Category Archives: The Vice Chair’s Blog

SIGGRAPH’s Vice Chair’s blog

Sydgraph Computer Graphics Initiative/Sydgraph CGI

This initiative arises out of Vice Chair, Shilo McClean’s experience with the Screen NSW Digital Visual Effects programme. Over the thirteen years of the program’s operation, it has become clear that local artists seeking to gain entry to the industry have greater success when they have access to feedback, encouragement to keep up their skills development and personal practice, and have a sense of being part of a community.

As these three factors fit within the values of our local SIGGRAPH Chapter, the Board has agreed that we will try to nurture local talent by offering an opportunity for members to progress personal projects through an initiative that will provide support, feedback and a structure that we hope will assist individuals working independently.

The qualities of the initiative are:

  • projects are personal creative undertakings that fit within the broad framework of computer graphics and interactive techniques;
  • projects are achievable within the 10 months of the initiative;
  • participants are willing to share their experience of the process and present their achievements at the end of the initiative.
  • The local Chapter will provide:

  • assistance in developing a workplan for selected projects;
  • feedback on progress;
  • events tailored to provide knowledge/skills development as appropriate over the course of the initiative.
  • The process is open to all paid-up members of Sydney ACM SIGGRAPH.

    Members who wish to nominate a project for inclusion in the initiative should:

    email: with —

  • a brief outline of the proposed project;
  • a brief description of experience/background in undertaking works of the kind proposed; and
  • full contact details.
  • In February, those members seeking to be involved in the initiative should be prepared to present their proposals to the Board at the event on 03 February. The Board will select as many projects as can be accommodated within the resources available. Selected projects will be announced at the event in March.

    Also as an aside, anyone wanting to learn about technical drawing should refer to:

    SIGGRAPH Blog: November 2008

    Our last event for the year was HUGE! We had a great turnout, excellent support from Ric Holland at Wacom and a brilliant presentation by Barry Dean whose passion for drawing is so contagious, it’s just as well drawing is good for you! Barry started with a short film by Adam Phillips ( then moved into a combination lecture with exercises. He confessed that he once thought that software would never allow anyone to replicate the techniques of traditional oil painting but then showed us an amazing selection of works that challenging us to pick which ones were the digital versions and which ones were traditional works.

    He then took us through a series of his own drawings explaining the techniques used and demonstrated how he built the images. It was clear from Barry’s explanations and examples that there is value in knowing both digital and traditional techniques although he did extol the virtues of Command Z which allows you to step back when you’ve faced the artist’s perennial problem of going just a bit too far when working an image.

    He led us through a series of exercises playing with the ideas of line and fill and how they relate to thought and substance. We explored the extremes of drawing  — working with chaos and control to learn how both contribute to a work. He recommended Rudolf Kutzli’s Creative Form Drawing for those wanting to learn more about control and find a sense of harmony, rhythm and balance in creating images.

    We then explored the idea of creating a character with character and what he calls sculptural drawing before moving on to the designer’s toolkit: the oval, triangle and rectangle.

    We had on hand a Cintiq tablet and Corel Painter software for people to check out (we have some brochures for those who missed out).

    It was a great night and hopefully everyone took to heart the exhortation to carry a sketchbook everywhere and draw. As Barry says: Every time you draw something, you make it your own.

    Thanks to everyone who made 2008 another great year. Our dates for 2009 with an events schedule will be up on the website in January.

    Have a great summer! See you next year.

    SIGGRAPH Blog: October 2008

    Bless me members, for I have sinned … it has been many months since my last blog. 2008, hey? Wow, that went quickly! and very well for members who had the benefit of some great sessions over the last six or so months.

    April’s session — Showreel Showdown — was both popular and timely for those preparing applications to the FTO’s Digital Visual Effects Scheme. The focus was on giving people a chance to see examples of successful showreels as well as ask questions about how to position themselves to break into industry or move up within it. It was a lively session with speakers Nick Hore (Training Manager – Animal Logic), Peter Giles (Director, Digital Media – AFTRS) and Valerie Allerton (DVFx Program Coordinator – FTO) talking about applications for their respective areas — industry, tertiary training and industry mentorship placement scheme. Members should bear in mind also that they are always welcome to bring their reel to any event for screening and feedback. As our speakers emphasized, feedback and refinement are crucial to keeping your reel at its best.

    The main points for showreels are:

    • keep it short — very short is better than a history of everything you have ever done in the hope that they will see how much you have improved; you are showing them your reel to persuade them how good you are now, not how much better you are than you used to be 😉
    • include only your best materials; see above.
    • tailor it to the role you are seeking — a range of styles is important but be clear about the area of your strength now and how you can demonstrate the skills needed to do the job being sought. ‘Generalist with a specialty’ is often the best approach but not so general that they don’t know how you will fit in.
    • make sure you mark up on/within the image what you did and the tools you used. Don’t rely on a written shotlist as several people will look at the reel while a decision is made and it is easy for the shotlist to get separated from the reel itself. Don’t include work you did not do yourself without attributing it to the person who did the work. For example, if you did a rig on someone else’s model you can say: rig by me, model by them.
    • breakdown the work so that someone assessing the reel can see how you composed the finished images — it is okay to show the finished image, a breakdown and then repeat the final image
    • label the disc, label your case, label your supporting materials: name, phone number and email address
    • don’t use the BAD music: defined as anything that would make the person in the next office come in to find out from the person watching the reel ‘what the …. are you playing’ and be kind of grumpy about the disturbance 😉

    In May, Mike Seymour ( treated members and friends to an excellent session on the Red Camera. Having presented sessions to industry here and internationally at NAB, Mike covered production and workflow looking at how the Red performs from set to post in fine technical detail. Drawing on his experience as VFX Supervisor on set and through complex FX shots in post, Mike was able to field questions across the interests of cinematography, FX and editing. For those who want to learn more about Red, fxphd runs advanced courses online. We are hoping to get Mike back to keep us up to date on Red in the new year, too.

    In June we had the pleasure of Catherine Gleeson (Designer & Interactive Media Lecturer – AFTRS), Carmel Haren (Client Manager – Moneypenny), and Tracey Sernack Chee-Quee (A/Manager, Design Program – TAFE) talking about how to work with clients. For many in industry, freelance work is the order of the day and it is important to think about the relationship with the commissioning agent as a ‘client’ relationship rather than as a short-term job. Feedback from members and a number of threads on the DLF of recent times indicated that this was an important thing to manage well. Our team of speakers recommended the following key points:

    • get the brief right. Whether you agree with the ‘client’s’ ideas or approach or not, it is crucial that you are both on the same page when it comes down to exactly what is expected of you in every detail and how & when you will be paid as work progresses. Formal agreement processes such as purchase orders, invoices, progress payments, job specifications with sign-offs and payment schedules and so on are all good ideas and — once set up — can form an excellent basis for a professional relationship
    • there is a difference between friendly and friends. Clients might become friends but it is best to assume the relationship exists because there is a professional reason for it to do so and work on that basis rather than assume that there are personal loyalties involved. By all means, let those loyalties develop, but work on the basis that both parties are involved for commercial benefit.
    • the most important qualities for dealing with clients are: listening, discretion (treat meetings as a cross between a job interview and a commercial-in-confidence- discussion), reliability (doing work to a good standard, on time and on budget), and being honest (for example — don’t accept jobs you can’t do. You are better off recommending someone to do a good job in an area that isn’t your specialty than doing it badly yourself. If you put a client onto someone good then the client will remember you as someone who helped them out and come back to you for things you are good at — as will the person who does get the job who will most likely return the favour — but if you take the job on yourself and then get it wrong or do it to a mediocre standard then you are remembered for that and it will be a brick in the foundation of your professional reputation).

    Even if running your own freelance practice isn’t your goal, good client skills will help you get jobs higher up within a DVFx studio as the more senior roles very often require the ability to sit in on client meetings.

    July was month of tour de force presentations on computer graphics. At the beginning of the month we were thrilled to have the team from Fuel — Andrew Hellen and Jason Bathtalking about their pre-viz work on Greg McLean’s Rogue and their relationship with the director on the development of the film’s visual narrative. Their session covered those things that make pre-viz so powerful as a creative tool including everything from the crucial choreography needed to maximize the dramatic impact of the croc’s performance to the utility of the CG data for on-set construction and blocking of camera and performance. It was a great night providing insight into the creative process from a directing and from a DVFx point of view and we are very grateful that the guys from Fuel were able to make time in their very busy production schedule to share their experience with us.

    ACM SIGGRAPH (Sydney Chapter) was co host with the AFTRS in the special event, New Techniques for Acquiring, Rendering, and Displaying Human Performances by international guest speaker, Paul Debevec. Paul is the associate director of graphics research at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies and spoke to a capacity crowd.

    Shortly afterward we had the annual August ACM SIGGRAPH Animation Theatre screening. This year there were three DVDs and so we have been screening them over a number of monthly event meetings. There is some lovely stuff there, as always, including work from local creatives.

    In September Caitlin Proctor and Ian Cope from Rising Sun Pictures and Patricia Kung from Animal Logic fronted a forum about the Ten Worst Things You Can Do In A Job Interview. This was a wonderfully candid and insightful discussion with members and friends having the chance to ask the interviewers for their advice on how to handle tricky situations that always seem to dog the interview process. Top tips from the night included:

    • Don’t be late. It seems obvious but it’s number one for a reason — in Sydney you almost have to assume that whatever mode of transport you’ve chosen, there will be obstacles in your way!
    • Be polite — thank the interviewers for their time.
    • Do your research — this doesn’t mean you have to seem like you’ve got an inside line to the place but you should know what they’ve done and are known to be doing. The Internet is your friend.
    • Follow the instructions about making an application. This means doing things the way they have asked you to do them. So if the website says, ‘Please send properly authored DVD of your work’ then do that. Do not decide on their behalf that giving them links to the version you posted to YouTube will suffice. It won’t.
    • Put a real breakdown of the shots on the reel and include your contact details on the disc, on the cover, in the letter, on the shotlist. Label everything.
    • Think twice about your content. It is important to take the application process seriously and tailor your reel to the widest audience. It isn’t always easy to gauge if something will be offensive so ask yourself, ‘if there is a small child in the room when this is screened, will it be okay for them to see it?’ Reels get watched in all kinds of situations, by all kinds of people and you are asking them for a subjective decision as to whether they like it or not. If the key person who has to make a decision about your reel is watching this at home so they can have some semblance of time with their family, they won’t keep watching if it suddenly goes R rated violent or scary — even if it is really well made R rated.
    • Be aware of your web presence — the Internet is your friend but it is a public space. A global space. Act and post accordingly.
    • Don’t feel you need to ‘big note’ yourself to impress. Humility is charming, arrogance is not.
    • Do NOT let your Mum (or Dad) call on your behalf. Really, even if they insist that you let them, do NOT let your Mum (or Dad) call on your behalf. This really does happen and it is NOT a good thing.
    • Do NOT bag out anyone — even if what you are saying is the witness box truth. Discretion is the better part of valour.
    • Do not name drop.
    • Find the balance between persistent vs. stalker.
    • Credit the music on your showreel — but to not use the BAD music (see previous post and earlier in this one).
    • Focus on everyone in the interview — make eye contact.
    • Don’t negotiate money in the job interview — enquire beforehand about the ballpark amount and then wait until you are in discussion about the job they would like to offer to work out the amount of remuneration.

    And finally — do not take it personally if you don’t get the job. Just think, ‘Not this time, but now they know about me, so maybe next time’.

    As you can see, there were more than ten things to keep in mind but the advice is gold! Thanks to all of our speakers for their frank commentary and approachability after the session.

    In October, following on from the Annual General Meeting in August, we had a Board Meeting and confirmed the following Board Members who stood for positions unopposed:

    • Nick Hore – Chair
    • Shilo McClean – Vice Chair/Events Commitee Chair
    • Tracey Sernack-Chee Quee – Treasurer/Education Committee Chair
    • Peter Giles – Secretary
    • James Murty – Web Master/Web Committee Chair
    • Andrew Taylor – Membership Chair
    • Bill Lee – Member-at-large
    • Valerie Allerton – Member-at-large
    • Kit Devine – Member-at-large
    • Steve Weymouth – Member-at-large

    Thanks to continuing Board Members for their ongoing commitment and welcome to new Board Members joining us in helping to foster the local community.

    In November we are going to have the wonderful Barry Dean lead us in a drawing workshop, “Digital Drawing: the international visual language — capturing your imagination using a graphic tablet”. This is a wonderful opportunity for members and friends and we look forward to seeing you on 5 November for our last session of 2008.

    We have many ideas in mind for 2009 including: Red Again – revisiting the Red Camera and latest news on that front; Acting for Animation; High Dynamic Range photography; Digital Grading; plus drawing classes, labs, and tours. Bookmark the website and set your calendar to remind you to check in and come along.

    Thanks to all of you who have made this a great year of events for our Chapter!

    March ’08

    The First Wednesday of the Month seems to have made it into lots of our members’ and friends’ calendars as we have had an excellent turnout for the first two events. We kicked off the year with ‘Mapping the ‘Verse‘, a session that looked at business models for user-generated content. This session was based on a paper I gave at the Communications and Policy Research Forum in September 2007 (full papers from the conference) and there was a request for further reading on the topic. The books I referred to in the talk are listed in the references at the end of my paper and I highly recommend the book The Long Tail by Wired’s Chris Anderson.

    Our session this month was by Anthos Simon and Rebecca Dunn from Efilm. We had a request from industry to cover more technical areas, especially for compositors so I asked Anthos (who is just THE guy to talk to about these things) to give us a session that covered everything from film stock, aspect ratios, colour space to D/Is. They were very generous with their time and experience and brought excellent handouts (PDFs attached here) for reference.

    eFilm Digital In Path

    (download PDF)

    Format Resolution Chart

    (download PDF)

    As you might have noticed, the events calendar has shifted a bit. This is in part due to my being in Oslo for their film industry’s big conference in digital visual effects ( In my absence Nick Hore (Animal Logic) and Peter Giles (AFTRS) have very kindly agreed to step in and run the 02 April session on showreels. They will be bringing example reels to provoke discussion and inspire but we recommend also that members step up and offer their own reels for feedback. As I have said before at other sessions on reels, feedback is your friend but your friend is not always the best place to get feedback. So if you are keen to get comments please contact Nick ( or Peter ( and let them know that you are planning to bring your reel. DVD only, thanks.

    The other reason we have moved the events schedule a bit is so that the April session ties in very nicely with the New South Wales Film & TV office’s DVFx Placement Scheme deadline of 12 May. ( This scheme is an excellent opportunity to work at feature film standard with some of the world’s top DVFx studios (which, happily, we have based here in NSW!). So check out the guidelines and put in an application.

    In May we will be fortunate to have Mike Seymour presenting the Red camera. I am sure you have all been reading about this and Peter Jackson’s and Alex Proyas’ plans to use the Red for their next projects. Mike runs VFXPhD and writes extensively for DMW. He is a strong advocate for the Red and we are very lucky indeed to have him join us on 07 May.

    I’m hoping to have a good panel together to do a session in June about working with clients and then the rest of the year should unfold as per the updated events calendar.

    We look forward to seeing you on The First Wednesdays and in closing I am very sorry to let you all know about the passing of a friend of SIGGRAPH’s, Peter Rasmussen. As many of you will recall, Peter and Jackie Turnure were the creators of Stolen Life, Australia’s first feature length machinima which we screened with a Q&A session late last year. Peter was the writer on the feature films Mad Bomber in Love and In The Winter Dark. I first met Peter when I invited Stolen Life to premier at the 2007 Sydney Film Festival’s digital strand and was grateful that he and Jackie were able to participate in the AFTRS Digital Factor Seminar last August. We became friends through this series of events and I must say that I found Peter to be one of those true gems; always generous with his time and deeply insightful about storycraft and filmmaking. He passed away on Saturday, 8 March 2008 and we are all the poorer for his leaving. On behalf of the membership, I thank Peter for giving us his time and the benefit of his experience in a session for us.

    On that sad note, goodbye for now. I look forward to seeing you all in May for the session on the Red camera and hope you all get a fabulous amount of inspiration to re-do your showreels and submit them for the FTO’s DVFx scheme on 12 May!

    All the best,


    December 07

    Our last two sessions have been wonderful opportunities for members to learn about 3D environments with Kit Devine and motion graphics with Anthony Battaglia of Box Communications.

    Kit’s session provided a comprehensive analysis of the importance of meaning and the idea of presence in creating virtual spaces. Using examples from physical places and how they have been represented to the game Assassin’s Creed and how details have been tweaked to fit game play, she then went on to discuss her project — a 3D representation of The Rocks in Sydney which she is developing as part of her PhD. It was a fascinating and thought provoking night for all and a great insight into the factors that have to be considered when building a virtual space.

    Our last session for the year, Titles and Motion Graphics with Anthony Battaglia covered a range of topics from fonts to feature film titles. Anthony covered some of the big issues for designers revealing insider tricks for creating clever title graphics. He also showed work from Box Communication‘s body of work covering twenty years of TV graphics and feature film titles ranging from hand-drawn work to the latest in CG. It was a terrific finale for the year’s programme of events.

    Next year we will reconvene on Wednesday, February 6 when we will look at how to choose the business model for your user-generated content. Until then, have a great summer and holiday fun! Thanks to all our fabulous, generous speakers and loyal members.

    The Year Ahead

    The following events are proposed for the upcoming year. Topics are fairly certain but speakers will be announced as we get closer to the dates. Keeping checking the website.

    06 February 2008
    Mapping the ‘Verse: Business Models for User-Generated Content.
    If you know you want to make stuff and you hope you might also get money for what you make, then this session will cover what you need to think about to find the model that fits what you want to do.
    Speaker: Shilo McClean

    05 March 2008
    Showreel Showdown: another look at a perennial topic. Members are invited to bring their own showreels or uncut materials to get feedback on how to make the most of their content.
    Speaker: TBA

    02 April 2008
    Digital Grading
    Speaker: TBA

    07 May 2008
    Directing Actors
    Speaker: TBA

    04 June 2008
    Dealing with Clients.
    Speaker: TBA

    02 July 2008
    DV Cameras and encoding workshop
    Speaker: TBA

    20 August 2008
    Electronic Theatre Screening

    03 September 2008
    The Ten Worst Things You Can Do In A Job Interview
    Speaker: TBA

    01 October 2008
    Graphic Novels
    Speaker: TBA

    05 November 2008
    Drawing Class
    Speaker: TBA

    October 07

    In July we held a pre-conference mixer and screened highlights from the 2006 Animation Theatre DVD to remind everyone of what they could look forward to at the Annual General Meeting and Electronic Theatre screening in August. Both events drew good crowds and thanks to CoFA for making the big screening theatre available to us for these dates.

    We had another excellent screening in September, showing Australia’s first feature length machinima, Stolen Life. Creators Peter Rasmussen and Jackie Turnure joined us for a Q&A session of their film which had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in June this year and which won Best Direction, Best Visual Design and Best Picture at the European Machinima Festival in the UK a few weeks ago. Congratulations and thanks to Peter and Jackie for their inspirational work.

    So, in keeping with the spirit of encouraging our filmmaker membership we held a session on film festivals in October with Ruth Saunders from the AFTRS and Jenny Neighbour from the Sydney Film Festival. These two women have probably done more to advance the careers of local filmmakers than anyone will ever truly appreciate. Ruth has been entering AFTRS student films in festivals around the world to great success and her knowledge of the festival industry is unparalleled. Jenny Neighbour has been selecting and managing festival entries for the Sydney Film Festival for 17 years. Together they presented an amazingly frank insight into the festival circuit and the following advice:

    • get your materials right: fill out all the forms correctly, make sure your screener copy on DVD works (not just on your computer), make sure that you have the correct spelling of cast and crew names, a complete set of publicity materials including lots of fabulous stills shots, that you have labelled of all materials (correctly!), that you have obtained and documented all music clearances, that you can provide properly mastered screening copies (be sure to doublecheck and meet the screening format, standard and aspect ratio as per the festival’s technical requirements). Don’t send ‘extras’ (eg. lollies, toys, etc) that you think will win over the selectors. It doesn’t work.
    • bear in mind that festivals can get something in the order of 1500 unsolicited films submitted for acceptance but that they can usually only show something in the order of 300 films. Do the math — someone has to miss out.
    • the festival’s closing date means it has to be on their desk by then, not in your local post box.
    • if your film does get in, help the festival by publicizing it through your own networks and contacts.
    • if your film doesn’t get in, don’t take it personally. There are a lot of factors that influence what gets chosen (refer note above re: the math) so keep doing good work and keep sending out good stuff. That’s the only way you will ever get in.

    Our next event is the wonderful Kit Divine talking about Synthetic Realities/Virtual places. Kit’s bio and the session details are posted in the events section of the site.

    Sound & Image

    Greetings, everyone. I apologize for the delay in posting this review but June is Sydney Film Festival time and, as a guest curator, it tends to monopolize me for the duration.

    On Wednesday, 6 June we were thrilled to have Steve Murphy present the session Sound & Image, a compelling examination of the importance of sound in filmmaking and of how some sounds have become inextricably linked with certain images over time. Opening with an Apollo 8 image of the Earth from space with the opening bars of Also sprach Zarathustra (op. 30, Richard Struass) playing in accompaniment, Steve made the point that certain pieces of music linked to particular images have become cultural icons. He cited the sound of a light sabre as one of the most well-known sounds and described how crucial that sound is to elevating what is, visually, simply a sword fight into a viscerally exciting part of cinema. (For those of you who have a Wii and the sound linked for the wiisabre, I’m sure you agree how clever was the sound designer who came up with that sound — and for those who now want to be the loungeroom jedi:

    Steve described how sound is a powerful storytelling tool in its own right that can be used to create transitions between scenes, link scenes through motifs, compress time and help cut images that do not advance the story. He described the importance of thinking about how to hear a scene and the need to bear in mind that the characters hear and that sound is a way to express their experience and emotions within a scene.

    He demonstrated this by playing a series of ‘sound stories’ using various combinations of footsteps, knocks, and car approaches to show how the different soundscapes changed our perception of plot, tension and events unfolding.

    Steve then noted that filmscores now fill up to 85 minutes in the average 90 minute film and remarked on how this is often used to tell us how to feel about the action. He warned us that sound cannot fix a bad performance and that revoicing does not change delivery. Bad dialogue is bad dialogue and a film that drags visually will not be saved by trying to change the pace with sound. In essence, if it looks crap, sound will not make it more convincing.

    However, a film can be lifted and made complete by good sound design and he recommended that filmmakers take the trouble to create fresh soundtracks rather than rely upon library sources that tend to be overused and cliche.. He quoted Randy Thom (Apocalypse Now, Star Wars V, Mars Attacks, The Incredibles, War of the Worlds — see full list at:

    as saying: Sound is the quickest way to the heart. It was an excellent filmcraft session and Steve recommends the followings sites:

    He says: “The first two are for videos about sound design; the last one is an excellent resource on film sound which steers away from technology and just looks at issues and theory.”

    It was great night. We gave a way a pair of tickets to the Sydney Film Festival world premiere of Australia’s first feature length machinima, Stolen Life. We’re hoping to have the creators of that project join us for an event later in the year. In the meantime, July is our re-screening of last year’s Electronic Theatre animations and a chance for people to meet up prior to the conference in the US. See you on the 4th of July!

    May Blog #3

    A big thank you to our May session speaker David J. Smith. His session was Acting Styles and Animation — a great mix of animation know-how and insight into performance. David presented acting styles across the range of subtle cinematic approaches to the theatrical and the cartoon styles. Describing them in terms of both animation and live action performances, with excellent examples from classic animations such as The Jungle Book and Elvis films, David explained how to find nuanced performances through characterisation and emphasis.

    Explaining how actors use transitions to show changes of state, he highlighted the importance of this for animators through choosing poses and facial expressions to capture these emotion-revealing moments in performance. As David said, —€œAnimation is dependent on strength and clarity in performance and expression.—€ He emphasized the value of finding identifiable physical attributes for characters and knowing how to hold the pose or the expression for exactly the right beat to get the performance across.

    David summarised by saying that it is important to look to live action performances and to practise acting techniques. He recommended Ed Hooks’ Acting for Animators:

    and classes such as those at The Actors Centre and Actors Studio in Sydney.

    David’s session covered the importance of voice performances and sound as well so for those who want to make sure your films exploit the full power of film craft, next month’s session will be on Sound and Image with Steve Murphy, a fantastic educator and sound professional. Steve was formerly the Head of Sound for the AFTRS and Dolby consultant for Australasia. With many credits and students with great credits being another credit to him, he is someone to come and hear!

    However, a last word on the issue of sound. As we have to leave our venue on time, the events will start on time and so for those of you who are running late could we please ask that you join us quietly. Our speakers are terrifically generous in giving us their time and expertise so please acknowledge this in your participation. Many thanks!

    Things to remember about Climbing the Ladder

    A big thank you to Peter Giles (AFTRS), Nick Hore (Animal Logic), Jason Bath (Fuel) and Lara Hopkins (Rising Sun Pictures) for their excellent session on career paths and how to get into the industry.

    Playing to a packed house, the panel described an industry where, although there are lots of people doing foundation level training, there is a chronic shortage of artists at the higher levels needed to achieve international feature film-level work. Peter Giles described how the AFTRS is providing more attachment-style schemes and shorter courses designed for people working in industry who want to add techniques and professional-level skills to their repertoire.

    The questions that captured the audience interests were:

    How do you know how to rate your own work?
    Where can you find examples of good work (and bad work) so that you can make comparisons?

    The panel recommended checking out the advice on their websites:

    and the value of participating in the dlf:

    All of the companies have job boards and general application advice on their websites and recommended that applicants approach them through those mechanisms. The consensus is that you take your application seriously and that what you provide should reflect that attitude. Jokey approaches were generally not recommended nor were applications full of spelling mistakes and similar errors.

    The companies suggested that keeping in touch and sending in updated showreels on a six-monthly basis was the best tactic. They pointed out that an updated showreel should be significantly updated with more and better work each time. Applicants that send in the same reel time and time again generally did not make a good impression. Nor did those who pestered houses constantly. If you are not successful on a first or second application, it is wise not to take this personally. The houses are driven by the work they have on hand and recruit accordingly. If you are not hired straightaway, it will be a reflection of the level and kind of work they have on hand at the time you apply. This is why it is important to keep building your skill set and sending in updated reels.

    What is the industry looking for in Australia?

    —€œA generalist with a specialty.—€

    Ultimately the VFx houses are looking for talent – someone with an eye and the capacity to execute work that is visually impressive. Two well-rendered frames are much better than five minutes of mediocre work.


    • say what you can do – demonstrate your skill set and be willing to take on the basic tasks of a role rather than pitching yourself at the senior-level goal that you are pursuing (note: it’s ok to let people know what your goal is, just don’t overstate where you are on the path to that goal)
    • list all of your skills, including administrative abilities
    • do not let the software be what holds you back; flexibility about software is valued
    • a good work ethic is crucial


    • the capacity to take on more responsibility for your own work and to teach juniors and start to lead up teams
    • having a strong understanding of the process
    • usually an average of three years experience/some on-set experience
    • and a good work ethic is still crucial


    • very strong skill set in specialty and wide-ranging knowledge of process
    • expected to be able to do high-level work very quickly
    • usually more than five years experience
    • this also is the point at which people tend to become higher-level specialists (particles, lighting, etc.) or generalists that have enough skills across the process to be a team leader
    • not only do you have a good work ethic yourself, you have to inspire it in others.

    Ultimately, getting a job will come down to your skills as an artist. Keeping it will depend upon how well you play with others. Most people get ahead and rise up the ranks by developing their own knowledge and skills and also by training others through knowledge sharing.

    For those of you who want to build your knowledge of animation, our May event will feature David J. Smith, a character animator who has worked with Moving Picture Co., Lost in Space, Rhythm and Hues, Click3x, Blue Sky Studios, Animal Logic, and Fuel. His feature film credits include: Ice Age, Babe, The Nutty Professor, Rogue, Pinata, Kazaam, Speed2, Happy Feet.

    For those of you who are filmmakers who want to learn more about the craft, we have Steve Murphy (former Head of Sound, AFTRS) presenting on that most powerful side of the art. Check out his bio — he’s even more fun in person!

    Welcome to the Vice Chair’s Blog – Showreels and Happy Feet Report

    Greetings Fellow Sydney SIGGRAPH members!

    On 7 February we kicked off this year’s events with a session on that perennial favourite: showreels. The Industry Forum last November made it clear that events focussing on career issues would be very welcome so I put together a session on showreels that included the following tips:

    Shilo’s Advice for Showreels:

    1. Figure out what you do best.
    2. Construct a showreel that shows this.

    Three common and very annoying mistakes:

    1. Content included in the hope that viewers will be impressed with how much you have improved. This is a mistake because you are expected to have improved and — more importantly — you are expected to know the difference between good work and bad work. So include ONLY your BEST work.
    2. Images thrown together with no sense of pacing, structure, and relationship. A showreel should be creating a visual experience for the viewer.
    3. Bad music. Even if you love the song (a lot), unless you choose music that fits the energy, structure and viewing experience that compliments your images there is every chance you will alienate the viewer. Basically, anything that has to be played at volume control 11 or has been implicated in X File cases involving aural bleeding should be avoided.

    The Structure:

    You have no more than 3 minutes. Shorter will be appreciated.

    • 20 – 30 seconds — eye candy montage
    • 2 minutes (or less) — breakdowns demonstrating the creation of shots (software used, process taken, what YOU did)
    • 20 seconds — summary eye candy montage ending with a really, really impressive image
    • 10 seconds — name, email/phone contact details.

    LABEL EVERYTHING — disc, case, content. Yes, presentation matters so unless you have nicer-than-a-font handwriting, permanent marker scrawled on a disc that is then folded into a torn piece of notepaper is probably not good enough. Make the effort to print, package, and label things in a way that makes you look good.

    Our second event for the year was the very cool Animal Logic team showing us how they crafted Happy Feet. We had the privilege of having:

    Aidan Sarsfield (Character Supervisor — formerly with Mambo and an FTO Digital Visual Effects Trainee, credits include: Moulin Rouge, Matrix Reloaded)
    Justen Marshall (Software Development Manager, credits include: Hero, Moulin Rouge, Matrix Reloaded)
    Magali Rigaudias (Character Lead Animator — formerly with ILM, credits include: Dragonheart, Mars Attacks, The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

    Showing work from the early stages of concept and character development, the team explained how motion capture data and performance videos fitted into the animation pipeline, detailing everything from software development and nuances of character performance. This special event was free to all attending and we had a full room with members enjoying the Q&A session and give-aways.

    Our next two events will continue our plan to balance career information sessions with technical skills presentations. So don’t miss the AFTRS, Rising Sun, Fuel and Animal Logic presenting on the topic of climbing the ladder — all you need to know about getting ahead in the industry through career planning and continued training (04 April). And on 4 May we will take another look at animation with character animator David Smith presenting a session on Animation and Performance.

    See you at CoFA!