Episode 193 — Soft Skills are the Best Skills


Episode 193 — Soft Skills are the Best Skills

This is replay of a Live Stream I did recently on YouTube where I talked about the levers we need to pull to get ahead in our career and maximize our success. This is a subject that I have talked about in the past. The reason behind that is that building our technical skills — without doing the outreach or network building — isn’t enough. It’s really important! I really want to reiterate this subject and kick your ass, so you can get to it.

This was a really well received Webinar with some positive feedback. In addition, any success stories I hear from my students come from their doing this work and other skills they develop after listening to my Podcast. Being talented, in 2019, is no longer enough. It’s the equivalent of just showing up. We all have the resources and technical abilities, but it doesn’t mean shit — if you aren’t getting your work in front of the right people! I practice what I preach — and this is everything you need to double down on, to get that success.

In this Podcast, I talk about the most crucial aspect of your career — developing your soft skills, building your social capital, networking and maintaining those relationships — in order to stand out and continue being in demand as a VFX artist.


[00:48] 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!

[03:30] Moving forward, I’m going to try doing Live Streams every single day, at least for the next 30 days. If you go to my YouTube and subscribe there, and you’ll get notified of the new content. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons. One: I want to interact more with you and make myself more accessible. I’ve also been putting out some tutorials, including on tyFLOW. I want to see what kind of result we can get by being more consistent.

[05:01] I have a new VFX Training Course available right now at www.VFXCourse.com. This is almost 20 hours of high end live action training. This is a massive Course and you can download all the assets! It won’t be up for much longer, so go get it now, for free!



[06:21] I want to talk about a few different topics. My biggest pain point is talking about career because it seems less sexy than talking about VFX. But when I look at my career, my success has been because of the work I was doing on my career and not on some sexy tutorial or reading a book that would change my life. I think that’s one of the key things we need to realize: Being skilled and talented — in this day and age — isn’t enough anymore! There is plenty of people who are talented and who’ve learned the same skills. It’s the soft skills that elevate us to the next level. Those were the source of the wind that would take my career to the next level, every time. The same goes for the students in my Mentorship and the Live Action Series Courses. That’s were the change has happened for them.

[08:01] I also look at the people who have been on my Podcast: Senior VFX Artists and Supervisors, Emmy Award Winners. They can always go back to the decisions they’ve made, but those decisions were never around some software. What moved the needle was focusing on their soft skills: some people would hustle, some would look for unique ways to land work. Whatever it was, it was about looking at what everyone else was doing — and trying to find a unique way of doing it. I remember at the beginning of my career, I was cutting my reels all the time. I was determined! It was my 24/7 job. I would send a new reel in and I would wait, but then not hear anything. I would wonder what I was doing wrong. Looking back at it now, it wasn’t the work but how I was applying, the message I was conveying; my failure to disqualify [a potential employer’s] reservations about hiring me. (I was 15 years old at the time!) I should’ve addressed the issues before they addressed them. Thinking that the skills alone would get me the job was not enough. Then, there was a point when my skills were sufficient, but I wasn’t able to stand out.

[10:53] In 2019, at the last few events I’ve spoken at, I often got the question: “Are you concerned about the state of the industry? There are so many students learning animation and VFX, would it be harder to get jobs for all of them?” A lot of you are worried about that. You go and spend this time learning (and paying all that tuition), but then in the workforce you’re competing for the same job. That’s a very linear thinking! (I recently did a Podcast on the state of the industry: www.allanmckay.com/192). The truth is: The amount of people coming out of schools is comparable to the amount of jobs available nowadays. Back in my day, there were only 2-3 studios in Australia, but not many people knew how to do that job either. Now, it’s such a thriving business, I keep finding new studios I’ve never heard of before. We’re safe in that regard! There is always enough work!

[12:42] The tricky thing is learning how to stand out from all that noise. There is a lot of people competing so you need to stand out. Looking at what I did in the beginning, when I got my first job, I got fortunate to work on Half-Life. It was a huge game! I thought I would have jobs for the rest of my life after that but I was shocked to not be able to find work. It was crickets again! It was scary that I was going to square one. I think about getting fired for the first time, as well. I moved across country and I was learning Soft Image. This is years into my career. After I got fired, by the time I got to the lobby of that building, I’d already lined up another job. I had learned by then that networking and maintaining relationships was very important. I was nurturing my relationships with studios. Years later, I was working on a big projects where the whole team go laid off. I called up Blur and told Tim Miller I was available. I started working on Warhammer. I love that all those opportunities came down to the fact that I was willing to build all those relationships. I’d known Tim for 4 years by then. It was as easy as calling him up!

[16:31] Maintaining all those relationships is the one thing we have to think about. It’s now a sexy thing to say. You have to continue looking around — even while you’re working — and building those relationships. It’s the number one most frustrating thing I find when I talk to freelancers. When I ask them what they are doing after the job finishes, I hear, “Well, I’m going to take a few weeks off and cut a new reel…” It is so damaging. You mean you weren’t going out to business lunches during this job, or chatting on Skype with studios? There is a term “a barrel of monkeys”. I look at kids that are coming out of college whom I would hire to do some basic stuff. Two weeks into the job, 2-3 of his friends end up working at my studio as well. People recommend their own friends. If you know this ahead of time, when you’re in college — make those relationships. These are the people who will be recommending you or vice versa. That’s such a critical thing to think about: How to build those networks? Some of my friends, for example, are now directing feature films or running the biggest studios in the world. You have to think how your relationships will grow down the line.

[19:43] You have to think about these things long term. I went to Unit Image when I was in Paris in March. They were talking about doing my tutorials back in the day. The reason I mention this is: The people who are online — those are the relationships and communities you’re building as well. I’ve seen people start their own companies together. Some people in my Mentorship have gone and hired their friends. Your network is everyone who’s online. I don’t care if you’re starting out — or if you’ve been doing this for 25 years, like I have — when you see something really cool online, comment. I do it all the time! You never know what will happen. Sometimes, they need consulting, other times — I do. It’s about at least starting the conversation. There’ve been people I’ve hired after posting something or commenting on something they’ve done. One of my favorite book authors just added me on Instagram. Or, Tony Robbins’ business partner follows me on Instagram. You have any excuse to reach out to people.

[22:48] It’s such a critical thing to start messaging people. The problem is that most of us will message someone with the intent of getting something. Which makes the other person wonder about your intention. But when you’re genuinely doing it and saying, “Man, I love your work!” or “I have a question about how you got into this” — that’s all it takes to build a relationship. There are time when I need something from a friend. But I’ve already built that relationship. But I wouldn’t do that to a stranger (and a lot of us do that). I tend to get 150-200 emails a day asking for things. If I respond to a long email, it takes up so much time. I want to respond to all of you but I get caught responding to one person who needs something. Which is why I love putting out my Podcast and YouTube videos — because then I can address some issues for everyone. I’m happy to give back! For me, that’s a form of networking.

[25:45] Like I said before, networking is not a sexy word. But for a lot of us, it will change everything. If you had a rolodex of all those relationships, what would happen if a job fell through? You could just pick up the phone. But if you don’t have those relationships, you’re going to have to go knock on some new doors.


[27:01] Do you recommend going to a film school?

I will talk about schools for a second. In general, you don’t need to go to school. You could learn on your own on YouTube. The problem you would have to filter through so much crap — but you totally can! The benefit of film school is that you will build a network by the end. By proximity, you’ll meet a lot of people. At the same time, you may have the discipline to do it on your own. I’m personally against film schools because I sometimes question the people who are teaching there. I would hear that people would do my tutorials in film school, which is what some instructors are doing: running other people’s tutorials because the curriculum can’t always keep up.

[29:37] Do you have any advice on how to avoid struggling?

I got this email the other day. On Mondays, my team and I go over emails because there are so many of them! There was one email that came in. A student said he kept sitting down and trying to work but then ending up playing video games. That’s a genuine problem. A lot of us know what we need to do. But we get very busy doing the wrong thing. It’s so easy to get overwhelm with doing that. So every day your intent is to do something — to do a course, to network, to apply for jobs — but those things get neglected because you end up doing other things (and not the things that will move the needle). We need to start prioritizing.

I did this talk around New Year’s (Goal Atrophy: www.allanmckay.com/174). Maybe your goal is not to commit to too many courses but to commit to less. That way you can get a lot more done! Richard Branson’s philosophy is: Say yes to everything! You will start to see more and more opportunities come up. If you take on a short film, you never know where that journey would take you. Saying yes and putting yourself out there is a massive shift. In 2015, I had to say no to things. I would say yes to the wrong thing — and ended up missing out working on The Matrix. You need to take on so many things, but once your career gets to a certain place — you can afford to say no. If your focus is to do more tutorials, why not do the bare minimum. Maybe for you, it’s about the MVP: The Minimum Viable Product. Maybe you just need 3 great shots on your reel but then go focus on that! Start sending out your reel casually. Don’t say, “Here is my reel — please give me a job!” You can introduce yourself and ask a genuine question, for example, about a certain project they’ve done. If you do that 5 times a day, you would be so much further along! That’s the critical thing. I hope that makes sense.

I know how many of you are struggling. I was there as well. Being good is one thing. But if you aren’t doing the hustle or being intelligent about how you send an email, it’s not enough.

I hope you got a lot from this. I will continue to answer your questions, please email me: [email protected]. I want to do a lot more of these on a daily basis. If you like this Podcast, joining the Live Stream is another way to get more information — and you can ask me questions.

Feel free to check out my free City Destruction Course at www.VFXCourse.com.

I will be back next week talking to Enrique Torres, the Creative Director at BOND. We worked together on the poster for Avengers.

Until then —

Rock on!


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