I consider myself lucky to hold the career I have, bringing together my love of art and entertainment into the VFX industry, and seizing growth and learning opportunities to collaborate with industry legends, all before the age of 30. I knew from the moment I settled into the creative ecosystem of Emerson College that this is the field where I wanted to channel my creativity and challenge my output. It truly is an honor to be trusted by some of the top visionaries in entertainment and partner with them to elevate their art.
However settled into my career path I may be now, I didn’t exactly have the most predictable of beginnings. For starters, I wasn’t born in the US. I’m from Accra, the capital of Ghana, a beautiful metropolis shining off the Atlantic coast of West Africa. Luckily, Accra also happens to be the commercial capital of the country, full of bustling culture. I quickly took to entertainment and arts as a child, inspired by the films that my mother would bring back from the United States — from The Lion King and Aladdin to Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, I ultimately knew I wanted to tell stories. I consider Accra my hometown, but life threw me another, albeit fortuitous, curveball: my family and I moved to Windsor, Connecticut, when I was nine. While much closer to the city I call my current home, it felt exciting then to live in a new place. At the same time, it was challenging to realize I was now an outsider, and that I would have to learn about a new culture and change to fit into a new community.
After earning a BFA in Animation and Motion Media from Emerson, I knew I wanted to devote myself to storytelling and captivating visuals in some capacity over the course of my creative work. I was fortunate to land a gig with Brickyard VFX while finishing my degree, and then with Smoke & Mirrors soon after. By the time I earned a position with MPC, I had already built a diverse reel of work across multiple genres and mediums. It was also my first exposure to supervising, and I had the chance to bid on and execute work as a Flame artist, working on commercials for brands like Kayak, Adidas, CNBC, Chase, Google, Walmart, IHOP, BMW, Cadillac and many others.
Joining Alkemy X this year as VFX supervisor, I was excited to get to work in my first official supervisory role. But with this opportunity came a multitude of unexpected challenges that went far past a tight deadline or last minute change. It goes without saying that this year hasn’t been what anyone would refer to in business as “usual”. Despite its struggles, the entire team at Alkemy X rallied together to not only translate our technical pipeline to be entirely virtual over two days, but also foster a stronger sense of community and a new appreciation for the line of work we are so lucky to do. We’ve been able to seamlessly continue our collaboration with all clients, and most recently I’ve been overseeing VFX for the upcoming series Power Book III: Raisin Kanan on Starz, launching in 2021.
Beyond the dynamic collaborations I’ve been fortunate to pursue at Alkemy X, I’ve continued to give a deliberate focus on sparking long-term industry growth and change, both in terms of craft and the imperative area of diversity and inclusion. I was proud to collaborate with CAA on the Instagram campaign “All Black Lives Matter”, to share the need for action against injustice, starring Black celebrities, including Dwayne Wade, Jamie Foxx, Gabrielle Union, will.i.am and Janet Mock.
In my free time outside of all that, whatever that means for me day-to-day, I host the “Legends of VFX” podcast, a fun endeavor I recently launched to interview top names in VFX on both industry news and current events. Autodesk caught wind of the podcast and actually reached out to join forces, which was exciting. We have since produced a collab episode, and I participated on a panel for the Autodesk Vision Series.
In addition to visual effects, I’ve been able to flex some of my other filmmaking muscles while working on my upcoming documentary film Born Ben. I was able to raise $26,000 on Kickstarter for the project, which spotlights Ben — who has cerebral palsy — and his quest to become the first college basketball coach with a disability.
A new job and new initiatives certainly made my year busy, bookended by the coronavirus pandemic and the unique challenge of onboarding into a new role and continuing work remotely. Certainly, there’s a lot to admonish about 2020 on a global scale, from the virus to social upheaval.
Looking ahead, I see our industry reshaping into a more inclusive and meaningful space for creating impactful stories. The pandemic has helped shine a light on our weaknesses as a country and as a industry, but I know it will lead us towards lasting change, and that we’ll resume normalcy and emerge into a more positive and fruitful 2021.
Bilali Mack is a VFX Supervisor with Alkemy X (www.alkemy-x.com), which has locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Amsterdam.