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Visual Effects Case Study

Charles Dockerill, Junior 2D Apprentice | April 2017


Coming from a background in art, Charles is one of the NextGen Skills Academy's apprentices, currently working at The Mill.

Can you tell our members what inspired you to enter VFX?

As a kid I grew up watching star wars, the behind the scenes footage and how they produced the old school special effects. I had always been a fan of Sci-Fi and the idea of being able to create the unknown, something not real and make it look realistic, was really exciting. I started out thinking, how is this stuff even made, so it was curiosity really that lead me down this path. I enjoyed art and discovered more 3D and visual effects software and started teaching myself. With any art you need to push yourself in your own time, you can’t just rely on schooling. 

I left college in 2014 and after that I got into an art course at Central St Martins but I dropped out. It was a weird decision at the time but it lead me more towards VFX. I then took a Visual FX course at the Met Film School and that really helped hone in my knowledge of the tools. After that I was doing some small freelance stuff, then I noticed the VFX apprenticeship. 

How did you find out about the Next Gen Academy?

I follow a lot of the VFX companies on twitter, then I saw one day that Framestore had posted this thing and I thought I’ll give it a shot. I wasn’t expecting anything, but then a month down the line I received an email from Amy at Framestore inviting me to an interview. 

What did you include in your portfolio for your Next Gen application?

My portfolio at the time I applied was more about matchmove because I was doing a few freelance things at the time. It’s where you recreate the exact movements of the real camera in software like 3DEqualizer/Maya so 3DArtists can place CG elements in the world and add animation etc. But I had two shots where I did two mini VFX shots from start to finish. So I shot something, tracked it and made a model that I animated and then composited it in, so I showed some skills in all avenues of VFX.  It’s good to be able to show you have an understanding of the whole pipeline.

What advice would you have for anyone thinking of applying for 2017?

When it comes to CVs and telling companies all about yourself, I think it’s key to not overthink it. Keep it brief but have some key points about yourself. It's much more important to tell employers about situations where you gained key skills rather than just stating that you are a 'team worker'.

Is there any software you could recommend for those who have an interest in VFX, especially if you are just starting out. What software did you use?

Back in the day there were things like Blender, which is a free 3D software and all the Adobe products. But nowadays, all the industry standard tools are free for non commercial use. So you can get Nuke, which is the compositing software, complete with tutorials. You can get Maya (Student edition) free also. For compositing it’s mainly Nuke for film and commercials. For commercials they sometimes use Flame, but you can't really get access for that unless you work in a company. If you are interested in character and creature creation, software like ZBrush and Mudbox are industry standard.

If you are used to After Effects, there are plenty of jobs out there for it, however if you want to stay relevant to compositing Nuke is the way to go.

Can you tell our subscribers about the role of Junior 2D artist?

At The Mill, depending on the job, a lot of the junior 2D work for the apprentices is mainly roto. Further down the line, in about three months you get given more advanced things like paint. I guess it really varies from company to company, but if you show you can do something they will assign you that work. So if you are continually improving the type of work you you're asked to do gets better and better.

Could you tell us a bit about paint and roto?

So say an compositor wanted to colour correct a certain part of the image they would ask you for a roto, which is an animated shape, which can be a person or an object, that separates the background from the foreground. It sounds quite tedious but actually but it’s quite fun. It’s the more technical part of the role but to be a good compositor you have to able to do good paint and roto as part of the job. So if you master the technical skills, you can then let your artistic skills come through afterwards where you’re not held back by the technical side of the job. 

Roto isn’t completely technical because you are trying to match the animation of a shape and you have to, not necessarily know about animation, but you have to be a problem solver.

What was your first day like?

My first day I arrived at 10 am and HR showed me around and then Henry, who's my talent manager, introduced me to a few people I might be working with. Then I was introduced to my main mentor, and he said ‘show me what you can do’. So he gave me a shot and said ‘do something with it’, so I just play around with it. I guess it was to see how the journey was going to start, because I could have known zero or I could have known loads, so it would have been pointless me starting somewhere they had already set out. 

Are you supervised by the mentors at all times?

I have one main mentor but the person who helps me out is the lead artist who is assigned to the job I’m working on at the time. Mainly because in commercials, in the building there can be six jobs going on at the same time and the mentor has to do their job at the same time. Obviously you can go and ask whoever you want, but it’s usually the lead artist who will help you out. 

How have you found the relationship between the classroom and the work environment?

It feels a bit odd going back to college after working so much. At the start they were introducing us to Nuke, but I had experience of using it before, so at the start it was a nice refresher. After a few months though your learning from the best in the industry. All the 2D and TD apprentices meet up every few months at college but we also meet up for lunch and meet up after work. It’s so important being social within the industry, all the VFX companies in London are within a three mile radius of each other so you’re bound to bump into people you know. It’s good to be friendly and a good person in general.

If you could recommend one book/website/publication about the VFX industry what would it be and why?

You don’t have to go out and buy loads of books straight away the internet is crazy these days. You can learn a lot via the internet, you just have to be willing to search for it. YouTube is a really good resource. Website’s like Art Station, a lot of it is concept and illustration but you will find artists who are in the VFX or games industry, and many of them have personal sites you can find through Art Station. On their personal sites they have lots of free resources, it could be photoshop brushes or actual tutorials as well. Fxguide is also a nice resource/news site.

What advice would you give to the school leavers, graduates, career changers who want to get into VFX, and what advice would you give to anyone wanting to take the same path as you? 

I would say don’t jump to any decisions right away. When your younger, finishing A-Levels or GCSE’s don’t hone in on one skill yet because it might limit you in the future. If you are doing art, history, all these things, I wouldn’t just drop it to do VFX, the industry is always changing so keep your options open. 

If you're able to design something, that’s a skill that’s never going to go away. Obviously, you can apply that to visual effects, designers design motion graphics, they design looks, 3D modelers design models, so once you have that skill it never leaves you. 

Another thing I would say is don’t be too focused on the tools at the moment, because the tools are always changing. Two years ago the VFX industry weren't using the tools they are now, so try and figure out the skills, the artistic skills. Look at composition, colour theory, foundation art basically. You’ll be surprised how much you can apply because it’s a visual art at the end of the day.  My last tip would be to start delving into Photography, as this can help with understanding real world lightning. 

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