For more than 20 years I have worked in the VFX and animation industry as a VFX compositor. My work in film, animation, television and commercials has taken me around the world and back again, working at studios large and small.
Throughout my career, I have worked on notable projects, such as Tron Legacy,
X-Men First Class,
Man of Steel,
The Hobbit trilogy,
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,
Smurfs: The Lost Village and
Mitchells vs. The Machines. Now, I have joined fellow renowned artists at Spire Animation Studios as compositing supervisor.
Although there are many different paths one can take to break into the industry, I have taken my own experience and observations to highlight a few pointers for aspiring artists. Starting with the most obvious: Networking.
Almost all industries, especially entertainment and film, weigh heavily on who you know. However, your connections will only get you so far before your work lands the opportunities. Making “friendlies” is very important and can help you secure an interview, but your talent is what builds your reputation. In fact, my first job after film school was as a production assistant on Sister Act 2, which I got through a friend from college.
Credit: Century Goddess
Networking may lead to a variety of opportunities and it is crucial to be open minded to all. This is not the time to be picky. Remember, nothing is exactly what you want when you’re starting out. You have to be willing to pivot from what you think you should be doing and what you may end up doing. Take whatever you can get because you will learn a lot about yourself and your talents that may be extremely useful. When initially starting out, I had no idea I was going to become a compositor, but being open to trying different things was the best decision I ever made for my career.
In animation, you are working with a group of individuals with different backgrounds, levels of experience and overall design styles. Together, you work on a single project, which means your work will be reviewed by diverse, more experienced eyes. My opinion was never the only one in the room and I had to become very flexible to the feedback I was given on my work, even if I thought nothing needed to be changed.
When you are just starting out, you may experience more constructive feedback than you’d like. The best thing you can do is remain flexible to the notes you are given. Feedback is nothing personal. Working on a team is a collaborative effort, not a solo project. You have to be willing to accept the notes and figure it out from there. Don’t waste your time and energy fighting constructive criticism. I always say, “Okay, no problem. I will go figure it out,” even if I don’t know where to start. That’s where your fellow colleagues come into play. Throw your pride to the side and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It's the best way to learn and grow in this industry.
Credit: Century Goddess
Now, that’s not to say the experts know everything. There’s always something to learn in this industry, and the best place to start is your education. Whether it be through online classes, seminars or in-class courses. My favorite class in film school was “Film Theory.” When watching films before the class, I hadn't thought that much about why a director chose the angle or framing of a shot, or the color palette for certain scenes and how it creates the mood and your response. Courses like these helped mold my artistic persona and expand my creative mind beyond what I’d imagined.
Furthering your education will help lay the foundation of your career by nailing down the basics and establishing connections along the way. It’s a great way to surround yourself with like-minded individuals who you may collaborate with on future projects and opportunities. Remember, it was because of these connections that I even started my animation career after film school.
As a mother of three, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue a career in entertainment if I wanted to be a parent. However, I quickly learned the importance of “work-life balance.” Being in this industry for as long as I have, the biggest and most common thing I have witnessed are the countless people who burn out early in their careers because they’re not taking care of themselves. I believe by adopting this “workaholic” style, you’re actually harming your professional success in the long run. You’re no good to anyone if you haven't slept, don’t eat right and don’t take care of yourself.
Credit: Century Goddess
You don’t have to give up your life just to be successful. In fact, in order to be successful, you must hold on to that part of you that is still human. By doing so, I have felt more well-rounded than I ever have in both life and work. This is a creative industry, so if you don’t have a life outside of work, then it’ll be much more challenging to draw creativity from lack of experiences.
Throughout my career I have mentored many aspiring artists in VFX and animation. Although given from one perspective, my insight is derived not only from my personal experiences, but it is also based on the overall challenges that I see people in my industry face. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect because the world of animation is beautifully messy. Let your imagination run wild and don’t be afraid to experiment. Some of the greatest features that have gone down in animation history were built through experimentation. You’ll never know if your idea could be the next great feature if you don’t take a leap of faith.
Robyn Crane is a Compositing Supervisor at Spire Animation Studios (https://spirestudios.com), which has production hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Mumbai. The company uses Unreal Engine to develop feature animation, with Trouble marking its first project.