SIGGRAPH Blog: October 2008

Bless me members, for I have sinned … it has been many months since my last blog. 2008, hey? Wow, that went quickly! and very well for members who had the benefit of some great sessions over the last six or so months.

April’s session — Showreel Showdown — was both popular and timely for those preparing applications to the FTO’s Digital Visual Effects Scheme. The focus was on giving people a chance to see examples of successful showreels as well as ask questions about how to position themselves to break into industry or move up within it. It was a lively session with speakers Nick Hore (Training Manager – Animal Logic), Peter Giles (Director, Digital Media – AFTRS) and Valerie Allerton (DVFx Program Coordinator – FTO) talking about applications for their respective areas — industry, tertiary training and industry mentorship placement scheme. Members should bear in mind also that they are always welcome to bring their reel to any event for screening and feedback. As our speakers emphasized, feedback and refinement are crucial to keeping your reel at its best.

The main points for showreels are:

  • keep it short — very short is better than a history of everything you have ever done in the hope that they will see how much you have improved; you are showing them your reel to persuade them how good you are now, not how much better you are than you used to be 😉
  • include only your best materials; see above.
  • tailor it to the role you are seeking — a range of styles is important but be clear about the area of your strength now and how you can demonstrate the skills needed to do the job being sought. ‘Generalist with a specialty’ is often the best approach but not so general that they don’t know how you will fit in.
  • make sure you mark up on/within the image what you did and the tools you used. Don’t rely on a written shotlist as several people will look at the reel while a decision is made and it is easy for the shotlist to get separated from the reel itself. Don’t include work you did not do yourself without attributing it to the person who did the work. For example, if you did a rig on someone else’s model you can say: rig by me, model by them.
  • breakdown the work so that someone assessing the reel can see how you composed the finished images — it is okay to show the finished image, a breakdown and then repeat the final image
  • label the disc, label your case, label your supporting materials: name, phone number and email address
  • don’t use the BAD music: defined as anything that would make the person in the next office come in to find out from the person watching the reel ‘what the …. are you playing’ and be kind of grumpy about the disturbance 😉

In May, Mike Seymour (http://www.fxphd.com/) treated members and friends to an excellent session on the Red Camera. Having presented sessions to industry here and internationally at NAB, Mike covered production and workflow looking at how the Red performs from set to post in fine technical detail. Drawing on his experience as VFX Supervisor on set and through complex FX shots in post, Mike was able to field questions across the interests of cinematography, FX and editing. For those who want to learn more about Red, fxphd runs advanced courses online. We are hoping to get Mike back to keep us up to date on Red in the new year, too.

In June we had the pleasure of Catherine Gleeson (Designer & Interactive Media Lecturer – AFTRS), Carmel Haren (Client Manager – Moneypenny), and Tracey Sernack Chee-Quee (A/Manager, Design Program – TAFE) talking about how to work with clients. For many in industry, freelance work is the order of the day and it is important to think about the relationship with the commissioning agent as a ‘client’ relationship rather than as a short-term job. Feedback from members and a number of threads on the DLF of recent times indicated that this was an important thing to manage well. Our team of speakers recommended the following key points:

  • get the brief right. Whether you agree with the ‘client’s’ ideas or approach or not, it is crucial that you are both on the same page when it comes down to exactly what is expected of you in every detail and how & when you will be paid as work progresses. Formal agreement processes such as purchase orders, invoices, progress payments, job specifications with sign-offs and payment schedules and so on are all good ideas and — once set up — can form an excellent basis for a professional relationship
  • there is a difference between friendly and friends. Clients might become friends but it is best to assume the relationship exists because there is a professional reason for it to do so and work on that basis rather than assume that there are personal loyalties involved. By all means, let those loyalties develop, but work on the basis that both parties are involved for commercial benefit.
  • the most important qualities for dealing with clients are: listening, discretion (treat meetings as a cross between a job interview and a commercial-in-confidence- discussion), reliability (doing work to a good standard, on time and on budget), and being honest (for example — don’t accept jobs you can’t do. You are better off recommending someone to do a good job in an area that isn’t your specialty than doing it badly yourself. If you put a client onto someone good then the client will remember you as someone who helped them out and come back to you for things you are good at — as will the person who does get the job who will most likely return the favour — but if you take the job on yourself and then get it wrong or do it to a mediocre standard then you are remembered for that and it will be a brick in the foundation of your professional reputation).

Even if running your own freelance practice isn’t your goal, good client skills will help you get jobs higher up within a DVFx studio as the more senior roles very often require the ability to sit in on client meetings.

July was month of tour de force presentations on computer graphics. At the beginning of the month we were thrilled to have the team from Fuel — Andrew Hellen and Jason Bathtalking about their pre-viz work on Greg McLean’s Rogue and their relationship with the director on the development of the film’s visual narrative. Their session covered those things that make pre-viz so powerful as a creative tool including everything from the crucial choreography needed to maximize the dramatic impact of the croc’s performance to the utility of the CG data for on-set construction and blocking of camera and performance. It was a great night providing insight into the creative process from a directing and from a DVFx point of view and we are very grateful that the guys from Fuel were able to make time in their very busy production schedule to share their experience with us.

ACM SIGGRAPH (Sydney Chapter) was co host with the AFTRS in the special event, New Techniques for Acquiring, Rendering, and Displaying Human Performances by international guest speaker, Paul Debevec. Paul is the associate director of graphics research at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies and spoke to a capacity crowd.

Shortly afterward we had the annual August ACM SIGGRAPH Animation Theatre screening. This year there were three DVDs and so we have been screening them over a number of monthly event meetings. There is some lovely stuff there, as always, including work from local creatives.

In September Caitlin Proctor and Ian Cope from Rising Sun Pictures and Patricia Kung from Animal Logic fronted a forum about the Ten Worst Things You Can Do In A Job Interview. This was a wonderfully candid and insightful discussion with members and friends having the chance to ask the interviewers for their advice on how to handle tricky situations that always seem to dog the interview process. Top tips from the night included:

  • Don’t be late. It seems obvious but it’s number one for a reason — in Sydney you almost have to assume that whatever mode of transport you’ve chosen, there will be obstacles in your way!
  • Be polite — thank the interviewers for their time.
  • Do your research — this doesn’t mean you have to seem like you’ve got an inside line to the place but you should know what they’ve done and are known to be doing. The Internet is your friend.
  • Follow the instructions about making an application. This means doing things the way they have asked you to do them. So if the website says, ‘Please send properly authored DVD of your work’ then do that. Do not decide on their behalf that giving them links to the version you posted to YouTube will suffice. It won’t.
  • Put a real breakdown of the shots on the reel and include your contact details on the disc, on the cover, in the letter, on the shotlist. Label everything.
  • Think twice about your content. It is important to take the application process seriously and tailor your reel to the widest audience. It isn’t always easy to gauge if something will be offensive so ask yourself, ‘if there is a small child in the room when this is screened, will it be okay for them to see it?’ Reels get watched in all kinds of situations, by all kinds of people and you are asking them for a subjective decision as to whether they like it or not. If the key person who has to make a decision about your reel is watching this at home so they can have some semblance of time with their family, they won’t keep watching if it suddenly goes R rated violent or scary — even if it is really well made R rated.
  • Be aware of your web presence — the Internet is your friend but it is a public space. A global space. Act and post accordingly.
  • Don’t feel you need to ‘big note’ yourself to impress. Humility is charming, arrogance is not.
  • Do NOT let your Mum (or Dad) call on your behalf. Really, even if they insist that you let them, do NOT let your Mum (or Dad) call on your behalf. This really does happen and it is NOT a good thing.
  • Do NOT bag out anyone — even if what you are saying is the witness box truth. Discretion is the better part of valour.
  • Do not name drop.
  • Find the balance between persistent vs. stalker.
  • Credit the music on your showreel — but to not use the BAD music (see previous post and earlier in this one).
  • Focus on everyone in the interview — make eye contact.
  • Don’t negotiate money in the job interview — enquire beforehand about the ballpark amount and then wait until you are in discussion about the job they would like to offer to work out the amount of remuneration.

And finally — do not take it personally if you don’t get the job. Just think, ‘Not this time, but now they know about me, so maybe next time’.

As you can see, there were more than ten things to keep in mind but the advice is gold! Thanks to all of our speakers for their frank commentary and approachability after the session.

In October, following on from the Annual General Meeting in August, we had a Board Meeting and confirmed the following Board Members who stood for positions unopposed:

  • Nick Hore – Chair
  • Shilo McClean – Vice Chair/Events Commitee Chair
  • Tracey Sernack-Chee Quee – Treasurer/Education Committee Chair
  • Peter Giles – Secretary
  • James Murty – Web Master/Web Committee Chair
  • Andrew Taylor – Membership Chair
  • Bill Lee – Member-at-large
  • Valerie Allerton – Member-at-large
  • Kit Devine – Member-at-large
  • Steve Weymouth – Member-at-large

Thanks to continuing Board Members for their ongoing commitment and welcome to new Board Members joining us in helping to foster the local community.

In November we are going to have the wonderful Barry Dean lead us in a drawing workshop, “Digital Drawing: the international visual language — capturing your imagination using a graphic tablet”. This is a wonderful opportunity for members and friends and we look forward to seeing you on 5 November for our last session of 2008.

We have many ideas in mind for 2009 including: Red Again – revisiting the Red Camera and latest news on that front; Acting for Animation; High Dynamic Range photography; Digital Grading; plus drawing classes, labs, and tours. Bookmark the website and set your calendar to remind you to check in and come along.

Thanks to all of you who have made this a great year of events for our Chapter!

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