It’s A Small World – Even Smaller in VFX

I watched District 9 this morning. I’d only seen it once before, during its cinema release, but have been meaning to watch it again ever since I started working on Neil Blomkamp’s new project Elysium at Image Engine.

Image Engine also did the District 9 VFX so I was interested to see how many names I could spot in the credits who were still working there. I did spot a few, but what I found more interesting was how many names I knew from elsewhere. I recognised a lot of people from the Image Engine and Weta credits, but not because I had worked with them at either of those companies. In fact, I had worked with more of these people at MPC Vancouver than I had at Image Engine, and MPC had nothing to do with District 9.

This is just one of many examples of how small the VFX industry is and how often people move around between this relatively small group of companies.

I would have been much less surprised about this if I was still in London and the VFX had been done by some of the London houses. With only four major companies in London there is a lot of movement between them. What is surprising is how international this mixing is.

For example, the guy that I sat next to at MPC was English, but had spent time working at Weta Digital in New Zealand and Dr D in Australia. At both of those companies, he’d worked with someone I knew from Framestore in London. In fact, the MPC Vancouver office was probably 30% British, so the number of connections I had through London was amazing. There was probably another 30% made up of other nationalities, mainly Kiwi. Even these guys had spent time in London or worked with Brits abroad.

Because lots of people tend to leave a company at the same time when a project ends, there are also groups that move together. When I started at Image Engine, there were two other guys from MPC starting in the same week, and many more MPC alumni joined us over the next few months. There is also a group of ex-Aardman artists here in Vancouver who all moved after Pirates finished and the girl who sits next to me went to a Rising Sun reunion BBQ, here in Vancouver, last month.

Since I moved to Vancouver last August, I have been able to help two colleagues from Framestore get settled in Vancouver and I’m looking forward to meeting another one at the airport in October.

Most of the time I find this quite comforting. I have moved nearly 5,000 miles and I can go to the pub with lots of familiar faces or quickly find things in common with new people I work with.

These close connections are also helpful when looking for work. There is usually someone you know who is working, or has recently worked, at the company you are applying to, so you can get some inside knowledge or have them put in a good word for you.

Of course this works both ways. When companies are looking to hire people, they will often ask around the office to get people’s recommendations, or ask about someone you used to work with elsewhere who they are considering.

As long as you are pretty good at your job, work reasonably hard AND are a pleasant person to work with, this is fine, and probably to your advantage. But not everyone gets along and a month or two of long days and deadline pressures can strain office relationships. People remember unpleasant colleagues and in this small world, word spreads fast.

So enjoy the fact that this small industry can sometimes feel like a global family –  but make sure you don’t become the black sheep of that family, and be nice.