Blog: How To Break Into VFX

Posted By Marc Loftus on November 14, 2019 10:55 am | Permalink
NEW YORK CITY - Foundry ( and AccessVFX ( teamed up with the School of Visual Arts (SVA) to present a networking event designed to provide students with advice on how to break into the visual effects industry. The two-hour event took place at SVA in NYC and featured a number of speakers, as well as a classroom full of students pursuing careers in VFX.

Foundry's Sarah Leavitt kicked off the event. She serves as head of education and creative services at Foundry, and manages its education program. After showing a reel of work created by Foundry customers, the like of whom include studios such as Blur, Dneg, Mr. X, Ingenuity, Juice and SpinVFX, Leavitt took some time to introduce Foundry's products. Foundry, says Leavitt, works to "bridge the real and virtual world seamlessly" by providing products that speed quality and the user experience. Foundry's products include Nuke - well known for compositing in the film business - as well as the Mari paint and texturing tool, to name a few. 

While there may be a perception, says Leavitt, that Foundry's tools are only used on film projects, she pointed out that digital design is an equal part of the company's business, and that there are lots of opportunities for young talent outside the film business, particularly in New York City, where SVA is located.

Foundry offers students a free, one-year subscription to all of their tools, without any restrictions, making it very easy for those with an interest in the VFX business to get their hands on professional-quality tools. After the free year, students can sign up for an annual license at a greatly-reduced rate compared to a commercial license. Foundry, she adds, offers discounts on licensing even after students complete their studies. In addition, there is lots of learning material available for those looking to gain further knowledge beyond the classroom.

Foundry's creative specialist DJ Matias, who spent time as a compositor at Legend3D, was next at the podium and provided insight into some of the best practices that compositing artists should become familiar with. Foundry, says Matias, polled numerous studio customers about what they want their junior artists to know, and shared their feedback.

Matias discussed script organization and habits, the visual language of working in Nuke, how to arrange nodes and pipes, and the importance of meta data flowing through a pipeline. He touched on the ideas of being able to QC scripts; modualization - the act of separating script into sections; script management; bounding box management; the flow of channels in Nuke; generating profiles; working with multichannel EXRs; using postage stamps; and filtering.

Becoming skilled in best practices, he says, can help a junior artist stand out.

AccessVFX's Ryan Penny followed, explaining the cross-company initiative that promotes diversity and inclusion in the VFX space. AccessVFX held its first networking event back in June. The SVA event marked its second and they have plans to have similar events in the future. Beyond in-person events, AccessVFX also has a mentoring program that students - or mentors - can participate in by registering on their site ( Students can sign up and create a profile that details the segment of the VFX industry that they are hoping to work in. The Slack channel will then match them with a mentor, who could be based anywhere throughout the world. Those who'd like to serve as mentors are also encouraged to register. The program began in the UK, and now with Foundry's support, is working to expand to the US and Canada. Those who'd like to contact the AccessVFX team in New York can reach them at

Zoic Studios' ( Tehmina Beg closed the event, spending 30 minutes detailing her indirect route to the world of VFX, taking questions and providing career advice. Beg is currently an on-set VFX supervisor/CG supervisor for Zoic in New York City. She recounted her past as a creative child, if not terribly technical, and how she went to school for computer science and programming, ultimately securing a job at a software security company and later a web design agency. The position, however, didn't satisfy her creative desires, so she decided to go back to school and was accepted into NYU, where she continued her studies and took advantage of her teachers' connections with the local VFX business here in New York.

She attended an alumni event and met a creative director at Psyop, whom she was able to show some of her homework and receive feedback - because she didn't have a reel at that point. She later secured an internship at Mass Market, where she met a steady stream of freelancers coming in and out. Her connections led to a perma-lance job at The Mill, and afterwards she freelanced - by her count - at 20 different studios over the following years.

"Freelancing can be tough because you don't have a focus," she explains. "However, jumping between studios gives you flexibility and makes you agile." Her different experiences allowed her to work with different pipelines, with different people, on varying projects and timelines.

In 2014, after a stretch of freelancing, she got a job at a post studio that wanted to do their own in-house VFX work. Her teacher was the VFX supervisor there, and he brought her on as an artist and on-set assistant. Ultimately, her goal was to work on-set, and her current role at Zoic has allowed her to do just that, first as an assistant, and more recently as a supervisor. To date, she has supervised 10 shows and credits the studio's work on The Defenders as a career highlight, as she served as on-set supervisor from start to finish.

After detailing her career path, Beg offered a number of observations that young artists should keep in mind when starting out:

- Get to know people. Attend networking events. You never know who you're going to meet.
- Be technical, even if you want to work on the creative side. Technical skills will give you many advantages, and there is a lot of room for technical people in the VFX industry.
- Be a self starter. Don't wait for work to come to you. If you finish one task, ask if you can help elsewhere.
- Have good communication skills. This can mean asking for clarity if you don't understand something, or making sure you've been thorough when passing on information to your producers and artists.
- Be patient. People struggle with feedback they don't like. Don't be upset by it. Try not to get frustrated when working on a team.
- Be easy to work with. Be a person that other people want to work with.
- Learn Python and how it relates to Nuke.
- Understand the difference between 'working' and 'workflow'. Understand the concept of efficiencies, and know when you have time to develop workflows and when a job needs to get done quickly.
- Teach yourself. There are lots of Website and social media platforms that share knowledge.

Beg also shared some advice she received while in school and just starting out in a new field. One tip is to go to school in the city you want to work in. Those schools tend to have contacts with the local visual effects studios and can aid in placement and internships. Another tip is to ask yourself where you want to be in five years? Then, don't be intimidated by the struggle you might face during that time period, just put your head down and power through it, knowing that it's working toward a larger goal.

When asked by a student if she had any regrets of her own, Beg pointed to her time as a programmer. She feels she might have spent too much time in that role, but ultimately, it made her a better artist.