From Junior to Intermediate FX: How to Make The Jump
The most frustrating time in your career might be making the jump from junior to intermediate. Simply because you have to prove to everyone else around you that you are ready. So..How can you do that?
This article aimed towards is new to the studio juniors, and any others wishing to to delve into the intermediate artist life.
Check Your Experience and Skill Level
So I’ll be honest, most employers won’t consider you for an intermediate role unless you’ve had at least 3-5 years of CG or VFX experience. Don’t expect one year of industry experience to go by, and expect that promotion automatically.
Some traits I find commonly in Mid/Intermediate artists are:
- A good understanding of VEX. They can look at someone else’s code and understand which sections of the code does what. They can diagnose errors in the code, and add to it if there are any required changes.
- A beginners to intermediate understanding of python. Around this time, most Mid level artists figure out if they want to head into TD work, lead roles, or pipeline work. Plus, Mid level artists also build a lot of HDAs, and python comes in handy with those sometimes.
- They submit work like a pro. When they build an effect, they also showcase contact sheets of the various layers, and label them correctly. If they need to, they will also submit turntables.
- They are placed on any big builds the leads are unable to get to in the current timeframe. They will be asked to do difficult things, and need to be able to problem solve on their own.
- Mid level artists also have to be able to work with the juniors. The intermediate artists are often the buffers between the lead and the rest of the team. When the lead cannot answer questions, they will. So having a good level of communication helps.
- They have been at a company for over a year. This policy doesn’t apply to all studios. Some studios hire a lot of their Mid level artists externally. Which does cause some tension on teams. But generally, if you have been at a studio longer than a year, you have a bigger chance at being considered an intermediate.
- They know the pipeline! You will never move up in a company if you don’t know the pipeline. If you can follow the basic instructions on how to get something passed to the next stage of production, your team will love you.
So What Types of Effects/Work Do Intermediate Artists Complete?
Key shots. They start to land the bigger effect-centric scenes. They might make any effects that surround the main point of interest in the scene. They might also create character-oriented effects. Such as the Nightcrawler effect in X-Men.
- Large scale water and FLIP simulations.
- Large scale pyro simulations.
- Interaction effects between characters and objects in the scene.
- Design builds that the junior artists can use in minor shots.
- Work with the lead to make sure their builds are consistent with other effects in the scene.
- They are often the “buddies” for artists joining the studio. They will help then learn the pipeline, and answer any questions.
What Might Be Holding You Back?
So if you are asking yourself: Why haven’t I been promoted yet? This section might be for you.
I find that the main thing companies look at when promoting people is how they fit into their team.
You can think of having the Mid-Level title as “Assistant to the Lead”, “Lead in Training” , or even “TD in Training”. Because this is what the role should be. When you are an Intermediate artist you are proving that you know the basics, and you need to start specializing your skill. So if you don’t know the basics of FX or CG in general, you will really suffer in this role.
You also need to be able to communicate with other departments at this level as well. Not to mention communicate with your HOD, FX Supervisor, and Leads. If your communication isn’t up to par, then you might be overlooked for this role. Sometimes rereading your Team's messages and emails to your teammates can help you see what you are doing wrong communication wise.
Studios need artists that can follow creative direction, and stick to the theme. They need artists who are reliable, and will be able to match their client’s visions correctly. If you ever want to practice following different themes, then you might have to create some side projects for yourself. I recommend googling a few images, maybe go onto Midjourney and generate some, then start building an effect off that image.
Now this point is fairly small, but it could also play a significant factor if you are trying to get promoted. Junior artists make a lot of versions of their work. A very big Junior habit to have is to re-daily your work every time you make a change to it. This sometimes creates an overwhelming amount of slapcomps and renders for the leads and HODs to review. Not only that, but most of the work gets sent back because more changes to it need to be made. Which wastes everyone's time. If you want to get out of this process, you need to slow down your approach to things. Review your work more, ask for more feedback from people on your team, or even ask for more reference for your effect.
Is age a factor?
I had someone quite close to me, suggest that age would not be in my favor if I wanted to move up the ladder. That people would assume my age, before they saw my level of experience. I am not going to lie, I found it a bit offensive at the time. But the more I thought about it, he might have had a point. For example, if you are like me, and the crossing guard outside your work mistakes you for a teenager everyday, you might have a problem.
So I researched the heck out of this. If you would like to see the official studies, please see the links below:
Studies suggest that younger employees experience shorter promotion times than older workers. Men are promoted more often than women. However, on average women have shorter survival times to promotion than men.
What this means is that most employers want to promote younger workers. They see them as a long term investment, and that they have the ability to learn tasks quickly. Employers on average will overlook older workers, as they see them as “oldschool”, and are less flexible in their lives. Or they might cost more! So being young does help. Now none of these studies I was able to find were specific to VFX, but I think they give us a pretty good base line of what can happen.
Now you might be confused by what “survival time” is. I was a bit confused when I first read it. But what this means, is that women have a shorter window of possible promotions than men based on their age. This could be because the older a lady is, there is a greater assumption she has kids, or other activities going on in her life. There are also assumptions that women will have to take more time off than men health wise.
Also for this article, I wanted to see if agism was also applicable to POCs,or other ethnicities when it came to promotions. However, the lack of research out there was very disappointing.
So for both of these issues I gathered some more specifics. Most of these statistics are from The ILC-UK:
Promotion rates for women tend to young persons, but the opposite is true for men. This is mainly caused by women being underrepresented in senior roles. This is why career equity matters! Without career equity, we all can’t get equal pay.
Companies that hire older workers actually have a greater chance at creating a better work environment. Reference: https://ilcuk.org.uk/the-intersection-of-age-gender-and-promotion/ There isn’t enough data yet to explain this. But it is thought that older employees with high levels of experience create better levels of mentorship with younger ones.
In a 2008-2009 study, researchers found out that regardless of age, if you can maintain a self-relevant positive image, it improves your promotion chances.
In a 2017 paper, researchers also noticed a difference on how women were treated past the age of 40 in the workplace. They found out that employers often view them as less energetic, and/or lacking ambition.
There is a lot of studies out there to suggest that older employees are the most productive and have the highest levels of commitment and loyalty to their jobs. There is also no evidence to suggest they cannot be trained in new ideas and methods.
There are some methods to help combat ageism in your company. The first step is alway education, and to be open minded to everyone. The next is that companies have to create better levels of age diversity through their ranks. Companies also need to allow for better flexible working options.
These points are very applicable to VFX. There are several studios I’ve worked at, and when I look around the room, 90% of the workers in the FX department around me are under the age of 40. It’s pretty much an open secret in VFX that you don’t see a lot of people in the industry over the 5 experience mark. Burnout strikes fast, and the older you are, the less likely you are to tolerate it. We do need better inclusion tactics in VFX for our experienced VFX vets. And more flexible working options for retention as well.
Sometimes, promotions just don’t happen. Which can be devastating.Sometimes you can try over and over again to prove yourself, and nothing will happen. Sometimes it’s not you, it's the company. For example, I have been in this scenario. It sucked.
Sometimes management in VFX studios can come between department interests, and overall studio interests. Sometimes people get forgotten about in larger studios. There are tons of small reasons why you might be overlooked for something. Being overlooked for something you know you are more than capable of doing hurts alot. It causes additional work anxiety to try harder. Sometimes, you might be overlooked for promotions multiple times. If that is the case, you might have to leave your studio.
Leaving ……It hurts even more, but sometimes leaving a company is your best way to grab more experience. If they like you, you can always come back. :)
How To Know When You are Ready To Make The Jump
When should you move up the ladder? It can be sometimes hard to judge yourself when you are surrounded by more senior artists in your studio, or in a fast paced environment.
Well here are some helpful pointers to reassess yourself occasionally:
- When you start on a complex build, do you reach for VOPs or Wrangles first?
- Do diving into multiple directories to access correct file paths bother you?
- Have you started to make cheat ways of remembering builds, and reusing files?
- Are you starting to be asked to build HDAs?
- Are you starting to be interested in the pipeline?
- Are basic particle and pyro effects starting to be too easy?
- How is your communication with other artists on the team? Can you teach or learn from them well?
- How is your creativity improving in your effects? Do you feel like you are creating more interesting things?
- How many effects this past year have you yourself designed in production? How many effects have you produced come from the build of another artist?
- How do you handle feedback in the studio? Positively, scared of it, angrily, etc.
- Are you willing to put time aside to build more complex shots, and diagnose issues?
- How are your problem solving skills? Do you still struggle to solve difficult tasks, or do you enjoy them?
- Are you wanting to move up for the paycheque money, or because you want a better challenge?
- How are your nuke skills? Are you able to work with slapcomps correctly?
- How is your communication with the lighting department? How many publishes this past year have you had to redo because of an error?
If you’ve noticed any improvements in yourself through these questions: Congratulations! You might be ready for the jump! It’s time to talk to your HOD/PM/or department overseer about your next career options.