Episode 100 – Interview with Allan McKay, Emmy-Winning VFX Supervisor


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Episode 100 — Interview with Allan McKay, Emmy-Winning VFX Supervisor

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 100! This Episode is actually with me.

I can’t believe we’re actually at Episode 100. I started this Podcast about 2 years ago. I only intended to do about five Episodes and see how it went. And now, here we are: There are tens of thousands downloads every month, moving to about a hundred thousands downloads per month. It’s been a lot of work! But the emails from people reaching out — with their success stories, telling me how their lives have been changed — that’s what makes me put all the hard work in and keep this going. These days, I owe a lot to my team. I have so much more planned — we’re just getting started!

As of right now, the Podcast is in the top 200 career podcast on iTunes (out of something like a hundred million podcasts). So I want to thank you for all of your help! If you do enjoy this Podcast, please go into your Google calendar and quickly schedule five minutes today, to go leave a review or simply rate this Podcast. That would mean the world to me.

– In Episode 99 last week, I interviewed my fiancé Christina Burton who talks a lot about her struggle and successes building her career as an artist (allanmckay.com/99).

– Next week, I’m interviewing Ben Snow who was the 30th employee at ILM: http://www.ilm.com/people/ben-snow/. He is still a VFX Supervisor there. I was a huge fan of his work, watching the makings of The Mummy. He’s been involved with making of Twister, Mars Attacks!, Jurassic Park, Deep Impact, Star Wars II, Iron Man and many many other films. He’s just finished working on Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! 

We have loads of cool Episodes coming up, as well as some solo ones. There is a lot of great content.

I did want to do something different for Episode 100. I was having dinner with Fred Ruff, the owner of Refuge VFX (http://refugevfx.com/portfolio/) which is responsible for visual effects for shows like Grimm. He was also on Episode 36 (allanmckay.com/36), talking about his tv show pilot for Animal Planet. He mentioned that he wanted to interview me, so I thought it might make for a good Episode 100.

Let’s dive in!



[-[1:39:28] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. Typically, we go on job interviews and either shoot ourselves in the foot by saying we charge less than we’re worth and getting the gig — but indirectly leaving tens of thousands of dollars accumulatively over time, on the table; rather than actually asking what we should be charging. At the same time you don’t want to alienate your employer by asking for too much and leaving yourself out in the cold.

I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your information — your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be worth. This is something I’m going to continue to build and flush out over time.

The key thing is, I don’t want to just showcase how much you should be worth — I want to hand you the tools to grow and learn:

– to negotiate better,

– to ask for the right amount of money in the right way

– lots of other tools!

The information is FREE! Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! Put in your information and you will get instantly notified with how much you should be charging per hour, as a VFX Artist.



Allan McKay is an Emmy-award winning VFX Supervisor and Technical Director. Over the course of his career, which spans over almost two decades, he’s worked on films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Superman, Flight, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Equalizer and so many more! He’s also created effects for video games like Halo, Call of Duty, Half-Life, Bioshock, as well as multiple commercials.

Fred Ruff is the founder of Refuge FX, a Portland based visual effects studio responsible for projects like Grimm, Last Knight. He has over two decades of experience in computer graphics, visual effects and software development. He’s worked as a Lead Product Designer at Autodesk. He currently serves on the advisory board for Turbosquid, the world’s leading 3D model marketplace. Fred launched Refuge FX in 2013.

In this Podcast, Fred Ruff interviews Allan McKay about his career as a VFX Supervisor — from starting as a generalist to becoming a studio owner and being able to pick and choose jobs — as well as the importance of branding and treating yourself as a one-person studio.

Allan McKay on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1905741/

Fred Ruff on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3846698/

Refuge VFX Website: http://refugevfx.com

Allan McKay’s Podcast with Fred Ruff: allanmckay.com/36

Allan McKay’s Facebook Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/allanfmckay

Allan McKay’s Catastrophic FX: http://catastrophicfx.com

Allan McKay’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_McKay_(visual_effects)

Allan McKay’s Overtime vs. Productivity Articles: https://allanmckay.goeoqov0-liquidwebsites.com/overtime-vs-productivity-pt-1/ AND https://allanmckay.goeoqov0-liquidwebsites.com/overtime-vs-productivity-pt-2/


[-[1:38:00] Fred: Why don’t we start by introducing yourself — and I’ll introduce myself?

Allan: Son of a bitch! I’m Allan McKay. I’m a VFX Supervisor and I also have this Podcast. I live in Portland and “I like long walks on the beach”.

[-[1:37:44] Fred: Fantastic! I’m Fred Ruff. I have a company called Refuge here in Portland.

Allan: You’ve been on the Podcast before (allanmckay.com/36).

[-[1:37:35] Fred: I have been on the Podcast before. We’ve met through the industry.

Allan: We’ve known each other forever but we never actually met. We were both doing an interview for ArtDesk in Vegas.

[-[1:37:17] Fred: Which they never aired, I don’t know why. I felt like I really nailed that interview. 

Allan: I did too! We went past each other, “Hey, I’m Allan.” Then we did this Podcast a year later (allanmckay.com/36), the Animal Planet one. Finally, we met here.

[-[1:36:37] Fred: So this is your 100th Podcast. It’s special. That’s a nice round number. Have you learned a lot in these 100 Podcasts? Has the format changed for you? 

Allan: It’s interesting. I’ve listened to a lot of Podcasts. Usually, it takes people a while to get their grasp. I listened to my [first] Episode walking from Century City once. It was basically a solo Episode: allanmckay.com/1. It was about everything I thought I wanted to get off my chest about being a successful freelancer. I never listen to my Podcast, but that day, I wanted to. The format hasn’t changed much, but it probably will soon. It’s time to go to version 2.0.

At the same time, I feel pretty blessed to go through this. I’ve just interviewed Ben Snow the other day. I was a total fanboy of his growing up. It’s really great to treat this [Podcast] as a way to get to [and interview] people.

[-[1:34:46] Fred: And you come from a point of wanting to pass along this knowledge. Even today, before we started this, you said you wanted to pass along some ideas that could help other people. 

Allan: I will say, for me, I was always driven from day one. When I was 14, I was in Australia and I had my heart set on working [in visual effects] in Hollywood.

[-[1:34:02] Fred: That brings me to my first question, actually. Did you always know you wanted to be in that industry? Or was it vague at some point and you figured it out later? Were you saying, “I want to make movies”, or “I want to do specifically visual effects”?

Allan: That’s always the first question I ask people. I always had an interest for art. I’ve dabbled in other things, but it was always creative. I wanted to be a writer, I did a lot of writing [at 8 years old]. I always wanted to be an artist, I designed all those He-Man Toys thinking my mom would send them to Mattel.

[-[1:33:09] Fred: How did you design them? Was it just on paper?

Allan: Yes, when I think about that: When you think of that movie Big, [the main character] is the ideal candidate to design toys because he is a kid, so he is the target market. For me, it was coming up with the ideas. Video games was something I delved into for a while. I was still wrapping my head around [film]. I loved 3D as much as I love art. Visual effects, when I got into them, nobody knew what it was.

[-[1:32:29] Fred: [Even] the term “visual effects” is more recent. Back in the day, there was no term for it.  

Allan: It was “special effects”, essentially. I would always have to point to Jurassic Park. When Toy Story came out, then it was, “Oh, yeah. That’s what that is.”

[-[1:32:10] Fred: What was the first piece of software you picked up? 

Allan: I was using a bunch of free mouse apps that you could use to draw, pixel by pixel. Then I got Dulux Paint and Paint Animation, which were for Omega. It’s kind of like Animator Pro. I started with that and that when I got serious. My uncle sold me his crappy 286. It was supposed to be 386, but I was denial until I finally tried to install Doom.

[-[1:31:02] Fred: So, that’s early. 

Allan: I would’ve been 10 or 11. I will say I never had money. I was paying rent when I was 14. I didn’t realize I was poor until I went to friends’ places. But it also meant that that crappy 286 [computer], I paid for out of my own pocket.

[-[1:30:30] Fred: Do you remember how much it was?

Allan: It was like $500. It was second hand. The interesting thing was I got that and I couldn’t run Doom, but I was obsessed with Doom. So I took all the artwork and put it into Wolfenstein. That got me going with customizing and creating my own stuff. I eventually picked up a 3D construction set. It was one that I bought at a store for 50 bucks. It came with a VHS tape which showed you how to use it. Finally, one day my mom bought me an issue of Design Graphics magazine, which is an Australian Photoshop retouching magazine — and it had a review of 3D Studio DOS in there. I was good at drawing but I could never draw these shiny reflective surfaces. 3D Studio DOS was where it started for me and I never looked back.

[-[1:29:11] Fred: Cool, cool! That’s a good start! I was going to ask what you did before, but it looks like at 10 years old, [there wouldn’t be] such a notion.

Allan: What I will say is that I basically started working when I was 14 and I ended up quitting school after grade 9. I was designing the first ever operating system for HDTV. Now we look at that as your Fire TV or Apple TV. I was designing that back in ’96-’97. The first gig I ever did was I worked for Valve Software, for Team Fortress 2 and Half-Life. That was huge! I felt that after working on that game, I’ve made it. I ended up having like a year and a half of… crickets.

[-[1:28:00] Fred: Was that your first big project?

Allan: I finally cut a reel. I applied at two places: Team Fortress and Ritual. All my friends had the standard life of going to school, getting a part-time job at McDonald’s. I got jealous of that! I ended up quitting it all [at 16] and going to work at KFC just because I wanted to have the normal life my friends had. I enrolled in school.

[-[1:26:45] Fred: You spiraled to a shitty job so that you could have some life experience.

Allan: It was fun but after a while I got bored with it.

[-[1:26:34] Fred: What type of work were you doing for Valve?

Allan: Modeling and animation texturing. I didn’t do any maps for them. In a smaller industry [like Australia], you have to be a generalist! Ben Snow and I talked about that the other day. I so fucking agree with that!

[-[1:26:06] Fred: I agree! I see so many kids are coming out of school wanting to focus on one thing. There is not a lot of opportunities in that for you. You really should [try your hand at] everything. That’s how you should approach life. So you were in games for a little bit? What happened next?

Allan: There is a studio in Sydney called Ambience. It has gone through iterations. When I was originally approached, it was a huge deal. I was 16 and they wanted me to move to Sydney. They’ve been trying to hire me for a number of years. Coincidently, I got a job at a game studio in Melbourne because I knew someone in Melbourne. It was the first time I’d ever been fired. (I’d been turning down Ambience, which is where I wanted to be.)

I made a huge mistake: I didn’t get settled right away. I couldn’t find a home. Eventually, the people I was staying with told me to get out. It affected my work. I was there for 3 weeks. The same day I was let go of, I had no place to stay and no money. I couldn’t get home. I ended up being homeless for a couple of days. It totally fucked me up afterwards! I eventually got home and got a job lecturing at a university.

I think there are a few core things we have to take care of:

– relationships;

– home;

– money;

– job.

Those are the foundations we live on. I’d be nightmares all the time, dealing with that. In a lot of ways it taught me that I would never let that happen again! I ended up waiting a year and then coming down to Sydney to work for Ambience.

[-[1:20:59] Fred: Was that still in games? 

Allan: No. I didn’t even want to do games. It was commercials moving forward.

[-[1:20:26] Fred: That’s cool! I had no idea. After that point, there had to have been another project [when you thought], “Holy shit, I’ve really made it big!”

Allan: I think there is never just one. There are these key moments that are really critical to your career. The first gig was interesting but then there was a drought. Then I was lecturing at a university level.

[-[1:19:26] Fred: Did you enjoy that? You’re basically doing that now, online. 

Allan: My philosophy was always no one who wouldn’t share their secrets really bothered me. I made it my thing: I was helping others. One of the people at the university was saying that they want the curriculum simple. It made me so angry! I ended up talking them into letting me to focus on beginner and advanced classes. Some of those guys [went on to do] amazing stuff. My roommate ended up founding Halfbrick Studios (http://halfbrick.com), company that created Fruit Ninja. A lot of my students went to do that. As a parting gift, I modeled a logo for their company.

When I moved to Sydney — I’d been working on 3D 3-4 years — that’s when things changed. I sat down with a guy named Scott Tansley and relearned 3D in two weeks. Being among pros, I’d learned more that what I’d learned on my own in 5 years. 

[-[1:16:37] Fred: What do you learn when you’re at a facility vs when you’re doing freelance? You’ve had enough of that experience. Young artists will have these opportunities. I want to talk about what they should expect.

Allan: I’m going to steal what the guys at id Software have taught me (allanmckay.com/81) about hard and soft skills. With hard skills, you’re actually being pushed to do things you would never do on your own. You’re being given the responsibilities and are accountable for them. For me, the first job was animating a dog to be a talking dog. I’ve never done anything like this before. You’re getting put into these situations you’d never do.

I had so many epiphanies in the first two years that changed the way I work forever. Initially, the first mistake I made was to model myself after a jokester at the studio. That cost me not getting as many pay rises because [I was acting immature]. I was 18 years old. It’s better to be quiet and shut the fuck up. I see it all the time. People in the first weeks when they come in, you’re better off listening.

I would [also] hide my work from the producers because in my head if they don’t see it, they can’t give me feedback.

[-[1:12:57] Fred: You wanted to avoid feedback.

Allan: Because then they can’t change it. It made sense at the time. Scott taught me something, “As long as they have the money — I have the time”. And that’s something that stuck with me, for my life.

[-[1:12:39] Fred: I once said to my employee, “As long as I keep paying you, you should make any changes.” I have had that situation before when someone milked an opportunity. The business we’re in now, you bring one person to do one thing. If you milk it, the producers may never call you back. Do your work — do it as fast as you can! If you want one more revision, ask for it.

Allan: Yeah. Scott kept telling me to slow down. I was trying to impress everyone at how fast I was.

First of all, working in commercials as a generalist is the best move you could ever make! Your first reel is the throwaway reel. The work that you do with a team will be polished and professional. After a year, I had 30 something pieces for my reel. Tim Miller saw it and was trying to get me into Blur. I think [being a generalist] and working for commercials, you’re going to have so much stuff!

The big lesson I learned was the work I did would be what I thought it would look like. Then I would have this friction with a producer, “Make it more like this”. People make a mistake saying, “Make it 50% of that”. I was good at what I did. At the same time, there would be this impending 11th hour, working crazy hours. It changed for me when instead of trying to do what thought was good, I would start to think about that they might want to see next. Anticipate what they say — suddenly they’d come back saying, “This is great! Just changed this one thing.” Producers stopped yelling. The more I started aligning with their vision, the more things changed. That was the first big aha. Suddenly:

– I wasn’t getting in trouble;

– I was delivering on time;

– People recognized the work I was doing;

– I was being brought in to kick it with a client because they trusted my opinion.

– We are in a service industry. You’re there for their vision.

[-[1:07:16] Fred: You’ve touched on something that’s really important. We always say, 10% of the time your trying to get 90% out of the way — and 90% of the time to fix the 10%. So if you’re trying to do your vision, you’re taking up a lot of time to polish the wrong thing. Seeing shot in a context helps too. It pulls you away from the story everyone is trying to tell. Are there any other experiences you’d give advice on with clients? I always tell my artists and you can’t come in tomorrow, I should be able to get on the server and see what you did [without having] to call you. 

Allan: When we worked in commercials, we joke we could write a book [on clients]. We had Konami as a client. They’d get you to work for 2-3 months and the last week, everything would get thrown out. It was one of those things: You work 24 hours for 7 days. It’s funny to go down the memory lane. We’d have a client who respected James Whitlam. “James, could you come down?” James would come by and love something, the client would love it too.

A couple of key life lessons for me. I did these for myself but it was also noticeable to others (like producers would stop coming by my desk anymore):

– Always save every version. You can always delete other versions.

– I started spending 15 minutes at the end of every day to write down what I accomplished and what I need to accomplish the next day. You use brain power on making decisions. For me to know what I’m going to do before I come in to work was essential. I would decide these things while it’s still fresh.

– I would email everyone to let everyone know what I had done that day: all the render passes, the files, everything. If that email is annoying, they can delete it. But at [9:00] at night, when a compositor is looking for something, it’s all there. You’re covering your ass.

[-[1:00:33] Fred: That is huge! From my point of view — having gone from being an artist to being a producer — I think that’s amazing! The artists I trust, I don’t come by their desk. 

Allan: These are all from the same period.

– Being more careful when communicating.

– Documenting everything.

– Letting everyone know what I am doing.

– When I launched my own studio Catastrophic FX, I learned a lot about management. I would put into everything into spreadsheets. It would keep me from making mistakes. It made me 10X what I was doing because I started thinking like a producer. Everyone artist needs to be a one-person studio: You’re your own client, manager, PR department. 

Everyone can tell you how good they are. It’s important to figure out your weaknesses too. For instance, I can light shots. But I would rather do 30 FX shots and team up with a really good lighter. That kind of team work makes you in tune with yourself.

[-[56:21] Fred: I have a couple of questions. One question is about simulations. It gets into so many steps you’re doing. I’d love to talk about that and see if there is an advice you could give to guys who don’t even know what that is. The other question was going back to what you learned about making a leap of making the studio. Was that the right move? 

Allan: One thing I realize I was good at problem solving. Right now, I still work in production. But what I find a lot in my courses, most people don’t know how to problems solve. They prefer to say, “Can you help me fix my problem?” Problem solving is critical. When you try to figure out these simple formulas, it changes everything.

Most of what we do is waiting around. You’ve got to be careful with your time.

[-[52:29] Fred: You could always be doing something else!

Allan: One of the things at Blur, I remember I set up a render at one time. Someone would cancel my renders. Love Blur but it’s cut throat! You have to be respectful of everyone else.

[-[50:20] Fred: If there is a farm and no one is using it at night, use it. I would render shit at night and over weekends! People notice when you do that. That’s the chutzpah you look for in your employees. 

Allan: I think that’s really critical. I started coming in at [4:00] in the morning. Chris Harvey and I have made it a game while working on Superman on who’d get in earliest. We’re in such a shitty industry: You’re either working so much, you never see your spouse. If you do see your spouse, things are shaking and you need to be finding work right now. I wanted to have a sustainable life: I’d rather go home at [6:00] at night but come in at [5:00] in the morning. At [4:00] at night, renders are starting to fill up. In the morning:

– the farms are free;

– no one is distracting you;

– sneak in another take before dailies.

I get to go home and be social with people I care about. You can figure this shit out.

[-[46:57] Fred: What everybody loved about Blur is that they’re no bullshit. One of the guys I knew there took a really high resolution screw. He put in other guy’s scene. The scene would crawl halfway through. This is about problem solving. My first answer is: start hacking your scene, import things into a new scene. And that’s generalist stuff. 

Allan: Start with logical stuff and move on to illogical stuff. I remember I was in Finland. This guy was pitching their games to a board. I remember seeing this guy choke on stage. It was so painful to watch this guy. Several months later, I was in Vegas. It was a life changing thing. I invited everyone to watch me. I decided to do 3 different workshop for CG Society. I was just about to launch my Mentorship. I was launching my Podcast. The whole time I was in Vegas, I was hiding in my room [building] the ultimate talk.

[-[41:13] Fred: What year was this?

Allan: 2014? On top of that, I was trying to script it. I was trying to speak verbatim what I’ve written down. It was a 40-page talk. I went on stage and I froze up. I had this one moment, “I’m that guy in Finland.”

I just put my iPad down. As soon as took my notes away, it began to flow. It was a wake up call. I had so much going on, it was starting to unravel. I decide to look at it all, cancel it all, or ride it out, or to pull one domino out that may cause everything to collapse. I pissed off a few people. I pulled out of one course I was going to do on Houdini, found the one of my friends and the right person to take over — and I was able to deliver everything else at 100%.

To, me it was an epiphany and I decided 2015 was my year of no. Saying yes is good in the beginning of your career and then you want to be in a place when you can say no. In 2015, I tripled my revenue by saying no. That meant that when the right thing came along, I was able to say yes. In the past, I’ve turned down The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, you name it! The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: I say no to that [because] the day before I signed on to do some shitty toy commercial. Learning to have the patience and that faith to wait for the right thing.

[-[39:10] Fred: If you only had one tool to take into visual effects to complete a shot, what would it be? And why? This is just an oddball question.

Allan: Yeah, but what the shot? I’ve always liked Fume. Nuke! At the end of the day, comp is everything. You finish shots and you pull miracles. Back in the 90s, compositors were gods. They could do amazing shit! Compositing is like a Swiss Army knife.

[-[37:59] Fred: Tell me about branding. Do you think all artists must brand themselves? I did it early in my career. 

Allan: I look at so many people and they’re so strategic. I didn’t realize I was doing it. I never thought about it until about 2014. With the Podcast, I was going to called The Artist Inside series. At that point, I did want to start unifying everything. Allan McKay Podcast sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s part of the brand. For me, everyone should be treating themselves as a one-person studio. If you do that, you’re going to start doing all these roles. One of them is marketing. I always say, “You could be the best artist in the world but if no one knows who you are — how are you going to get work?” I think it’s important to think about that.

Back in 2005, there was a day I didn’t have any work. I sent an email to my email list. 2004 was the last time I’ve applied for a job. Most of the time, I just go to lunch [with a potential client / producer]. It’s a natural meet-up. Or, I check my inbox. It’s all happening organically. You’re doing it all genuinely, you’re helping others, you’re doing your thing. I always say, “You’ve got to be in it, to win it!” People who are afraid of being rejected have to try putting it out there. If you don’t, you don’t know what’s out there.

[-[33:59] Fred: I get random emails from people looking for jobs. I save those! If I go looking for you, it’s great if I find you. But if you come looking for me, that’s awesome! I put those people at the top of my list because they’re hungry.

Allan: I want to ask you a question: What are the top red flags when people apply for a job? Ways that they screw up.

[-[32:24] Fred: I will give people a second chance because I feel like people will come around. I remember this one artist said, “I’ll work on my reel”. Are you fucking kidding me? I’m paying you — and you want to work on your reel? I say it all the time, “If I’m struggling with something that means I’m struggling with the work you’re doing. I want to be so proud of your work!” We were just working the other day, and the result just wasn’t awesome. My artists kept looking at me, like, “What do you want to do?” I just went into my office and I started over. I put some amazing background. And that was the answer! 

Allan: That’s a good point. I remember on Transformers, there was this one shot and Michael Bay was saying, “Your explosion is too big.” With visual effects, sometimes you have to work in a certain direction and figure out what you want. It takes a week of going in the wrong direction to eventually become clear about what you want. On that show, we got to the point of realizing we didn’t even want an explosion. The shot became so complicated [My friend] Kevin made the call, “Do you want to start from scratch?” And he was right! I was able to get it approved because we needed to go in that direction.

That’s the one thing I want to talk about: I always hired senior [artists] and paid them a fortune. That meant we could read each other’s minds. To me, Transformers was like that, it was a dream team! The cool thing is, we started from scratch and we did it. On Flight, there was this one shot that was getting art directed to hell. It kept going around and around. With that, we finally figured out what we wanted. Again, we all needed to get to that point. We started over and nailed it in 1-2 takes. I like that we all approached it that way.

[-[24:47] Fred: Sometimes, evolution goes backwards.

Allan: I do think that there is nothing wrong with failing. You need to stop looking at failing as a bad thing.

[-[24:29] Fred: The last question is: Where do you see visual effects going?

Allan: It’s such an open-ended, cheesy, lame question!

[-[24:07] Fred: No, no, it’s not. You don’t think about it a lot because you’re in it all the time. With all the technology coming out, what do you see?

Allan: I see British Columbia stopping their incentives, bubble bursting, turmoil. [Laughs.] No, U.S. will stabilize, it was a bit shaky for about 3 years. The industry is globalizing which is really cool. Now, LA is not the capital — Vancouver is the capital. These days, every country is getting to do amazing work. The reason I started the Podcast is to give people the tools. You need to learn:

– to bring it;

– to negotiate;

– to manage projects and time.

With all of this, it’s critical. You hear all this [talk], “VFX is crumbling, we need to unionize.” There are certain people who make a lot of money from that [panic]. At the end of the day, unionizing is not going to work at all. There is always going to be that 1 studio / 1 person who’d disrupt that. The only way it would work is if everything fell apart, and it’s not going to get that way.

The production studios — the Big Five — are the ones getting the big bucks. The studios are the ones making the big gamble. It’s more stable to be an employee than a studio. People don’t think about that. When I look at that though, I love the term “disruptive innovations”. (Taxi drivers freaking out because of Uber.) What I like is the term “next level artists”: They’re making 7 figures as artists, taking on jobs they want, living the lives they want, travel wherever they want. 99% don’t even know that’s possible! All these things: You have control as an artist.

With all this disruptive innovation going on, you can go to Kickstarter and get funds. If you want to direct, you can do all that. You don’t need permission from Fox to go do it. You don’t need to sell out. You can bypass all of this: This is why I love all these streaming services! Yesterday, I was approached from the guys at ILM. They pitched their short to me. You can have all of these tools now. You can go make a film, get it crowd funded, get the tools you need (all the software is free now). I’ve turned down work this week. It doesn’t matter where you are. You could go and be a feature film director.

A few guys at ILM dubbed the term “the Allan McKay Effect”: I click like on something and it gets so much traffic. The more you understand the way this shit works, the more you can make it work for you. I’m about to put out a video on How to Growth Hack Your Reel. If you want a job, how to get your reel to be views. Marketing your shit means visibility. If 3-4 people email you from the same studio, that’s how you know you’ve done something right.

[-[12:54] Fred: Is this the right time to plug Refuge VFX? 

Allan: I like what you’re going. You’ve created a good studio, a good team. You make some cool shit.

[-[11:53] Fred: We try not to work crazy hours. I have a kid. I have people who work for me who have lives. Why would you want to pay overtime? But I can’t ask my employees to do that. Just hire more people. Maybe it’s because we aren’t making million dollar movies. 

Allan: Let me tell you a quick story. A friend of mine DJ tried this thing called polyphasic sleep: Every 4 hours, you sleep for 20 minutes. You’re hacking sleep, so you can get more hours out of the day. I ended up hiring him for this commercial. He wanted to work 24 hours a day, sleep on the couches in the studio. I didn’t want that! It was a nightmare! He’d have these mood swings. He’s always trying the weirdest experiments.

I wrote Overtime vs Productivity (https://allanmckay.goeoqov0-liquidwebsites.com/overtime-vs-productivity-pt-1/ AND https://allanmckay.goeoqov0-liquidwebsites.com/overtime-vs-productivity-pt-2/). It was my way of saying, “Killing your artists is not the way to go!” That shit isn’t going to make them do good work. I wrote this thing and I put that out there. I expected so much backlash. It was the other way around! I had full support. All these studio started changing their policies. Even just recently, I spoke to Arman at Main Road Post in Russia (allanmckay.com/87). Even they’re changing on how they’re doing things. Showing your [artists] appreciation can do so much!

It’s hard to go back and think clearly about my past.

[-[04:06] Fred: Have me back again! 

Allan: We’ve about doing a panel. I also want to do Industry Mixers in Portland and Seattle!


I hope you’ve enjoyed this Episode. Please take a moment to leave a comment on iTunes.

Next Episode, I’m interviewing the Senior Supervisor at ILM Ben Snow. I was a little nervous talking to Ben. He did have a huge impact on me when I was 18-19. The Mummy had come out and he was at the forefront of it.

Take a moment to take some goals for the rest of the year. Rock on!


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