An inside look at the VFX industry

Have you ever wondered how special effects are added to films so seamlessly? As a lead up to META, an annual exhibition showcasing thesis projects of fourth-year Ryerson New Media students, the team held a Q-and-A with Toronto-based VFX compositor Amanda Lynn Hollingworth last Thursday. She advised students on how to kick-start their careers in the industry. VFX artistry uses previously filmed elements, such as smoke or landscapes, and digitally combines them with live-action footage. Hollingworth’s work in the television series The Borgias got her nominated for an Emmy and her studio has worked on memorable projects like The Avengers, Game of Thrones, and Twilight. Here are the top five pieces of advice Hollingworth had to offer the students on breaking into the VFX industry:

1. “For getting a job, having a good reel and a well thought-out resume is really important. A lot of people won’t even consider you unless you have a reel and a shot breakdown.”

Hollingworth showed her demo reel to the audience, which is a compilation of her most impressive VFX work. She included shots that were most challenging for her to create because she said that’s what the employer is interested in seeing. Throw in some shots that look cool too, but she is most proud of the scenes that were difficult to bring to life. She explained how it’s also imperative to include a shot breakdown, which is a description of exactly what you did to manipulate each shot.

2. “Intern as fast as you can, even if you’re still in school, because the more you can get on your reel, the better it’s going to be for you.”

Hollingworth stressed the importance of interning in the industry. Even though it’s unpaid work, it’s extremely educational and a great experience. “It’s all about learning as much as you can as quickly as you can,” she said. Interning is also a good way to make connections, which leads to her next piece of advice…

3. “When you start at a studio, make friends as soon as possible. This industry is so small, you can’t burn any bridges.”

Hollingworth explained that because the VFX industry has a small network, you will probably end up working with the same people more than once. It helps to have good relationships with your colleagues. Many VFX scenes are collaborative and everyone has their own technique, so you need to be able to communicate well with one another in order to create a scene that flows.

4. “No matter what, you’re going to have to learn whatever that studio does specifically because they all have different ways of organizing things.”

Hollingworth has jumped from studio to studio and each one used different programs that she was expected to figure out on her own. Online tutorials have been a great help to her, especially those by Tony Lyons.

5. “It’s all about hanging on to those first months that you are at the bottom.”

Everybody has to start somewhere and junior compositors end up with the most boring tasks. Working hard and producing great work will help keep you around.

Image by Billy Chan