Your Best Foot Forward: VFX Resumes

Intro

Applying to studio jobs out of school is difficult. While there are many online resources dedicated to writing resumes, there are a lot of gotchas that are easy to miss. To make matters worse, many experienced artists in the industry got their first jobs in a totally different era when junior positions were less competitive and Softimage users still roamed the Earth. Nowadays, on top of needing a kick-ass demo reel or portfolio, you need a tight resume.

 

Fundamentals

 

There is nothing worse than seeing a talented person with an ugly resume. Find the resumes and LinkedIn profiles of people you admire and study them closely. You want recruiters and supervisors to think of you as someone who can hang with these people.

  • Unless you are a gifted designer, do not design custom letterheads, use strange fonts, or add artwork. Don’t be this guy. Not only are you wasting your time, you are actually hurting your chances of getting hired. Google Docs has a decent resume template, and there are plenty of others freely available online. Some people will tell you that you need a uniquely designed resume to stand out. It is definitely a good thing to have if you can manage it, but it is less important than having a resume that is clean and sensible. It is something to worry about after your resume is already solid.

  • Some people debate whether it is better to use a one-column or two-column resume format. I have used both, and both work. Nowadays, I prefer the two-column format because it looks better when listing skills I have or software I use, but as long as the format is clean anything works.

  • Your resume should only be one page long unless you are very experienced. Resumes are supposed to be the greatest hits of who you are, not a summary of every language you have elementary proficiency in and every summer retail job you worked during high school.

  • Don’t place your address or phone number on your resume. This info is easily exploitable by random people online, and you might be discriminated against based on where you’re from. Some people recommend listing a locale instead of an address if you are seeking opportunities in your area.

 

Your Online Identity

Most of the time resumes have hooks to your online identity. While not directly related to resumes per se, there are many noticeable mistakes people make that extend to the presentation of their resume.

  • Do not use a school email. Having a professional Gmail account goes a long way. Using a student email signals to employers that you are inexperienced and easy to exploit. Also whatever you do, don’t use hotmail. Many organizations filter out hotmail accounts because hotmail has been completely overrun by spam accounts for years.

  • Do not use Blogspot to host portfolios. Blogspot is almost entirely the domain of students and amateurs. Behance is a decent alternative, but the best option is carefully curating your portfolio on your personal website.

  • Do not host your demo reel on YouTube. Vimeo is by far the best place to professionally host and manage your reel. Most importantly, Vimeo does not have a sidebar that could link your reel to other demo reels that are better than yours. While I do not recommend having a password-protected demo reel, that option is also available to you if you absolutely need it on Vimeo. I have been a Vimeo Pro customer for four years, and I have not regretted a moment of it.

  • Be sure to customize your public profile URL on LinkedIn. This makes your profile URL easier to read and hyperlink.

  • Get a personal website to host your demo reel and resume. Unless web design is a core aspect of your job, use something like Squarespace or WordPress. Also, do not settle for  anything other than a dotcom address. If your name is generic, and {FIRSTNAME}{LASTNAME}.com has already been taken, consider {FIRSTNAME}vfx.com, {FIRSTNAME}art.com, or something more clever if necessary. But a word of caution: stay away from domain names that resemble gamertags or steam names. Just know that if your professional website can be found at silverwolf.org or harambetruthers528.com, the world is absolutely laughing at you.

  • Be aware of SEO, and make sure your online links are friendly to it. This is especially important for people who have generic names. Cole Clark is also the name of an Australian guitar company (no affiliation), so you can imagine it was tricky for me to acquire coleclark.com, and in many places I adopted the ColeVFX moniker to be more SEO friendly.

  • If you frequent 3D forums like Odforce, Autodesk AREA or Creative COW, be cautious about using your real name. If your name does not have a high SEO, your cringy noob posts from years ago have a good chance of popping up in a Google search of your name.

  • Google your name frequently. If you see something undesirable and it is within your control to remove, remove it.

 

Itemizing Your Experience

While in some ways your resume is an expression of who you are, it’s also an expression of who you want to be. Keep the experiences you list on your resume relevant to the job you are applying for. Listing retail experience on an art or TD resume is at best is a missed opportunity and at worst is a sign of incompetence. However, most students do not have enough experience from internships or relevant on-campus jobs to fill a resume, so the next best thing to do is to list personal projects or school assignments. It’s not pretty, but sometimes it’s necessary early on. Be careful though because there are a lot of ways to mess up.

  • Do not misunderstand your job title. I have seen people call themselves pipeline TDs who do not know how to code just because someone told them it sounds cool.  Wording your resume in a way that puts you in the best light is completely different from lying or misunderstanding your abilities. If you are even slightly confused about this, ask someone with industry experience for help.

  • TD jobs always have screwy names. It is easy to split hairs over whether someone is a Rigging Artist, a Rigging TD or a Rigger. Same goes for FXTDs, FX Artists, Crowd Artists, Crowd TDs and so on. The answer is simple: if you code fairly often and are confident about it, you are probably a TD; if you don’t, then you aren’t. Knowing ZBrush does not make you a modeling TD.

  • Do not list your GPA unless it is really high. In some industries your GPA is an essential part of your resume, but that is just not the case for visual effects and animation. Ain’t nobody gonna find out about my 3.4.

  • If you do list schoolwork like your college thesis as work experience, be sure to get rid of it as soon as you do cooler stuff.

 

Listing your Skills

Most studio jobs require deep knowledge of various software packages or programming languages. While listing the software you know is one of the easier parts of creating a VFX resume, there are also a lot of subtleties that are often overlooked.

  • Don’t list completely stupid software skills. Nobody is impressed that you know Adobe Acrobat, GIMP or Internet Explorer. Keep the programs you list industry relevant.

  • Don’t list software versions in your resume. Everyone assumes that you are up-to-date unless you say otherwise. Listing software versions tends to have the hilarious effect of making you seem out of touch. I have read current resumes in 2016 that proudly proclaim knowledge of Photoshop CS4 and Maya 2012.

  • When listing software, unless the name of the program is incredibly generic don’t put the company’s name in front of it. Literally only students do this. Writing ‘Pixologic ZBrush, Pixar’s RenderMan, Autodesk Maya, Adobe Premiere, SideFX Houdini, The Foundry Nuke’ is another way of saying ‘I just learned this.’

  • When listing programs, be sure to capitalize and space out their names properly. RenderMan is not spelled like Render Man, render man, or Renderman. ZBrush is not spelled like Z Brush, Zbrush, or zbrush.

  • Some people will tell you to rank your knowledge of the programs you list. This includes using tags such as ‘basic knowledge of’, ‘proficient’, ‘advanced’ or ‘expert’. I am generally against this because saying that you possess less than advanced knowledge of a program comes off as, ‘I don’t know this.’ If you can’t say you know a program well with a straight face, don’t list it.

  • List the software you know in the order it is important to employers. For 3D artists this generally means putting Maya or Houdini first, and things like PFTrack and Nuke last. Also don’t mention the fact you are an expert Miku Miku Dance user.

  • Listing one or two funny skills can be fun and make you seem more personable. Just keep the silliness to a minimum. One or two silly skills is quirky, but too many makes you look like a joker.

 

Linking Your LinkedIn

The great philosopher Obi-Wan Kenobi once said,

You and LinkedIn form a symbiotic circle, what happens to one of you will affect the other, you must understand this...

After you update your LinkedIn or resume, be sure to look at the other to ensure it reflects the same goals. LinkedIn is a parked page for your resume, and it is often the first resume-like thing a recruiter will evaluate. Some recruiting services I’ve seen let you fill in their application automatically with a link to your LinkedIn profile. I actually base my resume off my LinkedIn whenever it comes time to shoot off new applications because it is easier to keep updated. Review your LinkedIn page often, because while your job might not change, the skills you know, your attitude and your goals might. There is nothing funnier than seeing an antique LinkedIn page.

 

The Road Goes Ever On And On

There is no such thing as a perfect resume. Your resume, LinkedIn profile and online presence have to frequently evolve to match your changing professional goals. A resume isn’t just a statement about who you are, it’s also a statement about who you want to be. If those things don’t align, do something about it.