Make Time For Personal Art
By Neil Blevins
Nov 20th 2013

Many of you know the story of Gareth Edwards. He was a visual effects artist who decided it was time for him to make his own movie. So he raised half a million dollars, shot the film ("Monsters") with a crew of 4 and 2 actors, did all the visual effects himself (some 250 shots), and rather than the result being some crappy B movie, the film was actually quite good. It got a theatrical release, and a ton of press.

Here's a little quote from Gareth that I love from a vfx podcast

"Most people who are in this business who do visual effects for a living, they're in it really because they want to make movies, I'm pretty sure if you speak to anybody they don't want to be rotoscoping until they're 50 or 60, its like they're doing it as a stopgap so they can become film makers, or at least I know I did and my friends were like that in visual effects...visual effects people should all go make movies themselves...I'm not trying to put anyone out of business, I'm trying to create a new business, which is "lets all go make movies", this is why we're here."

Now to be fair, I do know some people who want to be rotoscoping at age 50-60, there's something about the process that gives them satisfaction. And that's fine. But for a lot of us, we got into doing film to express a little something of ourselves artistically. Maybe not as a director like Gareth (not all of us would make good directors), but as an Art Director / Production Designer, Director Of Photography, Editor, Writer, etc. The problem is if you're working on a big Hollywood film, the crew is that famous work pyramid, the jobs at the top are few, and the number of people gunning for them are many. And even those top jobs, you're beholden to whomever is giving you the money for the film, so you still probably don't have the freedom you'd have if you were working on a personal project.

So, as Gareth says, "lets all go make movies". Or at least find some method to express ourselves artistically, maybe a book, fine arts paintings, whatever.

I tend to think of things like this, there are 6 types of projects: Individual, Collaborative (small team), Collaborate (large team), then there's Personal projects and Service projects.

If you're working at a large visual effects company doing tentpole films, then chances are you are doing a Collaborate (large team) service project. Which is cool, you learn a ton about what makes an image successful from a large group of talented people. You also get something out of working with a big team, there's a social / work dynamic that can be a lot of fun. Your work is likely to be seen by a very large audience. You learn a thing or two about client interaction. And you may even get a chance to squeeze a little bit of your own artistic spin on things here and there.

But your experience shouldn't stop there. Make sure you're also doing some personal projects on the side when time permits. Either as an individual, or in small teams. I can't express how important it is to make sure that you have at least a little something that is almost completely yours, something where you get the final say on when it's finished and lookin good. It may not be commercially successful, but it's something you can point to and say "There's a whole ton of me in that project." And it will help you during the tough times working for other people when you're working on a project that just isn't your thing (a "Spanish pampers commercial" as we'd call them at Blur).

Technology has come a long way, and it's possible now to make more complex projects with fewer people. The really huge projects still and probably always will require an army to complete, but while you're enjoying the experience of being a part of that army, make sure you're also doing something on your own for your own artistic satisfaction. Let these two sides to your work feed off of each other, you'll be a stronger artist for it.

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