Episode 345 — Women in VFX
Episode 345 — Women in VFX
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, Quantifco, The Blacklist, And Just Like That, Modern Love and many more. She is a self-taught artist and photographer.
MAGGIE OH is currently a Sr. Technical Program Manager for Machine Learning and Computer Vision on Google’s Project Starline. Her previous roles include TL, Lighting TD, Lead Technical Artist, and programmer on projects such as Stadia, Mandalorian, #LiveCGX (AR Fashion Show at London Fashion Week 2018), Hololens, Halo 4, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, and Cars. She holds a Masters from Harvard and a BSci from MIT.
ERIN RAMOS is Head of Effects Animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios. As an award-winning VFX Supervisor she’s also worked for Weta, Rhythm & Hues. Her credits include Moana, Frozen II, Ralph Breaks the Internet, The Hobbit and many more.
CONNIE SIU is a Virtual Production Manager at Eyeline Studio (Scanline VFX / Netflix). Her credits include How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Rise of the Guardians. She is also a Writer and Director of short film Jeffrey which was shot using virtual production in 2020 (www.allanmckay.com/277).
In this Podcast, Women Leaders and VFX Artists discuss the importance of representation, business mindset in artists, give advice on how to find mentors and provide resources to women starting out in visual effects.
Tehmina Beg on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7348505/
Tehmina Beg Interview with Allan McKay: https://www.allanmckay.com/343/
Maggie Oh on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1788701/
Project Starline: https://blog.google/technology/research/project-starline/
Erin Ramos on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1575028/
Connie Siu on IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2048346/
Podcast with Connie Siu and the Creative Team Behind Jeffrey: https://www.allanmckay.com/277/
Gender Bias Without Borders (The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media):
[05:30] The Panelists Introduce Themselves
[07:18] Balancing Creative and Technical Skills
[10:21] Influence of Music on Technical and Math Skills
[12:33] The Importance of Continued Learning
[14:03] “You Cannot Be What You Cannot See”
[18:42] Business Mindset in Artists
[21:19] Advice to Women Starting Out in VFX
[28:40] The Importance of Mentors – and How to Find Them
[44:20] Diversity in VFX
[54:43] Panelists Provide Further Resources
EPISODE 345 — WOMEN IN VFX ROUND TABLE
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 345!
I’m doing a panel for Women in VFX with guests: Tehmina Beg, Maggie Oh, Erin Ramos and Connie Siu. This idea has come up a bunch of times throughout the years.
Last week, I did a Podcast on Women in Leadership (www.allanmckay.com/344). Everyone on this panel shares so much insight on the position of women in VFX!
Please take a moment to share this Episode with others.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[01:08] 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!
[1:01:30] 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!
WOMEN IN VFX
[05:30] Allan: Thanks, everyone, for doing the Podcast! I want everyone to go around the room and introduce themselves.
Tehmina: My name is Tehmina Beg. I’m the VFX Supervisor for the Molecule VFX which is now also Crafty Apes.
Maggie: I’m Maggie Oh. I’m currently a Senior Technical Program Manager for Machine Learning and Computer Vision on Google’s Project Starline.
Erin: I’m Erin Ramos. I’m the Head of Effects Animation at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Connie: I’m Connie Siu and I’m the Virtual Production Producer at Eyeline Studio which is now part of Netflix.
[05:13] Allan: I love that! I want to ask all of you more laser focused questions first. Tehmina, you’ve worked on a lot of women-centric stories like Homeland, Quantico, Blacklist, And Just Like That. How do you pick your projects?
Tehmina: Honestly, these projects are given to me through the companies I work for. Whatever is shooting in New York is what I usually end up with. That’s how it’s been. In more recent years, I’ll know someone on the project and they’ll refer me.
[07:18] Allan: We’ve talked about this in the past but your experience goes into auto engineering, computer science, film; you’re a self-taught photographer. What is your opinion about the importance of learning as a VFX artist? Do you think it’s more important to be technical or creative?
Tehmina: If you can do both – that’s ideal. I think it’s a huge advantage if you’re a creative person and you have a technical background. We talked about this before: You have to not get frustrated and understand that the computer is going to do what you tell it to do. It’s a big deal for creative people. If you’re really technical, it’s great to have that creative eye.
[08:21] Allan: Maggie, with your bachelor of science from MIT. You’ve done Management Studies at Harvard. How has this training helped you balance out your technical skills?
Maggie: I started at MIT wanting to go to medical school. I switched to computer science and technical engineering halfway through undergrad. I always wanted to learn how the foundations of hard skills can influence how I can be agile in my career. I started an MFI at MIT and dropped out to work at Pixar and ILM. As I was working more in VFX, I saw that hard skills were really important but that business acumen and soft skills were more important when it came to working on a team, or leading a team. I saw that if I wanted to progress in my career, that was the key to unlock the opportunities out there. I started reading Harvard Business Review articles on management, team building. I started taking more classes there online. I chipped away at it and now I have a Masters Degree.
[10:21] Allan: You’ve been on a radio show in Boston. You’ve DJ’d professionally. You play a variety of instruments. So many artists on the Podcast talk about their musical backgrounds having an impact on their career. Can you talk about that?
Maggie: Music and art are so important for people’s confidence because you have to perform publicly. But there is also a leadership aspect to it and you have to share that joy with others. One of my first aha moments was when I was studying single processing at MIT and I realized that all the DJ-ing was basically single processing. I realized it also influenced image manipulation, be it VFX or photoshop. I had another aha moment when I realized that trance music was in the same format as the classical sonata form. I have all these foundational pieces of knowledge. I always wanted to combine technology with art.
[12:33] Allan: I love that! Erin, what’s your perspective on continuing to learn?
Erin: I had worked on a few realtime shorts at Disney Animation Studios. We put out a few shorts. Part of that is the need to stay on the bleeding edge of what’s going on. So many things are changing in the industry right now. I’ve been in it for 20 years and I’m constantly learning. There are new buzzwords like “metaverse”. In order to stay relevant, you need to keep up. Because we’re all in technology, it’s easy for us to absorb. But having that curiosity as VFX artists is also really important. We’re always looking for ways to render things faster or more realistically. It’s constantly about pushing those boundaries.
[14:03] Allan: It’s so important to continue to grow and to look at what’s coming down the pipe. It’s about investing in yourself. You’ve received a VES Award. Can you talk about representation when it comes to young women in animation?
Erin: It’s crazy how few women there are in VFX, especially when you go to VES Awards. I do see women on stage. I got my degree in computer science and I remember there was a career day. A programer came in and told us a stat that 1 in 10 programers were women. I thought, “I’m going to be one of those!” There is a quote: “You cannot be what you cannot see.” It’s important to show that it’s not just a boys’ club. Anybody can do this and do these Podcasts, show our faces.
[15:44] Allan: That is so important! But how do you change that stat? Connie, can you talk about your own short film Jeffrey using virtual production and what inspired you?
Connie: I started in fine arts. I was always drawing and painting and creating. It’s part of what I want to bring into the work. I was at Dreamworks Animation and they had a writing program. They have an education program there. At Dreamworks, I started writing my own projects. And at one point, I realized I didn’t need a co-writer. I started writing. I took a year off from Dreamworks and I wrote for a year. I decided that I wanted to direct my own piece. Then I started putting myself out there as a writer / director. I did win the Mega Grant and we shot a portion of my film. Then I submitted for a second grant. Fingers crossed we get it – and complete the film this summer.
[18:05] Allan: That’s really cool! You’ve also gotten an MBA and other degrees, correct?
Connie: I have an MBA from Northwestern and a Creative Producing Certificate from UCLA.
[18:42] Allan: I was fascinated by the artist and business side. A lot of artists take on the mentality of a starving artist. How important is it for artists to have a business mindset?
Connie: I think it’s a balance. I was at a point in my career where I’d been working as a 3D artist. I wanted to move up in my career. I worked in fine art and I wanted to take on more leadership positions. I knew a lot about fine art but I didn’t know much about leadership and budgeting. That was the piece I didn’t know. I applied to a business school. I was accepted into Northwestern. I was a bit of a fish out of water. It was a transition and a whole new way of thinking. Now, when I’m leading a team, I have more opportunities. It gave me that foundation to build on. Part of creativity is that you can’t always teach that. We always looked for a foundation in creatives, and all the tools – we could teach them. Having that balance has been really useful.
[21:19] Allan: What advice would you give young women starting out in the industry?
Tehmina: My advice would be: Just go for it! Don’t be intimidated by how many guys there are in the room. Keep working hard and be as good as you can possibly be. That pays off.
Maggie: If you’re interested in entering the industry, apply to a whole bunch of places! Applying is free. It’s just your time spent. You have to try a whole bunch of places because it’s a numbers game. Also, find a role model, a mentor. You can work off of the work of others. If someone is a trailblazer, pick their brain. How did they get to where they are? What advice do they have? Have that active conversation.
Erin: For people starting out there are so many more resources than there was 20 years ago. People are so much more accessible right now, via LinkedIn or social media. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask them questions. Find a mentor. As for the info out there, you can learn just from a Google search. Absorb as much as you can. Ask a lot of questions, be curious. And stay authentic. It is kind of a boys’ club but you don’t have to change who you are. Your work is going to work for itself.
Connie: One of the things I grew up studying art is that you aren’t going to make a living at it. It took me a long time to realize that I was carrying that in my subconscious on my own. At some point, I realized it wasn’t true. It took me a while though. People should know that. If you have a passion for something and you do it to the best of your ability, you can be successful and you can make it. It’s one of the things I’d like for young women to know. You can do what you want to do and you can make a living, and you can have your family. Men don’t make those choices. Women can do that as well. You don’t have to choose between creativity and passion.
Erin: One of the things that got triggered here: I remember reading a stat that women are less likely to apply for a job where they don’t fit into every single criteria. If you fit half of them, [go for it]. Men are more likely to apply for these positions. If it’s asking for 5 years of experience but you only have 2: If your reel is solid, we’ll look at it and consider you!
[26:02] Allan: That’s really great advice! It’s the most common thing I hear. Most of the time, it’s a filter for yourself. If you think you can do the job, that’s your qualifier. You gotta be in it – to win it! What’s the worst that can happen?
Erin: You get the job?!
[27:00] Allan: Sometimes you realize you could’ve gotten that job years ago!
Erin: Sometimes, people get into jobs and they realize they’re more difficult than they expected. Just stick with it and learn as much as you can. Later, you’ll realize how much you’ve learned and you’ve gained experience. When you have a tough job, just grab the bull by the horns.
[28:40] Allan: On the subject of mentors, how important do you find those to be? What is the value of having mentors and how to find them?
Tehmina: These jobs are hard and I don’t think you can get there by yourself. You’re always going to get there with the help of other people. I’ve been lucky. When I went to NYC, one of my professors hired me as a freelancer and brought me on set. That brought me into the world of production. (I also realized I needed to get a good quality coat.) It was a big eye-opening experience. I got to shoot green screen plates and direct background actors. That was one of my mentors. It was fun. I wasn’t the VFX supervisor. When I worked at Zoic, I had another mentor. I was lucky enough to really learn off of him. I like that Maggie talked about soft skills. In the last 7 years, I’ve been figuring those out. Having a mentor was really great! It became not just about the technical skills. Mentorship wise, I got really lucky.
[32:05] Allan: Do you have any advice on how to find mentors?
Tehmina: The first couple of my mentors were through school. I did go to some alumni events where I met a director who gave me my first internship. It was about networking. Do that while you’re in school. My second mentor was through work. I was very vocal about what I wanted to do. When I went to Zoic, they helped me do it. So be vocal about what you want.
[33:29] Allan: I think you need to ask, instead of getting frustrated about opportunities getting passed over you. Managers are going to think of everyone. So communicate what you want.
Maggie: I work at a really big tech company. We do have those resources. I can find mentors through networking with those groups. That also helped me mentor other people. Having those diverse skill sets is really important. Even if I’m the mentor, I can learn something. So networking is super important, as well as being vocal and active. You can network at SIGGRAPH. You can go to social events with alumni. You can find people in your tribe. Can you bounce your ideas off someone else in a safe manner? Asking for that help and being vocal about what you want, taking the advice is super valuable.
[36:23] Allan: I was talking to someone about reverse mentors. It’s also a positive experience when you’re mentoring other people. It becomes a two-way street.
Maggie: Sharing that experience, too. My entire management chain is currently male. I’m the first female they’ve encountered in their management chain for a while. I have something to say! If I bring something bad, I should bring it up because no one else is going to. Having that voice is important, as well as having the networking in place.
[37:49] Allan: Erin, can you tell us about your experience with mentors?
Erin: In my career path, mentors were extremely important. I started off as a pipeline TD, writing codes and tools. I wanted to get into VFX. I learned CG on the job when I was at Rhythm & Hues. I was lucky enough to be with a company that allowed me to switch from pipeline to FX and move into an artist position. There was no way I was going to do that without the help of mentors. They taught me fundamental CG, understanding what makes FX look good. Whenever I’m at a new company, I try to ask someone I can ask questions and be candid about my shots. It gets really stressful. Having that vulnerability to say, “Hey, I need help” is really important. Finding someone who can help you will help you succeed.
As far as finding mentors, I think networking is really important. Soft skills are important in this industry. It’s a pretty small industry and because you’re moving around a bit, word travels. If you’re a good artist and good team player, people will know that. Having that attitude of being open is conducive of people wanting to mentor you. There are some non-profits out there that pair people with mentors. I know that VES has a mentorship program that got started last year. I have a friend who runs Rise Up Animation (https://www.riseupanimation.org). They provide mentors to BIPOC artists, people of color, people who don’t have resources. That got started a few years ago as well.
[41:30] Allan: Connie, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.
Connie: I think it’s really important to find mentors. I think in order to attract mentors, there are some things people can do to prepare themselves. To have a clear ask: What you are looking for and how to ask for it. People do want to help but they don’t know how. But if you have a clear understanding of what you need, and if it’s something specific, people can tell you right away if they can do it or not. If you don’t know what you need and you’re looking to them – they aren’t going to be able to do that. Most people, if they can do it, they can help you. For mentors, help them help you. If you can give back, it’s great to bring value as well. You’re adding some value to them and there is an exchange of information.
[44:20] Allan: Do you see the industry changing toward supporting diversity?
Tehmina: Oh yeah, definitely! I think it’s been more obvious in the last 4 years. I’ve been noticing a huge push for that on set, for sure!
Maggie: I think because great stories come from all walks of life. To make a better product, you need to have those perspectives contribute to it.
Erin: I’m seeing a lot more press and spotlight put on the lack of women in the field. Just throwing that out there is great. But I do think that we’re encouraging people more. I see more women in junior positions. But what I’d love to see – is more women in leadership. We’re still lacking. It’s such a slow change. There are not enough women in supervisory roles. We need to encourage people to rise up and create an environment that makes women want to be in those roles.
Connie: I definitely think there are more diverse stories being told. But there should be more women in decision making roles. I see that in the management that there are more women. But on the executive level, it’s still the same group that gets nominated.
[48:07] Allan: What do you think people need to do to make a change?
Tehmina: Like Erin said, we need to keep doing what we’ve been doing. I think putting women in positions of power, not just to fill a quota, but because there are so many great women artists out there. We need to value the way women work. It’s not the same. That should be valued. On the production side, it’s more aggressive. And it’s not the way I like to work: I like being collaborative and listening to people. I think that’s how a lot of women like to work and that needs to be valued. We don’t all need to be type A.
Maggie: I think we need to encourage allies to be supportive of you and your wins. When you do have those successes, to whom do you broadcast them. You need to share that with your community. For VES Society, our executive team is all female for the first time in its history. That’s monumental. And the women were elected by the board of directors. The industry is starting to change in a tangible way and we need to lift and celebrate those voices. Find your allies, celebrate your wins and raise those voices.
Erin: When we talk about diversifying management, there is a status quo that gets nervous. We need to create more opportunities. That does put the responsibility on some of us. We need to make people want to let us bubble up to the surface. As far as our hiring practices, we see so many reels from women. It’s important to mix that up.
Connie: I think it’s about changing the culture. Sometimes the most aggressive voice gets heard, but there are other voices that should be given a platform. It’s about changing the culture at large.
[54:43] Allan: I value your contributions. Can you share your links and other resources?
Tehmina: I’m on IMDb. As far as resources go, there is the Post Alliance of New York: https://www.postnewyork.org. I’m part of that organization. Everyone in post-production is in it. They have a ton of networking events. Of course, there is the Visual Effects Society. I was on the board for a couple of the last years.
Maggie: I feel like my details are all over the place. I have my IMDb page but it ends once I left the games industry. My LinkedIn is updated. Being an MIT alum, I donate to a bunch of MIT resources. It has a lot of free resources available to everyone. I’m part of the board for VES. We do have a lot of workshops on working from home, internships, etc. Local chapters have that information as well. ACM SIGGRAPH will have those opportunities as well.
Erin: IMDb, LinkedIn. Rise Up Animation is a cool mentor / mentee program. They’ve started doing reel reviews (www.riseupanimation.org). There is also Women in Animation: https://womeninanimation.org.
Connie: I’m on YouTube. You can see some behind the scenes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jon0rt0eDU. You can find me on IMDb and my IG page. I’m part of Women in Media (https://www.womennmedia.com). They have a great camaraderie program. I’ve also hired people from that organization. There is also SIGGRAPH and VES.
[1:01:09] Allan: I’m grateful to all of you! This has been amazing.
Erin: Thank you!
Tehmina: Thank you so much! And what a cool group of women!
Maggie: Thank you for putting us together!
What did you think? I thought that was an amazing collaboration. I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’d also love to do more of such panels down the line. We need to be balancing things out.
I’ll be back next week with Blur Studio’s Head of Character Effects Kemer Stevenson. It’s also a really fun Episode.
Also, check out the Women in Leadership Panel: www.allanmckay.com/344. I will be doing another Episode on Women in Games.
I’ve got some great Episodes coming up, including some solo Episodes. Until then –
Upload The Productive Artist e-book.
Let's Be Friends
“If only there was more time in the day”
“How do you find the time to get so much done”
“I would learn a new skill.. if I had the time”
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.
Allan specifically wrote this guide, after the thousands of responses he received to his contributions on productivity on his Podcast, as well as articles he’s written on the subject, and interviews he’s given.
Allan has interviewed the New York Times Best Selling Authors David Allen (Getting Things Done) and Laura Vanderkam as well as dozens of other experts on the subject – as well as applying many of his best practices.
So how does someone who runs a studio, manages multiple teams, works in production, shoots, runs a hit Podcast, writes articles, multiple courses and a mentorship and more, manage their day?
Find out, and how YOU can apply this to your work and personal life. Grab the guide (It’s FREE).
Whether you’re in games, film or design this guide is focused on giving you the answers and knowledge to confidently seek out the set-up and hardware you need to get the speed and reliability to create the most jaw-dropping visuals you can create. Without being bogged down by slow hardware, or investing in the wrong areas that ‘cost a fortune’ and don’t really make much of an impact on speed and stability.
Allan goes through how to start TODAY applying many unique approaches to building a successful career, and taking control of your year so far.
Gain access to the free guide, videos and other resources now.
From learning to front load your pay raise, to hosting networking events and positioning you as an authority. Allan goes through many tactics and ways to take control, and make this your BEST YEAR YET!
How much should I charge?
If I ask too much, will I scare them off?
What are the key things that I’m doing wrong?
Money, negotiating, probably two words that build the most tension just at the thought of, other than public speaking.
This guide was designed for Artists – whether you’re a Designer, Illustrator, Matte Painter, Animator, FX, whatever! We all need to get hired for productions, and we all need to get what we’re worth.
But, most of are afraid of missing the mark, and scaring away our employers. Or, just not sure how to even start the conversation. Worse, we’re not sure what we’re actually worth, or we just plain don’t want to be in a tense back and forth negotiation.
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.
Get the guide now, and never leave money on the table again!