From Star Trek Beyond to this year's Blade Runner 2049, alumnus Lawrence Zalasky has had an incredible career since graduating from our animation course in 2013.
We sat down with Lawrence last year to ask a few questions about his studies, tips for a great demo reel and how he broke into the profession after graduating.
Q: What was your first job in the film and games industry after graduating? Was it what you expected?
My first job in the industry was working on the Netflix/Dreamworks show All Hail King Julien. After that I moved to MPC to do my first film, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
In one way it was exactly what I expected, I thought I would love it and I did. I grew up watching movies and I couldn’t believe that now I was actually helping to make them. Of course, there are days just like any other job where it feels like work but there aren’t very many of those. Most days it feels like a dream come true.
Q: Did you have any previous art or 3D experience?
Prior to starting in animation I was a 3D modeler doing industrial design so I knew the software pretty well but I discovered pretty quickly that knowing the software wasn’t enough.
Q: Do you have any demo reel tips for rookie artists?
The biggest piece of advice I think is often overlooked and that is, make sure your reel is entertaining. Look for ways to do something different. Recruiters might look at 100 demo reels a week or more, give them a reason to remember yours.
Lawrence's demo reel.
Also, critically assess your reel and be brutally honest. Is it really good enough? Remember, you’re not just competing for jobs with fellow students, but professionals as well. If you think it might not be quite good enough, keep working on it.
Q: how did you go about getting your demo reel to potential studios?
At first I would just send my reel and resume to the email listed on a studio’s website but it felt a little like I was sending it into a black hole. This is where CG Spectrum really helped out again and went far beyond what I ever thought they would do. They contacted recruiters for me and forwarded my reel on my behalf, I almost felt like they were my agent. It wasn’t long before I went from sending my reel into a black hole to choosing from multiple job offers.
Q: What are you currently working on?
Q: what new skills and software have you had to learn while working at double negative?
As for new skills, I've had to learn Nuke on the job since part of my job here at DNeg is previs/postvis type work and sometimes I'll need to provide my own temp character roto or touch up a Maya playblast before it can be sent to the client. I've also done some modelling and basic rigging to provide quick temp shots for client approval.
Q: What difficulties have you come across while working in the industry?
Studio difficulties are almost always pipeline related, solving technical issues with cameras or assets and assisting other departments (mostly animation) with pipeline related problems but again, that's something I enjoy.
Q: How did you find out about CG Spectrum?
I had met CG Spectrum’s Mark Pullyblank while attending another online animation school and thought that he was one of the best teachers I had ever had (don’t tell him I said that). When I mentioned to Mark that I was considering taking a few classes to improve my skills, he suggested that CG Spectrum might be what I was looking for.
Q: what set CG spectrum apart?
I had already graduated from another online animation school but I wasn’t super happy with my demo reel. I knew it needed work and considered a few other online options but they were all basically the same. What I really wanted was a small class or even something with one-on-one time where my instructor had the time to open my assignment in front of me and show me what they would do with it. CG Spectrum offered what I wanted and it turned out to be exactly what I needed.
Q: did you specialise or did you seek advice from your mentors on what pathway to take?
I had a diploma in animation before starting at CG Spectrum so that’s what my focus was, but I also wanted my demo reel to look as professional as possible. I completed one of CG Spectrum’s ‘Rent-a-Mentor’ programs in Lighting and Rendering so I could put the finishing touches on my reel. What I didn’t realize was, I was letting recruiters know that in addition to animation, I could do some modeling, some FX, some lighting etc. What I was saying was, “Hey, I can do a bit of everything, I should be a Layout TD.”
Q: Did getting taught by industry professionals help steer you in the right direction?
Without a doubt, meeting industry professionals was a huge help in finding my first and probably my second job in the industry. I was an outsider coming in to an industry that is super small. I really had no idea how small it was until I got here but now that I am, I see how difficult it would be to find a job without knowing anyone.
Q: how do you network with recruiters from game and film companies? do you take advantage of social media?
When I was first starting out, no. I didn’t know who to contact and even if I did, I wouldn’t have known what to say
Now that I’ve been in the industry, I do it all of the time. I’m not shy to use LinkedIn to contact recruiters and send a short introductory message or even to ask about upcoming vacancies. The industry sort-of ebbs and flows and when one studio is letting people go, another is hiring them as fast as they can. It doesn’t hurt to be on everyone’s radar.
Q: any final tips?
This is a very small industry and there are a huge number of awesomely talented artists that have been doing this for a long time. If you want to have a career in this industry you need to be able to communicate well, put the show ahead of your ego (and sometimes ahead of sleep), listen to direction and accept criticism.
We spend a lot of time together sometimes under a lot of stress and nobody wants to spend that much time with someone that makes work, work. Be a good person and always remember why you wanted to do this job in the first place, we make cartoons and movies for a living and most days it’s the best job in the world.
Think you've got what it takes to join those guys in the film and video game design industry? Make sure you check out all the great courses we offer at CG Spectrum.