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