What was your first job in the industry and how did you get it?
Back in the 90s I had already a strong portfolio from my architectural stuff, some AutoCAD and lots of interior design that I had from my own company. It happened that I was in New York and I had the chance to work with an architectural studio using 3D Studio. From there I started teaching architecture in some of the first animation schools in Madrid. I designed my own training programs in lighting. It was before any plugins were on the market, so I just used really old methods in Max, using direct lighting. Radioisty came later, and then V-Ray in 2001, which was revolutionary.
So I used all this to try to get into movies, while in my spare time I worked on improving my character modeling. My first official job, if I can call it that, was in Spain at Dygra Films, as a lighter on their Goya award-winning film Midnight Summer Dream. I lasted only two months before I quit. Even though it was the thing I wanted to do the most, I wasn't happy and didn't want to waste time. So I quickly moved on to my showreel and worked ultra-hard on it, moving away from being a lighter and more into modeling. I got an offer from Bren Entertainment (Filmax Animation) and I worked there on two movies, Don Quixote and Perez the Mouse as a modeler and a FX artist. It was the best work, environment and city experience I've ever had.
What can people expect from working in the industry?
Well, it's changing continuously and lately it's been a bit scary since many studios are opening and closing. So I would advise you to be aware of this and think carefully about your choices. This is a job where traveling and moving is essential, and very important to get experience, so you need to be ready to travel light. You'll meet lots of people who, most of the time, will turn into really good friends. It's part of this job to share workspace with people from all over the world and with quite different backgrounds, so be open to learning as much as you can from everyone.
Remember that even when you're in a job that relates to art, surrounded by people who have got into the industry because they're passionate about it, it's still a business. This means your art is important, but the business is more so, or you won't have anywhere to work. So, learning about how the production works, sticking to deadlines, and making sacrifices in terms of quality on behalf of the final product are essential. So many artists are focused more on their portfolio than the project they are doing. Producers, leads and supervisors will expect you to go further than your interest in your reel. Sometimes a big-named project helps more than an amazing personal model, I'm afraid.
Every studio and industry within this CG world has their own recipes, workflows, pipelines and systems of tracking, feedback, dailies, etc. Being able to adapt quickly (very quickly) to these different systems is almost an extra requirement, apart from the skill you are being hired for. I remember having almost six weeks of training to get used to the pipeline and conventions of some studios. Today you are lucky if you have two weeks, at least from my experience, as there is such competition between studios and projects require faster development.
What are the key things that a great portfolio must have?
In my opinion, objectivity is the key for a portfolio. Be critical of your own work and make sure you don't include something in your portfolio that other people shouldn't see and that isn't relevant to the job you're applying for.
It also depends if it's the first job you are applying for or if you already have some experience. For someone with no experience you should show short, nice and finished works. If you already have experience, of course it's an advantage, but your work on those projects might not actually help your reel. In this case, just use that information in your CV and don't add any work to your reel that can compromise your chances to get the job. No doubt, if you have strong experience and good skills, your CV will go ahead of your reel. In this case, and focusing on the role you are applying for, I guess it's best to show your latest work experience.
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