Frédérik Barbeau on his experience as a 3D art student in college vs. at Rebelway and landing his first gig as a VFX artist.
Being a complete beginner who doesn’t really know where to start is stressful and confusing, regardless of the industry you’re entering. Finding your first job as a digital artist is even harder because the competition seems too intense. On top of that, the list of requirements only seems to broaden every day.
Becoming an intern is still doable, even if you don’t have a college or university training in Digital Art, Computer Science, or similar fields. Plus, if you think that decent internship offers can be found only in the US, it’s not true at all. There are some incredible opportunities for aspiring VFX interns in Spain, India, Canada, and even remote internship offers. He who seeks finds, and we’re going to tell you how to do it faster.
An internship can be a perfect way to enter a competitive industry, build professional connections, and show off your skills. It is a win-win both for the employer and the intern. Normally, an internship is like a full-time job that you have for a predefined amount of time. It lasts for about 3 months on average, but you might come across openings that offer a 1-year training or the ones that are just a few weeks long. For the majority of internships, you need to be a university or college student, though some of them are open to recent graduates. Most companies would only welcome applications from those who finished studying no more than a year ago.
Because interns have no working experience (and no degree either), they normally earn less than a full-time employee doing this same job. Some companies even offer unpaid internships since thanks to them you get hands-on experience and finally have something to put on your CV. Opinions on unpaid internships are extremely controversial, so it’s completely up to you to decide whether it’s worth doing or not. Other than that, almost any internship would be a great start. Think of it as a continuation of your studies, except you’re placed in a working environment instead of an academic one – there are no exams and every bit of information you learn is 100% practical now.
No matter what career we’re talking about, internships can be tricky to find and even trickier to get. When it comes to VFX, finding a temporary entry position as an FX artist requires exceptional patience and persistence. Because the competition in this field is insane, many studios don’t even post internship openings. And the ones that do receive an unimaginable volume of applications, as you might expect. Of course, putting ILM, DNEG, or Framestore on your CV as your first professional experience sounds like an absolute dream to anyone, which is why getting an internship at companies like this is far from simple. The good news is that you can always find amazing internship opportunities at smaller production studios.
The best place to look for a VFX internship is the website of a company you are interested in. If you try to search for open positions for VFX interns on Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn, or similar websites, you won’t see a ton of offers. However, if you go to the ‘Careers’ section on the website of a studio you want to work for, you might find an open internship application. Because most companies only accept students or recent graduates, they offer summer internships.
One of the most prestigious summer internships you can ever find is the Gold Rising Program run by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It offers 6 different tracks including Visual Effects and gives you a chance to spend 8 weeks learning from the experts who have been in the entertainment industry for years. The application process begins way before the program starts – in mid-February. The key requirement is being enrolled in or being a recent graduate of a university or college program that matches your track of interest. So to apply for an internship in Visual Effects, you need to have an academic training in VFX.
One more big company you definitely know about that has a summer internship for FX artists is Disney. Walt Disney Imagineering offers a 6-month-long program that begins in June/July and gives you a chance to fully immerse yourself in the work of an FX artist. While the academic requirements are a little more flexible and easier to meet than the ones you’d need to apply for the Gold Rising Program, you’re expected to have working knowledge of several industry-standard tools including Unreal Engine, Maya, Nuke, Houdini, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Premier.
Another major studio that offers an intensive 12-week-long internship for VFX artists is none other than Double Negative. Their Greenlight program allows aspiring VFX artists to join one of the world’s leading FX studios and work on TV and movie projects alongside DNEG’s crazy talented artists who have done visuals for award-winning shows and movies including Stranger Things and Avengers: Endgame. Right now, there are two locations available for the Greenlight program applicants – India and Canada. The deadline for submitting your application is late May, so you now have plenty of time to get your CV and reel ready for the 2023 application cycle.
While DNEG, Disney, and The Academy sound like a dream, their list of requirements is pretty hard to meet, and the competition is insanely tough. Here is why we recommend that you expand your search area and check whether smaller companies have internship openings. After all, the purpose of any internship is to help you gain practical skills and have a better idea of what the production process looks like. When you enter a smaller team as an intern, your training becomes more personalized than if you were to join a big-scale international internship program that accepts applications 6 months prior to training.
Europe is a great place for aspiring VFX interns. If temporary relocation sounds doable to you, consider searching for an internship in the UK, Germany or Spain, for instance. Right now, Skydance Madrid has an open internship offer for 3D animators. Elamedia Madrid also invites interns who are interested in having hands-on experience in TV and movie production and post-production. As you can see, while searching for internship openings site by site is quite time-consuming, it really is the best way to find an exciting training opportunity.
Even if you can’t find any internship offer at all or if all of them seem to have expired a while ago, there’s still something you can do. First of all, you can contact a studio you are interested in via email or social media and ask them if they offer internships. Communication can do wonders, so don’t be afraid to reach out and inquire whether your dream company accepts interns. Even if they don’t, your letter of interest might make them reconsider.
Just make sure you use the appropriate communication channel and address your potential professional mentors properly. Sending a “hey i’d like to join you as an intern, that possible?” to a company CEO via Instagram DMs is probably going to decrease your chances of getting an internship to 0%. Unless, of course, the said CEO is your friend or relative.
One more thing you can do is submit an application using the General Applications or Open Applications form. This one can get tricky because many resumes that go through this form are far from being priority applications. You might have to wait for months until you hear back from a company you reached out to using General Applications. Or you might never even receive any feedback from them at all (apart from the automatic ‘Thanks for submitting your CV!’). It’s not completely hopeless, however, and hiring managers do look through the resumes that came through Open Applications.
Make sure your CV is clear, readable, concise, and contains the keywords the HR is likely to look for when reviewing applications. And even if the ‘Letter of Motivation’ or ‘Portfolio’ sections are optional, attach every document you can – this shows how strong your desire to join this company is. One of the well-known VFX studios that has an Open Applications form is Scanline VFX, so you can go ahead and shoot your shot.
All in all, applying for a VFX internship is similar to a standard job application. However, there are a few nuances. First, because it’s not a full-time job, your CV doesn’t have to have the ‘Working Experience’ section at all. Unlike the ordinary resume, the one you submit for an internship is usually focused on education rather than professional experience. Second, because it’s a creative job, there are two more important documents you need to get ready before applying: your portfolio and your reel.
The most important thing you need is your VFX reel. As a beginner with no working experience, you are not expected to have a 3-minute-long video full of Hollywood-level shots. It’s completely fine if your reel is under 1 minute as long as it has your best creations. Try, however, to avoid using pieces that are too old no matter how good they are. Other than that, feel free to add all kinds of scenes, including artworks created for contests and challenges, personal projects, commissions, homeworks, etc.
Remember to add your name and contact details at the beginning of your reel. This opening frame has to be about 3 seconds long and should include your full name, current or desired position, and an email (phone, LinkedIn, and socials are optional but don’t add too many).
And here’s a crucial tip on creating a strong reel – your best shot should be the very first one. The second and third best shots should either be at the end or follow the opening shot. The rest of them need to be solid, too, though – less is definitely more here. If the reel ends up being too short, add VFX breakdowns. It’s always a good idea to show the working process behind your creations, plus it can make your reel go from 20 seconds to 35 or more.
Think of your portfolio as a continuation of your VFX reel. The 1-minute video presentation doesn’t have all the details about every single project you created while the portfolio should. Normally, in a portfolio you give a more detailed breakdown of your work. You explain what the project was about, what the goal was, how much time you spent working on it, what exactly you were responsible for, and more. You also explain what software applications you used for the elements you created, talk about the most challenging parts of the project (e.g. you had to write a custom shader for a complex scene), etc.
Just like the reel, your portfolio doesn’t have to cover every single piece you ever created. Make sure it’s up-to-date and features your best works. And though it should be more detailed than your reel, it would be better if you left out the scenes that are not featured in the demo reel. As you might guess, the first question is going to be ‘Looks interesting, why isn’t it on your VFX reel?’ And the worst answer would be ‘Oh thanks, but I decided it wasn’t good enough for the demo!’ That said, be your biggest critic and be as picky as you can.
CV a.k.a. curriculum vitae a.k.a. resume is a text document that has all your credentials in one place. Now, you’ve probably seen multiple online CV builders, free resume templates, and similar tools. The truth is that you don’t really need those and sometimes they can even ruin the impression. The best CV is the one that is clear and concise so experimenting with designs is completely unnecessary.
To begin with, additional decorative elements can be distracting and make it harder for the hiring manager to find the important information. Plus, it might seem like there’s not much you can impress the employer with, so you’re trying to compensate by using a visually appealing template. The only additional elements of design you can benefit from are dividers, bullet points, and the use of bold, italics, and different font sizes.
Normally, at the top of your curriculum vitae, you have your name and contact information (email, phone number, address). Then you have a short paragraph called a personal statement where you briefly explain who you are, what you are looking for as a professional, and why you’d be a perfect fit for this very role at this very company. After that, you normally list your working experience (if you have any) from the most recent to the earliest.
Next comes education arranged in the same way as your professional experience, newest to oldest. Below that, you list courses, awards, competitions, and other important achievements outside of your academic training. And finally, you list your hard skills (e.g. Houdini, Unreal Engine, compositing) and soft skills (e.g. leadership, problem-solving, adaptability). Some prefer to put the list of skills right below the personal statement, though.
You can also write a motivation letter which in most cases is not compulsory, but it shows that you really want to get the role you apply for. Plus, with a good motivation letter, you can show the employer how well you know them and how much they would profit from having an artist like you on their team. With motivation letters, the best option is to craft every letter from scratch and adapt it to the company you’re sending your application to. Each of them has a unique creative vision, so trying to build a universal reusable template is not a good idea.
Once you are ready to hit the ‘Submit’ button, make sure you check all the info on the application form. And please, don’t forget to rename your documents! ‘CV James Brown’ looks way better than ‘freeCVtemplate(3)werkitcom’. If everything looks good, finalize your application and wait for the reply. You can also send a follow-up email to ask if there’s something else you can do to stand out. Plus, a follow-up email wouldn’t hurt if it’s been too long (2+ weeks) and no one contacted you. Be polite, show your interest, but remember there’s a limit to every hiring manager’s patience – 5 follow-up emails within a week is a bit too much.
No matter how good you are as an FX artist, you can always learn more and grow your skill. Houdini is one of the main tools for professional VFX artists and learning it would be a major advantage. Whether you know a bit about Houdini or have never used it before, Rebelway has courses for beginner, intermediate, and advanced Houdini users. Learn to create top-notch visuals using this industry-standard tool to make your reel truly stand out. We have specific learning paths designed to help you learn the skills you need to land a dream job in VFX, including your first VFX Internship.
In case you are looking for something different, take our course quiz to find out what Rebelway lessons would be your best choice.
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Frédérik Barbeau on his experience as a 3D art student in college vs. at Rebelway and landing his first gig as a VFX artist.
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