Should I Pursue A VFX Career?

I’ve been playing with Adobe After Effects for over ten years now. For those of you who don’t know, After Effects is used to do, well, a lot of things. It’s like Photoshop for videos. It’s intended for visual effects and motion graphics, but I’ve used it to design book covers, websites, logos, etc. Unconventional, yes. That’s why it’s my favorite program.

Early 2007, I was planning my next epic superhero movie. Little fourteen year old Josh had big dreams. The problem was, I didn’t know how to do all those “special effects” they did in real superhero movies (it’s technically called visual effects, but I didn’t know at the time).

So I borrowed every single book in the library I could find about visual effects. I mistakenly checked out a book about CGI: Common Gateway Interface, not Computer Generated Imagery. Disappointing. I just wanted to know how to make lasers come out of my eyes, not program a website.

Then I found it. The book that would change my life.

Adobe After Effects 6.5 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques.

Wordy title, but it blew me away. Everything I wanted to learn was inside this book.

“Mom!!! Can you buy me this program?”

We found it for thirty-five bucks off eBay. I was so happy that I even mentioned it during my baptismal testimony. Praise the Lord I was able to make lasers! Obviously I hadn’t been through much trauma in my life at age fourteen. Homeschooled.

Quick side-story: I was working on a lightsaber battle, part of a film that would be shown at my church’s retreat. Due to karate lessons, I didn’t have enough time to finish all the shots, so I taught my mom and my siblings how to rotoscope in order to finish the shots on time. My mom was bewildered when one of her lightsaber shots got covered by a lens flare. “All that work and you don’t even see the lightsaber!” My bad, mom. But that’s visual effects. I would put an LOL here, but this is a blog, not some…ah, whatever. LOL.

Flash forward seven years. I had moved to Los Angeles, becoming known as the “After Effects guy” around USC. No, I didn’t attend the film program there. I just hung around the students, offering my VFX know-how to anyone who needed a hand. Making connections, you see. Wow, I really want to put a winky face here. Not gonna do it. I have to draw the line somewhere.

The path before me was clear. With even more training, I could have a whole career in visual effects. I was good at this. Maybe I could become an expert.

However, as much as I love visual effects, the industry sucks. There’s no union. The only way VFX companies get work is by bidding on movie projects, meaning they often undersell themselves and their artists to get the job. Ever heard of Rhythm and Hues? They used to be one of the greatest VFX studios in the world, doing films like Life of Pi, X-Men, Lord of the Rings, winning multiple awards while doing so. They were the Kobe Bryant of visual effects. Yet they filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

Besides the lack of job stability, I also hated when I would work several hours on an effect, only to have the director come in and go, “I don’t like it. Change it.” Yes, I know it’s part of the job. I’m lucky to frequently work with friends whose artistic visions I admire. And when a director approves the work I’ve done, it feels like a million bucks. But would I be able to handle a job where rejection is part of the pipeline?

The biggest reason I’m not pursuing a VFX career is that it’s not my passion. What I truly love is telling stories. VFX is a good tool, but it’s not my focus. But who knows, maybe I’ll be desperate for money soon and go this route.

Alright, time to wrap up this post with a conclusion. I’m sure you can tell, but I never know where I’m going with these posts. If I wasn’t blogging every day, I could probably put some more time into giving you a satisfying ending, something like “This is the profound statement I want to communicate!”

Nope. My real life doesn’t have clear answers either. Some days I’ll stumble upon them, other days I’ll be slapping my keyboard trying to make sense of this world. Until then, I’ll keep on writing.

Josh out.

2 Replies to “Should I Pursue A VFX Career?”

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