We like to keep in touch with industry experts to show how far learning to code can take our students. So far these blogs have primarily focused on careers in the tech industry, but coding is an incredibly valuable skill in many other fields – including the film and television industry!
This week we had the opportunity to speak with Aaron Weintraub, the Senior Visual Effects Supervisor at Mr. X Inc., an award-winning Visual Effects (VFX) company based out of Toronto. Visual effects are a huge component of film and TV these days, from creating computer-generated creatures to virtual backdrops for the action to play out on and so much more. If you’re an avid film buff or TV binge-watcher, chances are you’ve seen some of Mr. X’s work. The company has created state-of-the-art visual effects for movies such as Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Crimson Peak, and the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, as well as for TV shows like The Shannara Chronicles, The Strain, and Vikings.
Hi Aaron! Thanks for chatting with us! How did Mr. X got started and what are you working on these days?
We started Mr. X in 2001 to focus exclusively on feature films and other long-form entertainment. With the dramatic rise in the quality of TV in recent years, this has included a number of episodic television series.
Wow! The company has been around for a while. Congrats on your successes! What sorts of skills and qualities Mr. X looks for in employees?
They vary, depending on the role we are casting. For artist positions, we are definitely looking for some raw talent, a good eye, the ability to complete work under tight deadlines, and the flexibility to respond to creative notes and feedback coming in from all different directions. Familiarity and proficiency with the software packages that we use is an asset, but given that a lot of our tools are customized, we are always ready to train the right artist to work in our pipeline. For technical staff, we’re looking for people not only experienced in coding, but also with good problem solving, communication, and organizational skills. They would require the ability to work well in a team, and be able to identify areas of our workflow that need solutions and champion their ideas to the group. The ideal employee is a successful combination of both types.
We completely agree – it’s always good to have a diverse skill set. What role does coding and programming plays in the work that Mr. X does?
We wouldn’t exist without it! There are only a few off-the-shelf applications that we use in our workflow; everything else we have written ourselves. This includes plugins that extend existing software functionality to produce effects and perform tasks that aren’t available straight out of the box, as well as tools that create a cohesive pipeline environment so that the work can flow easily from one department to the next. We have tools that harness the power of thousands of computers to perform tasks that would take ages on a single machine. We have tools for administrators to budget new work, maintain artists’ schedules, log notes and approvals, and tools for packaging work to send off to clients for review. The list really goes on and on.
It sounds like coding is integral to the work Mr. X. does. How do the company’s coders typically spend their days?
The day of a coder is usually split between planning and creating new code projects, and maintaining existing code. The planning can include figuring out the specification or design of a new tool, and deciding what the best way to solve the problem is on paper before even writing a line of code. And no matter how much testing you do, someone is going to find a way to use an existing tool in a way you never expected. You have to be ready to go back and fix a bug, add a new feature, or rethink an algorithm.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it must be exciting for everyone to see the results of their work up on the big screen! Do you think learning digital skills at a young age is a benefit to people who work in the VFX industry?
Absolutely. These are skills that have become as essential as “traditional” skills in establishing a foundation for any career path they can imagine. Digital skills are no longer only required for a narrow set of specific jobs; They are now necessary for almost all avenues of further study and employment, let alone just being able to function in society nowadays.
It’s a great trend, one that hopefully becomes embedded in the fundamental skill set that we teach to our kids. It will serve them well in the future, no matter what their interests are, or what career path they follow.
Thanks for all the great info, Aaron! We hope this interview will inspire Hatch Canada kids to pursue careers in visual effects.