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.

The Fear of Water

I’m working on a couple visual effects (VFX) shots right now for a friend. Usually when I do VFX, I turn on a podcast and click my computer screen for hours until a car explodes. Or a tripod gets erased. The latter is much less interesting.

However, I’m also dedicated to blogging every day, so I’m taking a break to let some words loose. Here we go.

When I was about nine years old, I was terrified of water. I used to take swimming lessons with a few childhood friends and I hated it. When I told our instructor that I didn’t want to put my head underwater, she moved me to the beginner’s side. Away from my friends. By myself. At that moment, I realized: being afraid sucks. But I’m still afraid.

I told my parents I didn’t want to take swimming lessons anymore. They warned me that if I didn’t learn how to swim, I wouldn’t be able to hang out with my friends at pool parties and whatnot. Great. Now I’m not just afraid of water, but also being a social outcast.

This story has a stupid ending. I overcame my aquaphobia after chilling in a hot tub with my dad. He challenged me to put my head underwater. I did, because it was a hot tub. The end.

Also my current friends don’t have pool parties. Not now, not during my teenage years, and probably not ever. In fact, I’ve never received one invite to a pool party and thought, “Wow, it’s a good thing I learned how to swim when I was nine!”

This isn’t to say I actually know how to swim. I know how to float long enough to not drown if thrown into the Atlantic.

I’m realizing now how interesting my relationship with water has been. For all my life, it’s made me feel inferior to, well, everyone. I continued to take swimming lessons as a teenager, flailing my limbs around the pool in attempt to swim a lap, while every other person Michael Phelpsed their way to the other side.

This inferiority complex also applies to basketball. For the first half of my life, my dad couldn’t figure out why his abnormally tall son couldn’t make a lay up.

I don’t like being bad at things. If I wrote my own life story, all skills would come naturally, and I would only struggle with managing my time from being so talented. It’s the dream.

Suffice to say, I am not talented at most things athletic. So I pursued the things I perceived to be talented in. Filmmaking. Writing. Visual effects, like I’m doing right now.

But I would run into failures in those areas as well. My self-published book sold about fifty copies. Not exactly the Eragon level of success I was hoping from another a homeschooled writer. One of my first short films I can barely watch anymore. It’s an action/drama film about spiritual warfare named…wait for it…Prebirth.

I called it Prebirth. What is this, some medical procedure? It’s funny because I remember a bunch of people trying to convince me out of it. And I shut them all down because I was the skilled and talented filmmaker extraordinaire who could do no wrong. This wasn’t swimming or basketball! This was something I was talented in until I discovered I wasn’t.

I’m not really afraid of water. I’m afraid of failure.

I’m twenty-five now. I’ve failed many times and will fail many more. It’s part of life. There are so many things I love that I stopped pursuing because I wasn’t naturally good at it.

As with most of my posts, this blog doesn’t ever have a clear ending. I used to not blog because it would take so damn long, tweaking my writing, editing the structure, making sure the ending was perfect. But now I’m thinking…who cares? I write because it’s fun. And if I stumble across a profound conclusion worthy of a college essay, so be it. Otherwise I’m going to keep writing every day because I want to get better and it’s fun.

Josh out.

P.S. HOLY MOLY I’m not even twenty-five yet! Why did I write that I was already twenty-five? I sense a quarter life crisis arising…