2. VFX magic

There are so many films now where you know the story is a supporting role to the visual effects.
(Ricky Gervais)

You can use your art skills – including drawing – as a VFX animator. Virtual Special Effects. Animated films need a tremendous amount of computer-generated art. LOTS of work, very large budgets, and deadlines. As of 2024, VFX is sometimes loosely referred to as AI (more on AI later). But VFX is the industry term you’ll use to get a job in this exciting new field.

The huge Lion King VFX breakthrough

The 2019 Lion King movie cost $250 million to make, and brought in $700 million during its first week of a worldwide launch in about 100 different countries. There are no human actors. All the characters… talking lions, birds, evil hyenas… are digital. More importantly, the background Kenya-like landscape is also digital. Because Disney hired VFX creator MPC Motion Picture Company (owned by Technicolor). And MPC bought a Unity Engine, software that powers the most popular video games, like Grand Theft Auto 5. MPC then created a 58-square mile Kenya-like virtual landscape, with major scenes following the background design of the original 1994 cartoon Lion King.

And this is where it gets interesting. MPC projected the virtual landscape inside a blacked-out old warehouse in the Playa Vista area of Los Angeles. Imagine that you are the cameraman, and – just like in a regular movie – you take your gear onto the set. But this time, a virtual set, and you are wearing a VR headset. In that virtual world, you decide on your shots. Then, real-world operators "shoot" the virtual environment by moving their tracked real-world viewfinders -- movements mirrored by virtual cameras in the virtual environment.

Since a virtual landscape can be used over and over, producers of films are lining up to rent the VFX talent. MPC has hundreds of unfilled jobs. High pay, screaming good future. Jobs for artists and writers and directors and producers and programmers and mathmeticians and set designers and dolly grips and lighting experts and cameramen... you get the idea. Intellectual, physical, art-side or STEM-side. There's a hot new VFX job for people of ALL abilities and talents. It's a gold rush! Good, highpaying jobs for animators and illustrators. Tip – to go up the ladder, you’ll want to brush up on any math needed for wire-frame texture mapping. Check out Cochise Jr. College’s Virtual Reality Program Logic course... well-worth moving to Sierra Vista, AZ for a few months to get your foot in the door! They teach the industry standard Unity Engine technology. You’ll also want to learn about the Unreal Graphics Engine software... used for video games, but also for industrial design graphics, like the UI user interface on the new Lotus Electre.


VFX-created people, in Hollywood and Washington

Hollywood uses a great deal of computerized art, and not just for cartoon films like Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story. Al Pacino’s SimOne predicted how a computerized person could, actually, become quite real.

There’s a point, and we are at it as of 2024, where there are enough pixels in a frame to model skin imperfections, and that’s where cartoons stop and perceived reality begins. President Roosevelt, remember, had several stand-ins -- doubles -- and today we can do it in software, with nary a green screen in sight. There are already lawsuits relating to VFX-generated dead actor’s motion images used in recent movies and commercials. Royalties? This was a sore point in the 2023 SAG-AFTRA actors’ strike, since it is possible now to digitally record an actor in different poses, and then create new shows with the digital actor without further payment. Ouch.

A side note – we are also at a point where politicians can use VFX enhancements to aid their campaigns. Expect lots of VFX political magic in the 2024 election! Caution – if you work on a campaign, get paid upfront. If your guy loses, you’ll get nothing.

Lots of jobs, lots of work. However, once you’re away from the large animation companies like Pixar, it’s a real rat race. Tremendous cost pressure from film and video game producers coming down on computer animators. “We want it cheaper already!” And all the smaller animation companies can do is keep coming up with incredible new effects as a talisman to ward off the bean counters. At this level, you’ll make good money, probably as a freelancer, but with low job security.

Remember, like any new thing -- there are no credentials... yet. So just show up in Los Angeles*, tell them you'll beg, borrow or steal to get a job in the new game, that you'll work cheap and if you pan out, well, in three months they can pay you the going rate. Which is a lot, for any of these new jobs. Good luck!

* Yes, Los Angeles. Hate LA? Count your blessings -- back in 1849, the gold rush seekers in the Sierras had to work in icy spring-melt streams to hit it rich. You? After a hard day's work in Playa Vista, hit the beach in Venice and chill. Not so bad!

Here are several links to check out... to get you started researching further links and opportunities in the VFX industry. Copy-paste links from this ebook into your browser.

2024 VFX Industry News – stay up to date! Also, check out VFXworld Magazine.

MPC is THE key VFX campany, via their work on The Lion King. Proper name: MPC Motion Picture Company

MPC has hundreds of unfilled jobs... right here!

about VFX company MPC https://www.cnet.com/news/visual-effects-company-mpc-reveals-modern-movie-magic/

mpc and ads https://lbbonline.com/news/ad-characters-does-photo-real-make-us-feel/

VFX industry links

Magnopus, another key VFX company -- https://www.magnopus.com

VFX-speak: https://www.cnet.com/news/glossary-visual-effects-terms-and-jargon/

LA's Silicon Beach -- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Playa_Vista,_Los_Angeles

Digital actors are coming: elton john ad https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mNbSgMEZ_Tw&feature=youtu.be#dialog and: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/behind-screen/rise-all-digital-actor-1229783

Magnopus, another key VFX company -- https://www.magnopus.com

Lion King links – worth looking at, because the 2019 Lion King movie was a ground-breaker, totally VFX...


Wired Magazine: https://www.wired.com/story/disney-new-lion-king-vr-fueled-future-cinema/

Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2019-07-26/disneys-lion-king-remake-is-a-hit-its-virtual-reality-technology-could-change-how-movies-are-made

Animation Magazine good 'previs' story. https://www.animationmagazine.net/vfx/the-mane-event-the-lion-king-takes-pride-in-virtual-production/

Lion King set: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hIjicwrpgNM

Lion King full credits list: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6105098/fullcredits

Money – https://siliconangle.com/2017/05/24/vr-optimism-helps-game-engine-maker-unity-raise-400m-private-equity/


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