VFX Artist's Guide to Being a Better Team Member

What are the top soft skills a VFX artist should focus on developing?

Happy New Year!

As we step into the uncertain landscape of 2024, the world of VFX finds itself at the crossroads of innovation and intense competition. VFX are an evergreen component of modern film production. At the same time, streaming video, which has driven so much of the recent growth of the film industry, is undergoing a transformation. The competition is fierce and 2024 looks to be a year of consolidation. Some streaming services may merge while other streamers may choose to abandon streaming entirely and go back to their older model of partnering with the larger streaming services. It’s still unclear what the “new normal” will look like. Add to that the recent disruptions in production due to the Writers Guild, Directors Guild and SAG strikes and there is no way to sugar coat it. 2024 is going to be a rocky road.

What does this mean to you as a VFX artist or student of VFX? Any time it looks like the job market might be more competitive we need to evaluate at our skillsets, both hard skills and soft skills, and improve ourselves as much as possible. In a dynamic environment like we appear to be entering in 2024, not only are technical hard skills crucial, soft skills like the ability to be a collaborative and indispensable team member become paramount. In this blog post, we'll delve into four essential soft skill principles and one brutal hard skill truth that can help VFX artists and students not only survive but thrive in the competitive job market of 2024.

I’m going to start with some pretty negative attributes you should by all means avoid. Stick with me here. It’s fortunate that I rarely encounter these negatives in my professional career but when I do it is apparent how disruptive they are (which makes them stand out all the more). Some of these should be self evident but apparently they aren’t universally understood otherwise I would not have ever observed them “in the wild” as I have.

Ok. Starting with the “DON’Ts” and moving to the “DOs”…

DON’T be a complainer.

Complaining makes teams stupider. Bring solutions, not problems. Complaints can be contagious and counterproductive. Instead of dwelling on negatives, strive to be a problem solver. When issues arise, approach them with a constructive mindset. Offer solutions, share ideas, and engage in discussions that lead to resolution. Complaining is NOT the same thing as noticing problems and speaking up about them. Complaining is a passive “venting” where you have already come to the conclusion you are powerless to change anything. On the other hand, raising a flag about a problem and suggesting solutions (or even better, volunteering to solve the problem yourself) is a positive. The flip side of this, as a leader or lead, is to HEAR the concerns and escalate them as needed. When you are on a team, you should operate from the position that you are all on the same team and working towards the same goals. Interactions with your team shouldn’t feel adversarial. And even if there needs to be a balancing of priorities, that balance should be communicated across the team so everyone is on the same page. In 2024, let's leave the habit of complaining behind and embrace a proactive approach to building stronger, smarter teams.

DON’T be petty.

“Tall Poppies Syndrome” is toxic and stupid. Do better! In the world of VFX, the "Tall Poppies Syndrome" crab bucket mentality destroys team dynamics. We’ve all worked with “that person” at some point in our careers. You know the one. They seem to not be able to handle seeing someone else succeed, or worse, exceed their own achievements. I’ve always found people with this mindset kind of tragic because often it is this type of persons own negativity and immaturity that holds them back. Envy and toxic competition within a team serves zero purpose. No one wants to work with a bitter nasty person like that. And for people who make a habit of it, I hate to break it to you… people notice and it reflects more poorly on you than it does the subject of your backbiting or public negativity. It’s is the most petty of petty mindsets. Another persons success or excellence doesn’t diminish yours. Regardless of where you work, you have plenty of competition OUTSIDE your immediate team. It makes zero sense to treat internal team members as your competition. If you are feeling envy, or worse, jealousy, you likely need to look inward and work on your own skills and attitude. Instead of pulling others down, focus on elevating your own skills. From a mindset and attitude perspective, work on recognizing and praising other peoples strengths. Recognize that each team member brings unique strengths to the table and that there is always plenty of “glory” to go around. Remember… the team sinks or swims together. That person who is totally kicking ass? They make you look better, not worse. You should feel lucky to be working with them (not envious or jealous). You can probably learn something from them. By supporting and uplifting one another, we can create an environment where everyone thrives and we all win.

DO be competent.

Technical competence and solid hard skills are table stakes in this business. Do your homework and be prepared. Continuously improve your hard skills as you notice gaps that need improvement.

DO be generous.

Share information. Help your teammates. There aren’t really any secret techniques in this business. The VFX community is a vast resource of knowledge and talent. Embrace the spirit of collaboration by freely sharing information and insights. In an era where a quick Google search or AI chat can unveil countless techniques, there's no need to hoard knowledge. Whether you're a seasoned professional or a newbie, everyone has something valuable to contribute. Let's foster an open culture of mentorship where the exchange of ideas enriches the entire team, making us collectively more innovative and proficient.

DO be easy to work with.

Learn how to receive notes effectively. Receiving and addressing “notes” is an integral part of working in any creative field. In 2024, refine your ability to receive notes gracefully. Approach feedback with an open mind, viewing it as an opportunity to improve rather than as criticism. Cultivate resilience and a positive attitude, recognizing that feedback is a crucial aspect of the collaborative process. By embracing constructive criticism, you contribute to a culture of continuous improvement within your team.

As we embark on a new year in the VFX industry, let's carry these principles with us to become better team members. Remember that improvement is a journey, and we all have areas where we can grow. By focusing on solutions, supporting our peers, sharing knowledge, and embracing feedback, we can create a collaborative and empowering environment. Let's channel new energy into making the lives of those around us better and our teams stronger in 2024.

To sum things up. Solid “hard skills” are table stakes in this business. It should go without saying that you need hard skills. Work on on being a better team member to make yourself an indispensable employee. People enjoy working with people who are pleasant to work with. They assume technical competence in everyone they work with and prioritize working with people who are good teammates and fun to work with.

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