After years working as an artist for studios large and small, I'm now running my own shop called CVD VFX, based in North Vancouver. The focus is to create a more sustainable studio model for our artists, putting a premium on work/life balance and being willing to turn down projects that might wear us down or prevent us from doing our best work.
It’s a difficult balance to attain, and it's something that I'm learning with each new project and collective step forward. When you're down to the wire on a project and pushing hard with your artists to get it done and done right, there are a few things I believe can be done to ensure quality, productivity, and satisfaction from your team.
I try to maintain as much of a transparent floor as I can, and make sure that my artists are in the loop at all times. Our amntra at CVD VFX is, "Quality of work, quality of life," and we do our best to avoid prolonged stretches of overtime. But if a project butts up against that philosophy, yet it's something that the team is passionate about, I make sure they know—and empower them to help make the decision. A great example of this is our contributions to the finale of Westworld – it was a bit of a push, but it was exciting to see the team firing on all cylinders.
I think it's imperative to specialize no matter what field you're in. The initial feeling might be that you're limiting your options, but it's essentially making you the point person on a specific subject. It's excellent advice that I received, and it's served me well from being an artist to a company head. We specialize in compositing, environments, and hard surface 3D, and I think clients appreciate our honesty in our skillset instead of just pursuing everything and trying to figure it out – or hire people to figure it out as it comes in the door. I like that we have strengths and weakness. As the old saying goes: Jack of all trades, master of none!
Have lots of leads
We like to have a lot of point people on our shows. It helps spread the responsibility and deputizes smaller teams to run with sequences. Ultimately, we have our VFX Sup and Comp sup kicking off these teams and approving them. But we’ve found that having a lead for almost every sequence really helps avoid bottlenecks. One of our current projects is roughly 350 shots, and out of 10 compositors, I would say almost all of them have been a “lead” or in charge of at least one sequence. It's cool to see everyone slide in and out of these roles if they’re comping on one sequence or look deving/QCing another.
This gets to the heart of our mission at CVD VFX, and it's something that I am intimately familiar with as an artist. Burnout quickly begins to impact someone's happiness, creativity, and well-being. Part of my job is to make smart project decisions for the welfare of my artists and resource accordingly, to make sure we're not burning people out. When we start a project, we typically have more resources than what’s required to account for hiccups and growth along the way.
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