Episode 191 — Private Career Intensive


Episode 191 — Private Career Intensive

In this Podcast, Allan is giving a peak into a Career Intensive Webinar. This is a session that Allan has done recently inside his FXTD Mentorship Course. Normally, these Webinars are private. This is a chance for you to be a fly on the wall — and get some valuable information.

Usually, it’s a Q&A session, but this time, Allan had his students submit questions ahead of time. If you’re interested in the FXTD Mentorship, the enrollment will be opening soon for 2019. Either way, you will get a lot from this.

In this Live Career Intensive Webinar, Allan answers questions about negotiating, networking, setting impossible goals and the determination that it takes to become a successful VFX artist.



[00:42] 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? 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 The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[03:05] I have a new VFX Training Course on City Destruction available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. This is almost 20 hours of high end live action training: destruction, dynamic, fluids, etc. This is a massive Course and you can download all the assets! It’s available for free for a short amount of time.

[1:40:55] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in 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 charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!



[04:34] I’m super excited about this session. I’ve had you submit your questions ahead of time. I will be answering them at later on in this webinar. We will be doing these more regularly. We will also do a Reel Review which will be a live webinar as well. Thank you for submitting your questions: This helps align the webinar with your specific needs at the moment.

From everyone who answered my survey, the statics are:

  • 23% of you are trying to land your first job;
  • 33% of you are trying to switch careers into VFX.

[07:03] This doesn’t surprise me at all! A lot of us go into other careers, not realizing that what we’re passionate about can actually make us some money. Later in life, we tend to have had 2-3 careers. I know people who got into VFX at 50 years old. This is why I’ve put so much time on the subject of career. So much of the information out there is wrong! The reason artists aren’t getting the opportunities they want has to do with their mindset: It’s a passive expectation that if you just do your work, you’ll get recognized and rewarded. It’s critical to recognize why we have to market ourselves, as any other business.

Go After Your Goals

[09:04] In 2013, the industry started to get a bit shaky. There were a few people coming out with some scare tactics. There may have been some good intent, but most people were taking advantage of the situation. This is why I decided to launch my Podcast: There were a few voices providing a real solution. (And unionizing VFX on a global scale is never going to happen!) I would rather equip you with tools to go out there and get what you want.

This is why I find this time so exciting. Before, you had to climb the ladder, play a lot of games and then roll the dice. In this day and age, if you want to do something — you can go out and do it on your own. I have a friend who launched Action VFX. He started his own Kickstarter campaign to go out there and film stock footage for action sequences. A few years ago, you could not do that! Another friend of mine is doing his first feature film after putting a short film on Vimeo. You just have to realize that you have all these opportunities in front of you. My buddies Josh and Jonathan Baker are winning now [as feature film directors] because they’ve always being going after their goals (www.allanmckay.com/155).

[12:09] Talent is one thing. But talent is a small factor. It doesn’t matter how talented you are — if you aren’t demonstrating your ability. You have to get off your ass and be willing to do what it takes. You have to be willing to get rejected a 100 times. The industry is competitive only in the first few years [of your career]. From there, everyone starts to evolve. Determination is the only thing that’s going to get you where you want to be. Most people give up in those first few years.

Know Your Weaknesses

[13:27] The one thing that’s been coming up a lot is: The younger you are — the more cocky you are. A lot of people have the problem of under selling their abilities. But some do try to act like they’re the shit — without having the reel to back it up. If your reel isn’t good, you need to acknowledge the things you’re working on. That way you’re on the same page with the people who want to hire you. I can tell what I’m good at and what I need to work on. And that alignment is a key factor!

I’ve done a commercial for the Super Bowl and I wanted to hire someone. When I asked him, “Are you good at Fume?”, he answered, “I’m the best at Fume!” “What about TP?” “There is no one better at TP than me!” Everything I asked, he was the best at. I couldn’t trust that. If he were to say, “My lighting skills suck. Or, I’m not good at this”, it’s helpful to me because I can then place him. In reality, it’s hard to be the best at all these things. And you aren’t expected to be the best. Very early in my career, I had a lot of success and I was also cocky. I had this invisible pressure. I felt there was an expectation for me to put some cool stuff out, all the time. And I had this realization: Instead of saying I have to be the best, I thought who gets to decide who’s the best and what’s the point of it? I’ve met so many people who are trying to be the best in their world. For me, I want to be the best I can be — for me. Instead of seeking external validation, I want to set that expectation just for myself. We’re going to have a lot of that pressure. Those expectations can be counter-intuitive for you. It’s on you to uphold the expectations for yourself.

Keep Pushing Yourself

[21:24] The flip side is that some of you don’t have those pressures because you aren’t pushing yourself. Let me ask you: Who else is going to do that for you? I tell this to my students when they sign up for my Courses. They’re the ones who must set expectations for themselves. I saw a t-shirt the other day that said, “FUCK AVERAGE”. Fuck yeah! Do you want to be average or do you want to be the best in terms of your own standards? For yourself, why would you want to be the average of yourself? You want to be setting the bar high. It may mean becoming your own accountability partner. That’s how you’re going to get ahead.

One thing is important is your personal vector. One of the Courses I want to work on in the near future is: How to Get Started. Or, the Creative Career Breakthrough. It’s so important for us to stay hungry. In the beginning, it can be overwhelming:

  • What do I do?
  • How do I start?
  • What’s the best software to use?

It’s more about that first creative breakthrough. It changes everything and then you get the momentum to move forward. One of the key things around that is (and I still do that nowadays) — is set an unattainable goal. When I was starting out, I was a kid in Australia with no internet who wanted to work in Hollywood. Everyone was telling me I was an idiot! But for me, it was such a simple thing: Realizing where I wanted to be vs where I was — which gave me my vector. That’s the hardest thing for most people to come up with that initial goal. It sounds simple but it was just about reverse engineering. I am really good at problem solving (which is the skill we must have in VFX). If the goals seemed unattainable, what did I need to do to make it attainable. Eventually, you get achievable steps.

Set Your Someday Goals

[26:46] So set those unrealistic goals first. As long as they’re measurable, you can start. Someone left a great quote on Instagram, “It can either be ‘One Day’ — or Day One!” It’s so true. Don’t say “one day”! “One day” is never going to come. But if it’s Day One, you’re making that commitment. From there you can be constructive. I didn’t really have friends in the industry and then suddenly I was starting to meet people at events and developing connections, networking. It all started with setting goals.

[28:55] I’ve mentioned having those Someday Goals. At least, you have your far off vector. If you want to be a Sup — as long as you know what you want — it starts opening the doors. Otherwise, you won’t notice where to go. When you make a commitment to yourself — you start seeing the signs of it everywhere. Our brain only sees 6% of all the information. Once you make a commitment — you start connecting the dots.

Develop Your Negotiating Skill

[31:17] The two most common things you bring up are:

  • How do I get started?
  • How do I negotiate?

I thought that was interesting. I love that you’re looking into negotiation skills. I just interviewed Brandon Voss whose father Chris Voss was the top negotiator for the FBI (www.allanmckay.com/166). He has the Black Swan consulting firm for negotiating. I was talking with Brandon about all the tactics that they use in the FBI that would be applicable to other areas of life. You can rewire your thinking and be excited about negotiating. That’s really critical! I do love the fact that a lot of your bring up this subject as a pain point. There is a big fear about it. You’re admitting a weakness, so you’re on your way to winning.

[33:18] I think negotiating gets a bad rep. Most of us are afraid that it would lead to confrontation because we don’t understand negotiating. I think one of the key things that money isn’t the only thing you can negotiate. Anything is possible! Most of us say, “I need a pay raise!” We don’t realize we need more money is because we’re spending it in ridiculous ways. It’s not about obtaining more money — it’s about maintaining the money that you’re getting. It’s like a leaking cup. You have to figure out what your motivation is. You need to figure out how to be on top of it. There is a simple fix: Turn off half of the subscriptions, etc.

The key thing about negotiating is practice: The more you do it — the better you get at it. It’s about the repetition. With toast masters, you can practice public speaking. I wish there were something like that for negotiating. Dating and business are related because they have to do with human relationships. You could stare down people on the street to learn how to stand your ground. Some people in business go learn psychology because they want to know how to control the mind. Mind control is a thing: It’s called NLP, or “Neuro Linguistic Progamming”. (If you want to learn more about that, I would recommend you read the book Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini.) NLP is a very powerful weapon!

[39:50] One of the main things about job interviews: The only job interview I was ever nervous about was applying for a job at KFC (after I’ve already been working in VFX and I wanted to try a “regular job”). Whenever I’ve gone on a job interview in the industry, however, I’ve always treated it like speaking to friends. Most of us can be pretty stiff. If you go in and you’re friendly, you set the tone of “I’m the same as you”. I’ve been in interviews that are more psychological tests. But when you come out being human, they’re going to see you part of the team. Most people get nervous, and the interviewer knows that. But if you do get all nervous and start acting weird, they would become concerned about hiring a weirdo on their team. It’s not all about what you can do — but also the effect you have on people. You can be open and relaxed and have a sense of humor. So go in and treat them as an equal!

[42:18] A couple of things around negotiating: Negotiating starts with a no — and that should be a fun thing. I have a friend who owns a business in Austin, TX. He teaches sales. He has his students go into Starbucks and ask for a 10% discount, how ever they want to word it! A lot of the time they do get that discount, actually; but if they don’t — no one gets hurt. Once you realize that, it’s a big aha moment. It’s not as bad getting a no. If they say, “No!” — you can usually negotiate. Also, keep in mind that when they give you an offer, there is a 20% margin because they’re expecting you to negotiate. If you’re communicating right, they will tell you when you’ve hit a wall. They won’t be hiding behind a curtain. I do know some people who will continue asking for ridiculous things (like taking a laptop from the studio). You know when they’re giving you items from the office — they’re out of money.

[45:25] With negotiating, if you know what you want — then negotiating is easy. If you go in and you’re able to ask the right questions, you know what you can get. If time is a factor, for example, then you’re going to be more expensive. If they have a Super Bowl commercial that has be out in a week, you can ask for more money. As long as you sell that you’ll help them solve their pain points — they’re going to give you what you want. A lot of times, it’s money. The triangle is: Quality – Speed – Money. You can only have two of those. You can have high quality and fast — but it’s going to cost a lot of money. You can have high quality and cheap — but it’s going to take a lot of time. You’re trading one of those things.

[46:37] I did a talk in Europe a few years back on how I made half a million dollars a year as a freelance artist. I never expected to make more than a 100 grand a year. If I have beer money — I’m happy. Now, I know better. There are artists out there who are crushing it. But they’re in a rare area. Now they can come up with the money they need / want. I wasn’t good at that. I was kept at the same rate. And I didn’t want to go to one of those giant studios. Which meant that medium size studios were budgeting for a mid-level person. It’s not their fault that I would come in and have three times the experience that they were looking for. If you’re expensive per hour, you’re going to accumulate a lot.

Then all the “what if’s” come up. What if I came in asking for 20 grant — and if we agree on all the stuff, we’re good. If they start changing things later on, then I can push back. If price is an issue, I would ask, “What’s the schedule and what’s the budget?” I would agree to do it for 20 grant in a week. Knowing the situation and that the budget is an issue, I can do that. If they’re telling me the budget is tight, I can additionally negotiate going on set and sitting in in the meeting with the director or the supervisors. Would that be fair as compensation? The relationships you built there are worth a lot more. You could negotiate being an FX Lead on the next project. Is that reasonable? They would have to acknowledge that it is — and give it to you. If the stakes are high, people are more susceptible to agree. After that, you can be an FX Lead. When you go to the next studio, you can request an FX Lead pay. So focus on the big picture. There are opportunities down the line that are worth a lot more.

Everything is Negotiable!

[52:01] So think about that. Anything is negotiable! What are the KPI’s: Key Performance Indicators, aka what are their needs are? I had a key VFX Magazine approach me to write an article. They couldn’t afford to pay me and they knew it. Instead, we agreed to put out a page add for my Courses. Everything is negotiable!

One of the students in the Mentorship just got a job in LA. He asked me about what rate he should ask for. I told him: “It’s your first job and you have nothing to leverage right now. You’re a junior and they aren’t invested. But you could ask for a performance review 3 months in.” He did that and told the employer he wanted to learn how to improve. Once they told him what areas they needed him to grow in, he could do that and then negotiate a raise. If I were his Supervisor, I would see he would be worth the increase. “I want you to tell me how to improve myself in 3 months.” That’s a smart way of putting in. And you can push yourself to grow and to get better. Everyone is going to agree that you’re a go-getter. You are becoming how to be more valuable for them. Rather than asking for more money, say, “How can I be more valuable?”

[58:15] I told another student to do that. He did — and he got a 10K increase in 10 months! By the end of the year, he had 4 huge pay bumps! He kept coming back and pushing his next review. After 4 reviews, he quit and moved on to the next place where he could grow. Once you understand that everything is negotiable and what their pain points are (and you could just ask, “What are your concerns? What are you unforeseeable problems?”), you can negotiate! Ask people for information. People are happy to provide it. With communication in general, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I had to push myself to go out by myself. I learned to love it. When you lean into your weaknesses, the stronger you become. Wherever there was a wall before, it’s not there anymore. And the more possibilities it will open later on.


[1:02:20] One of the questions I asked in the Survey was, “If Allan had a magic wand, what skills or abilities would you like to be granted?” I think it’s great that you, guys, acknowledged your weaknesses like confidence and problem solving.

Problem solving is really critical. You have to be good at that — to be in VFX. It’s about learning to look at situations and learning how to resolve the difficult ones. A lot of us expect for things to be easy. Learning anything new is meant to be hard. Once you learn, however, it becomes easy. You need to lean into the difficulty. That’s why I want people to try the difficult things. Whenever junior artists hit a wall, they jump to different software instead of sticking to the harder path. In Reviews, we talk about problem solving: It’s about breaking it apart and figuring out the WHY. It’s a big part of what we do.

[1:06:12] Another student mentioned wanting to learn managing projects from scratch. I think it’s interesting, be it self managing or managing a team. I execute on everything but I’m a super careful planner. I plan out everything that I do. I posted my schedule on Instagram. All it takes is a 30 minute call I didn’t expect — and I could fail. The more you plan, the more successful you’ll be. The plan of attack — we talk a lot about that in LAS: Set it up, set out the initial destruction, do the secondaries, the lighting, the render passes. That’s the process. The more you understand it, the more you can plan.

[1:07:51] Another person wanted to learn “to be the best VFX artist he could be”. That’s why I brought this up earlier. You can’t put all that pressure on yourself. When you become passionate about something, there is no resistance anymore. You will be living and breathing it.

[1:09:29] Some of you want to know “whom to contact in order to land VFX work”. I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but I do recommend to start listening to my Podcast. You have to! There is nothing like that out there. And the reason is because I share my own and other industry leader’s insights and skills on that Podcast. I just published the Demo Reel Guide, for example: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. I’ve also done Podcasts on how to get anyone’s email address. When you’re working on your reel, it’s not that hard to make a good reel once you know where you want to work. If you’re aiming for ILM, make your reel look like the stuff they do there. Maybe you aren’t at the ILM level yet, but it is a stepping stone in the right direction. When you’re working on your reel and you have a key piece in mind, you know what you need to work on. You can’t apply at Pixar with a destruction reel. You can cater to what they need. I’ve lost count of how many of my students have gone to Scanline. Because we work on destruction in my Courses — you’re the perfect candidates for Scanline! You can also go to my YouTube account and I post all these videos on:

  • How to get an email address.
  • How to write a cover letter.

[1:13:38] You can also start building relationships. You can send 5 emails a week and start speaking to departments at different studios. There are all these tools now to even see when people actually open your emails. If you aren’t getting responses, you can revise your approach. Now, you can see exactly why you aren’t getting a response. If they haven’t open your email, maybe your subject heading isn’t captivating enough. Or, if they haven’t clicked on your link, maybe your cover letter sucks. Once they’ve clicked on the reel, you can see how many clicks happened. If you’re hosting your reel on your site, you can use a tool called www.Hotjar.com. When you’re navigating through a website, Hotjar actually records all the clicks that happen on your site. And you don’t need to know HTML to be equipped to do this! You can see how interested people are. When you do Facebook ads, you can track the conversion. That’s how Facebook knows how to charge. If you can track every single link, you can track where you’re screwing up. The best thing that studios do watch the reel, you can actually see when they do it and follow up immediately and present yourself better. All of this is a process and it’s naive to think that if you just send out the reel — they’ll get a response.

[1:22:01] When it comes to negotiation, there are some employers who know what you’re worth. But most people aren’t aware of they’re worth. That’s why I created www.VFXRates.com. You should always be thinking about your career and create and maintain your contacts. Network is so critical! I know a lot of you asked about negotiating that’s why I paid so much attention to this subject.

[1:24:33] Someone else was asking about “how to balance your skills between technical and creative”, like compositing and lighting. You can be technical in those but still be an artist. One of the books I want to mention is the Art and Science of Digital Compositing by Ron Brinkmann. You should go learn the math behind compositing. The more you get into those areas, the more technical you’ll become. But it is on you to maintain the balance. Once you learn to script, you make yourself irreplaceable. You don’t need to get technical but in order to evolve you need to! It is more of an evolution, however. Look at what you are doing and learn how you can do it smarter. I think that the best artists are both technical and creative. Then you have more potential to become a Supervisor. It’s more about doing it all and being curious.

[1:27:10] A lot of us want to switch careers. It’s one of those subjects that we don’t think about until later in life — and we think that “it’s too late”. Most of us need to realize that it’s NOT too late. You can also leverage your skills to get into the new career. VFX is often a young man’s career, and once we become 30, we want to slow down. If you’re 50 and you’re still at the desk, you haven’t evolved. You need to create your own opportunities along the way. It doesn’t mean that you stay in the same position all those years! You need to work now so you don’t have to work as hard later. Be the person who is constantly looking for new opportunities and working his ass off to move up. When you’re in your 30s and 40s, you would be directing or working as a Sup. I sometimes question if I’m working on too many things. I’ve walked away from VFX plenty of times. But I’ve directed, produced and supervised; so now I have the luxury to choose what I do. The brutal truth is that you need to be pushing yourself hard. So evaluate the opportunities and choices you have depending on what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve acquired. Check in with yourself: “Am I swimming towards land or away from it?”

[1:35:26] The last thing I want to mention is the “Plata or Plomo” mindset (“Silver or Lead Bullet”). I think about this. When you make it that dire with your career, if you’re forced to be successful — you are going to be successful! I’m just like you. When it gets easy, we get comfortable. You need to be pushing yourself to the next level. If you needed to get results by tomorrow, you would! What would do if you didn’t have all the comfort. If you would do what it takes, I guarantee it! Forget what’s comfortable. “Six months from now, I’m going to work on my reel.” Fuck that! Start working on it now and sending it out! Do whatever it takes! Most of us aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough.

I’m going to leave it there. I hope this was helpful and answered the questions you asked.

I hope you found this Episode valuable. I have a lot of great stuff coming up.

  • If you want to get the free course I’ve put together, it’s available right now at www.VFXCourse.com.
  • If you could take a moment to share this Episode with others. I work hard on these and I want to make sure people benefit from them.

I’ll be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!



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