Episode 343 — Molecule VFX Sup Tehmina Beg
Episode 343 — Molecule VFX Sup Tehmina Beg
Tehmina Beg is a New-York based VFX Supervisor currently working at Molecule VFX. She has previously worked at Zoic Studios, The Mill, MPC. Tehmina’s credits include Homeland, Quantico, The Defenders, The Blacklist, Modern Love and most recently And Just Like That. She is a self-taught artist and photographer.
In this Podcast, Allan and Tehmina talk about balancing creative and technical skills, courage to learn and ask questions, benefits of gaining experience as a generalist and a freelancer – and why 2022 is the best time to be a VFX artist!
Tehmina Beg’s Website: https://www.tehminabeg.com
Tehmina Beg on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7348505/
Tehmina Beg on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tehminabeg
[04:01] Tehmina Talks About Her Path to VFX
[11:53] Getting Onset Experience
[14:35] Benefits of Freelance Early On
[19:24] Creative vs Technical Skills
[25:22] Tehmina Talks About Her Most Memorable Projects
[31:43] Abundance of VFX Work – and Other Impacts of COVID-19
[39:08] Tehmina Gives Advice to Up-and-Coming Artists
EPISODE 343 — MOLECULE VFX SUPERVISOR – TEHMINA BEG
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 343!
I’m sitting down with Tehmina Beg, VFX Sup at Molecule in New York City. We talk about balancing your creative and technical skills, benefits of getting experience as a freelancer and a generalist and why 2022 is the best time to be a VFX Artist. This was a really fun conversation!
Tehmina is a self-taught artist and she talks about starting her career. She is now a VFX Supervisor and she discusses how to get experience on set.
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Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:30] 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!
[45:35] 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!
INTERVIEW WITH TEHMINA BEG
[04:00] Allan: Tehmina, thank you so much for coming on the Podcast. Do you want to quickly introduce yourself?
Tehmina: Sure! My name is Tehmina Beg. I’m the VFX Supervisor for The Molecule, which is also now Crafty Apes. I’ve been in the VFX industry for 11 years now. I’ve made it into on-set supervision.
[04:24] Allan: Growing up, did you always imagine yourself in a creative role? Or is this something you fell into later on?
Tehmina: I did. Growing up, I always wanted to be in some creative role. I was always painting, designing monsters. I loved doing that! As I got older, I got into photography. At around 10-11 years old, there was a show on the Discovery channel that would cover every aspect of filmmaking. There would be an episode on pyrotechnics, on special effects makeup, one on managers. That was a big inspiration for me, for sure! All that world building!
[05:31] Allan: I love that! For me, there wasn’t any information around. I had to piece things together. You didn’t start right away in VFX. How did you get into VFX and what was your catalyst?
Tehmina: I grew up wanting to be an artist but I also had a dad who was an engineer. That was a big influence for me! I had to do the right thing. When I went to college, I bounced a little bit. There was no course for visual effects. My realistic brain had kicked in and I majored in film and computer science because the only programs that were animation related were associate degrees. Because I majored in computer science and I grew up in Boston, of course, I was going to get a job as a programmer somewhere. I ended up getting a job at a software security company. I did a lot of code scrubbing, looking for bugs. But that didn’t satisfy my creative need.
A couple years later, I decided I would move to New York and try to work for a more creative agency. I went to work for a company called Code & Theory. They do really nice websites. I was hoping to get closer to the designing field. I took a Flash class at SVA (School of Visual Arts). But also I clicked on the grad program, and I thought, “Where was this when I was 18?” I applied on a whim, and to a few other places too. I ended up getting into all of them. I ended up going to NYU for the digital design program. I didn’t quite know what VFX was at that time. I got in and started doing school there. I found my forte as a 3D lighter, or a generalist basically. My first internship was with Psyop. It was a great place to get my feet wet. I got some great experience under my belt there. It was a great time and great fun to work. I met all my friends there which is the reason I was able to get so many VFX gigs. My first job after school was at The Mill. Then I bounced around, freelanced.
Because of the tax credit, a lot of tv shows started showing up here. I did some work at a production company. This teacher of mine at NYU knew that I wanted to do on-set work and he dragged me to a production in Virginia.
[11:53] Allan: What was it like? You start working your way up and then working on set is like starting from the bottom again.
Tehmina: It was good but it was cold. I had an experience that made me get a really nice jacket. It was 3-5 years in. I felt like I was getting a leg up and I was excited to go. My teacher has been a VFX Supervisor for a while. It was great to see how it all works. It was intimidating at first! I tried to not step on anybody’s toes but it was definitely eye opening. I thought it was really cool! We took over an abandoned factory. The art department made the lower half look like 1930s New York. I thought it was so cool! This is the world of make believe. It’s what I always wanted to do. Outside of freezing my ass off, it was amazing! We came back to the office and the fun part was that I got to work on those shots. I got to do my first matte painting and CG world for a tv show. It’s world building stuff. We got to build and research New York in the ‘30s – ‘40s. I love doing that!
[14:35] Allan: Freelancing early in your career, what are the benefits of that? So many people want security first. But things move slower in comparison to freelancing.
Tehmina: I wanted a staff job when I first got out. I didn’t know what this freelancing was. I’d only been working for these programming companies. At the end of the day, I am glad I did freelancing first. In the period of 2 years, I worked for something like 20 companies. Some of the gigs were for 3 months, some were for 1 week. I was constantly worried about not being able to find jobs. But after a year of freelancing, I realized it was pretty consistent. Most of the time, you’re working 10-11 months of the year. You get a month off. The first few years of freelancing were really scary but it really gives you some versatility. The most important thing about going that route is that you’re eager and ready to jump in. You want to do a great job. You’re always the new kid on the block but it trains you to be adaptable: You need to adapt to different timelines, to different pipelines. You have to be able to work with all kinds of people. That makes you a really strong person. We don’t complain. We’re happy to be working!
[16:53] Allan: Early in my career, you get a lot of growth by doing freelance. You can revise your rate, learn new pipelines. The 20-30 commercials you’ve done end up on your reel.
Tehmina: It’s a way to build some serious industry cred and you can use it for leverage later.
[17:49] Allan: Do you have any advice for how to get your name out there? In the beginning, you can be shy. What helped you network?
Tehmina: My main advice would be: Go freelance! It’s scary but it’s worth it for all those reasons we just discussed. You meet so many new people. Post-pandemic it’s not the same, but for me, I did go to a lot of events. In the beginning, you have to learn to get out there. Make sure your work is really good. There are a lot of great artists out there and you have to compete:
- The work has to be good;
- And you have to know people.
It’s not easy but it’s possible! You’ve got to be good – and you’ve got to network!
[19:24] Allan: That’s exactly it! The more enthusiastic you are to take on anything, the better it is in the beginning. To touch on your enthusiasm toward art, were you able to leverage that later on?
Tehmina: Yes. Having an artistic and a technical background in general helped me. I know plenty of artists who’ve struggled with Maya. And I know plenty of technical people who don’t know how to have an eye for something. You can’t always have both. But if you have a skill for something, it’s better to hone the other skill a little bit. As far as in the Supervisor role, I do a lot of my own concept and previs work. It’s really helpful to have a 3D background. From being a generalist, I was compositing and doing matte painting. In matte painting, you can work in Photoshop or you can do 3D projections. Having that matte painting background is super helpful!
[21:17] Allan: The more you move around the pipeline, the more you have an understanding of what’s possible. If you need to light something, you can speak to the modeler better. The flip side is that you have a technical background. Has the ability to code help you automate things better?
Tehmina: Honestly, I’ve never really dug too hard into pipelines. Sure, I’ve used coding. But the biggest thing about having a technical background is just not getting frustrated. The biggest thing about being technical is having patience with the software (like when Maya crashes).
[23:34] Allan: Why do you think that is?
Tehmina: I understand that a computer is only going to do exactly what you tell it to do. There is no interpretation. The computer is only going to do precisely what you tell it to do. If you leave a detail out, it will not add it. The thing about being technical and having patience for it is knowing that if something exploded – there is always a reason for it! We know how old Maya is and it has some bugs. There is always a solution to it.
[24:48] Allan: The more technical you are, the more you can problem solve. You can understand why things are happening.
Tehmina: It’s not just about problem solving, but you’re more methodical about it. If you break things down into steps, you can change the way you think about things.
[25:22] Allan: One thing is that you can get intuitive when it’s going to crash. You have to save your files. You’ve worked on plenty of amazing projects. Are there any ones that stood out as quite memorable?
Tehmina: I’ve been on quite a few shows that had a lot of visual effects that we weren’t expecting. They’ll start out saying, “Oh, we are not a VFX show”; and the next thing we know – we’re building an ice lake and all sorts of things. I would say the one that stands out to me career wise is The Defenders. It was the first one I was one from start to finish. I was the on-set Supervisor, but John Kilshaw was the VFX Supervisor on that. That was a huge and fun show! There was a ton of stunt work! Most of the time when I showed up to set is because there was a brawl between 20-30 people, with a lot of wire pulls and face replacements. We did everything: we drove cars through windows, we blew things up, we pulled people out of buildings.
[27:48] Allan: I find it funny now that I get contacted on LinkedIn for pyrotechnic gigs. “No, no! I do visual effects, I don’t actually blow things up.” What was it like to be involved with such a big IP?
Tehmina: It was my first time being on set without the Supervisor helping me out. That was scary! There were tough schedules. We were shooting 11-12 pages a day. It was a lot! At the time, I didn’t know. It was my first time having that responsibility. I made it through. But I won’t say it was easy – but it was a lot of fun. The second time I was on set, I was alone. Sigourney Weaver had a fighting sequence where she emerges from a tomb full of blood. And the tomb was leaking slowly. It was one of those “What are we going to do?” moments. But I stayed calm. It was only my second time having that responsibility. You just have to be okay answering to it. It took me a couple of years learning how to do that. We have to barter with shots or do a workaround.
[31:43] Allan: I was just talking to Chris Keller who is a VFX Sup for DNEG. He was mentioning when he’s going to get fired on set. I’d love to hear about your opinion on the state of the industry. There is so much VFX work around nowadays! It’s the artists’ dreamland at this moment.
Tehmina: The pandemic boosted it in a sort of psychotic way. Just before the pandemic, VFX was becoming a thing where productions wanted more of it. Showrunners and writers are imagining more crazy scenarios that may not be doable in the shooting schedules. Actually, a lot of the stuff we get is seasonal because they aren’t shooting for the right season. It’s not a wish coming from the writers. I don’t know what those decisions are being made somewhere else. “Hey, we’re shooting in summer, but it needs to be winter.” The pandemic shut everything down for 6 months and every network was eager to get back and blast their channels with content. It’s been a bit of a mad dash and a bit of a gold rush. With that came some crazy production schedules. The expectation is now that VFX is going to clean everything up. A lot of the time, it’s reflections. I see lights in the reflections all the time.
[35:08] Allan: People get more comfortable with giving you the problem for later. But the tools have gotten more intuitive. Is there any tech you’ve got your eye on?
Tehmina: I would probably say virtual production. I haven’t gotten to sink my teeth into it. Lotta [Forssman] and I put together a panel in 2020, after everything went down; to inform the audience about the technology (www.allanmckay.com/294). One of them was from Silver Spoon. They are a mocap company that got into LED walls and virtual production. They’re using their mocap to do camera tracking, which I thought was neat. It’s something I’d like to get into, but it’s not in the cards for a lot of New York shows. I’m not on the box with tools right now. The Deepfake / AI stuff is still really interesting. And the Deepfakes are done with images that give a clear view of the person’s face. But a client will come to me with a face that has hair or shadows across it. There still has to be a human element to it.
[39:08] Allan: For any up and coming artists, what would be your advice?
Tehmina: For students and people starting out, I’d touch back to what I said earlier:
- If you’re a creative person, try to punch up your technical skills. If you’re technical – punch up your creative skills. It’s usually the creative people who don’t have the technical side, and it’s a lot easier than they think. It’s easier in a sense because you can control the constraints. It’s up to you how much you want to learn. That’s one thing.
- And try to be someone that everyone wants to work with. Take on as much as you can. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but ask for work. Don’t wait for it to just come to you! Make cool stuff and be happy about it!
[41:12] Allan: Yeah, people gravitate to people who want to do stuff.
Tehmina: And don’t be afraid to ask for help. I was scared in the beginning. Just get over it! If there is someone making you feel stupid for asking the question – they’re just an asshole. That person is stupid! If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to admit it. Now, you’ll know it.
[42:17] Allan: A lot of people think they should have the answers, and some Leads think they should know everything. It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that you’re learning all the time.
Tehmina: A hundred percent! I ask questions all the time! Last night, I had questions about face replacement. You just have to be confident.
[43:17] Allan: Are there any specific lessons that you learned early on in your career that stuck with you? For me, failure became part of the process.
Tehmina: I don’t think I have a specific anecdote. For me, it’s just about working hard. That’s the easy part. You have to be prepared for when you meet the right people.
[45:11] Allan: Where can people go to learn more about you?
Tehmina: I have a website, a LinkedIn or IMDb. The IMDb will have my latest stuff.
[45:28] Allan: Thanks so much! It’s been really great to chat!
Tehmina: Thank you for having me!
I want to thank Tehmina for doing this Episode. She will be back on a panel for Women in VFX (www.allanmckay.com/345) in a couple of weeks.
Next week, I’m doing a panel for Women in Leadership (www.allanmckay.com/344).
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