We talk to Photoshop master Mike Campau to discover how it took 5 years to build up the portfolio and brand awareness to go freelance, and we learn about his CGI and photography blending process!
Mike Campau knew at the age of 3 that he wanted to be an artist. Yet his obsession with computer art didn't start until 1991, when he got his hands on the very first version of Photoshop. From there, he learned everything he could about computer graphics and, after graduating from the University of Michigan, he landed a job at a retouching studio. This in turn helped give way to another obsession: photography! Or, more importantly, blending the two together: photography and CGI.
"When I shoot, I know what is possible in post-production and can make adjustments on set to make my life easier when compositing," Mike Campau explains. "On the flip side, learning different photography lighting techniques has really improved my rendering setups and understanding of how light works within the CGI world!"
We chat to Mike in more detail to find out how he made the move to freelance and how his life has changed since!
Mike Campau knows what is possible in post-production and can make adjustments on set to make life easier when compositing
3dtotal: Can you talk a bit about how you made the rewarding move from working for a design/retouching studio to going freelance as Mike Campau Digital Imagery? What had to be in place before you could make the leap, and was it all plain sailing?
Making the move to go freelance was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made in my career. It was hard for a few reasons. First and most obviously is the security you feel when you have a real job with steady pay and benefits, and to give that up while having a family to support was a heavy decision to make. Second, a ton of work needs to be done to get up and running… both mechanically and logistically. Third, I knew I was going to have to put in a ton of hours in the beginning, learning and setting up the business side of things.
To help make the transition smoother, I had started working on personal projects, in my own time, and used online media to build my brand name. By doing this, I was able to gauge the amount of interest in my work and what my level of success could be before I made the leap. It took quite a bit of time (5 years to be exact) but it was definitely worth the wait to do it right and hit the ground running.
Since I took the time to build up my brand name, it was a smooth transition into building new relationships and clients based on my name recognition. Once the word was out that I was ready and available, it just took care of itself. Of course, I still need to do personal projects and spend a large amount of time promoting my work online and in person… but that is really the fun part of the job anyways!
Mike Campau says it takes years and years of practice to be able to achieve a seamless process and blending
between photography and CGI
3dt: How has your life changed since you started working for yourself? How do you structure your days to make the most of your valuable time, for both work and play?
My life has completely changed… in a good
way! I love the freedom it has given me. I can work when I want, where I want, and on what I want. I can be in control of the type of work that I am doing now and don't have to just take on jobs because they are jobs. This was really hard for me to learn in the beginning because, when I was starting out, I would take on anything that walked in the door. But I quickly realized that sometimes it's better to say, "No" and to spend that time on something that will be more beneficial for your career down the road. I also have to balance work, family, and fun. So this means I really have to manage my time and be as productive as possible when working.
I always try to figure out the fastest way to do things, whether it's keyboard shortcuts, running actions, multitasking, and so on. I figure if I can shave a second or two off of every task, I can gain 20-30 minutes at the end of the day! I don't want to look back when I get older and have regrets about not spending enough time with my wife and kids, or not doing some of the things that I wouldn't be able to do when I get older.
"A big part of getting noticed is not only doing something really well, but also different"
3dt: How do you find your clients - or how do they find you? Do you have any advice for freelancers looking to get themselves noticed?
To be honest, I don't do any traditional marketing. I put all my effort into my work, and then put it on the online networks and social media. If the work is good, it will get noticed and spread like crazy. I tell people to spend less time surfing all the network sites to try and gain exposure and put that time into their work. I have never had a client contact me because I left a great comment or "liked" someone else's work. No, they contact me because they saw my work.
Don't get me wrong, though! I like browsing through sites like Behance
to see what's happening, and maybe get some inspiration. But I don't put all my effort into it. When I'm surfing, I look for visual trends and what seems to be flooding the market in style and content, then I don't
do that. A big part of getting noticed is not only doing something really well, but also different.
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Mike Campau uses MODO as his 3D tool of choice! He tried many 3D packages, but MODO felt the easiest to get something
good right out of the gate