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Episode 132 — Kat Evans — Exiting the Industry
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 132! I’m speaking with Kat Evans about exiting visual effects after 15 years. This is a follow-up to Episode on Women in VFX: www.allanmckay.com/127/. I decided to break it up and make each subject laser focused.
This Episode is about Kat changing careers after 15 years. She’s been working for studios like ILM and Tippett Studios. She’s worked on films Iron Man, Transformers, Matrix Revolutions – you name it! Her husband Neil Blevins, who used to work for Pixar, is also going through a career change.
This successful artist talks on the subject of the exit strategy. VFX is a very demanding industry that affects our energy, relationships and health. We’re so focused on getting into VFX. We have to bounce around to different cities and work demanding hours. How long can you keep doing it? Of course, you have to front load your hours in the beginning — but it’s important to think about what you want to do down the line. What do you want to do longterm?
This is such an important subject! I would love to hear your feedback. I have one more Episode with Kat coming up.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
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INTERVIEW WITH KAT EVANS
Kat Evans talks about switching careers after being an already established VFX artist — and offers valuable advice on how to make this transition intelligently and successfully.
Over the course of her decade long career in visual effects, Katharine “Kat” Evans has worked for large studios like ILM, Tippett Studio, Giant Killer Robots and several others. Her credits include films like Hellboy, Matrix Revolutions, Fantastic Four, Transformers, Rango, Lucy and the Iron Man franchise.
Kat received her MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She began her career as a Roto Paint Artist, then moved on to Match Moving and Camera Layout. Since 2017, Kat has been focusing on a new career in User Experience Design (UX).
In this Podcast, Kat talks about switching careers after being an already established VFX artist — and offers valuable advice on how to make this transition intelligently and successfully.
Katharine Evans’ Website: http://cleverevans.com
Kat Evans on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1498320/
Kat Evans on ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/cleverevans
Kat Evans on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katevans/
[-30:01] Allan: What I wanted to ask you about is how at this point, you’re moving into UX bootcamps, is that right?
Kat: I did a 10-week bootcamp that started in September and finished before Thanksgiving. So now for the last month or so, I’ve been putting together a portfolio. I’m updating my website with UX work. I’ll have my film work on the site as well.
[-29:25] Allan: I think it’s always good to leverage what you’ve already done. Even though it’s not what you’re heading into, it still has clout. You’re already established in this other industry.
Kat: And who knows, maybe there is a place that needs someone with my unique skills. I’m not going to pretend I don’t know how to use Maya. So yes, I’m building my portfolio. And then the job search will begin, talking to people and seeing what opportunities are out there for me — and what’s an interesting problem for me to solve. So that’s where I am right now. It’s very exciting!
[-28:33] Allan: Going back to the very beginning of our conversation (www.allanmckay.com/127/), I think there needs to be a catalyst. It’s a big decision to switch careers and a lot of people aren’t willing to do that because they think it’s too late [because of their age]. A lot of people have that mindset that they would need to start from scratch, be a junior working for $12 an hour. You can leverage everything you’ve done so far, in terms of your life experience. The idea of starting from scratch doesn’t apply.
Kat: You’re so right! There is a big difference between a 20-year old fresh out of school and a 30-year old who’s worked for 10 years. They’ve worked in a professional environment, communicated and collaborated with other people. There are all of these “soft skills”:
- The ability to give and receive criticism,
- Being able to listen,
- The ability to write a professional email,
- The skill to present something,
- Public speaking skills.
When you’re fresh out of school, you don’t have those skills. People who are switching their careers bring a lot of things to the table. While these skills don’t necessarily show up in a portfolio, they show up in an interview. These are people who understand how to communicate, listen, receive criticism gracefully, how to handle things when they fail, how to roll with the punches, how to course-correct. Those are all really important skills really learned only on the job!
[-24:58] Allan: Even being able to speak for yourself and ask questions. I’ve always respected the hierarchy. Now I look back and realize I should’ve raised a red flag before; but I trusted the system. I think that there are life lessons that we learn. There is so much value that comes from living.
Kat: That’s absolutely true. Switching careers is hard. But the thing that’s the hardest is that feeling of not being an expert. You work for a long time at something and you become good at it. There is a certain level of comfort that comes from that.
[-23:22] Allan: I like being a novice. I honestly love learning about things I know nothing about. There is a certain vulnerability that comes from that, but it’s also exciting! It’s fresh and challenging. But for some people, it can be pretty intimidating.
Kat: I agree. There is something exciting about starting something new, but it’s also painful. Getting outside your comfort zone and jumping into the unknown can be pretty scary. You don’t know if you’re going to be able to perform at a certain level. Can you be as good in your new career?
It would be great if I could intergrade some of my old skills into a new job. But as a visual effects artist (and you may agree), moving place to place, I feel like I was constantly learning new things anyway. I had to learn new pipelines and different proprietary tools. You’re constantly having to learn new things in your career anyway, and if you get too comfortable — maybe it is time to move onto something new.
Neil and I, as parents, had to become responsible; so we got Life Insurance. Neil got on the phone with this insurance guy. They have this massive data on when people become parents or get sick, etc. When you’re turning 40, it means that statistically, you’ll quit your job and start your own business. And here I am!
[-19:02] Allan: Christina was just talking about her childhood friendships. I told her that every 7 years, so you’re well overdue for new friends. It’s funnier when these statistics are closer to being accurate.
Kat: Very much so!
[-18:33] Allan: It’s pretty amazing to go through this life change but scary at the same time. How do you feel about starting something fresh and new?
Kat: I feel very fortunate. In order to do this, I have to have a certain amount of stability so that I can take this time to take a class, build a portfolio and look for a job. Not everybody can do that! I would also say: You can find ways of doing things if you really try to. There is so many great online courses. You may not be able to do it in the ideal way. You could learn things on the internet. I took a bootcamp. I knew that I needed structure to learn things and to meet people, but you can find other ways.
[-17:01] Allan: This is more of a hypothetical question: When people think about a new career, there is so much resistance in terms of convincing themselves that it’s too late. What do you think are ways that allow you to switch careers intelligently? I think most people think it’s black and white. You can start freelancing on weekends, taking courses. Maybe instead of taking a vacation, that could be a chance to go get a new experience. There are options that don’t require a linear transition. All of these things are factors that scare people and they convince themselves not to do it. Do you have advice on how people can change careers without risking everything?
Kat: Yeah. I think what you’ve just said are already great suggestions.
First, you have to ask yourself: Is this something I really want? If you’re thinking about it all the time, or reading about it, or it’s a hobby you enjoy — and you’re miserable at what you currently do — those are some signs.
And then what you’re talking about: Take a little freelance gig or leverage what you actually want to do on your current job. If it’s completely unrelated, take a look at your life and see if there is any room to take some time for a course or a freelance gig. I do think these days it’s really tough to completely self-teach. Online courses are great: You can try it out and see if you like it. You’re not committing to a 2-4 year college or thousands of dollars in tuition. There are so many opportunities to stick your toes in the water.
[-13:05] Allan: Or go take a Neil Blevins course on Gumroad.
Kat (Laughs): Yeah. In your free time, take online classes and see if you like it. See what everybody thinks of your work. You’ll know if that’s the right thing for you. At some point, you will need to make a plan to execute the break. When I decided to go into UX, I had a friend who was in VFX who told me she would become a developer. What was great was that I was able to witness it (and she didn’t have a partner so I have to give her a lot of credit for that!) Now she is a backend developer in the tech industry. She is a badass!
[-11:33] Allan: Such a different industry too!
Kat: I know! But think of the amount of strings of code you deal with [as a VFX artist]. There is a lot of logical thinking involved in what we do. Sitting down and talking to her [was great]! She would share her experience: For example, that making a job transition takes about 1 year or 18 months. You need to be prepared for that. You think you’re going to do a bootcamp — and then bam!
[-10:53] Allan: Yeah, those abs are just going to pop on as soon as you slide your credit card
Kat: Exactly! But it doesn’t work that way.
[-10:39] Allan: I think people need that reality so that it’s reassuring while you’re going through it. It’s going to take time, there will be resistance. It’s easier when those expectations are set.
Kat: One of the things I did was [that] I found someone else on LinkedIn who used to work for ILM. I did my research and I found this guy who worked for ILM and also did the immersive UX class. I contacted him and took him out for coffee. He was very generous with his time and sent me a bunch of assets from his course. That was great for learning how to set my expectations. You should find people like that. There is plenty of people who would do the same for you! Go and find them.
[-08:45] Allan: I think that’s brilliant advice. There are people who have walked the same path as you and you can learn from their experiences. When Christina and I talked about her starting her own business, I told her to learn from other people first (www.allanmckay.com/99/). You’re able to learn instead of making mistakes of your own. Having that information be presented to you early on sets you up for success.
Kat: Oh, yeah! That person can help you get a handle on what to expect. They’re also your first contact. So much of this is about human relationships. 98% of jobs are found through somebody you know. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about it. Most people want to help others.
[-06:43] Allan: And most people won’t actually reach out. Because it’s easier to not do anything than get out of your comfort zone. As soon as you start doing it, you’d be surprised. One of my friends is directing his first feature film with his brother; and [back in the day] they would win all of these competitions. Their whole philosophy was that most people wouldn’t even try. So these two guys would just clean up by entering every competition. That’s a metaphor for everything else: For everyone who tries, it’s a 50 / 50 chance. It’s all about getting off your butt.
Kat: A hundred percent! And also: Nobody gets to where they are without the help of others. That is true! If you approach a person as if you want something out of them, that may not be the best way. But if genuinely want to take them to coffee and learn from them, people can be very generous with their time. People like to make connections in their lives. So don’t be afraid — but also don’t be creepy about it.
[-04:16] Allan: My team and I have been talking about raising your social capital: www.allanmckay.com/117/. It’s a muscle: the more you work it, the more you do it unconsciously. You start networking and connecting other people. It’s not about getting returns but about bringing values to people’s relationships. You never know where that leads. It’s more about giving back!
Kat: I think you’re absolutely right! You’ve got to have something to offer. But at the same time, you need to let people know you exist. You can’t think, “I’m going to be really awesome — and people will discover who I am.” It’s not how that works, really! Instead of thinking what a person can do for you, think about what you can bring to the table. That mindset can have a productive result.
[-01:32] Allan: If anyone wants to find out about you — or do some UX work with you — is there a place they can find you online?
[-00:49] Allan: I love your domain. Thanks for doing this! I had a blast.
Kat: Thanks, Allan! It’s been fun for me too.
I hope you enjoyed this Episode and got a lot from it. If you have time, please review it on iTunes. I want to thank Kat for doing this!
Sign up for my Insider List at www.allanmckay.com/inside/.
I’ll be back next week with Ryan Connolly from Film Riot. Until then —