Episode 341 — CRUSHING Your Bigger Goals
Episode 341 — CRUSHING Your Bigger Goals
The WHAT IF? Scenario: It’s an addictive concept for all of us. What if you give up on a career before you ever got started? Fear is just your mind trying to prevent you from change because change is unknown. It doesn’t want you to risk safety for something new. But the big growths and breakthroughs are on the other side of that fear.
If you aren’t willing to put in the extra work and see what it would lead to next, if you weren’t willing to leverage one experience to the next, none of that would be easy. We always get tested! It’s easier to take the lesser path. But we get to choose that Sliding Doors moment — or we get to choose to have it all.
In this Podcast, Allan reflects on the choices he’s made throughout his career that lead him to face his fears, take huge risks and to have his dream job (which would eventually lead to his night at the Oscars).
[05:33] What Inspired This Podcast
[07:32] The Sliding Doors Moment: What if?
[09:59] Beginning of Allan’s Career
[14:58] Facing the Fear
[23:14] Chasing the Big Dream
[37:22] You Have to Be in It — to Win It!
EPISODE 341 — CRUSHING Your Bigger Goals
Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay.
Welcome to Episode 342! This Episode is not about productivity – but it’s about tackling your bigger goals. This is a big subject that doesn’t get talked about. Most of the time, we are concerned with tasks and productivity. But what do you do with the bigger, life-changing goals?
Recently, in my career, I’ve made huge shifts in my career. Most of the time, there aren’t any systems in place to help you do this. So I want to tackle talking about how to go for the bigger things: be it starting a new career, moving to a new country, launching your own studio, or making 6 figures.
We’re one quarter through 2022. This is your velocity to ask about where you want to put the time aside to align with what you really want to be doing. Putting a timeline behind your goals is just as critical. A lot of the time, you’re going to say you’re too busy – instead of getting fully aligned.
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Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:05] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was that 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!
[41:00] 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!
CRUSHING YOUR BIGGER GOALS
[05:33] I remember being in LA during the Oscars in 2007. There was a movie that I was part of, that was up for an award. I was with my friend Willi Hammes who was a Supervisor on a Sony animated feature film called Monster House. His movie was up against Happy Feet which won the Best Animated Feature that year. My movie was competing for Best Visual Effects against Pirates of the Caribbean 2 (which was the film that had Davy Jones which was a huge breakthrough for VFX). My movie had no chance in hell for winning that. But it was interesting to see Happy Feet win because I was meant to be a Lead on that. I had turned down that project to move from Sydney to LA. Although it was a moment to enjoy the Oscars, it was a moment to reflect as well.
[06:30] I had made a serious decision. Later that night I was at the Chateau Marmont at the bar with my friends, and I was in good company! We’re enjoying the evening and the Oscars. It sounds trivial but as I was reflecting on my decision, there were these tabloid news about Britney Spears losing it and shaving her hair. It all played into it. I was in the city where it was happening. I was in LA, in the heart of all of it!
THE SLIDING DOORS MOMENT
[07:32] I remember being a kid in Australia. I’d never seen the film Sliding Doors. But I do remember lining up in this huge line to see Blade. Wesley Snipes was in town promoting the film as well. Back then, films would take 6 months to come out in Australia. When I got to the front of this huge line, I asked if everyone was here to see Blade. People answered they were there to see Sliding Doors. I had no idea what the heck that movie was! No one was seeing Blade. I remember being curious about the other film. It’s premise — the What If? Scenario — got stuck in my head. I think that’s a really addictive concept for all of us. For me, it was: What if I gave up on my career before I ever got started?
[09:02] I started doing VFX so early on that everyone was telling me to “got get a serious career”. I doubted myself as well. To this day, I still wonder, “What if?” And there I was, in 2007, at Chateau Marmont while thinking about how I ended up in LA. How everything I obsessed about since the age of 13 had come through and everything was utterly crazy leading up to it. It was so surreal! I worked so hard to get to where I was but in the end, it was just dumb luck.
BEGINNING OF ALLAN’S CAREER IN VFX
[09:59] I just want to back paddle for a second and say that I always wrestled with ambition. Part of me wanted to do so much, but another part of me wanted a simpler life. I wanted to hang out with my friends. I quit school when I was 13, I started working when I was 14. I quit my other job at 16 to go work at KFC as a cook. All of my friends had these crappy jobs and I wanted to be like them. That lasted for about 6 months. That’s when I ended up moving across the country and taking a job, but that ended up being horrible: I ended up being fired and kicked out of the place where I was staying (www.allanmckay.com/209). After that, I lectured at a university. I was only 17 until I had the confidence to venture out again and take the job that I should’ve taken in Sydney, Australia. I did that job for 2 years and it was the best job I’ve had! But I always kept clinging to the idea of that simple life.
[11:54] At that point, at 19, I moved back to my home city again. That’s when I took on my first real staff job. I started to learn to program, I learned Maya and Max, I moved into compositing and learned the pipeline. I started working on feature films and had a lot of growth at that time. Still, it wasn’t at the pace or level that I had during those 2 years prior. I wasn’t focusing on bigger, unattainable goals; the kind of goals that would require for me to move to the other side of the world. I was starting to get a lot of interest from studio owners in LA. I had interest from Blur and Digital Domain. I got offered to work on a David Fincher film. And all of that kept reminding me that I wasn’t where I wanted to be right then. Essentially, I was wasting time.
[12:56] I eventually made up my mind in a meeting I had with the team at my job. And they said something like, “We have to decide if we’re going to be the next ILM or Pixar!” I worked with a lot of amazing people, but the company itself was more of a corporate post-production house. They didn’t have much support or belief in their creative team. So I knew I had to leave! I knew I was wasting time and that every day that I wasted, I was losing my spark. I had so much growth over the course of my career, I could point to any single year and see all the new skills and knowledge I acquired. I was obsessed with hitting my mark. Right now, it’s easy to interpret the things I’m saying as arrogant or overconfident. But I was obsessed with my goals (and I’m comfortable saying that). I was always hungry to do more. As my old boss James Whitlam said to me that I’d made growth in leaps and bounds. He thought I was going home for a vacation, but I never went back to the Sydney studio.
FACING THE FEAR
[14:58] And the truth is it was the people around me at that studio that inspired me. I felt I was losing all of that by being back home. And then I had my friends with the “simple life” but they didn’t even know what I did for a living. I also had my industry friends that expected me to pick up the tab for all of their drinks because I made more money. I felt like I was rewarding them for being lazy because I was always working twice as hard. I was freelancing on the side all the time. I had these people around me who wanted handouts and they didn’t really get it: You’re either moving forward or backwards. Everyone just wanted to show up at work. They didn’t think about leveling up. But there were some amazing people. Dave Clayton was one of the Animation Sups at Weta, James Bennett who was one of the Co-Founders of Zerply, Mark Toya whose career I’ve been following for years. It’s been so inspiring to see these gems kick off their own career!
[16:42] The thing is I knew I was moving backwards but I wasn’t doing anything about it. If you want to know the honest answer: I was scared! I was scared that I wasn’t good enough to make it, that no one would hire me, that I was going to fail. I’m not that guy! I’m the guy who says, “Fuck fear! You have to live outside your comfort zone!” Fail fast and lean into your pains. The reason I was scared was because I had a taste of stagnant. I wasn’t myself anymore. I doubted myself yet I couldn’t shake it. I was starting to hate my job. One of my friends Andrew Silke just started freelancing and he was getting a lot of success and momentum. By starting to get that momentum, he saw that I was stuck. So he started reaching out to all the places where he’d worked — but on my behalf! He started CC-ing me on these emails and saying I would send them my reel in a couple of days.
[18:13] He was forcing me to play my hand here. For the first time, it made me uncomfortable. I love the idea of crushing those fears. Fear is just our mind trying to prevent us from change because change is unknown. Don’t risk safety for something new. But the big growths and breakthroughs are on the other side of that fear. So I appreciated that he was calling me out on my shit. So I did cut a reel and I did send it out, and I did get some interest from studios. But they were all in my city but it was at least calling my bullshit on the invisible scripts I was telling myself.
[19:31] But I did decide to do something: I called up Animal Logic and told them I was becoming available. I got on a call with Michael Twigg who at the time was the Head of 3D there. He told me they were looking to start on a 3D animated feature film. The director was going to be George Miller. Warner Bros was behind it. I was offered the Lead position on that movie. I’ll be honest that it didn’t interest me but it felt like it was the biggest opportunity I could get at that moment. Either I was going to take it or I’d continue to sink. They weren’t ready to hire me, yet but they were starting to build the pipeline. They said they’d be able to make me an offer in about 6 weeks. I felt like I needed to test the waters and try to get out and look for a place. I decided to request 2 days off from work and fly to Sydney. I did a talk at a college there but also used that time to reconnect with people I knew. I was stopped by my own job. They were doing the first Scion commercial which would premiere before every screening of the Matrix. It was pretty ambitious and they convinced me to come down there. By far, it was the biggest commercial they’ve ever done!
[21:55] So at that moment, I resigned from Cutting Edge. I decided I’d work on the commercial for 6 weeks and then jump onto Happy Feet right after that. Andrew Silk had come down to work on that film as well. I kept checking in with him. I was having a blast working on the Scion commercial but every time I checked in with Animal Logic, that start date kept getting pushed back. I expected that would happen. I also expected that the project would last for at least 3 years. And it ended up being that! When they finally called me — after pushing the date back 4 times — my answer was that I was no longer interested. I was actually living in LA at the time.
CHASING THE BIG DREAM
[23:14] I’d been obsessed with moving to LA ever since I learned about CGI. I knew I had to get to Hollywood. I remember telling my friends about it. I felt I needed to be there because that’s where the innovation was happening at the time. When I was 20, I was starting to get offers but I wasn’t eligible for a work visa yet. But two days before we wrapped the Scion commercial, I saw a post for a job in LA for a game cinematic. I don’t know why but I fired out an email and an hour later I got a call. They asked me if I could be in LA in a week.Then all of sudden we were talking about flights and directions from the airport. When I hung up the phone, I thought, “What the fuck just happened?!” That’s when I remember the whole world shrinking for me. I was seeing it so differently. I’d never left Australia before then, and suddenly I was leaving for LA to be a Lead.
[25:13] That’s exactly what I did. The project itself was fun but the team was pretty disorganized. The studio was easily the worst place I’ve ever worked at in my 20+ years in the industry. But there were some amazingly talented people there. The valuable lesson there was leveraging time. During the Scion commercial, for example, we hired a render wrangler. This someone who stays overnight and manages the renders. He will work throughout the night and leave early in the morning. It’s a low key job but it’s a great opportunity for someone who wants to work in the VFX industry. You can show the talent that you have. The kid that they hired just coasted on the job. If I were him, I’d work on shots overnight and show them to the managers in the morning. It’s a chance to make an impression. The kid didn’t see these opportunities after that job.
[27:40] When I came to LA, I saw it as a chance to network and make the most out of my time. I have so many fun memories in LA, being on the beach or getting to surf in Orange County. But I also made connections with every major studio. I met with some key people, I’d do drinks after work. Word got around that I was in town and I was invited to speak at SIGGRAPH. I met people I idolized there. By the time my job was over, I was offered several positions at different studios. I decided to spend the last few weeks at a different studio.
[28:59] The week that I left that one job that was the week of SIGGRAPH. Those two studios were rivals. I was at SIGGRAPH and the studio owner of the place where I was about to go work started chatting to me. The owner of the other studio came up to me as well. It was really awkward. That’s when the owner of Animal Logic came up as well to ask when I’d be coming back to Australia to work on Happy Feet. It was like a reality tv scripted moment. That following Monday, I went back to LA and started working on a Cinderella Story. I was building tools and doing my best to make the best impression. I also got to work on The Last Samurai. I did my best to make the best impression and connect with people. I got to attend my first cast and crew screening which was Jason vs. Freddy. I kept that invitation for a lot of years afterward because it was a new experience.
[31:05] I bring up these experiences because they’re all connected. When I was 17 and did that job in Melbourne. I did a Podcast on this and how I didn’t want that job. But it was the easier job to take. For whatever reason, there was a lower barrier for that job. But eventually that job fell apart and I lost the place where I was staying as well. I was homeless for a couple of days. I remember getting fired. I was 16-17 at the time and it had a lasting effect on me. There I was at 20 years old and the producer put a hand on my shoulder. He said, “How would you like to stay and work on Blade?” This new studio had landed Blade just a few hours prior. They didn’t know what the film meant to me. It had a lasting effect on me. But I still had to go back to Australia to figure out my work visa, but it was looking like I would make LA my permanent home.
[33:22] Right before I left, I was scheduled to meet with Chris Bond, one of the Heads at Frantic Films. They were a Canadian based studio that was setting up a branch in LA. This was 24 hours before I had to leave the U.S.! Just as that happened, we had a major blackout and I couldn’t check my email and cancel. I remember missing this meeting and regretting it now. Having met in LA, it would’ve been a different conversation. I went back to Australia, was working on my work visa and eventually would work for Frantic on several films from home. I was also invited to speak at Autodesk. I started to get this momentum. I flew back to LA and ended up speaking at different events. I got to work on Blade. I also worked on a Superbowl commercial that won an Emmy.
[34:57] I eventually left and came back to Australia. I launched my own studio. I worked exclusively for my clients in LA from Australia. I worked for Blur, ILM, Digital Domain. I still to this day don’t know how these studios got my number. But this is exactly the sort of momentum I was talking about! This was who I was. I hated myself for getting complacent back in the day. Several years later, I was at Chateau Marmont. I had finished working on Superman Returns. My office in the studio was next to Kate Bosworth. Animal Logic — that was still working on Happy Feet — would be 20 feet away from my office. I would have lunch with them and hear about their stories. I continued working on Superman on two continents.
YOU HAVE TO BE IN IT — TO WIN IT!
[37:22] To look back on these moments, I think about what would happen if I had given up when I was a teenager. What would’ve happened if I listened to all these people telling me “art wasn’t a real career”? These were the forks that make me wonder where I’d be if I didn’t venture out to follow the scarier path. If I were to stay to stay in Australia and worked on Happy Feet, I would’ve worked on a film that won the Best Feature Film Academy Award. But I wouldn’t be at the Oscars with my friend. I wouldn’t have gotten to travel the world working on all these cool projects and have all these experiences. I would’ve become stagnant. Happy Feet would’ve been a cutting edge. I would’ve worked with talented people. (At Animal Logic, there were massive growing pains because they’ve never made an animated feature film before. So this production would’ve been messy.) But if I were to take that job two weeks later, I would’ve stayed close to my friends and my home. But I would’ve been comfortable.
[39:26] I love that line from Inception, “Become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.” I knew there was so much more out there! If you came in with a goal and settled with something that’s “good enough”, you aren’t looking for the next big thing. If you aren’t willing to put in the extra work and see what it would lead to next, if you weren’t willing to leverage once experience to the next, none of that would be easy. It was all scary and it all required work. When faced with those opportunities, I’d always choose the bigger, ballsier one. But it was also the one I wanted.
[40:36] I think we always get tested! I think we get tested daily with opportunities. It’s easier to take the lesser path. We get to choose that Sliding Doors moment — or we get to choose to have it all.
I hope you enjoyed this Episode. Feel free to listen to it a few times to get the actionable notes.
Please take a moment to share this Episode with others, to share this Podcast.
Next week, I’ll be interviewing Dan Glass, the VFX Supervisor for The Matrix: Resurrections at DNEG. Thanks for listening!
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“If only there was more time in the day”
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For many of us, finding time and energy to do more is one of the hardest things we have. Time is finite and we can either be pro-active with our time, or reactive. Meaning – we are constantly running around, jumping from one thing to another, and never really feeling in control.
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Money, negotiating, probably two words that build the most tension just at the thought of, other than public speaking.
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Realistically – a good negotiator never needs to haggle, they never have a moment of tension, they never are in an uncomfortable situation. It’s actually very seamless, easy and kind of fun. But, it does require understanding many of the fundamentals that this guide covers in-depth. Negotiating your worth the wrong way can cost you tens of thousands of dollars per year, and it’s the most critical thing we all shouldn’t ignore.
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