James Hat­tin

The VFX Le­gion founder on the recipe for a great re­mote artist

3D Artist - - CONTENTS - James Hat­tin Founder of VFX Le­gion vfxle­gion.com

Re­mote VFX work is mostly egal­i­tar­ian – al­most any trained artist can do it, but the unique rigours and quirks of the ca­reer may not be right for ev­ery­one. Ready to work alone in a dark room with no one around to sup­port or talk to you? Let’s break down some of the skills you’ll need to thrive in this space.

Vis­ual ef­fects is an in­ter­est­ing field. Even when seated in an of­fice full of peo­ple, most of your fel­low em­ploy­ees plug in their head­phones and work on mak­ing the magic that we all see on the screen. How is it any dif­fer­ent at home or in a pri­vate of­fice?

Like cook­ing, study­ing a new lan­guage and any other ‘taught’ skill, VFX artistry re­quires train­ing, learn­ing and prac­tice. The best place for this is at a stu­dio with other peo­ple that you can in­stantly see, hear and col­lab­o­rate with. Hu­man-to-hu­man con­nec­tion is the best way to learn the art of vis­ual ef­fects. Find­ing a place to hang your hat for a while and pick up some tricks is al­ways the best way to go. once you have a rea­son­able skill set, that’s when you can look out for re­mote op­por­tu­ni­ties.

There’s a sopho­moric hurdle that ex­ists in al­most every artist’s way, and in my ex­pe­ri­ence, it takes six to ten years of ex­pe­ri­ence to re­ally get over it. Here’s an ex­am­ple: a su­per­vi­sor sug­gests the best way to ac­com­plish a task, but the cocky artist tunes out and con­sid­ers his or her own way to do it. if the end re­sult is the artist lock­ing eyes with the su­per­vi­sor and say­ing, “oh, i know a bet­ter way. i’ll do it my way,” then that artist isn’t ready for re­mote work.

Al­most all artists go through this stage, un­less they are brought up from early in their ca­reer in a larger shop with a pos­i­tive cul­ture. The shop-hop­ping, ju­nior-artist-turned-mid-level-artists tend to get cocky with their skills and knowl­edge. This is the wall that one must get over to work well with other peo­ple, in­clud­ing su­per­vi­sors and fa­cil­ity own­ers. Ex­pe­ri­ence is great, but hu­mil­ity is even bet­ter.

My own ex­pe­ri­ence was land­ing at ILM while still full of my­self. i had weekly ‘talk­ing-to’s by my com­posit­ing su­per­vi­sor. i lacked the kind of hu­mil­ity that they embrace there, and it wasn’t un­til very late in the project i started to truly ‘get it’. i re­gret lit­tle in my life, but be­ing cocky at that time and place wasn’t ideal. i left there very bro­ken from an artis­tic stand­point… but also ready to learn, look at my own work crit­i­cally, and ac­cept new in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple. i logged a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore i broke out of be­ing a ‘mid-level’ artist in both skill and mind­set. once an artist has the re­quired skills and ex­pe­ri­ence in the craft, it’s time to think about the con­sid­er­able tech­nol­ogy needed to ex­e­cute re­mote VFX work.

Many of the artists at VFX Le­gion have very ca­pa­ble machines at their dis­posal. Most have their own soft­ware li­cences as well. A pro­fes­sional re­mote artist will bring his or her own set of tools into the equa­tion.

For much of what Le­gion does, hav­ing a solid state RAID or M.2 drive on the moth­er­board is the holy grail to work­ing at speeds much greater than are pos­si­ble in a fa­cil­ity. Most artists also have at least one strong nvidia graph­ics card to take ad­van­tage of the CUDA cores in nuke and

Maya, as well as speed up ren­ders in Redshift. For artists that re­motely con­nect via Teradici or Re­mote Ac­cess, a beast of a ma­chine isn’t re­ally needed – but a solid in­ter­net con­nec­tion is.

Artists out in the world should al­ways be able to move around a bunch of files or ac­tive video streams from thin or zero clients. not ev­ery­one is cut out to be a re­mote artist. There’s a level of or­gan­i­sa­tion and self-start­ing that is needed to keep some­one on task.

The tran­si­tion from a fa­cil­ity – with a screening room, a su­per­vi­sor nearby and the chance to it­er­ate un­til the shot is right – can be daunt­ing.

Re­mote jobs re­quire more fin­ished work out of the gate, and there are fewer rounds of notes and less ‘ex­plo­ration’ of ideas. There sim­ply isn’t the band­width and sched­ule much of the time. Much of the work that is han­dled re­motely ben­e­fits from a solid un­der­stand­ing of what needs to be done, and an ex­act­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of a given tech­nique.

Like any job, re­mote work has its own ob­sta­cles and lim­i­ta­tions. But for the right artist – a re­source­ful, bound­lessly-mo­ti­vated VFX ma­chine who can con­tend with the emo­tional and tech­no­log­i­cal de­mands of the gig – it can bring im­mense re­wards and sat­is­fac­tion.

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