobs afterwards?
There are lots of universities that we work with so we wouldn’t want to mention all of them here! However, if you’re looking for some guidance then there are a couple of places you can find out more:
ScreenSkills - have a great resource to compare courses for the industry
The Rookies - run an annual ‘best places to study worldwide’ list that includes institutions in the UK
Do you think doing a masters could be beneficial?
This is really up to you. As we mentioned before, there is no requirement from industry to have a particular qualification or level of qualification. But if you feel you want to spend more time honing a particular skill or you’re interested in focussing on something particularly or changing direction altogether then a masters may be a really useful way to do that.
What sort of preparation advice would you give to people doing A-Levels who would wish to get into animation and film? I personally plan to go to university to study creative writing and film studies, are choices like this useful?
It all depends on what you think you want to do when you graduate. If you are looking to write scripts for animated films/TV series, then a creative writing course would be ideal. However, if you would like to be an animator or visual effects artist, then studying subjects that are more practical and graphics orientated (such as animation, graphic design, film production etc.) would be more beneficial. Having said that, we have people from all sorts of backgrounds in the industry who perhaps started by studying something like fine art or computer science and then made the move into the industry afterwards by cross training or being an apprentice. There is no ‘one’ right way into the industry!
Can you suggest any career paths for someone with a computer science background? I haven't got any art/VFX/animation experience.
There are lots of opportunities for someone with your background! Two of the key roles you might want to look at further are:
Assistant Technical Director (you can also apprentice in this role)
Is running like an internship where you don't get paid?
This is a really important question. Please do not EVER take on a job or an internship in the industry that is unpaid. That is absolutely not okay and no-one should be asking you to do that. Runners in our companies will always be paid employees.
Running is a really long-standing and important role in our companies. As a Runner you may be making coffees for clients, tidying meeting spaces, emptying bins or loading printers with paper but you will also be getting exposure to all of the departments in our business and have the opportunity to undertake training in order to progress your career in the direction you decide looks the most interesting to you. It’s a great entry point for someone who knows that this is the right industry for them but isn’t quite sure which direction to take or perhaps needs a little more time to hone their skills.
How does the Runner program work now in terms of Covid?
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, a lot of studios have had to furlough their current runners as everyone is working from home. However, we are all hopeful that we will be returning to the office in 2021 at which point we will definitely be reinstating our runner programmes so the best thing is to keep an eye out in the springtime next year for new opportunities.
Any suggestions in standing out more within the industry?
We have loads of suggestions to stand out on our podcasts that addressed this very topic! You can check them out here.
How inclusive is the industry when it comes to offering opportunities to people with disabilities such as Autism?
As an industry we are very inclusive of people who are neurodiverse. We are a creative industry and so different ways of thinking, of experiencing the world and of understanding are all really important to include in our employees as it’s what makes us really innovative and allows us to solve creative problems.
It is always useful though to declare any different ability or neurodiverse requirements at the recruitment stage as that will really enable us to make sure that we are being supportive of your particular needs as we assist you through your career. We know it can be daunting and sometimes worrying to declare these things but it absolutely won’t be held against you; quite the opposite!
How much does location tie into available opportunities and do you feel like it is becoming less of a big thing due to recent times?
Historically the majority of the VFX industry in the UK has been located in London. However, the games and animation industries are all around the country. However, as you mention, this year has really demonstrated the possibilities of remote and home working so it’s very possible that, moving forward, opportunity will be available almost anywhere that you have an internet connection. It’s a little too early to be 100% certain but it’s definitely looking like location will be less of a concern in the future.
I am wanting to go into this industry however I'm worried about the opportunities in my area. I am looking towards the south Yorkshire region.
Doncaster is actually becoming a real hotspot for film, TV and visual effects so there is LOTS of opportunity in your area! Definitely have a look at 360 degree media who are leading on the development of studio space there in addition to Doncaster College who run lots of relevant courses.
We’re sure there are lots of other opportunities in the region too that we haven’t listed here as it’s a really up and coming location for this type of work. So definitely don’t worry!
What are the opportunities for progression in your career? Can you eventually become senior management in organisations or do you have to have experience in management?
The opportunities really depend on whether you are an artist, work in production or work in a technology or support team.
As an artist the typical progression is from junior, to mid, to senior artist and then on to lead artist, potentially a head of department role or on to a CG, DFX or VFX supervisor role in the future. As a VFX Supervisor you are considered senior management on our projects and you would manage the creative delivery of our work to the client, ensuring that we are meeting their needs for their project.
Within production the typical progression is from production assistant, to coordinator, to line producer/production manager and on to producer. As a producer you work very closely with the VFX supervisor, in the senior management team on the project, to manage our work from a financial and scheduling perspective as well as handling a lot of the client negotiation and management.
Having said all of that, there are also opportunities to move into traditional ‘management’ positions from any of those roles or of course you could set up your own company too! There is certainly no requirement to have a management/business qualification but you may find, as you progress your career, that that’s something you want to do for yourself to improve your knowledge. Additionally, most studios will provide you with training/support as you progress into more managerial/team leadership positions to ensure that you understand the requirements of those roles.
If there was another pandemic or similar thing to happen would this job ensure that people wouldn’t be needing to worry about finances and redundancy? Also what would you say the average salary for an animator or production manager would be and what could it go up to?
First of all, let’s all hope that another situation like this one doesn’t happen! However, if it did then we are all definitely in a better place to be able to cope with it and hopefully the impact on the industry wouldn’t be as great as it has been this year.
Having said all of that, we can never guarantee that something on the scale of a global pandemic wouldn’t have an impact on people’s jobs and finances. Unfortunately there are very few jobs that can protect against that entirely.
During this pandemic we are pleased to say though that the games and animation industries have been absolutely thriving and booming. Aside from an initial dip while everyone figured out how to work from home, they have been as busy as they ever have. The appetite for our creative product - games, TV shows, films etc. - has, if anything, increased during this time so it’s an industry that, overall, has fared better than a lot of others in a difficult year.
Salaries in the industry vary from country to country and sometimes even from company to company. However, in general you can expect to earn well above the national average salary (which is about £35,000 per year in the UK) as an intermediate level artist and considerably more than that at manager level. The earning potential in this industry is very good. A great resource to find out more about salaries is Glassdoor where you can search based on job title or company.
What program is mainly used?
The software or tools you are asked to use will vary from studio to studio and whether you are working in visual effects, games or animation. However, there are some industry standard software that you could definitely look at:
Most software products will have a free trial or a discounted student/educational licence that you can purchase to try at home.
How do you feel the widespread availability of specialised hardware and software has improved the ability of VFX artists to collaborate, either in studio or via remote work?
It’s made a huge difference! The fact that most VFX studios have been able, in a very short space of time, to set all of their staff up to work from home this year is a real testament to the hardware and software solutions that are now available (and also to our amazing systems and technology teams of course!). The kind of widespread working from home that has happened globally for the industry this year just wouldn’t have been possible even 5 years ago.
How has virtual production and real time rendering started affecting the industry on a global viewpoint and what do you think is the future of this type of workflow?
Due to the pandemic the interest in virtual production has really taken off as it represents a real solution to creating a COVID safe production environment. We are seeing requests for this kind of workflow from clients shooting all over the world. We anticipate that this will become a key part of our tool set and workflow moving forward in addition to the work we were all already doing in the real-time space such as VR/AR/MR experiences and theme park rides.
Are there any platforms/websites that VFX companies advertise job opportunities (e.g. a lot of charities use www.charityjobs.co.uk)?
Most VFX, animation and games companies will advertise jobs on their own websites, social media channels and on LinkedIn.
However, there are some other sites that might be useful and also include other related careers in the creative industries:
Do you need to have a show reel or portfolio if you go for an entry level job or internship?
If you want to be an artist in the industry then you will definitely need a portfolio for any role that you apply to - whether that’s an apprenticeship, internship or entry level role.
What your portfolio needs to contain will vary depending on the level of role and the specific department you are applying for. At apprenticeship level we only expect to see some examples of creative things you’ve done - whether that’s video editing or drawing or photography etc. At graduate level we expect you to have a much more polished portfolio that includes examples of visual effects work in an industry standard software.
If you are interested in a job in production or another non-artist department like pipeline or RnD then it is not necessary to have a portfolio.
I've heard it's difficult to get into an entry level job without having a couple of years experience. How would you bridge the gap? I'm a graduate and have some managing experience and I’m applying to entry-level/junior roles, but most require 1-3 years experience; how would you overcome this?
Most companies have entry-level roles that do not require previous experience. Additionally most companies will have runner programmes, internships, traineeships and other ways to get a foot in the door without prior work experience.
However, if you are seeing adverts that mandate previous experience then the best thing is to look at what relevant experience you might have. Have you got some unpaid work experience that you’ve done? Did you volunteer on something? Did you make a film with some friends? All of this adds up to relevant work experience even if it wasn’t actually a paid job.
Would there be any ways to make your CV or things like LinkedIn look better when you don't have qualifications or experience for this industry?
If you don’t have any qualifications or experience but are still interested in this industry then the best thing to do is to focus on your transferable skills. Do you have team-working experience? Have you done any voluntary or personal work that is relevant? Have you delivered projects at school or in your personal life and can you demonstrate your time-keeping/organisational skills? These are all the kinds of things we would be looking for you to highlight.
We hope this answers all of your questions! If you missed 'Meet The Industry' you can catch up on the event recordings here.