Episode 225 — Questions & Answers


Episode 225 — Questions & Answers

Hi, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 225! I want to do a Q & A, answering a lot of random questions that I’ve been getting. This is one is going to be a bit different and I hope to give these more frequently. (Check out the previous Q & A Session here: www.allanmckay.com/154.)

Feel free to email me — with the subject heading “Questions” — if you want me to do more of these Q & A Sessions: [email protected]. Please submit your questions as well.

I get a lot of these questions and it’s hard to respond to all of them. So I thought it would fun to answer them here, all at once.

Please share this Episode with others.

And let’s dive in!


[00:44] 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!

[30:01] 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!


[03:20] QUESTION FROM DAVID: What’s the best way to network if you aren’t in California and you want to stay in your hometown?

ANSWER FROM ALLAN: I think this is a valuable thing. You can choose one of two paths. You could go where the well is: Rather than going back and forth, go to where the industry is thriving. Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, London, Sydney. There are so many big locations! Going to where people are makes it easier. That’s why SIGGRAPH and a lot of other events is a great way to capture that. Rather than relocating to another place, you can go to where everyone who’s likeminded hangs out as well. I went to dinner by myself one night and I was sitting next to a table of some real estate people who met up at a conference. That’s what networking events are good for: You can go to conferences and chat about this stuff that might be difficult for you to do in your home city.

[05:36] It’s naive to think these days that you can’t be successful wherever you are. As long as you have internet, you have access to seven billion people. You can get up every morning and reach out from where you are. You don’t even need to disclose where you’re located right now. You can just say, “Hey, I love your work! I just had a quick question.” Wherever you can, give some value back to them. The more value you give back, the more likely they are to invest in you. In general, there are dozens of ways you can network with people. A lot of this doesn’t require for you to be somewhere else. I met some of the leaders in the industry by going to the 3DS chatroom, when I was 14 years old; and we’d talk about 3D. Bit by bit, we all went off and did our own thing. [In this day and age], you can do the same on Facebook, Forums, Instagram, YouTube comments, email, LinkedIn. There are so many ways to network!

[07:04] I did an Episode with Michael Janda, the author of Burn Your Portfolio (www.allanmckay.com/221). We were talking about this and about the way in which we approach some people. It’s about leaving intelligent comments and sharing some insight — giving some value — and commenting on what was really great about a certain YouTube video or what you like about someone’s work. Show how it affected you. The more you do that, the more the person will notice your name whenever it pops up on their radar. But it starts with a conversation. If you’re firing out emojis, that’s great but you can network and do so much by showing up and giving value. It’s a start! When you finally reach out to someone, they’re more likely to recognize your name. I don’t think there is any reason to be in the same location. So keep in mind the value of the internet! There are so many ways you can communicate with people and it’s so powerful!

[08:58] One more thing to mention: There are people I find on YouTube with so 50K subscribers so you know their messages blow up. But then I’ll go on their Instagram and they’ll have 3,000 followers there. I know if I message them on Instagram, I’m more likely to get their attention and a response.

[09:20] QUESTION FROM AHMED: I want to make a career shift at age 33. I’ve already learned Maya, Cinema 4D and Aftereffects. What are my chances of getting a job at this age? Do I need to learn Nuke and 3DS Max?

ANSWER FROM ALLAN: One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of us think that it’s too late in life when we’re 33, 43, 53, etc. I think that isn’t an issue if it weren’t for what we were giving up. If we were making a good salary, we might be happy with where we are. To change careers would make anyone nervous. But the bigger question is: What are we giving up by not taking the plunge? I think with marriage or anything like, it’s the same. If you were married to the wrong person, you would be thinking, “What if?” all the time. And that would be way more painful! [With changing careers], there might be work involved to get to where you want to be. But ultimately, you can be happy everyday. At 33, you’re still quite young and you don’t want to wake up everyday and think, “What if?” For me that’s the real gamble! Thirty three is still young and there is no reason why you can’t do something.

[11:13] I’ve talked about this in the past (www.allanmckay.com/207) and how to set yourself for success. You don’t pull the plug in a day and say, “Okay, I’m an artist!” You may have to moonlight on weekends, or study in the mornings and you grow your skills. You start there and then you start reaching out. You go through these phases to get to where you want to be. But it’s never too late! In terms of learning the right software, the biggest shortcut is to look at where you want to work. Think of 2-3 studios where you want to work, in the same area (because they’re likely to use the same tools). Don’t focus that much on the tools, but at some point, it’s important to align yourself with their requirements. If they’re a Maya studio, then you should learn some Maya. Don’t worry about learning every package. In the beginning, it’s important to find what resonates with you and what you can learn quicker. From there, when you’re at the point of being ready to send out your reel, that’s when you should be learning other tools. Knowing and being confident in a software allows you to be less of a risk for a studio. Think short term about how you can learn and be a better artist first, while you work on a strategy. When it’s time to cut a reel, you can start to shift gears and look at how to mimic the requirements of the studio where you want to work.

[13:31] QUESTION FROM ALLIL: I’m working on my brand right now. I’ve been working in advertising as a senior motion designer. I would like to work with motion designers in VFX but I’m not sure about that area. I think it’s a very specific area. What advice would you give about how to transition from motion design in advertising to VFX?

ANSWER FROM ALLAN: The key think is figuring out what skills you can leverage and where you want to be ultimately. From there, you can find what relates closest to what you want to do. In other words, it sounds like you have a set of skill right now and you’re trying to figure out how to leverage them for the VFX industry. Part of that is trying to figure out what your job role is. If you’re applying for VFX role, that’s one thing. But if you’re looking for motion graphics, that’s different. You can look at doing film titles. It’s a matter of figuring out what your focus is at the moment and doubling down on that. In terms of learning, with abstract FX and design there is a lot of need for those. Especially with FX, a lot of people are focused on explosions. There is a lot of people doing that! There is not a lot of people doing abstract FX and design. I remember speaking with Kathleen Ruffalo, Framestore’s Recruiter (www.allanmckay.com/146), and she mentioned that she sees a lot of explosions on reels. That’s a good indicator that you can learn more abstract FX. Another benefit of that is that you will grow and learn a lot. You’ll have to come up with concepts and ideas that take advantage of the tools.

[16:13] In terms of changing careers, it’s more about looking at the type of work done by studios and aligning the type of work you’re currently doing with that. If you’re doing commercials and want to go into film, you may go to a house that does both at first. As long as you have a good reel, you can start sending it out. If you’re focused more on Cinema 4D, that might be a good idea to look at studios and cities where that’s used. It’s about showing that your style aligns with theirs. Before you get into film, there may be some stepping stones. You need to have clarity on what you want to focus on. Short term, focus on one thing and get good at it.

[17:58] QUESTION FROM HESH: I’m doing a visual effects course that is teaching Maya. I want to do VFX one day. Which software is the industry standard, to build my career?

ANSWER FROM ALLAN: I didn’t want to answer this question at first. I kind of already answered it. But I will say this: It’s more important to look at a studio that you want to work at, for the next 1-2 years. Pick one or two places that you really like; look at the software they’re using and learn that software. It’s easy to say, “I want to work at ILM”. But if you’re starting out, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to end up at ILM in the next 1-2 years. That’s more of a long-term goal. If you focus on the dream place, you may set up yourself for that. But you want to focus on getting those first jobs that will help you build up your experience. Focus on the immediate places where you want to work. [19:21] There is no “industry standard software”! There is no one tool that everyone uses. Every studio is different. Every studio has different needs. Because of that, it’s important to base it around your next stepping stone. Align yourself with that. Go to the next one, the next one. And continue leveling up until you work at your dream job!

[19:46] QUESTION FROM ANONYMOUS: I’m a VFX artist. I started my Facebook page. Can you create a video saying some nice things about me, for that front page? It would help me with promoting my page, as well as with motivating me.

ANSWER FROM ALLAN: I get a lot of these requests, other people do too. I’m happy to help other people and give back wherever I can. It’s good to keep in mind that when you’re reaching out to someone, if I were to approach someone whose time I value — it isn’t the right reason that’s going to work. (If this guy came to me and said, “It would be hilarious if you said that”, maybe I’d do it.) When you’re firing out messages to people, be aware. It isn’t going to work. If you think of how busy someone is — and the context of “getting motivated” — it’s not a good reason. I think a lot of us need to think about the context. If you’re serious to get someone to do something, if you’re approaching someone with a proposal, the number one thing you need to think about — is how it’s going to be perceived. What would you do in that situation? The more empathy you have for the other person, the more you have the right approach. The problem is that most of us aren’t thinking about results. If you’re applying for a job and you don’t have a reel, put yourself in their shoes. How are you coming off? How is your approach?

[23:22] Here is a good example. There are people to whom I’ll reach out on Instagram. I know how busy they are, so I put thought into how I would get their attention. There are message requests on Instagram and I’m sure they get bombarded with those and they’re already overwhelmed. How do I make sure they see and respond to my message? I put a lot of thought into a single message, to make sure it comes off right:

  • There is a cap for how much I can write in a single message.
  • The last sent message is what will show up in the preview area. So it has to have a hook in the first two lines at the top.

I recently reached out to Mike Janda and I wanted to get his attention to have him on my Podcast. The bit I knew would stand out: We have a mutual friend Chris Do and that’s the part I used to get his attention. I made sure the hook was in the second message, at the top. “By the way, we have a mutual friend Chris Do and I wanted to see if you’d want to do a Podcast.” There is no waste of time! That’s one random message but I’m adapting it to where I’m contacting him. I’m also looking at what would be the thing that would make me stand out. It summarizes what I wanted to get across.

[27:07] Think about that for a second. Most people are just firing out demands. The message I got makes me think this guy isn’t thinking about me and my time. The more unreachable and busy person is, the more you should think about how to give value back to them. I put a lot of work into how I approach certain people. If they just released a movie — I would send them a gift basket, or something. All that is to put the thought into your message, take the work out for the other person. I want to stress that. I really want to lean into this! It’s a much bigger thing that I see all over my inbox and the inboxes of people who are busy. If you aren’t respecting other people’s time, they may not respond. Put the care into your messages! It’s so critical!

I hope you enjoyed this Episode and got a lot from it. This is more of an experiment. Please email me with your questions at [email protected]. Make sure to list “Questions” as your subject line.

Until next week — and the next Episode —

Rock on!


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