16 ways to land your dream CG job

Getting that first break in the industry can be tough, so be polite, be professional and have a plan

01 – Find yourself an opening

Company websites are probably the best place to hear about jobs in the industry. That means you need to be proactive and seek out companies that you’d like to work for, rather than passively surfing general job websites and hoping the right one will leap out at you. Both applying for specific positions (when they are appropriate) and sending off honest, specific emails to HR or heads of departments are generally welcome.

“We also post regular updates for vacancies on our social media links, including across various industry group pages on LinkedIn,” says Jill Wallace, studio manager at Axis Animation. Ben Owen, head of global recruitment at MPC tells a similar story: “We are very present on social media, and LinkedIn is the main tool our recruiters use. We want anyone and everyone to connect to us via LinkedIn, it’s a great way to find out what’s happening at MPC and it’s the first port of call for us whenever we have new shows and new opportunities coming up… We want to make it as easy as possible for candidates and talent to connect with us.”

Going to industry events is another way that you can connect with the bigger companies. “I’m happy for people to approach me at talks and conventions,” says Eamonn Butler, animation director at Cinesite. “But applying online is the best way of making sure your details won’t get lost and your application will get reviewed.”

02 – From zero to hero

There’s no point graduating and immediately applying for a senior position, even if you are incredibly talented. The entry-level positions a company offers vary widely, so again, do your research. At Pixomondo, the structure starts as an intern, then trainee, junior, artist, a mid-level artist, a senior/lead artist and finally a supervisor. VFX supervisor Thilo Ewers adds that a “basic knowledge in the software we use per department is necessary to start as an intern”.

At DreamWorks, “entry-level positions come up regularly so the best approach is to keep an eye on the Careers portion of our website”, says head of recruiting Kim Mackey. “Even if the job posting doesn’t specify that it is a junior position, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself as we are always keeping an eye out for emerging talent.”

You don’t have to feel disheartened that you haven’t already got some experience on your CV. “If you are fresh out of school you might ask ‘how do I get these references without having a job’. Well, look to your professor at school,” explains Marta Marks, senior artist manager and recruiter at Reel FX. “Studios have relationships with numerous colleges and we value your professor’s opinion. They are very honest with us and will tell us who is a superstar, and who is not. This is another reason to do well in school and make sure you aren’t just the quiet student in the back row. Participate!”

03 – Go the extra mile

“When my apprenticeship was coming to an end I was the only one out of 15 that stayed on full-time at that company. Why? Really, it took me being assertive throughout the three-month program and making them realise that they needed me on their team. The little jobs that no one else wanted to do? Think cleaning out the prop closet at a live-action house every week. I volunteered.

“Reorganising the entire tape library and being stuck in a box of a room for a few weeks? Done! Errands needed for a shoot? Me please! Pretty soon I was included on shoots as more than the training apprentice because I earned a reputation as a hard worker that could think on her feet and get things done before the director would even ask for it. Make someone need you and be willing to do whatever job, no matter how small it seems.” Marta Marks, Senior artist manager and recruiter, Reel FX

04 – Getting into the business

Step 1: Be company and country specific – “Find your target company, see if they want a specific format of reel or portfolio and then put all your effort into making it great… In Spain, for example, it’s common for people to include their photo at the very top of their resume, but in other countries this practise is rejected as it could lead to some sort of bias or discrimination. Also, there is a difference between countries regarding the number of pages you should include. In Spain and in the UK you can send two, but in the US one is preferred.” Jose Martin, 3D lead, Psyop

Step 2: Be clear – While you may have plenty of work that you want to present to potential future employers, bombarding them with your work and experience won’t necessarily land you the job you’ve always dreamed of. “Always make sure your resume and reel are clear and present who you are as an artist. Some resumes can be very cluttered and distracting, so keep them simple but detailed. Reels as well – please put the work that represents what you want to do first and foremost and only choose your best work to capture our attention.” Jeff Werner, Studio manager, Method Studios

Step 3: Be professional – “Make sure you have a firm handshake and look a person in the eye when you meet. It seems simple, but it’s important. This goes for men and women… Check your appearance as well. Reel FX is a casual environment, as are many studios, but you should look nicer than we do on interview day. This doesn’t mean suit and tie but don’t come in your workout clothes with bed head. And always show up ten minutes early for an interview but don’t expect it to start early.” Marta Marks, Senior artist manager and recruiter, Reel FX

05 – Don’t fudge, don’t bad-mouth

“We often get showreels that don’t clearly show us what the individual has done. So if they have worked on a large VFX project, it’s highly unlikely that one individual is responsible for all the work in a given shot, and giving us the final shot makes it harder for us to see what that artist has done. It’s a pet hate when they don’t break down the shots on the showreel – it is about making it as easy as possible for us to employ someone.

It’s time wasted if we have to go back and request a breakdown, so providing it along with the reel, or even if it’s just embedded in the showreel, just a few words about what they’ve done and what might have been picked up by other artists. Another pet hate when it comes to the interview process – and it’s something that happened this week to one of the recruiters here – is when candidates are negative about their past experience. They may not have had a good experience at another studio, but we don’t really want to see them looking at any of their experiences in a negative light, we’d rather they put a positive spin on it. It just makes it easier to see them joining a similar team environment.” Ben Owen, Global head of recruitment, MPC

06 – Be ambitious

“I would tell new job seekers to take on more work than you are comfortable with and find a way to pull it off – you will grow. That’s how our studio got started. Be a little okay with taking risks if you can, work for young and new clients or studios that you feel like you can expand or progress to get your foot in the door. If you are going the route of big studios, don’t settle for anything less than what you are worth or what you are legally entitled to. Having said that, Ingenuity was started by working hard and doing more than what was expected of us, and even sometimes budgeted for, and a lot of the times paid for…” David Lebensfeld, VFX supervisor/founder, Ingenuity Engine

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07 – Enhance your portfolio

Step 1: Keep it simple – “On your cover letter, state your name, contact details, what roles you’re interested in, why you want to work for the company. Resumes should be a clear list of education and work experience. When applying for running roles, all work experience is good to see, and when looking for artist roles, VFX experience is what we want to see.” Alice Tuxford, Senior recruiter, Double Negative

Step 2: Reel time – “I recommend putting together an online portfolio or website and listing the link on your resume. This allows you to reach the largest audience for your work and helps make sure you are being considered for any and all opportunities that might be available.” Kim Mackey, Head of recruiting, DreamWorks

Step 3: Be professional – “Vimeo links are our preferred method of viewing reels. Always list what you have done in a shot and overlay it into the reel. It’s too much effort to cross reference it with a document. We have been burned a number of times by artists being dishonest about what they have done on a shot and then subsequently they have not met our expectations.” David Lebensfeld, VFX supervisor/founder, Ingenuity Engine

08 – Interview informality

Clean clothes, clean hair, clean teeth, a smile, strong eye contact and another copy of your CV – that’s all you need for an interview, right? Marta Marks, senior artist manager and recruiter at Reel FX, says she likes “to think of the interviews for our junior positions as a test. If you can’t hold a conversation over the phone or in person without coming across in a negative way then you won’t get the job. Don’t know if this applies to you? Ask your friends, or better yet a sibling, to describe you in three words and practice your call with them. It’s good to have unfiltered feedback on how you relate to others conversationally”.

“Don’t be shy,” adds Jeff Werner, studio manager at Method Studios. “Let them see who you are and perhaps laugh, share a story. It’s great if applicants can display a bit of personality without being too informal. I believe that who you are at an interview is who you will be once hired.”

09 – Be a team player

“Someone who is eager and enthusiastic is a must. Even if you are a well-seasoned jaded artist in the industry, at least try to act excited. Also, it’s important that the interviewee is someone who will gel with the company culture, with good hygiene and a good attitude.” Anu Nagaraj, Producer, Psyop/Massmarket

“Their personality is the most important. If we’re going to spend the next handful of months together – usually over ten hours a day – we need to get along. I like artists that are motivated, respectful and ready to work within a team setting. Just be polite and happy!” Julien Brami, VFX supervisor and creative director, Massmarket

10 – It worked for me…

Recent graduate from the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Anna-Marie Payne reveals how she got her start. “After graduating in Animation, I was fortunate to land myself short contracts working at various games and TV studios, although my aim had always been to work in film. As the industry standard is so high I knew that the most likely way for me to achieve this was with a running job and then to work my way up. I knew a few people who already worked at Dneg, so when they told me that they were going to be hiring runners I set about creating a showreel and CV. When I had more experience, my CV looked more dense and I had more to flesh out my showreel, including personal projects I had been working on at home. I also researched as much as I could about the company. The interview itself was friendly but intense, so I was glad I had prepared so much. A few days later I found out that I had the job.

“After three months running, I was promoted to a reception/admin role, which I was in for another year while training in Matchmove and working on live shots in the evenings before being promoted to a full-time Matchmove position, which I have now been in for nearly two years. The next step up will be into a TD role that I hope to be moving into shortly!” Anna-Marie Payne, Matchmove artist, Double Negative

11 – …and for me

Now he has Hugo and Game Of Thrones on his CV, but Thilo Ewers’s career started when he was just a teenager. “I was 16 and still in school. I applied for an internship in a TV post-house. There I began to work in computer graphics like small credit sequences, animations and jingles. Soon I realised the potential of all this software and I started doing some FX shots and animation at home. After I graduated school I joined that company as an artist.

“The next stop for me was freelancing. I worked for different companies on all kinds of jobs like commercials, infomercials and movies. I applied to the Institute of Animation and Visual Effects at the Filmakademie. I studied there for about four or five years. During those years I still did freelance work in summer breaks. Right after graduation I joined Pixomondo and I have been there since.” Thilo Ewers, VFX supervisor, Pixomondo

12 – Be specific

“Always check a company’s website for job postings before you start reaching out to the company for a job. There are many times that we just don’t have a position that fits a certain skill set. When I receive several emails from someone just wanting a job, without doing their research, that actually comes across as negative. Same goes for applying for jobs online. Don’t apply for every single open position on our job boards if they don’t all apply to what you can and want to do. I can’t even count the number of people that blast-apply to jobs. If you are a junior animator, don’t go for a senior animator posting, because you know you don’t have what the company is looking for. This can actually hurt your job search in the long run because we can – and do – track everything someone applies for in our system. If you frequently apply for supervision positions, animator spots, light/comp spots, but then also apply for our apprentice program, that either tells me you might be overly confident and lack self-awareness of your capabilities, or you just don’t care!” Marta Marks, Senior artist manager and recruiter, Reel FX

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13 – Enhance your portfolio

Step 1: Put it all up front – “Supplying a good portfolio or showreel is key to any application, and a digital portfolio is preferable. As a tip, you can embed any videos and images in the body of your email so we can see them as soon as the email is opened. The easier you make it for recruiters to review your application and portfolio, the better. Also make sure you leave clear contact details (email, phone). It’s obvious, but important.” Jill Wallace, Studio manager, Axis Animation

Step 2: The devil is in the details – “I like it when a candidate includes their technical proficiency with the tools that they use. Again, there is no shame in being completely honest and thorough. I care if you have a basic knowledge of Visual Basic and an expert knowledge in Maya. It helps me understand what you are interested in.” David Lebensfeld, VFX supervisor/founder, Ingenuity Engine

Step 3: Break down your breakdown – “I personally dislike when demo reels don’t outline what the artist has done. I know the breakdown can be checked, but usually no one has it opened while watching the reel for the first time. Breakdowns should be very clear. A vast shot saying something like ‘modelling’ doesn’t explain what the artist worked on. Did the artist model everything? I’ve seen too many people hiding their real skills behind poor role titles.” Jose Martin, 3D lead, Psyop

14 – Be cool, be professional

“Generally speaking, if you make the interview I already like your work and you’re one step away from being hired. The interview will tell me if you can take direction and if you’re a decent person, which will help me determine if you can work in a team. If you tick those boxes, it’s a done deal! Remember: don’t ever use someone else’s work in your reel. It’s a smaller industry than you realise. When the same shots show up on more than one person’s reel, we discount them immediately. Good personal hygiene is always a good thing, especially in the summer heat!” Eamonn Butler, Animation director, Cinesite

15 – Stunts for success?

“I had a student sing me a song once, because they were humming while waiting in line. When it was their turn, I said, ‘Sounds like you sing. Can you sing something?’, and they obliged. It was refreshing to see this energy and fearlessness. You can’t be afraid to open up because it leaves an impression and helps you stand out.” Jeff Werner, Studio manager, Method Studios

“When I worked at Disney there was a very talented team.  At the end of every project we had a process called baseball trading, where all of the upcoming shows got to see the current artists’ reels. One really talented guy, whose work we were all familiar with, decided to submit a DIY video on how to make a massive spud gun using a length of drain pipe, a can of hairspray and a King Edward potato. His demo reel concluded with him shooting the spud 100 yards over his house. He entertained us and got the job.” Eamonn Butler, Animation director, Cinesite

“We get some very jazzy applications. I’d say the craziest one was a student from America sending their work in a full-on wooden chest, with their CV written on old parchment paper, full of fake jewels and their reel hidden inside a fake rock – very pirate-style. It works in the sense that I still remember them four years on, but they didn’t get hired. All your effort needs to go into making the work on your reel stand out, not the package that it comes in.” Alice Tuxford, Senior recruiter, Double Negative

16 – Don’t pester

“When it comes to interviews, it’s all about The three As – attitude, ability, availability. If you aren’t successful, however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try again. Just make sure you don’t try again too soon. When a recruiter says they don’t have any positions that fit your skills at the moment, it’s usually best to ask when would be an appropriate time to check in again. Then stick to that plan. Calling or emailing repeatedly in a short space of time can be off-putting and a distraction from the positions that do need to be filled.” Diane St. Clair, Vice president, recruiting, training and artist development, Sony Pictures IPAX

These tips originally appeared in issue 72 of 3D Artist and were compiled by Poz Watson.