Episode 207 — How Old is Too Old for VFX?


Episode 207 — How Old is Too Old for VFX?

Welcome to Episode 207! I’m going to be talking about how old is too old to start working in VFX. Whether you’re in your 40s-50s or your 14 years old — this Episode is for you! Enjoy!

Let’s dive in!


[01:03] 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!

[02:53] 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. It’s a City Destruction Course. It’s epic! 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!

[27:50] 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!


[03:43] What I wanted to talk about it: How old is too old for visual effects. I wanted to make it really clear that this is not a subject I talk about all the time, but I do get a lot of questions about it. Just over the weekend, I got an email saying, “Hey, my friend told me that 30 years old is the cut-off age to get into any major studios; and that after that, they don’t hire anyone. It’s a young man’s game!” With that person, I had to email him back and tell him, and tell him: “A. Your friend is stupid and B. That’s not true at all!” The more I talk to people, the more I realize that there is a miscommunication out there. People are worried that it’s too late to start another career.

[04:51] Statistically, we now have about three careers in our lifetime. Some people have more! In general, we’re used to switching as we go. A great example is architectural visualization. I know a lot of people to come to VFX from that industry. A lot of us have that invisible script, saying, “It’s too late. No one will hire me now. I better stick to this career in which I’ve already invested so much time.” And we all have that one friend who tells us certain things (“Use this software, not that one!”, etc.) and we should take those things with a grain of salt. A lot of what gets said isn’t true, especially when it comes to the subject of age discrimination. I want to talk about why it’s not true and how to avoid it, whether you’re too old or too young. I want to talk about both of those because there are some people who think, “I’m 14 and I have to wait to get older before I apply.”


[06:07] One thing I want to make really clear about visual effects and all the surrounding industries — is that they’re a result based industries. That means that you don’t tell someone how good you are — you show how good you are. Your work speaks for itself. It’s as simple as that. Which is why a degree in VFX doesn’t matter at all. Which is why your resume doesn’t have as much clout as your demo reel (www.allanmckay.com/myreel). The demo shows the result of what you can do. So keep that in mind: This is a result based industry! When you have a stupid idea in your head (“I’m too old, no one will hire me!”), just go back to that: “It’s a result based industry!” If you can show you can do that work, that’s all that’s important. And don’t be an asshole!

[07:04] When you realize that, you may still have a thought in your head like, “You suck! No one will hire you!” In that case, look at the work of other people around you. Look at other people’s reels and compare your work to theirs. If they’re at one year in the industry and you’re at one year; where should your reel be? That way you can get a better idea, “I’m on my way! I don’t suck!” So it always comes down that: Can you do the work? That’s all that matters in the end. Your age doesn’t matter at all! It doesn’t mean if you’re 50, 60, etc!

[07:48] One flip side of that is that with any type of discrimination, there is going to be that 0.1 percent employer who is ageist or sexist. It’s really rare, but there might be one or two studios where you might experience this. This does not apply to every studio! More importantly, it’s great that you get turned down by an employer like that because that’s the type of a place where you don’t want to work anyway! No big studio is going to neglect you because of your age, sex or race! It’s going to be results-based. There may be one asshole out there who may have some ideas about certain things; and it’s great if you’re weeding them out. That way, you don’t have to deal with them. And more importantly: It’s illegal for to get turned down based on those biases. I’ve heard that one studio didn’t hire a young guy who had a heart attack early in his life. You do hear some rumors like that around. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in and we shouldn’t have to put up with that. But that’s a whole other topic! Again, these places are a really small percentage. You might experience one or two in your career. No studios like ILM would ever do that! There are people of every age group working there.


[09:51] The key thing is — and here is what matters: Let’s say that you’re too young to work in the industry. I remember being 14 years old and hanging out at a computer lab and talking to one of the students there. He was 21 years old. He was telling me that he got rejected over and over again because he was so young. I think a lot of the time, we’re the ones creating excuses around why we aren’t getting the result we want. Those excuses aren’t always true, but it’s a lot easier to hide behind and excuse and blame it on something / someone else. I was 14 years old (while that guy was 21) and I was getting jobs everywhere, to work on site and off site. I was lecturing at a university at the age of 17. There was never an issue of my being “too young”. I expected to hear that, but I never really experienced it at all. I could deliver results and people could say, “He knows what he’s doing.” That’s an important factor to think about.

[11:26] Let’s say you are 14 years old and you want to work somewhere where they have a law that you have to be 18 years old or older. That doesn’t mean that you have to wait until you’re 18 to work in the industry! You can go to high school or college and still work on the side. Either way, working online removes all biases. If you want to say, “No one will hire me because I’m Australian, Indian, etc.”, by working online, you remove all bias. I’m saying that not because it’s a fact. I’m saying this because if that’s a bias in your mind! I worked on the video game Half Life when I was 14 years old. To this day, I don’t think anyone knew how old I really was and no one ever asked. I got a job interview in person and I think people just assumed that I just looked young. I worked online for years before I finally decided to work on site. For all of you, that means that you can go out today and work online full-time, part-time, it doesn’t matter!

[13:03] The same goes for when you think you’re too old. What do you think is a liability?

  • What do you think is going to happen when you come in and say that you’re 43 years old?
  • What do you think is the difference between you at 30 and you at 20 years old? That’s a key factor to think about it logically.

This is a thing that comes up a lot: “I’m too old to do VFX” or “When I’m older, I’ll work in VFX.” But there is nothing stopping you but yourself!

[13:47] Let’s say you are 40 years old and you want to work in VFX and you say, “No one will hire me!” What’s the logic behind it? What’s the invisible script that’s telling you you’re lacking something? The only thing I can think of — is if you think, “Young people are cheaper, so they would rather hire a young person.” That is the only thing I can think of! And it comes back to: This is a result based industry. It’s all about what you can do. You need to prove that you can do the work! In 2019, it is really rare that you’re going to get to a studio and they will train you up. It is rare for places to take you under their wing and teach you visual effects. It is expected for you to come in and know all of this already. And that’s an advantage. It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 40 — it’s about what you can do. And in a way, that’s is more reassuring.

[15:43] I do think that the one advantage that young people have is that they have less at stake. At 20 years old, you’re probably just starting to apply for jobs. You may still be living with your parents or bumming around with your roommates. If you’re 40 years old and you’re the breadwinner in the family, it’s going to be a lot more tricky! It’s just harder to switch to a new career because of that reason because it probably means taking a pay cut. That’s one advantage of being young. But being older and having higher stakes gives you more motivation. For you to do this, you have to be smart about it. If you’re serious about it, maybe you need to test the waters first. (I put a video out on How to Switch Careers After 30). You just have to do it intelligently! Realistically, you would have to take a pay cut when you’re switching careers. But that’s not to say that you can’t moonlight or work on the side, to test the waters: to see if you like it, to see if people will hire you, to see if you want to switch in the end. You may decide it’s more fun to have it as a hobby. These are the things to keep in mind.


[17:44] One thing I’ve talked a lot about in the past is the Two Train Theory. Your career is one train and it’s moving at one pace; your new career is the second train and it’s not moving as fast. Your one career is moving consistently forward but your other career isn’t. By moonlighting and working on the side, the pace of the second train is going to pick up. Eventually, it will take over your first career. That’s when you can expect to jump: when both of your trains are moving at a consistent pace. One of my students worked in architectural visualization. He decided he wanted to work in visual effects. He graduated from my Mentorship and decided to take a pay cut and go work in visual effects in Mexico. Within 6 months, he became a VFX Lead and went to work in Montreal. Now he is working at Cinesite and he just got to work on Godzilla. I use him as an example for those of us who think we’re older and he have some kids. His example is so applicable! He made his commitment and made the transition. That’s inspiring! And he did it intelligently. A friend of mine who is a talented matte painter (he worked on Guardians of the Galaxy, Game of Thrones) was originally a lawyer. He decided he wanted to become a matte painter. Again, he went about it intelligently. Nowadays, he gets to pick and choose the projects that he gets to work on. But building and having your reel is the key thing (www.allanmckay.com/myreel).

[20:18] As I mentioned before, there is one or two places where discrimination exists. That will happen. But that’s illegal and it’s somewhere you don’t want to work, to begin with. I’ve had some places use maternity leave as an excuse to let someone go. Again, it’s illegal and it’s rare. In general, none of this is a factor.

[21:38] Other things to think about: Let’s say there are complications. If you were to look at it as a curve ball, bringing all of it up at the same time isn’t a good idea. If you say, “I’m switching careers, I live in a different city, I have a family to think about,” that may sound really overwhelming. That’s where you’re coming on too strong too fast. (It’s like having that first date and you have to be more tactical.) If you need to relocate from another country and you need a visa, what’s better to do — is to get the potential employer interested first. You can show them your work and have the initial conversations. On the fourth email, you can bring up the other circumstance. It’s about sending the initial email to say, “Hi, I’ve been doing this for 6 months, here is my reel.” Then you can bring up the other matters. It’s something to think about.


[23:45] Age is not a factor. By working online, you can eliminate all that discrimination. When you hear other people talking about it, ignore it! A lot of the time, your friends are feeding you misinformation. This information (or your friends) are pushing you down. I get so many emails like that! All it comes down is that you’re expected to be a capable artist. If you’re young, it doesn’t matter that you have to wait. You can gain years of experience by working online before you hit the 18-year-old mark and go apply for your dream job. When you’re older, it’s also about what work you can put out; but you may have more responsibilities at that point. When we’re younger, we dabble around. The stakes are higher when you have those responsibilities. Maybe you don’t have to take a pay cut if you do it intelligently. (For example, if you’re working in arch viz and you want to do visual effects, maybe you start by doing lighting — and then transition to visual effects.) I hope that makes sense and I hope you, guys, got a lot from this!

I hope you got a lot from this Episode. I will be next week with a cool Episode. There’s a lot of cool Episodes and interviews coming up!

There is a free course available right now: www.VFXCourse.com. Go get the growth you deserve!

Please share this Episode with others. Until next week —

Rock on!


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