Hustle It: Marketing for VFX
Marketing in VFX…Does it happen correctly, is underused, or is there too much of the same thing? The answer is all of the above. In this article I am going to talk about marketing tactics that work in VFX. Whether you are just an artist, an artist with a lot of side hustles, or someone who is probably going to be doing something bigger in the future. Or maybe you are an HR manager, someone wanting to freelance, start something small, etc.
Also, Apologizing for the rambles in this one. If you want to understand the rambles, please sim over to the Outro.
So let’s get started
Marketing As an Artist/Recruiter/Freelancer: The Bare Minimum
If you went to school for the arts, VFX, animation , etc; you might have had a careers and development class. I always consider these classes to be some of the most important you can take, as they should teach you how to operate in a workplace environment. Speaking from personal experience, the class I remember very fondly as this is where I was forced to create this very site you are experiencing right now.
You can be the best artist in the world, but also not receive any job opportunities if people don’t know who you are. So there are some very basic things you can do to put yourself out there.
- This is a must as an artist. This is where all the recruiters and companies hang out. Make it easier for them by posting all your work in one place. As well as your contact information, and other facts about your life. Usually the first thing to pop up on a google search result is your LinkedIn page.
- As a freelancer, you can also pick up valuable and safer work opportunities over LinkedIn. For example, this is one of few sites on the internet where people have to be presentable and work friendly. So if you connect with someone over the site who is coming off as aggressive there, you can quickly be reassured that it wasn’t worth the effort anyways.
- The site also connects you with people who need visualization artists in other industries. Some VFX studios require that all of their employees are not allowed to work for competitors on the side. This would include other VFX and animation studios. But this doesn’t exclude the science industries, teaching, music, or architectural businesses. So it's great for side hustles.
- If you are a company or recruiter using the site. It’s your one stop shop to write everything and show everything about your business, and create a following. If you can win the popularity contest on LinkedIn, more people will want to work with you.(More on this later.)
- Give your LinkedIn personality. Don’t overshare, but post your project updates, Showreels, and more. Breakdowns always gain the most views and attention. As well as general VFX banter over images.
- Two marketing campaigns that I’ve personally enjoyed(I won’t list the companies, you’ll just have to do some digging.) are from VFX companies. The first one in their LinkedIn campaign was them posting general compositing and VFX advice in between show trailers. I found this fascinating because it was almost like I was learning something as I was searching for a job. Which was extremely helpful. The second studio was a bit more classic. They posted pictures of their crew, and behind the scenes of the crew on set. The captions over the images were hilarious, full of puns, and acceptable humor in relation to the image. Which gave them a lot of character.
- Websites are the best way to stand out and look special. As an artist, you can view your website as a more colorful and diverse LinkedIn. This is where people can learn more about you, and see your personality. You don’t ever want to come off as just professional when you are marketing to someone. That is just boring. You want to prove to someone that you have a character, and once you can showcase that character, you can turn it into a brand.
- Same goes for freelancers or companies. What makes you different from all the other talented opportunities out there? What is the perk of working with you? Can I have a normal conversation with you? People don’t want to talk to a corporation, they want to talk to a person. So showcase yourself as an individual, or the individuals you work with. Have a blog going on your site, or LinkedIn. Maybe feature the employee of the month, brief Q&As with yourself, and maybe your history.
- Teaching is the most rewarding thing in the entire world. For several reasons.
- Firstly, it helps build your communication, problem solving, and interpersonal skills. Every lesson you plan, every tutorial you build, there will always be someone who calls your bluff. You may have created the perfect simulation, but someone might break it, have questions, or opinions. You then have to learn to handle this feedback without being defensive and angry. The classroom is a great learning ground for figuring how to handle situations, how they might also be applicable to your job.
- Educators are seen as people who share knowledge and are ready to help. Which are traits that studios look for in their artists. If you don’t have the opportunity to teach in the classroom, YouTube works equally well. If you can demonstrate that you know what you are doing, people are more likely to believe that you can handle complex tasks.
- When you teach, you also build your industry connections. If you can give someone the best experience while learning something new, they will remember that. In the long run, students always appreciate the teacher who challenged them, and supported them when they had little knowledge on how to complete tasks. They will most likely want to work with you, and also mention you sometime in the future when they are asked about their VFX careers.
#4 In Person Events
- These are not only fun social events, but also great ways to find what companies are looking for. Yes, these are events where companies might be looking for certain positions, but I also think they are great events to study companies at. For example, if you attend an industry job fair, you might chat to the recruiters and try to understand what the overall company attitude is. As well as how you can market your skills towards them. You can start to observe the interactions of recruiters based on how they interact with other people. What their general personality is, how they respond to the presented reels and art, and get a general vibe of how they might react to you.
- In person events are also a great practice ground for testing your personality and skills. They are way more relaxed, and you don’t have to treat every industry interaction as an interview, or you can. But you can also learn what people find fascinating about you, and what aspects of your character you can lean into.
#5 Showreel Marketing
- How should you market your work? You need to get a good idea on what people are looking for. This includes breakdowns, project files, topology, turntables, software, etc. You will have to do some research regarding this per studio, recruiter, and interviewer.
- A lot of people, including myself, make one reel that we share with every single studio that we apply to. However, if you are creating a reel for the first time, or are trying to get into a certain studio, try and research what will stand out. For example, let’s say you follow an artist in the VFX community and they work in the industry. You can always check out their reel, see what they’ve worked on, and how they are presenting it. Then copy that presentation method. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, but do it in a way that isn’t plagiarism. Add your own spin to it.
- You can also go to a company’s LinkedIn page, take a look at how they present their breakdowns and reels and study them. If they are presenting information in a certain way, they might also like their employees to do the same.
- Always, always, always have your Showreel on your LinkedIn page.
Respect The Hustle: Who Wants This?
Who is your audience? And who are you marketing towards?
If you are someone who likes to hustle on the side, teach, try to break into teaching or freelance…..The first job is always the hardest. Simply because you have to commit to marketing yourself to a degree where you can get that job.
This might be easy or hard for you, depending on the type of person you are. I find that extroverted people are really good at being loud and proud. But introverts are very good at focusing on tasks to get the job done. You need to create a zone for yourself to do a mix of both.
When I first googled the pros and cons of being an extrovert or introvert, this page popped up: https://environmental-conscience.com/introvert-vs-extrovert-pros-cons/
So let’s summarize it from a hiring perspective.
- Extroverts are viewed better in interviews and interactions because they seem very enthusiastic, have a higher level of communication, are exciting, and can lead a room. But they suffer a lot from insecurities. They can take too many risks, need people around them, and can be overwhelming.
- Introverts are not quite the opposite of this. People do judge them as antisocial, low maintenance, and quiet. But they are extremely intelligent. They take the time to analyze situations, problem solve, and listen to situations.
- No one is truly purely introverted or extraverted. But you can do your best to find the perfect middle ground. Because that is what you want to show from a skills perspective. You have the confidence, and you can fix problems.
If you are an artist, you’ll most likely interact with recruiters or HR personnel first when you are on your job hunt. However, you’ll also need to consider these important factors if you are trying to appeal to them:
- Are you trying to get the attention of animation or VFX studios? Or both? Maybe teaching….
- What quality of standard are they looking for?
- How can you create that standard in your work and Showreel?
- If you are just graduating, how can you fake or showcase your work to a higher standard?
- What does your Showreel say about you personality wise?
- If you follow a VFX recruiter, what type of VFX content are they reposting? How can you match your content with theirs?
- What do you want in a studio? What can you showcase online to prove that you are ready to help support your next team?
- Do you have any artistic achievements to show off? They do not have to be VFX related.
- Why do people want to work with you? Could they have a conversation with you other than about visual effects? Would they be able to trust you, and for you to be enthusiastic? If so, make your brand about that.
- Look at studio reels differently. What do they do? From their reel, do you see more comp , FX, asset, or environment design? This might determine what their long term work is focused around.
If you are someone looking to work with other artists, freelancers, or hire artists. Here are some things worth thinking about:
- What is your lure to get artists?
- What is your studio's brand? When people think of your studio, what comes to mind?
- Good/Bad Can you change your image? Always be aware of both the good and the bad.
- What do artists want?
- What artists are we trying to get, and how do we market our studio towards them?
- How do we get artists to stay?
- What are the pros and cons of working at said company? Take an unbiased look. DO people like to work there because their friends are there? Or do they stay because they have reassurance with their job?
Word of Mouth, Character Traits…”It’s a Small Industry.”
What’s the worst thing to happen? - People talk
………And that can be good or bad marketing.
So what makes people talk about specific people they work with?
Personally, I have a three strike rule. You can get a pass for the first two times something bad happens, but after that it is game over.
Usually, people gossip. Not all gossip is bad. If someone is having a rough month, gossip might give that person a better sense of understanding in the office without them saying anything. But from the other perspective, that person may have not wanted everyone to know that they were going through something hard. So it is a fine balance if you are someone who likes to make sure everyone is on the same page.
But bad gossip is usually generated by poor personality, lack of focus, commitment, and the horrible things you could possibly do as a human being.
For example, I’ll use a personal example. Recently I had someone who is a teacher say some pretty horrible things to a friend of mine. They had taken this person’s classes, enjoyed their time, and ended up doing some industry jobs. Out of the blue, they get a marketing email from their previous teacher calling them a failure. Here is a snippet from that email:
_____ I want to take a moment to talk to you about something serious…
You might hate what I’m about to say…
It may even anger, trigger and annoy you to no end…
But that’s OK.
Maybe this isn’t for you.
A while back I asked you for some feedback in a survey
On this survey, one of the questions I asked was:
“What do you struggle with the most on your career journey?”
Some of you, In your own words, said:
“My biggest struggle is lack of skill and motivation”
“I struggle with procrastination and confidence”
“I tend to waste too much time when I am not focused.”
“I struggle to focus on my portfolio”
Do you see a common theme here?
LACK OF FOCUS AND MOTIVATION
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get your foot in the door at a game studio
If you’ve completely given up on games and are working towards another career.
If you can't get a handle on your lack of focus and motivation…
- You’ll always be poor
- You’ll always be a lazy gamer
- You’ll always be less than what you can be
- You’ll always rely on handouts from the government
- You’ll always work jobs you HATE to make ends meet
- You’ll always be a low-value person in the eyes of your peers
Pretty painful stuff
Now honestly ask yourself:
How many days have I squandered on my gaming addiction?
How many mindless minutes do I spend scrolling Instagram?
How many hours do I flush down the toilet on Tic Tok?
How much time do I waste every day on Youtube?
How many back-to-back shows do I binge-watch?
How much porn do I wank off to every night?
If you answered more than two hours to any of these questions…
Your Brain is ROTTEN ______
Just like eating junk food has negative effects on your body, if you feed your brain with junk media…
It will ROT.
You’ll become lazy, unfocused and unmotivated…………etc etc.
----- This was a copy paste from that email. Words like this travel fast. Even if they are a mass spam email sent to multiple people. It will not make you look good.
But people will also talk about the GREAT ones they work with. I love doing this as a teacher, as you have the personal zone to see how talented someone is. Then help them get somewhere. But you can also do this as a day to day artist.
With another personal vague example….I worked with someone in the past year, who I know will go far. They know they can do a lot of things, but they don’t know where they are going. Which is why I talk about them with my personal crowd all the time. They do lead work, not knowing it’s lead work, and do it without complaining or making a scene. Yes, they are not a lead. But they love what they do.
At least from a personal perspective, getting someone else to a point where they can succeed is more rewarding than personally achieving goals. Because you can see the difference you made in someone else. Plus, you don’t need to brag about it, and they’ll remember that.
Companies can also have “reputations” as well. Which can prevent people from applying, cause artists to burnout, leave, and leave negative reviews.
I think the worst thing I have ever heard about one company in particular was that people referred to it as a cult. I cannot state the name of the company in particular, but I can tell you why people said that.
Cults are usually focused around a few things:
- Sustaining loyalty to one person.
- A focus on always bringing in new people,
- A focus on making money.
- Cults use tactics of sleep-deprivation, alternate states of consciousness, repetition, and thought-stopping to overwhelm someone. This stops their critical thinking skills in immediate situations.
- Cults also use three main methods of brainwashing: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. Unfreezing is breaking a person down to accept the current situation. The changing phase is where the cult introduces the person to the society through lectures, meetings, and activities. Finally, refreezing is the process of building that person a new identity around that cult’s belief system.
From what I heard, there was a lot of behavior that mimicked the situations listed above at this studio. Which made some people rather miserable. Which is very understandable. Talent does not like to be overlooked or controlled in a way where they feel uncomfortable to defend themselves.
But words travel fast in this industry, and sometimes it doesn’t make you look good. So how can you fix that?
How to look Better: The HDRIs Method - Light Up Your Life
- Honesty and History
I find the above method works well if you are trying to understand why people won’t work with you. So let’s break it down.
#1 Honesty and History
Honesty is not something that is uncommon. But people respect those who have it, and treat others with it. And the opposite can also be said about situations that are lacking it. I think a perfect large example of this is in regards to layoffs.
Everyone in VFX will at some point be laid off, have friends who go through it, or watch it happen from afar. Sometimes these events can be nasty, and people are not told the truth of what is happening behind the scenes, why they were chosen, why they have to suffer, or why they were simply not told the truth about their quality of work. These events can really hurt a person’s mental health. The lack of honesty can also shape their opinions of the people who put them through that experience.
If you can handle a situation where you know there might not be a good outcome, and just be honest with everyone about the ongoing situation, people will still like you for your level of communication and commitment to making sure everyone is ok. It might take some people a while to process that information, but they will. Similar attitudes can be applied to shots. It’s better to say something helpful than nothing.
Let’s say you are on a production that is in the red. This shot is over budget and behind schedule. Everyone is waiting for you to tell them the progress, and if you have completed it. What should you do? Should you downplay the situation and say you are fine? Should you admit defeat and tell production you can’t do it? Should you over explain everything, and count on someone to come over and help you randomly?
Just be honest. Ask for help when you know you need it. Give production an honest time frame when you think something might be ready. You can also ask for overtime if needed. Honesty is the best way to save face, and still be a good person.
I also find that companies and people with a history of honesty tend to last longer in the industry. As well as more frequent hires, better reputations, and more opportunities. Honesty also creates less drama in the long run. The last thing you need is a mishandled incident to be shared as a story for years. For example, I used to hear stories from a company where it wasn’t uncommon for people to talk about the owner phoning people after they resigned or were laid off. Then threatening them with deportation or demanding they repay their wages because they quit mid production. Now, these incidents may have stopped in recent years, but they still get shared around. I like to share this story as an example, because it shows how the lack of respect and honesty that was given is still retold to this day.
Diversity matters. It’s better to have a diverse crew, artist background, personality, and traits. The subject of diversity covers a lot of things. So let’s talk about the diversity of artist traits first.
- If you are an artist who can do more than one aspect of the pipeline, you generally have more opportunities than others. Multi-purpose skills are super valuable to have, and they give you more communication skills when it comes to talking to others at different stages of the production.
- A studio’s perfect dream is to have everyone in the office to understand what everyone else is doing, how to work around problems, and multi-task. But quite often that is not the case.
- Training opportunities in the office help prevent this, but you also need people who want to learn. Hiring people, and encouraging an environment where people have a safe space to learn is highly important as well. If people do not feel safe in their jobs, they will not ask questions, problem solve with others, or bond with others. Which in turn leads to less skill diversity, and artists feeling like they don’t belong.
- You don’t even have to work in management at a studio to help encourage this. As an artist on your team, you can ask your HOD or PM about possible activities you could help set up for the team, and other learning events.
The next thing diversity is associated with is gender, ethnicity, and artist backgrounds. It is not uncommon for VFX studios to have artists from all over the world working for them. Personally one of my most favorite times in the office is when someone is celebrating a day that is important in their heritage. Usually when this happens, something tasty appears in the kitchen, which gathers everyone to socialize and ask questions. Which in turn makes everyone learn about what is important to their coworkers, and where they are from. Which then makes everyone more accepting.
One example of this is from a personal experience I had last year. It was Diwali, and some coworkers had brought in a variety of food. One being Gulab jamun, which is the national desert of India. I took a bite and was rather confused, as they reminded me of loukoumades. Which is a Greek dessert of a similar description and taste. I told the person who brought in the food this, and we started to have a great back and forth of similar foods. Then we talked about Greek and Indian food. If I did not have a diverse cast at that studio, those bonds and interactions probably would not have happened.
The gender gap is a hot topic in VFX. We definitely need more ladies overall. A study was even released this year where the gender ratio was very interesting.
A study examined women working in visual effects across 400 top-grossing films from 2016 to 2019, focusing on overall prevalence and leadership credits. You can check it out here: https://annenberg.usc.edu/news/research-and-impact/new-study-finds-women-are-invisible-visual-effects
- Women of color only filled 2.6% of leadership positions.
- Women only made up 2.9% of VFX supervisor positions.
- Women only held 16.2% of all senior positions in VFX.
- Across 400 top-grossing films from 2016 to 2019, women received 21.6% of all VFX credits.
- Out of the top 60 VFX companies in the world, the average female percentage that ladies made up was 26.9%,
You might think: “This doesn’t really matter. More and more women are joining the world of VFX every year. This is going to get better, I don’t need to care.”
Well, I was somewhat in that boat up until this year, and I am a lady. Until I was in an experience where I saw how much it mattered. Let me explain myself.
I’ve worked in VFX for almost 4 years,(Which is not a long time) and have been the first lady in several different FX departments, and first female FX teachers at some colleges.
So it has always made me a bit sad. Men do bond with other men more than females. So as a lady, you do have to get used to that. Social adjustment times for joining new studios were longer as well. So I’ve always wanted to see more ladies in FX. But in the past few years, I have taught more, worked with more, and as of late, joined a team with several on. So it is getting better.
Because I saw it getting better I assumed: “Well I don’t really need to think too hard about it. I can still support the movement. But I know going forward I’ll always have another lady on my team.”
I have only met one female VFX supervisor in person. In the main city where I work. Which is quite a large VFX hub. One who I know worked her ass off to get there. Before I worked with her, I genuinely thought the gender of my supervisor didn’t affect me. But after working with her, I noticed that I tried harder to problem solve, create more short versions, and felt safer to state my mind in our work chats. But I didn’t notice that change, until after the production wrapped. I think deep down, I saw a lady in the exact position I wanted to end up in one day, and because of her, I knew in the future it could possibly happen.
The next thing that made me realize it mattered more than I expected , was when I got to work abroad as a teacher. I had this wonderful class that was 50/50 men and women. They all worked their butts off with their projects, and did extremely well. When you are a teacher, you have to be the leader in the classroom, showcase your skill, who you are, and make sure they are comfortable to succeed. There was one day where I was talking to the ladies in the course, and one of them told me how glad they were to have a female VFX teacher. The rest of them agreed, and they started to fill me in on why it mattered to them.
One of them told me she came from a country in Europe where in the studios they had there, and others she had toured, there were no female artists. And they weren’t sure because of that if they could actually be hired after they graduated. Another one thought because of the lack of women she saw, she would have to leave her country and work somewhere else where she could be accepted. She assumed that she would not be. So she had the stress of trying to work abroad, but away from her partner, family, and navigation through the anxiety of it all. It mattered that they could tell a female teacher this, so I could tell them that it was ok. And there were plenty of options for their careers. If that representation had not been there, these fears and anxieties probably would have stuck with them a lot longer.
Another hard topic. I’ll try not to be preachy and just stick to the facts. I’ve already ranted enough here in this article. As well as through in a few stories.
There are two things that you need to maintain a friendship, relationship, or partnership with someone. Trust and respect. If you got it, then you’re golden. Having respect for others maintains your social bonds.
Just being positive is my best advice for you. Send support to those who need it, and to those you look up to. Learn about other people. You are never a bad person if you are always learning.
Diversity is the "what"; inclusion is the "how."
Create a culture around you that helps other people succeed. Look for different perspectives in any situation. Not just with other people, but in your own workflows, setups, and hobbies.
Look out for people, and they will look out for you.