After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the best art and design schools in the country, it was evident that I did not have the skills that it took to land my dream job of creating visual effects for movies. I saved up some cash, took the leap of faith and drove 2,400 miles West to Los Angeles to try anyways.
In LA, and after a few months of waiting tables, I scored my first big break, and was given a job at one of the best studios on the planet, Digital Domain (DD). At the time, they were creating amazing visual effects for Flags of our Fathers, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Of course, I didn't get a job working on any of those shots, rather, a job as an Studio Production Assistant in which my job consisted of changing light bulbs, moving boxes and sweeping the floors.
That job was humbling to say the least, but I also viewed it as a huge opportunity. I leveraged this job, which put me in direct contact with some of the most talented professionals in the industry, to build networks, learn the business and best of all, improve my animation skills by harassing anyone and everyone that would give me 10 seconds of their time to look at my work for a critique. These critiques proved to be extremely crucial to my eventual success. One by one, producers, artists, recruiters, supervisors, and so on, would review and absolutely destroy my work. But, they also offered valuable advice as to how to improve. Every free moment I had away from the studio was devoted to using their tips and improving my reel. After doing this for a year and a half, all the while making $10/hour, I finally had a reel that made all of them raise their eyebrows in delight, and say, "wow, you're really improving." At that point I knew my reel was finally ready to send out to studios in hopes someone would hire me. It wasn't long after that, that DD even offered me a job on the upcoming Marvel movie, Iron Man. Unfortunately, they lost the job to Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and had to lay off a ton of artists due to a lack of work. But, around that same time, I was offered a one-month job at a small gaming studio to animate fingers on mocap characters. Without hesitation I took the job and never looked back. I was able to string small jobs together one after another, after another. I met everyone I possibly could at every studio I worked for and started to build a robust network that I would rely on for the next 10 years as a freelancer. After a few years, studio's were calling me, instead of the other way around. And, now, I can proudly say that you can see my name in the credits of a handful of blockbuster movies (including Iron Man, ironically) and that I've been a part of extremely talented teams that have created Commercials for many Fortune 500 companies, and beyond. I've lead and supervised teams and have even built teams as a recruiter for a global the Visual Effects studio, MPC.
I feel that the lessons I've learned throughout my career can benefit anyone that wants to break into the Visual Effects and Animation, or learn a few techniques on how to master the art (of the business side) of freelancing in a very competitive and flooded industry.