Episode 162 — Optimized Learning


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Episode 162 — Optimized Learning

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 162! We’re going to optimize learning. Before we get into this, we have a lot of really cool Episodes coming up. If you aren’t subscribed to my Podcast, make sure to do so — and every Tuesday morning, you will be hit with some fresh knowledge.

I recently did a Career Intensive and it was a lot of fun. We went through a lot of cool stuff. One of the things that came up a lot is how to handle the overwhelm of learning and how to study better. I hope you find this Episode valuable.

Let’s dive in!



I. [00:40] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Here is the thing: Most of us think that we can put our latest work on our reel, add some music — and get the job. A lot of us aren’t aware that the majority of reels sent to a studio are skipped through and sometimes never even watched in the first place.

Everything we’re taught about being an artist is wrong! Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write a book from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I want to:

Give you the formula to be the obvious candidate for the job;

Tell you how to build a reel and put it up on YouTube — that brings studios to you!

You can get this book for free right now! Whether you’re in design, film, tv or games, go to www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

II. [02:38] In addition, I will be releasing new training this month: VENOM! It’s high-end, free crash course on creative visual effects from the film. It will be only available to my Inner Circle List for two weeks. It will never be available to the public for free. I’ve always put up the free training and then archive it after two weeks. That meant that everyone would be in a rush to get the work done — which is the most effective way to do it. It’s an immersive way to study!

In the future, I will be putting up these Courses for sale. I mention this because it’s an incentive for you to do it for free. If you don’t, you can always buy it for free later. So, eventually, this will be released with a price tag. But again, it’s more about you to have the incentive to get off your butt and take action now! If you sign up right now, you’re save hundreds of dollars and studying the material for free.

To sign up for my Circle, please go to: www.allanmckay.com/inside/



[06:40] One of the subjects that came up with Career Intensive sessions with my students (which were quite intense) was a subtle question of where to put your attention when learning. I did a live stream of the Intensives. I wanted to cover so much! When it comes to learning, people get overwhelmed. Sometimes, it’s because people put their focus on the wrong thing or because they don’t want to do the work. You should be putting yourself up for success constantly.


Just in Time

[09:55] In terms of wanting to learn a subject, I treat it as follows: I’m going to learn it just in time — instead of just in case! I heard an amazing response the other day from my Inner Circle List. Someone wanted to go work for ILM and they thought their first step should be mastering Maya. That’s what I talked about in the previous Episode on our mindset: If your metrics are wrong, you will not succeed (www.allanmckay.com/161). If you have a result of wanting to work at a company and you think that you need to learn a new skill (while you haven’t seen a list of requirements for that company), your metrics are off! You have to look into the requirements first.

[13:11] When we do feel that pressure or overwhelm, we’re often overcomplicating the process. I use the Maya metaphor because I think it works. I’ve been using Maya since 1.0 (1997-1998) and I still don’t know it inside out. BUT: If you needed me to do a shot or supervise you on a project, I can do those things. There will be things I don’t know. When I hit a wall, that’s when I go and study it and figure it out.

[13:58] We had this discussion with my team about someone who wanted to study visual effects but didn’t want to problem solve. That’s the most important skill in visual effects: You have to be willing to start clicking around and problem solve. “What if I did this?” “Why isn’t this working?” are the questions you need to be asking. If you aren’t willing to problem solve — visual effects is the wrong industry for you! And if you were to get a job in VFX, you would have no growth and would be highly replaceable. If you want an easy job, you’re just a button-pusher. Growth is so critical! To make something easy requires for you to put in the work. You need to front load your learning. Things are hard in the beginning, but it gets easier the longer you stick to it.

[16:12] This ties into the mindset. So when I learn a new software, I learn what I need. I am very result driven. These are the critical aspects to learning:

You need to be result driven and be able to measure your success.

You need to push yourself and make sure you can apply what you learned. I don’t care if you know Maya inside out. Can you do the shot? That’s the only metric that matters. Can you do the job? Great!


Be Goal Oriented

[17:53] Going back to us feeling pressure to get a job, it overrides everything. Having that pressure is really tricky. I knew someone who just showed up to LA because he thought that being in LA meant he would get work. That’s the effort we all put in, but that’s just the beginning of the effort. Of course, that story went really poorly. I got an email from that person: “I’m living in my car. Should I go back home?” My advice to him was to get a job to take care of the immediate problem. Go get a job at Best Buy so you can afford to live. Focus on living. Once you have a foundation, then you can worry about your visual effects job.

[20:22] Occasionally, I will have a student come through my Live Action Series Course and they expect to get a job in 2 months. There are cases when that happens, but those are exceptional. For most people, it’s a journey. It’s like learning a language: It takes time! It’s a career and you need to put in the time. There is also competition. I bring this up because we put pressure on ourselves to get the result we want. We’re under so much pressure, it’s holding us back. You need to take the pressure off yourself. If you need a job, go get a job at a cafe next to a VFX studio. It doesn’t matter! Take care of the key things that are derailing you.

[23:00] When it finally comes to learning, we’ve taken the pressure off ourselves. We don’t need to learn everything about electricity just to turn on the light. We can just flip on the switch. The same goes for learning about cameras. Learning the ins and outs of cinematography, all the lenses is important as you go through the journey. But the key thing is to just do and to have fun with it.

[23:57] The key thing is to have a goal. To have the result you want to achieve. You can learn to a point, then you can learn more. For example, model a statue that turns to sand. That’s a simple goal. Look it up, research tutorials for each step. You can make it more complex later on. In my Live Action Series, we go step by step but we start from scratch. In Term 2, we use different ideas that we haven’t covered before. As long as you do the work, you can expand your success. I love hearing the success stories from my students and to hear back from studios that hire them! So learn what’s achievable and then expand on that later on. Do one thing at a time! If you get stuck, Google it. There is so much stuff out there! But it always comes back to you wanting to experiment.

[27:38] I am working on the Venom training. Originally, it was going to be a close-up shot because I would be doing everything myself. But I know if I were to go too far, I could ruin it. I didn’t set myself up for failure. I researched every aspect and it worked. Now the shot has changed and it’s going to be much cooler. But just because I know the software, I still need to go and look things up. I set an achievable goal and go from there. You have to have an obsession to learn something and you have to do it every day. That’s what it takes to get good! We have to put in a lot of time into it. From the outside, I know my friends said I was on my computer day and night. It’s true. I knew I had to:

  • Put in the time;
  • Create a reel;
  • Create a new reel if the first one didn’t get me a job.

That’s how I learn. I would watch movies that were out, get an idea and get on the path of learning how to recreate some shots.

[32:10] If you read a manual, most of the time it’s not going to challenge you. By doing something from scratch, however, you’re running into problems that you have to learn to solve on your own. You aren’t going to learn problem solving from a manual. You have to put yourself into a real environment; and you do that by doing an actual shot. That’s the type of training that I offer in my Live Action Series or the FXTD Mentorship. Can you finish the shot? That’s what gets you hired and what gets you raises as well.



[35:02] So sit down and ask yourself: “What’s my goal?” How do you make it real? How do you track the camera? Bit by bit, you start learning. Anyone who is successful does it by learning what they need. There is only so much theory you can consume. You have to actually do it!

[36:39] I hope this simplifies things for you. If you need to get out of the comfort zone, go do it; but give yourself a task. You don’t need to learn it in and out. Then start putting a time limit on it. Challenge yourself by doing — not by overwhelm! Learn just in time — instead of just in case.

[38:36] I’ve done a Episode on accelerated learning. Check it out: www.allanmckay.com/116. But keep doing your task over and over again. You will get better. Goro Fujita, who will be doing a Podcast with me, does these amazing speed paintings. And now, he does them in VR! He’s an inspiration because he does it everyday!


I hope this was helpful.

  • I will be back with Cameron Smith, a Lead Compositor at Weta. He’s doing a lot of cool stuff at Weta.
  • The Episode after that will be with Brandon Voss who collaborated with his father Chris Voss who was an FBI hostage negotiator and wrote Never Split the Difference. We talk about mastering negotiation.

Venom training will be coming out shortly. To hear about its release, go to www.allanmckay.com/inside.

Until then —

Rock on!


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