Finding your first job can be a humbling experience, particularly for those who have grand ideas of creating video, film and animated projects upon graduation. The right schooling is important, but attitude and ambition also has a lot to do with achieving success in securing a paid position.
The four recent graduates we spoke to this month were fortunate enough to get their foot in the door at post production studios. They recalled their experiences at school and later in looking for work, including the interview process and how they ultimately landed a job.
Did their schooling prepare them for the “real world”? Read on…
Greg Paparatto grew up in New Jersey and attended high school in Palo Alto, CA. After graduating, he headed to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, where he pursued his life-long interest in film and later, animation.
It was at a SCAD job fair that he got to meet some of the team from Click 3X in New York City. That later led to an internship as a generalist/3D artist and he was put right to work assisting members of the Click 3X 3D department by providing 3D modeling and texturing for whomever in the department needed an extra hand.
One of his first projects was animating a blooming flower for a music video. His SCAD training gave him a firm foundation, but there was still a lot to learn. “There was a little bit of a: ‘holy cow, I don’t know what I am doing,’ but SCAD was great and gave me a great base knowledge and introduction to a lot of programs,” he notes. “Obviously, getting into the industry, it’s a whole new beast. It’s great because you learn on your feet. Everyone is willing to impart their knowledge on you.”
Beyond the tools, the internship taught Paparatto how to work efficiently and hit deadlines. He also kept his eye out for paid positions, visiting industry Websites to look for openings. Those efforts led to an interview at Fluid (http://fluidny.com), the Manhattan studio he currently calls home.
Paparatto recalls the interview process: “They requested a resume and reel. Then I came in for a first interview and talked generally about what my technical skills were and my reel.” After about a week, he received a call for a second interview, and got to meet some of studio’s talent.
Currently at Fluid, he’s a junior Flame artist and graphics visual effects artist, where he gets to work on commercials, music videos and even features. “Being it’s a smaller facility, I get exposure to a lot of different things,” he notes. “And getting to learn Flame is awesome, because it’s one of the most powerful tools in the industry for compositing and graphics work. Flame is hard to get your hands on outside a dedicated room. At school, we had things like Nuke and After Effects, so you have a basic knowledge of workflow and compositing, but the first time I got to sit down with Flame was when I got here.”
In the few months since joining Fluid, Paparatto has worked on a music video featuring Cold Play and Rihanna that plays on tour, along with end credits for the upcoming feature, Hot Flashes.
The studio also regularly works on commercials for Nationwide, and recently created graphics for client Red Stripe.
Michelle Ambruz says she fell in love with Apple’s Final Cut Pro while attending digital video summer camps while in high school. “That’s when I decided it was something I would love to do,” she says of her interest in editing and storytelling.
After high school she went on to Brown University, where she studied Modern Culture and Media, giving her a background in media theory and media practice. “You do a lot of reading about series of images, film analysis… you also have a lot of production classes, and have digital arts, computer stuff, film. It’s a pretty well-rounded program.”
Ambruz says her goal coming out of school was to find a position that was both creative and technical at the same time. “I like being hands-on,” she states. “And that’s reinforced by the production side of things. I am a visually-oriented person and like creative — that’s what drew me to the industry as a whole.”
Brown’s Modern Culture and Media program, she says, “was less about producing professional images or films, and more about being able to express something as a film, a video, or a story.”
An “intro to video” class gave her experience with cameras. Other subjects included TV Theory and TV Production. Her final year’s assignments were pretty open, allowing her to pursue personal areas of interest.
“My last year of college, I discovered more on the production side of things, and the process from beginning to end,” she recalls. “I fell in love with the elements of cinematography. I did some DP work on a couple of different films, and that was a lot of fun… Our last year, we got a bunch of new tools and used them in production classes. We got Canon 7Ds and a bunch of Zoom recorders. We had film cameras too — 8mm. There were a lot of different tools that we could play around with.”
When she graduated in May of 2011, she continued her part-time work at The Jacob Burns Film Center, a non-profit educational and cultural institution in Pleasantville, NY, not far from her home, where she worked as a counselor and helped teach kids video production skills. She also spent time browsing online job postings, which is how she met Goldcrest Post editor Katie Hinsen, who was looking for intern to help with a feature documentary. The project ended up being on hold, but Hinsen recommended Ambruz for an internship at the studio. When the facility’s film scanner left on short notice, she was given a chance to quickly learn the ArriScan system and fell into an important role.
“They told me, ‘Drop whatever you are doing. You are no longer an intern. You are a film scanner,’” she recalls. She had just four days to learn the scanner’s functions.
The film scanning business at the studio has busy and slow times. One of her first projects was scanning 35mm footage for a film called The Girl, which was later finished at the studio. She’s also done pin-registered scans for studios working on VFX sequences. During slower times, Goldcrest will scan some of its own work for restoration, as is the case with the studio’s current work on the 1991 animated feature Rock-a-Doodle.
“The scanner does a lot,” she says of her experience “There’s a program called Digital Ice — it uses infrared to detect dust and dirt, and gets rid of some of that in the scan itself. We also have the Dark Energy system, that can do a lot of powerful image processing.”
Six months into her first position, Ambruz has this to say to those just getting out of school: “There is a period of this weird existential crisis when people graduate, and they say, ‘Well I want to be a filmmaker, but where do I start?’ I think the thing to do is start anywhere. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities that you never expected. I didn’t even know what video engineering was.”
She also stresses the importance of internships, noting that employers will take notice of those who are not afraid to do what she calls grunt work. “It’s the reality of it. It was a little disconcerting when I started because most post production internships that I had done before, there was actual editing involved. I think that hinders a lot of people. If they give you something to do and if you are willing to do it and make every effort to do things well, people take notice. And that will get you farther.”
Mo Ghayour has been with Trollback + Company (www.trollback.com) for a little over a year, following his graduation from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Coming out of high school, he had an interest in graphic design and animation, so he enrolled in a motion graphics program at the institution with a goal of ultimately working on broadcast design, television commercials or title sequences.
While in school, he frequented industry job boards, keeping an eye out for job openings. “I saw a listing for a designer and animator, and applied, and ended up getting called back,” he recalls of the Trollback position. “We went through talks and the logistics of the whole transition, and it worked out that I was their first choice.”
While Ghayour did an internship back where he lived in Northern Virginia during a winter break, the Trollback gig was really his entree into the professional workforce. “It was great going straight from graduation, and the next week I moved to New York.”
He describes the interview process, much of which was conducted online: “They want to see if [they] can actually see you being here — creating and having the same views about work. On the Website, I had all my work up and a cut reel, and what I wanted to do post-college. The process was a lot [about] finding similarities between the company and my personal work.”
Communication was done via email, phone calls and Skype with two Trollback creative directors.
As it turns out New York was his first choice for a location to start his post college career. He was hired in June of 2011 as a junior designer and animator.
“At that level we do logo explorations, and little end tags, like for MasterCard. I did boarding out for pitches,” he says. “It was great coming here because there’s a wonderful art director who threw me to wolves to get my feet wet. They knew I was an entry-level position and they helped and taught me things along the way.”
Ghayour says he was well prepared coming out of SCAD, but there were still things he needed to learn and processes that school didn’t go into in depth. “The technical things: delivery and things that school could never really show, like clients and that stuff. It’s a wonderful work environment here, so everyone was really helpful and would show me.”
He was skilled in Maxon’s Cinema 4D application coming out of school, but not in Maya, which is another tool in Trollback’s arsenal. “They definitely add to your skill set at the beginning, and the challenges are — whether you use Maya or Cinema 4D — to achieve the right solution. There’s people here to help you.
One of the first projects he got to contribute to was a sports graphics pitch for the upcoming season of Soccer on Fox. “I had my own direction and look, and it was going to be pitched with multiple looks,” he explains. He also helped on designs for a major re-brand for Swedish TV network, SVT, which included four channels.
“It’s very diverse,” he says of the studio’s work. “You get your hands on a lot of stuff.”
Estefania “Fanny” Acuna graduated from the Vancouver Film School’s digital design program back in April and was able to find a position not long after graduation. Acuna is originally from Mexico City. She graduated from a four-year program with a communications degree and later worked for an advertising agency. And it was at DDB Mexico that she decided to improve her design skills. After doing some research, she applied to VFS.
“I started looking at different schools around the world, and I heard about VFS and their program. That’s why I joined them,” she recalls.
She participated in a one-year intensive program that allowed her to work on her design skills, and got her thinking about the design process. By her final term, she was being prepared for interviews and had a portfolio that she could present.
Initially, she took part in an internship at Wantering, a start-up that made use of many of her final designs. She continued looking for work in the design arena and came across Vancouver-based design firm, Creative Engine (www.creative-engine.ca) online.
“I contacted them and I got a call back,” she notes. Acuna sent a link to her personal Website (www.eacuna.com), which made it easy for prospective employers to see her portfolio. That led to an interview, and ultimately, a paid position as Creative Engine’s Web designer.
“During the interview, we talked about my background, what I like to do, and what I’d like to do in the future,” she explains. “I took my iPad and showed my portfolio and explained the projects in person, which I think is pretty important. After the interview, I got a job offer.”
At press time, she had been with the design firm for just two weeks, but was already working on a project for clothing store Wear Else. “Basically, what we’re doing for the company is a rebranding, because they want to go for a younger audience,” Acuna explains. “We are going to launch a fashion look book, there’s a logo change, a color palette change, and the new Website will be launching in about a week.”
She feels that patience and persistence was the key to finding her first position in a competitive design field. “I’ve found that in Vancouver, it is a big city, but because there are a lot of design graduates, there is a lot of competition. You have to be prepared to be patient, and try to get your work out there as much as you can — send it to as many places as you can — but remember to be patient, and you will get a job.”
The interview preparation that she learned also played an important role. “I’ve heard that in a lot of interviews, half of the battle is personality, and having a positive attitude about work ethic,” she notes. “What I really liked about VFS is that in the last term [they] helped us prepare for it.” This included resume writing, portfolio presentation and even how to answer a range of interview questions.