Episode 151 — Insights into Hiring with Realtime UK


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Episode 151 — Insights into Hiring with Realtime UK

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 151! I’m speaking with Pete Leonard, the Hiring Manager for Realtime UK. I’m really excited for this one. We wanted to do an Episode on working in the industry and how to get a job — and position yourself in good light. Realtime UK does a lot of game cinematics, commercials, tv and other work.

Let’s dive in!



[2:05] I have a new book out: The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide (www.allanmckay.com/ultimatedemoreel/). It will be appearing on Amazon, as well as an audio book. I had to write this one from a perspective of someone who does the hiring and to explain what happens when you send you reel in. There is some much great information in this Guide:

  • How to build your reel.
  • How / When to specialize your reel.
  • How to present your reel in the best light.
  • How to get it into the right hands.
  • How to get your reel to go viral.
  • And so much more!

If you get it right now, it’s free — and you’ll be able to download a 2-hour Master Class on additional tactics. What the video goes through is:

  • How to optimize your response rate, to make sure your email gets clicked on.
  • I also go over how to get anyone’s email address — at ANY studio!

You can also track how far each viewer gets into your reel, so you can extract critical data on how to tweak your material. You can spy where people have stopped or loomed on your page, as if you’re viewing their screen from a remote desktop. All of this information is important!

Check out another Episode of mine: Breaking into the Industry Through the Side Door (www.allanmckay.com/7). Start thinking about how to position yourself in a better light. Think about how busy people who review your reel are and that they may click through your stuff. Kathleen Ruffalo from Framestore was talking about this as well (www.allanmckay.com/146). I want to point all of this out, so you can position yourself in the best light. Go get the book while it’s available at www.allamckay.com/ultimatedemoreel.

[10:42] We have also just published The Ultimate Negotiating Guide for Artists. We’ve been working really hard on creating these free resources for you. Please visit my website for more: www.allanmckay.com.



Realtime UK was founded in 1996 by Tony Prosser who had a desire to create some of the most exciting marketing films in the world. It’s an ambition that has been shared with Director Ian Jones and Art Director Stuart Bayley, who thrive on collaborating with our the studio’s clients on discovering new ways to make their vision a reality. Realtime UK continues to create original work in games, commercials and television, while being true to its motto: Passionate about creating inspiring animation, cinematics and VFX.

In this Episode, Realtime UK Recruitment Manager Pete Leonard shares valuable insight on the company’s hiring process and philosophy — and gives advice to artists at every level of their career.


[11:10] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Do you want to introduce yourself?

Pete: Sure, my name is Pete Leonard. I’m the guy who manages all the Human Resources here at Realtime UK. I’m in charge of brining in our permanent staff and managing our contractors and freelancers; basically anything that has to do with resources. That’s what I do?

[11:43] Allan: Do you want to talk about Realtime UK (just for anyone who’s been living under a rock)?  

Pete: Yeah, absolutely! Realtime UK is a medium size studio here in the not-so-sunny England. We’ve been going for almost 22 years, doing effects and animation. Most of our work has been in game cinematics and commercials; but we’ve also done on realtime cinematics, VR. We’ve also had some work happening in tv.

[12:26] Allan: In terms of all the different media, is VR something you’ve been covering?

Pete: Yeah, there’s been a number of events. There is a lot we can’t talk about. The company has been doing investigation into RnD for a while. At the moment, we’re doing VR demonstrations where we’re pushing it as far as we can. We are doing it different industries. That’s probably as much as I can say about it (which is a little bit frustrating). The one thing I will say is we’ve been able to get results in VR. We’ve been happy with the quality, but it’s been a lot of work. For a medium size company, the quality of the artists is really high here. Our specialists in each area are really good and there are high level generalists.

[14:05] Allan: I want to dive back to this whole “Generalist vs. Specialist” thing. To talk about the studio, how big of teams do you have there?

Pete: It varies. Are are about 40-50 people but we can increase up to 10-15% depending on project needs. And as you can imagine, in project based industry, that can fluctuate quite a lot. But it tends to be between 10-15% increases.

[14:54] Allan: What kind of environment do you have at the studio in terms of having a fun culture to work in — and what kind of personalities you tend to attract?

Pete: In terms of personalities, we’re absolutely open. We are not set on the idea of what type of person that should be, or their background. They should be somewhat sociable. It’s not a huge studio and people get along quite well. But people come from different backgrounds: from graduates of top schools to people who’ve switched industries. It’s really important that people are committed to what they do, to learning, to improving themselves. But in terms of what they’re interested in, we’re open to that. We have people who are into mountain biking, we have some gamers, people who are into cars. It’s really all walks of life there. It’s really important they’re committed to what they do and are prepared to ingratiate themselves into a medium size studio.

[16:52] Allan: I think that’s critical to have: you want people to function in the same room and want to grab a beer after a stressful day. In a creative industry, you’re going to have different personalities.

Zoe Matthews (Marketing Manager): The notation we have, we have artists who want to jump from studios and want to push themselves. We have such a great family here.

Pete: Some of the core people have been here 10-20 years, 3-4 have been here for as long as the company has been going. What may not be known is that do have two studio locations. We have one in Manchester. We try to accommodate on both sides.

[18:53] Allan: Do you want to talk about more the artists who want to push themselves?

Pete: I’ll start by describing what the guys are here like. We have leads and they major in their area, but they have advanced skills in other areas as well. For example, our lighters can do comp shots and they tend to be able to do that whole second part of the pipeline. We do tend to find people who have a generalist background who have then chosen to specialize in an area. We find that those people tend to fit best into the studio. What you find that people who work in one area are willing to engage in other areas of the team. We don’t push people down that route. People who push themselves do well here.

[20:45] Allan: I think it’s really critical for artists to start out as generalists and then lean into specializing (www.allanmckay.com/149). Especially when it comes to effects and lighting — as the last two parts of the pipeline — you need to know your surrounding areas. Having guys who know how to light and comp is critical. You can do that person’s job as well.

Pete: And also, areas like lighting are influenced by the parts that come before and the integrity of the models and texturing and shading. Lighting is kind of the last part of the work that you do. So much come before that! It has a big impact on effects. That’s why for a medium size company, it’s important for people to at least have some idea about that.

[22:24] Allan: What’s your opinion about also continuing to learn and improve as you grow as an artist, even 10-15 years into the industry? Do you encourage your artists to grow?

Pete: Yes, definitely! There are many ways to skin a cat. It’s important to keep yourself up to date [because] technology changes so much. It means you must work on techniques because they make you faster and better. And you have to keep on top of that, because you aren’t going that, you can be sure other artists are. Some people see it as great learning thing; others — as a necessary evil or a combination. It is important to stay on top of the game. This industry is always moving. It’s never more than 5 years before there is a new package.

A lot of our guys are quite proactive on that, or even introduce the company to something new. We ask people what other skills they want to have or new areas they want to learn about. If they don’t think to ask the question, an appraiser comes around. The questions are open, so people can state what they want. We promise people the training, or have project exposure or an opportunity to go to an event that will be useful for them. It’s open for them to express what will be good for them moving forward.

[24:50] Allan: That’s great! One question I had related to that: Do you think its favorable for artists to have some sort of a scripting ability?

Pete: It never hurts because there are always areas where it can be helpful for people to know Python. We are Max users, we do pretty advanced stuff. It can be handy to improve workflow, automate some laborious duties. It will never hurt! It’s also not everyone’s cup of tea. If you find it suits you, you have a skill that’s in high demand. By osmosis, some people learned scripting, more than I’ve realized. That’s what happens here: People jump into other areas and they’re actively encouraged to do that.

[27:08] Allan: I think it’s a critical skill to have. Most artists are going to run for the hills when it comes to scripting because they think it means math. You can automate so many things, not just for a project, but for the rest of your life. It can be definitely beneficial.

Pete: Yeah, most certainly! I have spoken to artist who have tried that. When it comes to actual scripting, they can’t get their head around the essence of coding; but others can do it around a visual system. For example, some artists have registered with something like Substance Designer because it has a very different way that you create your art. You are not painting anything, per se. You’re using noise and pattern generators; and you feed those in nodes that have an effect, that transform it in some way. You can start with a base color. There are all kinds of things you can bring into it. And some people take to that very quickly. There are lots of things you can do! If you crack that package, you can do well in the Nuke package as well.

[29:14] Allan: Exactly! What software do you use at your studio?


  • The backbone of our pipeline is Max, V-Ray and Nuke.
  • Texturing is combination of Mari and Substance Painter.
  • We use Zbrush.
  • And we use Photoshop for some things, of course.

There are other packages we use, but that’s the core of it.

[29:54] Allan: To move into a discussion into hiring, discipline wise, do you find any high demand but a low supply? In other words, it may be a safe area people might want to lean into a bit more. 

Pete: I’ll start by saying: It does depend on the role. Finding good pipeline 3D’s may be challenging. The main reason is that we are a Max studio. That’s a rarity. In terms of lighting and compositors, it can be tricky for different reasons. In terms of numbers, you can always find a lighter to work with you — but you can’t always find the quality lighter or someone who has the eye or the level of exposure you need them to have. The quality for some artists can vary a lot: from their eye, to their training, to their project exposure. We have a lot of lighters and compositors out there but with skills that we need, the numbers start to dwindle. But that offers an opportunity to go into those areas. I often find that [it takes] 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration. I find that a lot of people just need to work through that and realize that to get that first good piece, you need to make 20 pieces before you really hit it. Every time you do it, at any level, you will take a few steps forward. It’s a constant push and a commitment to learning. Which is more of a mindset.

[34:08] Allan: I think it’s about having the discipline. As opposed to thinking, “Now I have a job so I’ve arrived.” So I can kick back.

Pete: I came from games and it can certainly be a problem there. It can be okay for a while; but if there is no effort to keep up, you can find yourself left behind. Learn about latest techniques and software. When it comes to the reel, we look at the quality of the work. Education is important, we value it highly. But still, it’s the quality of the footage of your shots that holds the number one slot.

[35:20] Allan: Absolutely because it proves what you can do. You can be the nicest guy in the world and have all the right credentials, but if the quality of the work isn’t [up to par] it doesn’t matter. You have to be able to prove that you can sit down in the chair tomorrow and do the work. 

Pete: Even if we can see the potential, we will be build on that. Sometimes, we really like seeing personal work, whether it be a junior or senior person. Even if it doesn’t look as strong as the latest Star Wars, let’s say, we know that everything in it is you. You’ve built yourself and challenged yourself. It’s easy to decipher: This is where this person wants to be. Sometimes we get FX artists who haven’t finished their own work but send it in. It’s great to see, just from those passes, what their chances are. That works quite well. Personal work is always worth doing, especially on effects and lighting. That tends to go quite a long way!

[37:15] Allan: Yeah! I completely agree. It’s interesting to go through the hiring process. When it comes to your own work, it’s really clear what your capabilities are.

Pete: I mean, with our guys we always expect to go a few rounds to get it where it needs to be. You never get it on the first time. There are always rounds of feedback. Will it take 3-4 rounds to get it perfect, or 9-10? Can we afford the impact of time on the project?

[38:55] Allan: To talk about the hiring process, I feel that some people are oblivious: I’ll send the reel in and then hear back in a few days. Do you want to talk about how to apply at Realtime UK? What happens with your reel once it’s sent in?

Pete: It’s a mix of everything. To be honest with you, we do get people from all sources. We do get people applying online through our website. We get them from social media channels. We are also active with talent scouts. That includes events as well. We look to meet junior to senior talent and introduce ourselves. There is a lot of way people can get in touch with us. Nothing is stopping you from sending an inquiry. Our response rate is strong. We will let people know why people weren’t considered and what would get them a different outcome. They get some useful feedback.

[41:36] Allan: You need that, even if it is criticism. The hard truth helps you make some changes. The most honest people are with artists, the bigger favor you’re doing them in the long run.

Pete: I’m really glad you said that. I have had conversations with other Hiring Managers where they don’t want to offend anyone. You can give constructive criticism without being offensive. If someone had sunk thousands of hours and dollars into their education, you really are doing them a service [by telling them] they aren’t quite there. If we don’t tell them, how are they going to improve? We need that next generation of artists!

[43:09] Allan: They will be closer to be a valuable resource then! Do you find that there are some common mistakes or red flags (when people send their work in or during an interview)? People aren’t even aware of the mistakes they’re doing.

Pete: There are some things that people can avoid. Talking trash about your previous employer isn’t great. It’s a professional criticism thing. If you’re looking for a job, obviously there is a problem at the previous job. I think it’s okay to be honest; but it depends on how you present it. You can be professional about it. Nobody is perfect. But that’s your first impression, that’s going to be amplified.

The other thing as well is: Get the key things right on the application:

  • Let us know who you are you.
  • What you can offer to a studio. (“I’m good with some technical aspects, shading, texturing.”) As long as you’re clear about what you do, you can bullet point those things.
  • Let us know where you want to go so we have an idea.
  • It sounds obvious: Have a link to your reel, wherever it is.

It’s simple but effective advice: Just put your best stuff on your reel. A lot of Hiring Managers will be looking at it and wondering why these older pieces are on the reel. You’re leaving yourself open to the risk of being questioned about what your eye is like. Don’t keep the fluff in! It doesn’t show you in the best light.

[48:45] Allan: I think people don’t realize how volatile the whole interview process is. You have 20-30 people applying for 1 position. All it takes is one bad shot to disqualify you. You start to question if the applicant considers that good and if that’s the level of quality he / she is willing to let slide. Less is more!

Pete: Very much so! I mean we have a little article on our site about what we look for when hiring people: http://www.realtimeuk.com/top-tips-for-joining-realtimeuk/. It has information about the interview process. We try to keep it quite inviting, so people can absorb the information. We also did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/animation/comments/6tl6qz/ama_how_to_get_a_job_in_the_industry/. One of the questions was: I’ve been applying forever and I don’t hear back. We try to break it down to what’s going on. It’s worse to not say anything and not hire that person. We need to do better than that.

[51:39] Allan: I think that’s great that you do that. You’re doing everyone a disservice when you keep your mouth shut.

Pete: When you make some kind of investment, if you provide enough feedback, some of them will come back 3 or 4 people and show their perseverance and show that they’re able to take the feedback. They are still not quite there, but they’ve improved, their timing, posing, etc. The point is that they took the significant steps. The Hiring Managers do notice that here. Those people are hard to find. We will engage in that process with you.

[53:02] Allan: I think it’s brilliant that you mention that. It works as a filtration systems. The ones who can come back in 3-6 months and work on those things — and they come back with a new reel — they’re the ones that are determined. It helps you recognize them as good candidates. They function just like in real production. And it’s also a chance to start building a relationship with your studio.

Pete: Yes. It helps you get the cultural aspect: How well can people take feedback? Some people respond with an argument. It’s just about seeing where it goes. It’s worth mentioning we run an academy where we hire juniors and people have an internship experience. We hired a few students last year. They were all very good but we only had 2 positions open. The students were tested but they learned a lot. They were doing proper scene development, framing shots, etc. The students were very complimentary of it. People walked away with tangible stuff they could use.

[56:07] Allan: Let’s say you’re not in the UK or you don’t have a work permit. How do you, guys, handle that? What’s the right way approach you about this subject?

Pete: Um, well. There is no wrong way to do it. Realtime UK does support work visas. We have people who have come through that process. It’s more of a question of practicality. A lot of it depends on what job you do and is it on a shortage list in the UK (www.allanmckay.com/109). Some of that is based on what your base salary would be. There is a page on immigration that has all of that information: https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration. That’s one of the best places to get information. All the companies hiring in the UK follow that guideline. We do check if we have a good chance to get the individual to get here, and guide them along and assist them with the visa and the costs that are involved. We can’t do the applicant’s side of the application. But we can talk them through what they need to consider.

[59:13] Allan: I actually did interview an Immigration Lawyer in the UK: www.allanmckay.com/109. Do you think there is anything artists can do ahead of time and start thinking about now? Like, having a paper trail of accolades, for example?

Pete: I can give you some tips that have worked well. We are not, however, immigration lawyers — and the law and terms do change every year. So check up on that, talk to a laywer. But the key things I can tell  you, as of now:

  • Always check the list of shortage skills (which is available on that government site). That gives you an immediate leg up.
  • Education certificates are worth keeping.
  • Having some funds is important. There will be some costs of paying for visas. Anybody coming into the UK now has to pay a surcharge of 200 pounds every year on your visa. If you’re coming on for 3 years, you have to pay 600 pounds upfront. That’s your way of making a contribution in case something happens. You do the same for your family members.

This is it’s own subject. But keep a specialist in mind to help you with the application.

[1:02:39] Allan: That’s great advice, but it’s definitely a bigger conversation too. In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a question about changing careers. People were worried about whether age is a factor when it comes to hiring in this field.

Pete: It’s not a consideration for us. It’s not anything we base a decision on. It’s one thing when someone comes in with more life experience: have more realistic expectation or doesn’t get stressed easily. We don’t get ageist like that. The same things still apply:

  • The skill level.
  • Your understanding of the packages.
  • Your show reel.

[1:04:09] Allan: You’re right. It’s about getting the work done. It’s a service-based industry. I figured I’d ask this. I’m shocked when this question comes up. I guess it’s because when you transition later in your career, people have more responsibilities.

Pete: There are all kinds of circumstances. And every case is different, but it’s not the basis for our decision. If you have a good artist, producer, operation person, we will bring them into the studio. I’m reminded of a designer who worked on Oblivion at Bethesda. He was in his 60s when he was designing on that game.

[1:06:09] Allan: The final question I have pertains to juniors. A lot of people when they start out, they’re less grounded. They want to do a lot. Do you find that when it comes to hiring juniors, you have certain concerns?

Pete: Only in a sense that we don’t have the industry experience. Again, like the seniors, juniors have their place at this studio. There is a time of the year we take on juniors. More often than not, you don’t have to come from an actual school. But because most people have a formal education, we tend to hire them around the summer. We have time in our schedule to hire and do the academy. All those things mesh together. But the major consideration:

  • What are we looking for? We tend to get more generalist reels from students.
  • Having a look at the work, how would they fit in?

We do like working with juniors. They usually have a lot of passion and want to work in different areas. Juniors can be quite good at making that fit. Normally, we hire during the summer. We’re proactive in that kind of search. I’ve got graduation jury in 48 hours. I’ll be going out and looking for junior artists. Now is a really great time to get in touch!

[1:09:46] Allan: Is there anything you want to add?

Pete: We’re actually going to be at SIGGRAPH this year in August. If anyone wants to meet with us, grab a coffee and say hello. One of our guys Stu Bayley is going to be doing a talk there as well. He’s done a few talks.

[1:10:32] Allan: This has been a lot of fun and you’ve given so much critical advice here!

Pete: People can always get in touch with us as well. We are quite busy with some things right now — but we will get back. Just give us a bit of time. On our website, check out some of our articles.

[1:11:36] Allan: This has been great! Thank you so much for your time!

Pete: It was great to speak with you, Allan! Thanks a lot for your time!


I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Pete and Zoe for their time.

  • Next Episodes, I’ll be back with more Demo Reel content. If I do something, I’m going to do it to death.
  • The next one will be on the types of demo reels you can have — and how to land the right kind of jobs.
  • The one after that will be on how to get your reel out there and in front of right people. This one will be very valuable, beyond demo reels.

I want this to be a phase of the Podcast, so you can find sequences of Episodes on a subject. I also have some interview Episodes coming out.

Please keep checking out my website with all the new material: www.allanmckay.com. I also have new training coming out on Venom. Send me an email with your suggestions: [email protected]. This is your chance to submit ideas.

I will leave it there.

Until then, rock on!


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