Episode 246 — The Power of Empathy



Looking back at the beginning of his own career, Allan examines what he should’ve done differently: Instead of sending out his reel over and over, he could’ve been asking for feedback: “I realize my reel sucks. Tell me what an ideal reel would be to you.”

The key factor here is empathy. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you’re able to get the most wins. You’re able to start thinking differently: What is it like for them? What are their needs? And what are their pain points? As soon as you put yourself in the shoes of the other person — look at what they want, what they need and like — it will help you get better at what you’re doing.

In this Podcast, Allan McKay talks about the power of empathy: How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and identify their needs — and how to make empathy work for you!



[02:25] Allan Shares His Experience in the Beginning of His Career
[04:16] Allan Reflects on What He Would’ve Done Differently
[05:21] How to Make Empathy Work for You
[07:28] Looking at the End Result


Hi, everyone! This is Allan McKay.

Welcome to Episode 246! I want to talk about the power of empathy. This is probably going to be the most important Episode in terms of mindsets. It’s about understanding other people around you. Listen through and take notes!

Please take a few seconds to share this with others.

Let’s dive in!


[01:01] 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!

[08:49] 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!


[02:25] This is something I’ve been talking about lately, but it’s also something I’ve been talking about my entire life. It has to do with all of us being frustrated with where we are in our careers. In the beginning of my career, I had a very big plan: I wanted to learn 3D, I wanted to work in Hollywood. I had big goals! But to get there, I had to learn 3D and then build a reel that would get me that job. When I finally felt I was ready, I cut my reel, I sent it in — and then, crickets! I didn’t hear anything. I sent in more reels. I started firing them out everywhere and no one would hire me. Eventually, I went back to the drawing board. I cut a new reel which was going to be better. I cut that reel, I sent it out — and got a couple of people being interested, but no one would hire me. This is where the frustration would kick in. This was about a year of my life where I would do versions 3.0, 4.0; trying my hardest, hoping someone would just give me a break. I was so frustrated, I was ready to give up.

[03:30] Finally, I cut that last reel, sent it out. I thought, “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to give up altogether.” What got me the job was a friend recommending me and forwarding my reel. In other words, what actually got me in — are the relationships that I’ve built, not the reel itself. The reel just showed that I could do the work. It proved that I was someone [the studio] could invest in. But it wasn’t the reel. No one is looking at that in the beginning. They need a reason to look past the fact that you have zero experience and need to learn a lot.

[04:16] Looking back, the biggest mistake I was making was just mailing reels and expecting for something different to happen, if I just sent out more reels. That is the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over — and expecting a different result. What I should’ve been doing was looking at the data of rejection and [realizing that] maybe I should’ve been doing something differently. Looking back, what I should’ve been doing is asking for feedback: Getting a hold of those people and saying, “I realize my reel sucks. Tell me what an ideal reel would be to you.” (For Allan McKay’s Demo Reel Guide, go to: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/.) If one studio were to say, “We really need water effects”, and another would say, “We really don’t know how great a modeler you are” — the feedback would’ve helped me grow.


[05:21] The key thing here — is empathy. If I’m able to put myself in someone else’s shoes, that’s where I’d be able to get the most wins. I have to start thinking differently:

  • What is it like for them?
  • What are their needs?
  • What are their pain points they’re going through?

The people at the studio are in production and they’re receiving thousands of reels. What is it that I could do differently and give them what no one else is providing?

[05:57] Once I started putting myself in the shoes of the other person — everything changed! As an artist, in the beginning, I would do good work, but I would also get a lot of feedback. I would do something specific: If they said, “Make it 10% bigger”, I would make the effect 10% bigger. It wasn’t until I started thinking for myself, that things changed. When they said, “Make it 10% bigger”, what they were really saying was they wanted the effect larger. What if I created several variations for them to choose from? I remember helping out a friend of mine who was on the verge of being fired. He was doing so many revisions but he wasn’t getting any wins. He didn’t know what to do. I simply sat down and looked at the work he’d done. He showed me the two shots they’ve already approved. As soon as I saw that, it became very obvious what that Supervisor liked. [My friend’s] effects were super frenetic, but the two that were approved had the least amount of turbulence. It became obvious that all he had to do was to tone those two shots down.


[07:28] As soon as you put yourself in the shoes of the other person — look at what they want, need and like — it will help you be better at what you’re doing. When you’re applying for work, think about what everyone else is doing. This is what we all need to be doing: [07:55] We need to be looking at the end result. We need to be putting ourselves in the shoes of the decision makers and seeing what their needs are. As soon as we figure that out, we’re going to stand out from everyone else.

  • If they’re seeing a lot of reels, what could you be doing differently?
  • How can you stand out?
  • How can you rise above the noise?
  • How can go through the side door?
  • If everyone is doing job interviews, what could you be doing differently?

Maybe you need to go and befriend the people who are already working at the studio and maybe they could recommend you. Maybe you could go to events. It’s all about figuring out how to stand out from everybody else.

I hope you enjoyed this Episode and got a lot from it. I’d love to hear your thoughts: [email protected]. Please take the time and share it with others, it would mean the world to me!

I will back next week with a new Episode. I will be interviewing a lot of cool guests.

Until then —

Rock on!



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