How to land a career in VFX

Josh Parks, a 22-year old Roto prep artist at MPC, offers an insight into his education at the University of Hertfordshire and shares how he landed a job in London's VFX hub!

Josh Parks, a 22-year old Roto prep artist at MPC, offers an insight into his education at the University of Hertfordshire and shares how he landed a job in London's VFX hub!

Image credit: Rewind FX

3dtotal: Hi Josh, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Can you start us off with a little info about your current role in the VFX industry?

Josh: At the moment Im currently working at MPC as part of their Comp academy program which they run. It consists of an 18 month program in which you spend 6 months working in their roto department, 6 months in prep and the last 6 months in compositing; with the programs purpose to fast-track you into a compositing role. Im currently 3 and a bit months into the roto section and loving every minute of it.

A shot from a short film that I worked on while at Rewind FX - Image credit: Rewind FX

3dt: And how did you land that role can you explain how it all started and how your VFX degree helped you secure the position?

Josh: At the end of my second year at university I had an interview for the 3 month summer compositing internship that MPC run.

Unfortunately I didn't get the place, but Doug Larmour (the Global Head of Compositing) said to keep in touch as they ran a scheme called comp academy in which there would be two places soon after I graduated.

With this in mind, a few weeks later I was offered an internship at an awesome boutique company called Rewind FX. The company was smaller, which meant I was given opportunities that I wouldnt be given at the larger VFX houses, such as helping supervise on sets and interacting with clients, as well as being given some hero shots on projects, which I am incredibly grateful for.

Image credit: Rewind FX

Despite it being a small company, I was working with a compositor whod worked at Cinesite and another who had previously worked at Method. The time at the studio really helped me to mature as an artist and learn the ins and outs of the industry. Looking back at it, it all worked out for the best.

After my summer internship ended, throughout my third year, with what Doug had told me in mind, I emailed him my work every few months and asked for feedback, as well as also emailing various other compositors within the industry. I made it my main goal to secure one of the two places that there were on the comp academy scheme, as it was such an amazing opportunity.

3dt: How did you originally get into VFX? What was the starting motivation for you in this area? We heard something about a short film at school?

Josh: Looking back at it now, I dont know how I didnt discover a love for VFX sooner than I did. I have always had an interest in art and technology, with a love for mucking around in Photoshop since I was 12, which I was introduced to by my cousin who one evening created a mash-up of mine and my sister's faces. Although, as you mentioned, what made me start looking into studying VFX was a stopframe short film that some friends and I had the opportunity to help in making when I was in my second-to-last year at school.

One of the Fable tutorials I worked on - Image credit: Rewind FX

The project was part of the local animation festival that is ran by a really cool local company called Animate and Create. We were all studying photography but none of us had any experience in animation. We were set the challenge of creating a short film in the style of street artist Blu, who does weird and wonderful stopframe animation on brick walls along the theme of transformation. I loved every minute of the experience, plus the realization of just how much you could cheat in camera excited me. The film then went on to win a few awards in the local animation festival, as well as going on to win an award at both Leeds film festival as well as the Brighton festival, which is way more than any of us thought we would win as we were just happy to be able to take part.

Unfortunately I could only attend the local festival. However, seeing the other films, I became increasingly interested in the area, wanting to know how artists had created their work. It was after this that I started to look into studying VFX as we had been helped by an artist who was already making a living out of the art, and another who had just finished studying within the area.

A still from the London dungeons advertisement that I worked on

"I decided to specialize in photography (so) I started acquiring the eye of a compositor before I even knew what it was"

3dt: So how did you prepare for your VFX degree at University of Hertfordshire? What groundwork did you need to lay so you could start it running?

Josh: I applied to Hertfordshire University and secured my place at the end of my school life, however it was a deferred place, which meant I started a year later, as Id already secured a place at an art college on their 1 year Art Foundation course. It's designed to give you the chance to try out lots of different mediums and surround yourself with like-minded creative people. I decided to specialize in photography, which meant I started acquiring the eye of a compositor before I even knew what it was.

3dt: We see you've done a little teaching yourself! What was the experience like of teaching animation to children between 11 and 17? Do you think the UK has got some great upcoming talent on its hands?

Josh: Yeah! Alongside doing my 1 year Art Foundation I taught after-school stopmotion animation classes. A teacher in my family, who I had shown the stopmotion film that I worked on, asked if I would be interested. I jumped at the chance of teaching, as learning about stopmotion animation had been the start of me pursuing a career within the area and I thought it may work out the same for someone else.

The school wanted to run a class that would give parents a chance to come in and learn with their children. Animation seemed like the perfect choice for the school as its a subject that people are generally familiar with, however, they are not usually familiar with the techniques behind what they are seeing.

A still from the London dungeons advertisement that I worked on

It was amazing seeing both parents and children realize what you could do with some colored modeling plasticine foam balls, a webcam and some free stopmotion software.

The UK definitely has the talent, as the children I taught were incredibly enthusiastic about the animations they were creating, as well as seeing the work coming from the years below me at university.

Our art and all other arts, however, encourage constant questioning, which my University and Art College really pushed. In school, questioning is generally discouraged. I personally found this frustrating and feel that something should be done in helping those who dont necessarily learn in the way that the education system delivers its information.

A shot from the short film that I worked on at university

""Everyone I have met/emailed has been happy to help... However, it now means I owe a pint to a lot of people!"

3dt: What can you tell us of your experiences in the industry so far? Have there been any surprises or reality checks you can share with us?

Josh: My experience of the industry so far has been really fun as Ive had the privilege of working for different-sized companies on some really exciting projects. Everyone I have met/emailed has been happy to help when you have a question or would like some feedback, as long as they have some free time, which Im really grateful for. However, it now means I owe a pint to a lot of people.

Regarding MPC, the first week I felt overwhelmed with everything as I'd only ever worked at companies no bigger than 15 people, and I was at one of the top 5 VFX companies in the world, working on feature films. The attention to detail is crazy and Id never used Linux before, which took a little getting used to! It also made me realize just how little I know; university was only the start, Ive still got a hell of a lot to learn.

3dt: And when it comes to software, what did you learn at university that is applicable to your role now at MPC? And what are you currently learning to step up your game?

Josh: At university we were taught most of the disciplines within a VFX workflow, which gave me a well-rounded understanding of the industry. The teaching consisted primarily of NUKE and Maya, with an emphasis on adapting briefs and projects to suit you in terms of what you wanted to specialize in. All the tutors who teach the course have worked in the industry which meant the standard expected was really high, with techniques matching those being used with the industry.

Im now using Silhouette which I wasnt taught at University. However, I had dabbled in it and as long as you have an understanding of rotoscoping, its just a case of finding the buttons and hotkeys.

The most useful skills that I feel university taught me has been how to interact with artists and how to give and take feedback. These are skills that I feel a lot of people overlook. Software will come and go but these will always be invaluable.

Two of the tutors who taught me who I owe a lot to, among a lot of other people Sol Rogers and Mark Walman, both had different views on software and its purpose in the creative world. This really aided me, giving a well-rounded education of the VFX world, as it opened my eyes to just how many different ways you can apply the software you are learning.

Im always trying to improve, so my next venture is learning Python. If I can cut out the time it takes to do frequent tasks, I can then use that time focusing on creating a better image.

3dt:Where do you tend to go for your training?

Josh: As I mentioned previously, Im currently teaching myself Python, Ive read a few books in order to understand the basics. The best one Ive found is a scripting book aimed at kids. Its simple and explained thoroughly, even if it did teach me how to make a calculator that added giraffes and crocodiles together, its all useful!

From here, Im now finding Python scripts on Nukepedia and going through them, making notes on how theyve achieved certain outcomes. Apart from this, The Foundrys Python tutorials are also a really useful way to start learning. In terms of NUKE techniques, a site I frequently go on is Nuke Station, which is a collection of video tutorials from various artists. My old university also has a forum called 3DHIT that people post up useful tutorials, which is an invaluable resource both when youre at university and when youve left.

3dt: So what are your plans for the future now you've landed in the VFX world? What are your hopes and dreams? Are there any cool films you'd love to work on?

Josh: I'd love to be a VFX supervisor one day, as I really love the chance it gives you to think outside of the box, as well as the more social aspect of the job. I also want to do a little more teaching eventually, both at universities and schools as I feel like I need to give back to the world of VFX.

Regarding cool films, I really wanted to work on a big superhero film, because big VFX are well-suited to their storylines. Therefore, its so good to be working on Guardians of the Galaxy within 3 months of being at MPC.

3dt: Talking about films, what are you looking forward to seeing this year at the cinema to get you excited about the future of VFX?

Josh: Im not sure when this will be out so it may be reality by the time it is, but my mates and I are really excited about Gravity hitting the IMAX! Some of them had internships at Framestore while it was being made and they wouldnt stop talking about how amazing it looks.

As well as Gravity, Im looking forward to The Monuments Men, which is a complete contrast to Gravity as it seems like a mix of Oceans Eleven and Saving Private Ryan, which in my opinion couldnt be cooler.

A shot from the stopframe short film that made me start looking into VFX


Related links

Josh Park's website
MPC's website
Animat and Create's website
Rewind FX wesbite

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