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What steps should I take for pursuing a career in film CGI?

I’m considering a career in film CGI. At first, I was thinking film directing, but I’m not sure if that is an obtainable/reasonable career choice. I know that if I worked hard enough, I could probably land a few jobs here and there, but I also don’t want to be stuck directing advertisements and the such. My second choice was animation, but I’m not an amazing artist, and I know being able to draw is a big part of being an animator. The happy median I thought of was working in film special or visual effects of sorts, and the career option in that field that I am most interested in is working with CGI. I was wondering what classes or outside of school things I could take/work on to improve and boost the necessary skills to pursue that career choice, what colleges and/or programs you would suggest me to look into, and if this is a more obtainable/reasonable career choice for me to seriously look into and pursue than directing.

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From: You
To: Friend
Subject: Career question for you


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Jamie’s Answer

I commend you for thinking of a "reasonable" career.

To a degree.

I don't know how old you are, but I'm assuming you are young. You only get one life, and doing the "reasonable" option might not be the best course of action.

Why would you think doing CGI in film is more "reasonable" than directing?

Both are competitive. Both are creative. But why settle for "reasonable" when you're just starting out?

I worked in film and television for 10 years. I worked on movies, tv shows, commercials... you name it I've probably done it.

But why did I do that? Well... I went to LA to be an actor. Why? Because that was my dream. I LOVED acting. I had acted in college but majored in Journalism because I too wanted to be "reasonable."

I paid for my college myself so I wanted to have a degree that would actually allow me to get a job since an acting degree guarantees you absolutely no job in acting. Either you can act... or you can't.

Not saying college is bad. I regret NOTHING about college. It taught me (in my mind) the two most valuable lessons that I've carried through my life.

1. How to learn.
College teaches you how to be resourceful and an independent thinker.

2. How to accomplish.
I graduated a member of two honor societies and made the Dean's list several times. I also started writing for the university newspaper. But I didn't stop there. I took the stories I had written my Junior year to the Tampa Tribune and got a job as a stringer writing articles for the newspaper before I even got a degree.

I was being paid to do the job I was learning about at school before I even graduated.

And you know what I learned? There's a VAST difference between school and real-world work.

I write all of this, and I'm hoping you're still reading and not bored, because I want to illustrate that getting an education is awesome... but not necessarily required.

Would I recommend you go to college? Absolutely... IF you can afford it and don't go into debt for it.

Do you NEED to go to college to direct or do CGI in film? Absolutely NOT.

I have a journalism degree... I worked at a newspaper for a year after college (being reasonable) and then I finally realized I was wasting my time doing something I really didn't want to do! Because my parents, society... fill in the blank... made me think that pursuing my dream wasn't "reasonable."

So I chucked it all... moved across the country to Los Angeles and started acting. I was in a couple TV shows and if you blinked you would miss me. But here's the thing. I was EXCITED. I was doing what I wanted to do... pursuing my dream... LIVING. Not being reasonable and it was the most amazing time.

I eventually found CGI (or VFX or whatever you want to call it) while working my day job developing websites.

I realized I far preferred doing that to acting. Not that I didn't still love acting... but the business, at least for me, of acting was miserable.

Again... real-world vs. school.... a VAST difference.

I had absolutely no education in doing film work or CG. I bought many large books and because I went to college, was able to teach myself how to do it.

But it was by NO MEANS easy to get a job in film/tv doing CGI. It was incredibly hard. You have to PUSH and PUSH and get better and better and maybe get a little lucky, but be ready when you get lucky.

I never tried directing other than a couple short films. But if THAT is your passion. Then you should direct. Do you need to go to film school? It wouldn't hurt. If you got into a school like NYU or USC then you'd likely get a VERY good education and make good contacts which is really almost more important than the education (not more... almost :) )

I can't speak to exact steps for being a director. But the above should point you in the right direction. Also... I understand the comment of not wanting to direct commercials... but in this industry... don't look a gift horse in the mouth. You might direct a commercial and it is so amazing someone sees it and decides to hire you for their film.

As a director (just like being an actor, CGI artist) you are going to need a "reel." A video/film of what you have directed. If you haven't ACTUALLY directed anything... then you don't have a reel :)

I'm not saying lower your standards and do McDonald's commercials... I'm just saying... be open you never know what will come of doing work when you're starting out.

Read this wiki about Kevin Smith. I think this is as good a path as one could try to emulate

Good luck to you... and I hope to see your name in the credits of a movie some day... "A Film By Ava"!
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Michelle’s Answer

Hello, Ava !

That's such an awesome career that you have chosen ! I would be happy to share some advice for you to consider.

The first suggestion is that when you enroll in college, major in Film. Get at least your Bachelors degree in Film and if you are able to, go on for a Masters Degree in Film. Yes, there are things that you can do outside of school for the CGI aspect of it. Look for both free CGI classes and videos on line and consider paying for some if you don't find what you want for free. A You Tube search results page is available at the link I've left below for free CGI Tutorials. These may help you do some independent study. Also, do inquire at your school about if any equipment, software or anything related is available for students to use. I would advise making some films now, the type that you want to specialize in. Don't wait for college. Build up a collection now.

As a film major, you will learn a lot. It will be a commitment you make even though every day is not going to be filled with CGI. CGI is a style and you will need to learn different styles, but you can specialize in CGI. You will have to be open to learning all aspects of film, however, which I can advise will help you in a career in film. Film is a strong degree to carry if you want a job in the studios, doing special effects or if you start your own company you will know what skills your employees should have. I was a theatre major and with that I had to go through all aspects of theatre but my main interest was acting. It really did help to have an all around knowledge, though. So it's a decision you'll have to make. You most likely will have a CGI course as part of your degree, but any independent classes you can take will greatly help.

You will learn directing as a film major and will need those skills when it comes time to do your student projects or any independent projects. Directing is very important and you just never know where your career may take you, so don't leave Directing on the back burner. You will come out of film school knowing how to direct.

I am not sure if you want to study in the major studio cities or if you want to study in your local area. Below is a link to a list of Colleges for Film in Minnesota. If you plan to relocate to study, you can do a search for the place you want to move to. Taking an academic route for this career will expose you to contacts, fellow students that need special effects on their projects, and opportunities for experience and work. So I highly advise getting a Film degree. The reality is that you never know what project will come your way. It's not going to hurt if you work on an advertisement. Learn everything so that you can get work.

It is going to be your decision so I would suggest start exploring now and start seeking clubs at school, on line groups and any community groups you can find to just start doing your craft. You have to start sometime, right ?

I hope this helps and I wish you all the best in school and in a great future career !

Michelle recommends the following next steps:

CGI Tutorial Videos
Colleges for FILM in Minnesota
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James Constantine’s Answer

Hello Ava,

Here's a practical guide to kick-start your career in Film CGI:

1. Master the Basics:
- Get comfortable with software tools like Adobe After Effects, Maya, and Houdini, which are widely used in the CGI industry.
- Gain a solid grasp of 3D modeling, texturing, and animation techniques.
- Understand the fundamentals of visual storytelling and its application in CGI.

2. Invest in Education:
- Explore colleges and programs offering degrees or courses in computer graphics, animation, or film production.
- Attend workshops, seminars, or online courses to enhance your skills and knowledge.
- Look for internships or apprenticeships to gain practical exposure and connect with industry professionals.

3. Create a Portfolio:
- Build a collection of your work to showcase your abilities and creativity to future employers.
- Get involved in student film projects, short films, or independent productions to gain practical experience and enrich your portfolio.
- Submit your work to film festivals, competitions, or online galleries for increased visibility and recognition.

4. Network and Job Search:
- Attend industry events, conferences, and film festivals to meet industry professionals and build connections.
- Use online platforms like LinkedIn and industry-specific forums to network with peers.
- Monitor specialized job boards, company websites, and social media for job opportunities.

5. Evaluate Your Decision:
- Reflect on your interests, strengths, and weaknesses to see if a career in film CGI aligns with your aspirations.
- Study the job market and industry trends to ensure a career in film CGI is a sustainable choice.
- Seek advice from mentors, professors, or industry professionals about entering the field.

In essence, a successful career in film CGI involves a blend of technical skills, education, networking, and self-evaluation. By adhering to these steps and staying committed to your objectives, you can improve your chances of thriving in this dynamic and competitive industry.

Recommended Reading:
"The Art of 3D Computer Animation: A Handbook for Digital Filmmakers and Visual Effects Artists" by Scott Squires and Steve Kaplan - This book offers an in-depth guide to the technical and artistic elements of computer animation, including character design, modeling, animation, and rendering.

May you be blessed abundantly,
James Constantine
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Terry’s Answer

One does not choose to be a director; one directs film only after many years in theatre directing, stage directing, managing personalities, and understanding acting.

Directing a Youtube or other social media platform production is NOT the same as a full-blown Hollywood thing.

If you are interested in going into this art form, understand this: unless you are already wealthy, you will suffer many years of having no money to speak of, in short, without a full time job you will be clipping coupons and shopping at Aldi to survive.

The best advice I can give is get a bachelors in anything BUT this art so you can earn a living to fund your film aspirations, then you will see how only those people who currently live in Hollywood are the one's that have anything of a chance to make it.

All that being said however, check out the Full Sail courses. I do not support or endorse them, just sayin to check them out.