When I started working in VFX in ‘95, I instantly fell in love with the industry, which was undergoing a major transition at the time, with the introduction of new tools and techniques. I remember this massive super-computer arriving at my first job; it was a brand new Autodesk Flame system, and I was enlisted to figure it out. I wasn’t provided any documentation, so I had to build a workflow from scratch. Keep in mind, search engines and online social communities didn’t exist yet, so I couldn’t lean on the Internet or other artists for help; I had to navigate the VFX process with an unfamiliar, strange new system.
Since then, I’ve worked to polish my craft significantly, serving time at a number of FX houses around the world and earning awards along the way. In 2010, I started a new journey. I began exploring what a modern VFX company might look like with my now business partner and long time collaborator, Yfat Neev. After experimenting with our business model for a few years, we finally launched The Artery VFX, a creative company specializing in high-end VFX and finishing for the entire entertainment industry. Our team has done work for brands like Nike and Mercedes-Benz, musical artists like Bob Dylan and Beyonce, and films such as The Grand Budapest Hotel.
We’re in deep with each section of the industry, and as such, we’ve seen a lot of change over the years. While only three years have passed since starting The Artery VFX, technology has significantly advanced, and our community of artists has grown more connected. The rise in popularity of social media communities has made it easy to share insight, and apprenticeships have opened up new opportunities for artists to learn and grow together.
L-R: Tal Shub, Freelance Creative (2011-present); Vico Sharabani, ECD/CEO or Right Brain; Jake Nelson, Flame Artist (Started in 2012-present).
Apprenticeship in post production is quickly becoming valuable for both new and seasoned artists. There is great power and value in being adopted by established talent and vice versa. It challenges up-and-coming artists in a controlled environment, teaches them how to take direction and ultimately impacts the way they manage, communicate and feel comfortable taking risks in the field. Mentors also learn a great deal through their interactions with apprentices and in turn, become better artists and managers. I’ve certainly benefitted from working side-by-side with talented creatives over the years as we refined our talents and went on to enjoy fulfilling careers.
RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING THROUGH APPRENTICESHIP
We tend to talk about artistry and apprenticeship in terms of targeted, measurable goals, but it’s not about spending six months to get the most out of your apprenticeship, or on the employer side, it's not about growing young talent to make quick financial gains; it really boils down to building meaningful relationships. The longer the apprentice and seasoned pro collaborate, the better they know each other, and the more value there is for both parties.
Three years ago, I got a call from Tal Shub asking to be my intern. At the time, I hadn’t even officially formed The Artery VFX, but he was familiar with my way of doing things and wanted to be a part of it. I was happy to, but what I didn’t anticipate, was how much that relationship would contribute to my personal growth and company experience. We grew together, developing a unique level of communication and support along the way, and we’re still learning from each other. In fact, Tal has since transitioned to a full time role with The Artery VFX, which encompassed far more than either of us expected. Even after The Artery VFX apprentices move on, the relationship created is enduring. To this day, I still support projects for many of my former co-workers or employees if needed and vice versa.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
If you determine an apprenticeship is the right step for you, it’s important to find a company that’s a good fit. For some, an environment where you wear multiple hats, like The Artery VFX, is exciting. For others, it’s terrifying. You have to figure out if you prefer a more rigid or flexible environment, and go from there. There is no one set of rules; it really depends on your personality.
So how do you find an apprenticeship? While you can network to find opportunities, the industry is close-knit, so talent that stands out tends to filter through to the right places. It’s actually as much about finding the right mentor as it is about being a great artist, because apprenticeship is a two-way street. Both parties should benefit from it, so your work should speak for itself from the get-go. Research studios that are doing work that you find interesting and feel your skill set would complement. Make sure you are at least somewhat familiar with tools in their pipeline, and ask around to gauge a company’s reputation and culture.
Just two years old, The Artery has already received a number of awards.
Once you’ve landed at the right place, you’ll want to dabble in a little bit of everything, because each artistic position calls for unique talents. Every new role you take on helps you become a better artist. For example, as Flame artists, we’re not just artists, but also technicians, leaders and psychologists. Having that range of skills and qualities helps make you an outstanding artist, as opposed to just an artist.
TECHNOLOGY AS A COMPLEMENTARY TOOL FOR GROWTH
While artistry and personality are essential to being a successful artist, the ability to understand how to get the most out of the technology available to you is also important. At The Artery VFX for example, we call upon Flame often, especially in sessions with clients. It’s a muscle that makes it easier for our team to quickly and creatively solve unexpected challenges, which you encounter quite often in a commercial environment. We built the company around Flame, and it’s a core part of our daily operations and execution. It also happens to be a great educational tool for our apprentices, especially those who have never used it before.
When it comes to Flame, we like to throw our apprentices into the water fast, so they can get their feet wet, but at the same time, we make sure they’re protected. If they seem frustrated, our team provides the necessary guidance, or sometimes just reminds them to take a deep breath. We want to see young artists continually challenged, but also ensure that we have the time and backup should something go wrong, so we never compromise the company, client or the job. Ultimately, the goal is to see everyone succeed and learn something along the way.
I was brought up with the school of thought that to really grasp a new concept, you need to be challenged to the point where you’re uncomfortable, and there’s merit to that. As a mentor, my job is to ensure that we maintain a good balance between making the work challenging enough to prevent boredom, but not so challenging that it discourages interest in the craft. It’s not in discovering or failing to discover an answer that you learn, but when you’re searching for an answer, that’s when you build new capabilities. I love seeing how these capabilities carry over to new endeavors, which is a big reason I value and recommend apprenticeships and collaboration overall in this industry.
Vico Sharabani is Co-Founder and Right Brain of The Artery VFX (www.thearteryvfx.com) in New York City, a creative company specializing in high-end visual effects and content creation for feature films, commercials, digital experiences, art installations and music videos. In 2013, Vico was named the first Autodesk Flame Award Winner for 20 years of accomplishments including the development of a sophisticated 3D rig within Flame’s Action.