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How I Became A Visual Effects Artist
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I remember the first day I moved to Southern California, new life new beginning and new everything to me. I didn’t have any family or friends out here, it was just me, a hundred bucks and two luggage full of clothes. I took a cab to the Art Institute located on Ocean Park and 31st street in Santa Monica to pick up some paperwork. On the way there I remembered thinking to myself if this was the right move and the right thing to do. Four hundred miles away from family and in a place where I didn’t have a clue where to begin.

Heres how I got started out here. The Art Institute played a big roll in getting me up and running. They would do anything to get you out here and study in their program. Student housing were set up, student’s medical insurance, shuttles to the school for those who cant afford transportation, you name it. And of course everything had a price tag on it. The school was expensive. During the time tuition costs were around $70,000 for a three year program. This doesn’t include the loans I withdrew the last two years at the Art Institute. I was down at $90,000 in loans by the end of the three year program. And really for what? A piece of paper that says, “Bachelors in Science - Media Arts and Animation.” And a shiny gold emblem that they stamp on the piece of fancy watermarked resume paper? Did I quality for financial aid? Of course I did! My family didn’t have much, Mom babysat to help me through college. Mom and Dad sent me $350 a month for the first 6 months, then $500 a month every month for about a year after that. As a college student I made it work, enough for gas money, food, and which ever expenses I had during the time. Mom helped me pay for the car insurance and my cell phone during the time. The first couple of weeks there I had to walk down to Seven Eleven to call Mom and Dad using the pay phone.

The price of the tuition didn’t bother me much, I was passionate and determined to finish college. Well I had to finish college, I was the only one in my family attending college during the time. I have two very talented brothers who didn’t really go to college, a younger sister in high school and another sister in middle school during the time, speak about pressure! For the three years at the Art Institute, I worked hard, very hard. I mean I had to work hard, $90,000 and 400 miles later, I need to. I was recognized by many instructors at the school for the talent and the hard work I put in in every class assignment. One referred me to the the UCLA Extension to be a teachers assistant for classes like Final Cut Pro and a few Maya Introduction classes. A few students had even asked me to mentor them on the side.

My advantage of understanding 3D and knowing how to draw before attending The Art Institute had put me a step a head of some of the students in class. When I mean understanding 3D, I just mean I understand that there is not only height and width, but also depth as well, it wasn’t much. While they were learning how to draw, I was learning instructors techniques and applying them to my own. While students were learning how to conceptualize an illustration, I was already modeling and designing in 3D. While students were learning 3D, I was already learning how to light, render and composite. It’s almost like doing your reading before class. Having an understanding before the instructor explains it will allow you to learn and understand all the detail things that you didn’t quite get while learning them on your own.

By the end of the three year program, every student will need to build a portfolio in order to graduate. During the time they were even asking us to build a personal web page to show case our work. Some students may pass, and some may not. Some may be held back for an entire year before they get to graduate. The school will not let you graduate until you have a showreel good enough to find work, or if you can find work before you graduate. The Art Institute does this to keep their graduates hired rate high, go figures. I was determined to graduate from the Art Institute strong, but with all that it still leaves me one thing to worry about. Will I be able to find work when I’m done with school. The instructor that I was assisting at the UCLA Extension during the time was working at Digital Domain. He told me that he can send in my reel to the HR office, but he doesn’t guarantee me anything and that my work will need to speak for itself. I gave him my reel and I waited.

Graduation was fun, rewarding, and relieving. Mom, Dad, and the family came to visit me for the first time in three years I attended college in Socal. Stockton was only about 5 and half hours away but still it was difficult for them visit me any other time. The family coming to my graduation was more than I can ever ask for. After the graduation party with my other two roomates/classmates, one in culinary and the other in graphic design. I went home with the family to spend a little bit of quality time with them before life becomes too busy for me again. I didn’t plan to stay in Stockton for too long, a couple weeks at most. Well, or at least until I find work! A week after being in Stockton, I received a phone call from Digital Domain and they asked me to come in for an interview. I cut my visit with the family short and booked a flight back to Los Angeles as soon as I can. A few hours after the interview, they called me back and gave me an offer. I took it! My first gig, texturing artist for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”. This was how my visual effects career got started!

I’ve been living here in Los Angeles for about seven years now. Four of which I’ve been doing visual effects professionally. Without my family’s support, I would have never been able to make it out here, and now its my turn to to support them. Without the drive, passion, and determination, it would have never been possible for me to be successful today. Like everything else in life, you need to want it enough to have it. Ask yourself if you want to wake up in the morning and say you “need” to go to work, or you “get” to go to work.


Street Talk

I am proud of your accomplishments HMDang

Reply
  about 5 years ago

I've been there before. Inspiring story, thanks for sharing!

Reply
  about 6 years ago
  

Thanks Shawn

Reply
  about 6 years ago
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