VFX Artist and Independnet Filmmaker
Los Angeles, California
Grew Up In:
Van Nuys, California
Full Sail University
After College Lifestyles
Full Sail University
Sean is a visual effects artist for movies such as SkyFall, Twilight, and Vampire Diaries in Los Angele. Sean's profession has very different hours (over night) and a very different lifestyle than the average job. Sean provides a passionate and in-depth write-up of everything you need to know about the lifestyle.
VFX Artist and Independnet Filmmaker
Los Angeles, California
Grew Up In:
Van Nuys, California
Full Sail University
Quick Stats on Being a Visual Effects Artist
Work Hour Flexibility:
Quality of Lifestyle Outside of Work:
Work Stress Level:
Level of Routine Work:
Interaction with Co-Workers:
Pay Level (out of 5):
Life of a College Grad VFX Artist
I've worked for over 5 years as a Visual Effects artist on films such as ""Skyfall"", ""Twilight Breaking Dawn Pt. 2"", ""Green Hornet"", ""Priest"", ""Immortals"", television shows like ""Vampire Diaries"" and ""Deadliest Warrior"", and music videos for artists such as Pink. For those films I have done a wide range of tasks including green screen removal, converting films to 3D, digital wrinkle removal, CG object integration, wire removal, screen replacement, and fixing mistakes made in production.
I am also an independent filmmaker who has directed, wrote and produced the third film ever made in first person, a found footage horror film, a short for ""Funny or Die"", and now a web series called ""What About Weiss"".
That's just a rough summary and you can see a full list of projects here:
VFX's Daily Routine:
3:00 PM Wakeup. My body is naturally nocturnal and it tends to switch to this late wakeup whether I want to or not. The end of this schedule will also make the reasons for this more obvious.
3:30 PM Get dressed, shower, and eat breakfast.
4:00 PM Check email. This involves either celebration if it's forward from our Executive Producer, or a prospective job. Or if it contains bills or simply nothing, a wave of despair crashes over me.
5:00 PM If working a traditional job, this is usually where the night shift begins after all the standard 9-5'ers leave. This is also the period where I would start working if working as an independent contractor or between positions.
6:00 PM Theater time! Before leaving, the supervisors take us into a theater inside the studio and go through the shots us and our coworkers have done one by one. This is either an exhilarating process if your boss approves several shots you've done or an embarrassment as countless flaws are pointed out via laser pointer in front of your peers.
7:00 PM By this point, I have my headphones on and am working on my projects. I've already logged into the automatic shot delivery system or my homemade notepad file, talked with the supervisor, and started work on either revisions or starting a new shot.
8:00 PM Hopefully at this point I'm in the zone. Nothing exists but the screen and my hands on the keys and mouse. The outside world is a distraction and a hindrance and I'm cranking through my work.
10:00 PM Staring at a monitor nonstop isn't the most healthy thing in the world so I usually take a break here. A walk around the office, a Coke or or Redbull to keep me awake, a granola bar, and a chat with a coworker helps to keep my energy up.
10:30 PM Back to Work! Usually before going on break I've set off a few renders and so first thing I do is watch them and make notes about the mistakes I've made.
12:00 AM Hopefully by this time I'm back in the zone. If it's a good day, I've finished a shot or two by now particularly if they were mostly revisions. Other times, I'll switch gears simply to allow me to see work with new eyes and keep it entertaining.
1:00 AM By this point, my stomach is grumbling so if other coworkers are heading to dinner I'll go with them otherwise I usually heat up a packed lunch to save money and time.
2:00 AM With dinner done, and time spent hanging out with co-workers finished I'm back to work. Again, renders are checked and mistakes are addressed.
5:00 AM The eyelids are starting to sag as the light begins to stream in through the windows. This is usually an ideal time for another source of caffeine or a jog around the office.
7:00 AM Things are finishing up. I'm now making final renders and filling submitting files to my superiors. These will be viewed either later that day when my supervisors arrive or the next evening in the theater.
9:00 AM If I've taken a short dinner break, and everything is going well this is where I'll leave the office. Other times, I'll stay another several hours until I am happy with the evenings work.
10:00 AM While others are just beginning to go to work, my day is finished. I head down the mostly empty streets, enter my apartment, close the windows and pass out in my bed.
11:00 AM Zzzzz...
How To Get Into The Field
I fell in love with computers in elementary school and by middle school I was trying as many programs as I could get my hand in. Tried some C++ programming and hated it but I started to learn Photoshop and Video Editing and by high school I was using it for school projects. I was also the lucky recipient of a special government that allowed me during summer break of my sophomore year to take a course in photoshop, Flash, video editing and basic After Effects at Santa Monica College, and by senior year I taught myself 3D Studio Max and was taking a course at a local community college about Animation and Special Effects.
Following graduation, I moved to Florida and went to Full Sail where I took an incredibly intense Computer Animation Program. The longest class was 2 months long, and lasted 40-50 hours a week with a required 90% attendance. Failure rates for some of the classes were 70%+ and meant you had to take the class again. I'm not ashamed to admit that I struggled but every class I failed gave me another month to learn the material and allowed me to meet some amazing people.
During the course of this, I realized that compositing was not only something that I excelled at, but was something that very few students wanted to do. As a result, I chose it as my specialization and after leaving college spent another several months taking classes at UCLA and Gnomon to improve my skills.
Following that, at my parents urging I began job hunting. Unfortunately, most of the beginner level work at the major studios was being outsourced to other countries so things were difficult for a while and I was forced to sign up for odd internships. One of them was for a Korean studio that insisted it's employees ate vegan while we worked on removing green screens for a religious program that ended with Jesus and Mohammed hugging. I also edited Avid training videos and 3D modelled paper dinosaurs while working in Jack's destroyed apartment from ""Fight Club"".
My first big break came when I was hired to create effects for ""Deadliest Warrior"" on Spike TV, and a documentary for ""7 Signs of the Apocalpyse"". My boss had just finished being the supervisor for ""Lost"" season 3 and assembled a team of superstars with me being the junior artist. I painted backgrounds, composited shots, modeled and textured weapons and characters for the team and helped out anyway I could.
More importantly I got to have lunch with Larry Schultz. Larry had just gotten done having been hand picked by James Cameron to take concept art created by the greatest artists in the world such as Syd Mead, Moebius, and Neville Page and turn it into rough video game assets so that when the stars of the movie were on set covered in tracking markers, he could look through a monitor and see the Na'vi and forest all around him.
More importantly from him I learned the tax benefits of being an independent contractor instead of an employee and listened to him pitch half a dozen dream film projects he couldn't wait to get started on. It energized me, reminded me of how much I loved acting as a kid and auditioning for the ""Little Rascals"", playing make believe, filming videos for school projects, and learning 3D Studio Max and dreaming of the incredible films I could make with this new Video Game meets Lego set sitting on my desk.
Eventually though, that gig ended as the supervisor quit out of frustration of dealing with upper management and the team was fired. We all moved on, and with some official projects under my belt I started to get work on films such as ""Green Hornet"", and ""Vampire Diaries"", ""I Am Number Four"", ""Priest"" and ""Immortals"".
As a freelance VFX artist, life alternates between working 80+ hours a week 7 days a week when you are employed and making tons of money and other periods where you live off savings, hang out with your family and girlfriend, and search for work. During one of these times, I looked up my coworker Larry Schultz just to see how he was doing. As it turns out he wasn't doing so well. He had moved to New Zealand but partway through he had complications and became completely blind. Doctors don't think he would ever recover his sight and as a result it's doubtful he will never get to make those films he had been pitching to me over lunch.
This really made an impact on my life. On the one hand he had achieved everything one could hope for in a career. He had been written up in magazines, worked as a key member on the biggest film ever made, and taught thousands via his line of training DVD's. Yet his dream was never going to come true.
It really solidified in a way that I never understood prior that life was short and dreams are worth chasing no matter what. So, after reading Robert Rodriguez's incredible ""Rebel Without A Crew"", I took $5,000 of my hard earned dollars, became an official SAG signatory and made an independent film entirely in first person.
Shortly after, my girlfriend dumped me and I was forced to live in a house crammed with bunk beds and eat dollar store rice while I finished post production on my film. My fellow bunk mates were impressed and together we convinced truck drivers on the set of Judd Apatow's film ""This is 40"" where my was working as PA to give us $20,000 to shoot a found footage horror film in Big Bear.
Following that, I got a crash course in how difficult it is to market and sell films in today's climate so I went back to work as a VFX artist at a studio run by the directors of ""Skyline"" on several films such as ""What to Expect When You're Expecting"", ""Snow White and the Huntsmen"", ""Twilight Breaking Dawn Pt. 2"". I was then transferred upstairs to the prestigious Lola VFX and to do work on ""Skyfall"".
Eventually that came to an end, and with the help of my former bunkmate, we began working on developing and shooting clips for our web series ""What About Wess"" which we are actively trying to sell while I continue working as a Visual Effects artist on films large and small.
What Do You Really
As a freelance VFX artist and independent filmmaker, my life alternates between periods of insanity when I am in production and slower periods where I try to line up the next project.
During the crazy times, you wake up go to work, finish and then go to sleep. Rinse wash repeat with very brief breaks to eat or do much else. Films have a set release date, and studios have deep pockets so they will happily pay overtime and ask you to work 7 day 80 hour weeks to finish the project.
Currently, I am in the relaxed period because otherwise I would not have time to write this. So, as a result my days are spent applying for jobs, calling contacts I have worked with previously, rewriting scripts and making phone calls to my producing partner while we actively work to sell our show to either television networks or internet websites seeking original content. I am also engaged in creating passive income streams such as mobile apps, websites, music sales, and other things that will hopefully pay dividends over multiple years.
Pros/Cons of Your Job
First and foremost, I enjoy meeting and working together with other talented artists. They are always incredibly creative and technically skilled people with their own unique personalities and being locked in a bunker for many hours, working together to accomplish the same goal while dealing with the frustrations inherent in the process together (more on those later) is a lot of fun.
As a film fan, it's also fun to see footage of a film months prior to release. I watched the first 15 minutes of ""Avengers"" 6 months before it came out in theaters because the company I was at, was working on it. Same with movies like ""Prometheus"", ""Lone Ranger"", ""Iron Man 3"" and many others.
As for the downsides, particularly in VFX who have to realize that you are a small cog in a large machine. This can be frustrating as you watch poorly shot footage, are ordered by a director or supervisor to make a change that you think makes the film look worse, or even deal with the fact that you are making art which is subjective and sometimes your opinion isn't valued in the least and you are getting paid to push the buttons the director wants you to push and shut your mouth.
The volatility and unpredictability of frantically searching for jobs while your savings dwindles can also be stressful. This can be solved by finding a more permanent position as opposed to simply being freelance but in an industry where companies expand to meet the demands of a large project, and then reduce their employee count to a core staff that has been working at the company for many years this can be difficult.
Lastly, the joy of coming up with an idea, putting it to paper, and then pushing it through the process to the end, sometimes result in a product that doesn't live up to your expectations but other times exceeds them and causes a joy and satisfaction that is unmatched in anything I have experienced.
Tour My Los Angeles Life:
Quick Stats on Los Angeles, California
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The Life of a College Grad in Los Angeles, California
What's it Like to Live Here?
Currently I reside in the San Fernando Valley which is pretty amazing. On the weather side it's pretty amazing. Sunny days with no humidity 99% of the year and dark rain clouds the other 1% which makes it very clear it's going to rain and failure to bring a rain coat or umbrella is your own fault. And if you miss the beach, snow, a casino or a true desert, each are simply a 2 hour drive away.
The people here are like people everywhere. Some are rude, others friendly. Some are batshit crazy and others so beautiful they make your heart flutter and fuel fantasies for years to come.
Besides that, the city is a diverse spread out mass of concrete and palm trees with mankind covering every inch in telephone poles and Mc Donalds but with a thriving ecosystem of bugs, birds, reptiles and animals that do just fine.
The spread out nature does mean that most people purchase cars which they spend an entire years salary on and sit inside very frustrated polluting the planet and screaming at the top of their lungs and cursing like drunken sailors every time someone waits for 5 seconds at a green light. Public transportation leaves something to desire ever since the car companies purchased and then dismantled the world class public transportation system leading to both the plot of ""Who Framed Roger Rabbit"" and a city struggling to rebuild. Things are improving though and so long as you don't mine walking or waiting you can get just about anywhere.
Beyond that, there are plenty of tourist attractions such as Hollywood Blvd which is 2 blocks from a tranny filled ghetto, Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Promenade and many more. All are fun to explore for both tourists and long time inhabitants.
How Did I End Up Here?
I was born in a hospital in Panorama City not terribly far from here. And although I moved away to Florida for college, I came back to where my family and friends live and haven't left for very long since due to both the weather, the Hollywood scene and various other factors.
I currently live in a granny suite attached to a house filled with 4-5 CSUN students and various other young professionals. It's truly a wonderful setup that combines the joys of privacy and having your own space while preventing loneliness.
Previously, I lived alone in a glorious Santa Monica apartment but after awhile that grew both lonely, and sort of extravagant considering how little of the apartment I was using and how much it cost. In the past I've also lived on bunkbeds, with random roommates, and with my girlfriend in a small studio apartment.
It's cheesy, it's been said a million times, and I'm sure my lack of financial success will dissuade you from listening to me, but the one piece of advice I hope you take away is the lesson that Larry Schultz taught me, and that is life short so follow your passion.
The reason is that the majority of people go into college studying what their parents have told them to study or what they have read is a good job to make money and are either clueless as to what their passion is or choose to ignore it because it's ""impractical"".
And trust me, when you start making that first $2000 or so a month you will be the happiest person alive. For the first time you'll be able to pay your car bills, and your rent, plus an Xbox and that new car you've always wanted. You'll feel independent and happy.
The catch is that as you continue working 50 hours a week at a job you don't truly enjoy for years on end that joy will fade. And even when you get a raise and buy a pair of fancy pants or a new house, at a certain point it won't make you any happier and you will realize the emperor has no clothes and you've climbed the ladder to success and found out the bag of treasure at the top is empty.
The problem is that most people don't realize this until they wake up at age 40 and realize they are miserable. The problem is by that point, they've put so many years into your career and have built a family that relies on their salary to survive. So, their choice isn't between a job and a passion but between feeding their children or not being able to so they let their dreams die and grow up resenting their children and telling them to give up on their dreams because it worked so well for them.
I tell you this because I've met too many of those people who realize that they are going to die without ever having accomplished their dreams. And I don't want you to make that same mistake.
Because, spoiler alert: we are all going to get old and die. And when I do I know I will be able to march up to those pearly gates knowing that I put as much of time, energy and effort as possible into making all of my dreams come true and living the life I wanted to live.
And all I ask you is to do the same.
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