Episode 206 — How to Build Exposure


Episode 206 — How to Build Exposure

Welcome to Episode 206! This Episode is on the subject of building exposure: Leveraging what you’ve already done in your career to build a content machine and to use that to build a bigger name, to get attention, to get work and to build your brand. I’m really excited about this Episode.

It’s an area I don’t see many people talk about, but it’s a big passion of mine. To be able to harness our passion to build our name and brand — is important to what we do. A lot of us are insecure about it. There is a difference between being a sell out and knowing that you’re running a business. What I want to do in this Episode is present a painless process in how to do that. I want you to start thinking about how you can leverage what you do day to day.

I attended a talk about this yesterday: You can sell anything these days! When it comes to your work, there will always be people interested in seeing your work! The inner critic that beats us done needs to be avoided. You need to keep doing your work and showing it. So start leveraging what you do day to day.

Let’s dive in!


[01:00] 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!

[36:36] 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!


[05:11] What I want to talk about has to do with the subject of how to utilize the day-to-day work that you do (in film, tv, games, arch viz) that you may see as being less glamorous — and to prove that you can build a machine that helps you gain attention and build exposure for yourself. I am VFX Supervisor in Hollywood and I have worked an many studios, including ILM, Blur and many other studios. I’ve worked on projects like Game of Thrones, Superman, Avengers: End Game, Star Trek, Transformers. We all so really exciting stuff whether you believe it or not. There are people who will always be interested in what you do, no matter where you are at! As long as you do something visual, you might as well use it and utilize it to build attention for yourself.

[06:12] No matter where you are and who you are, people will always be interested to see you what you do. The more you do this, the more people will gain familiarity with the type of work that you do and your brand. It will help you get future work and it can leverage it into side income. This video is for anyone who makes visual content: video, images, photography, anything we can actually see. That’s really important to think about! What do you currently do? Anything we can see — you can leverage.

[7:05] Even if you’re a character TD or a programmer and you don’t see your work once it gets to the screen, you still have control over that and how people consume it. There are ways to present what you’re doing into something that’s exciting. One of my students is the Lead at id Software that works on Doom (I did an interview with the company’s artists before: www.allanmckay.com/81). She’s been posting these really cool Instagram posts demonstrating these formulas and math equations, visually creating all these different patterns. So by using your creativity, you can come up with some really cool ideas. That’s something to keep in mind.

[07:54] On the subject of whom this video isn’t for — it’s for anyone who’s scared to get attention and / or for anyone too lazy to work to become successful. If you aren’t willing to put in the work to get success, this video isn’t for you.


[08:12] I don’t know how familiar you, guys, with this. In the past, I worked on tv commercials for a month. I’d work on one for a month and then put it online and get a chance to show what I’ve been doing all that time. Eventually, it would disappear into the Facebook feed. In other words, it got very little attention from a few people for a quick amount of time. It seems to happen the same way on social media. We’re more focused on creating our work for a paycheck but we aren’t worried with what happens afterward. We want for our work to be something to show off. We want to put our thumbprint on it. We want people to think of us when they see this work.

[09:11] I think it’d be so cool when you posted your work — that everyone thought of you. If it was a Super Bowl commercial, we want people to say, “My friend worked on that!” Our work has such a short shelf life in comparison to how much work we put into it. Most of the time, you work on it — and no one even knows what you did. Which one of you is interested in getting more eyes on yourself? A lot of us see other people doing that and we get frustrated because we don’t have anything to show. The secret is: While you’re working on cool (or not so cool) stuff, you can still leverage it to get ahead.

[10:12] Whenever I worked on projects for a long time, they wouldn’t get the attention that they deserved. And that frustrated me! I wanted to figure out a way — build a machine — that would allow me to put things online and get the visibility I really wanted. I want you to think about the work that you do. Even if it’s beginner-level stuff, getting it in front of other people (who may be starting out, just as you are) means finding your community, finding the people who are in the same boat as you. There is always going to be someone! I, for example, collect weird Facebook ads. So there is always going to a weirdo like me who’s interested in the most strange stuff.

[11:16] Let’s say you’re working on a commercial. The same way when a film is being done, it takes a lot of money, time and people. [When a project gets released], they want it to succeed and to maximize its potential. They don’t want to just put it straight to DVD and move on. What do they do in those situations is: They do marketing, PR, behind-the-scenes, interviews, have the actors do their appearances and talk about the project, award runs, articles that are being written about it. There is so much promo and PR that’s being done! I remember with Ready Player One, they recreated the main character’s bedroom and you could go into the storage container and see it. I remember when the Ali G movie came out, they had clones of Ali G in cars driving with girls in the back. I think it’s important to put that much into project promotion! There are giant teams that work to make sure this work gets seen, and most importantly, consumed.

[12:34] For us, it has to be the same: We need to be our own PR team! With our projects, it should be the same as doing a movie launch. When it comes to a car, for example, once the car is finished — in order to sell it, the shop is going to strip it down to all these different parts. They aren’t going to let a single piece of it go to waste. The same goes for us: We need to make sure that we’ve built a machine to make sure our work gets seen. In other words, when you put out a commercial, I want you to think about how to put it out in a hundred ways, to leverage that attention. Not just one piece, but lots of pieces! For example, for my FXTD Mentorship, I cut a 5-minute student reel using the work by my best students. I wanted to say, “Look at all the amazing work we do in this course!”; but I also wanted for my students to get exposure and to make sure their name is on everything. That way, when I got contacted by studios — they could refer to the student by his / her name. When you go to my Instagram though, you will see the student content to be posted over and over, in separate pieces. Rather than having people see all the work in one big hit, I post parts of the student work because it gets more attention. Rather than putting out 30 pieces in one time, I’m putting 30 different pieces. That means that every student gets his / her moment to shine. It means that people get contacted after that exposure. It begins to build familiarity with artists’ work.

[15:13] Let’s say I were working on the new Godzilla movie and I created a lot of city destruction shots. I put my heart and soul into it! The pay off would be: I worked hard, I got my paycheck and never got much sleep. I could also put this on my demo reel and the only thing I could post is my own circled name in the film credits. That’s pretty much it! What are the things you could leverage? Not only could you post all the things, but what you learned from that experience. (Now, I’m aware some of you might have resistance. You might say, “That’s Godzilla, but no one is interested in my flying logos!”) You could get behind the scenes and talk about what you had to do. There is always content that you could talk about. So when you’re done with a project, I want you to treat it like that car that came into the body shop. This is your chance to leverage every single piece. How many different ways can you utilize each project?


[16:55] And I’ll be honest: There have been plenty of jobs at which I now look with the long term value [in mind]. There are jobs that pay well. Some jobs help me build my name. What else could I leverage:

  • Could I do a talk about this?
  • Could I write an article?
  • Could I put it on social media?
  • Can I do a key-note talk?
  • Can I put it on YouTube and say, “These are the 3 most valuable lessons I learned on this job!”

The more I start looking at it beyond the one-time thing — and the investment of time and energy on my part, how can I utilize it beyond the paycheck? Again, what did you learn from it? Nothing would be too boring to talk about! Wouldn’t be cool to write about some technique your learned? Or even about a burnout? Look at each project as good and bad.

[18:38] This is the main takeaway I want you to have from this talk. You work on a commercial or on the new Godzilla (which some of my students actually got to do!), what if you made the making-of video? You could do the behind-the-scenes, or render elements you’ve built. You could put it on your reel or the best of. Once that goes dry, what then? That’s where the behind the scenes video could come in. I remember working on God of War and coming up with a simple script that would archive a playblast. That would help us save them and share them with our clients later. At the end of the project, I had so much content I could show off! Even the mistakes that happened or things that backfired! You could put together a goofy video as well. This is something I want you think about it.

[20:38] From there, what do you do with all that stuff? You could do a key note speech and approach some events and say, “I just worked on Godzilla, I’d love to do a talk!” Again, it’s a team effort, so you can name drop other team members’ names. But you could own the part that you worked on. That tiny piece that you did — you can be proud of it! You could write and article and contact the 3D World Magazine; and you could do the behind-the-scenes stuff. You could build turn tables and break down shots. You could do the before and after. These are the things you could do to leverage it. You could do tutorials on this stuff (which could help you get discovered). I mentioned a friend of mine who worked on The Titanic and that’s what he became known for. The more you do blog posts — whatever you can do to leverage your experience — the more you build a brand. You could do a post mortem talking about what went wrong. I went to Rising Sun Pictures in Australia and they talked about Harry Potter and what went wrong there. And it was so valuable! I was about to go work on a film with vampires and fires. Hearing that talk, I didn’t need to waste six months making the same mistakes! People want to consume that. You could reach out to Podcasts and get interviewed. Visual effects are becoming more mainstream. Now everyone knows what that is and people want to learn more.


[24:19] To recap: You have the finished the job. Now you look at it like a car and strip it down. How can you leverage it? You should be doing it all the time: How can you leverage your previous job and your current one for the next one? How can you get more attention? The more people see your name, the more they will associate your work with you. That’s what happened to me: I no longer have to look for work because people know what I do. And I know that’s a fortunate position to be in! But that’s how I got to this position!

[25:29] Another thing to think about:

  • What if you modeled a city for a client but you own all the content? You could actually sell it online. I am doing a Podcast with a big model bank online. I cannot wait to do that! The VP was already communicating success stories where the artists are making $10-20K per month doing that. You can sell your stuff and people can use it for their own production.
  • I know some of the guys at Quixel. What if you built a 3D model of a tree and sell those?
  • I have a matte painter friend at ILM who goes all around the world and takes pictures and sells them as matte painting texture packs.
  • Once you finish a project, you can sell the assets and shots that you own.
  • If you made customized scripts, you could sell that. That all comes from working on a project that had a special need. All the render passes, stock assets (you could sell them to ActionVFX: www.allanmckay.com/77); all the mo cap! You could strip down every element.

[29:29] You could work on something for so long, you can finally post it for exposure. You can have each part of it give you exposure. Anyone who creates visuals that end up on the screen can do this: animators, matte painters, compositors, character TD’s! It applies to everyone! In the beginning of your career, you may not get to do the final visuals — but you can still get to talk about them. You can show off the math if you’re someone who writes scripts! You can get exposure, the clout, which builds your brand and it will lead to future jobs and writing offers. I used to get approached by publishers. This technique for me is the auto body method.

[30:18] My challenge to you is to look at the recent projects you’ve worked on and think what you could break them down into. How can you leverage them? If your stuff sucks, there is someone who may want to consume it. (I just posted a scan of something I shot in LA and it already got 10K views in less than 24 hours.) As boring as you think your stuff is, go do it! The stuff that works — double down on it! Strip it all down and make it into the process that allows you to get exposure and potentially, job and money — and use it to your advantage!

[33:11] I hope you enjoyed this Episode and you get to apply all the knowledge I passed on. Shoot me an email and let me know your thoughts: [email protected].

Next week, I will be back with an Episode on the subject of “How Old is Too Old to Work in VFX?” That’s such a common question I get asked. I just talked to my friend who transitioned from arch viz and is now working on huge film projects as a VFX Artist. My friend David did it successfully while still having a family and responsibilities. He’s killing it! The truth is: It’s never too old. But I wanted to make an actionable Episode on the subject.

I love visual effects! I love what we do. I’m about to go celebrate with the Nike crew because they just had a major win in their 3D department. I hope you get to apply this Episode to your career.

Have an amazing week. I will be back next week. Until then —

Rock on!


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