What’s It Like To Be a VFX Artist, 3D-Generalist, Multimedia Designer, Videographer and Video Creator?
By Izzat DanialFEATURE
ONE THING I have always loved doing is creating. Growing up in Alor Setar, my Penang staycation trips every weekend were something I looked forward to as a child because I could spend the day at the hotel’s Kids' Club. That was where I cultivated my interest in the creative arts and participated in storytelling activities with the other kids, exploring and expressing my moods and emotions.
As a teenager, I was an avid moviegoer who appreciated whatever unfolded before me on a large screen. I always found it to be an immersive experience; I always went into deep dives, analysing various aspects of a film. I discussed matters such as character and plot development, cinematography, editing, directing and so on with my parents and friends. Criticism, in my opinion, is all about expanding a work of art.
One of the things that piqued my interest a lot when watching movies was the visual effects; I was curious as to how they added superheroes into blockbuster films. It would make my mind reel and I would surf the internet afterwards to learn how they had filmed it - large green backdrops were placed in the background of a shot to allow for digital effects to composite them. I tried recreating scenes by organising some of my favourite toys on my little bedside table and placing a green screen cardboard behind them to do stop-motion animation. I would capture each tiny movement I made with the toys and repeat those steps to create a sequence of moving images, which I would then add to a software like Adobe After Effects to make it appear like things were moving on their own. The outcome of the tedious work thrilled me so much that I started making random Transformers’ stop-motion videos and uploading them onto YouTube.
When an education counsellor from The One Academ in, Penang, visited my school, I inquired about the academy's courses and admissions requirements, scholarships, housing, tuition fees and the job options available in the digital art creative industry. Because there were so many art courses to choose from, the counsellor's advice was invaluable.
However, my dad was not too happy about this road I wanted to take. He wanted me to enter law school. I still remember what he said: “Law touches our lives on a daily basis. It governs what we can and cannot do. It empowers you to make a difference in society. It’s a notable profession, and a lucrative choice.” It took some time for me to sort out the inevitable clashes between my “unconventional choices” and what my dad desired. I had to do a lot of cajoling to persuade him, and finally, with a lot of support from my mother, he agreed. I was all set to pursue my dream.
I enrolled in a digital animation course in May 2014. There, I was taught visual effects and exposed to different types of assignments to work on, both individually and in groups. My final project at the end of the course was to complete an animation project. Staying up late with teammates and sometimes sleeping in the college became the norm for all of us. We had to meet our deadlines. Most assuredly, all this turned out to be an unforgettable and rewarding experience!
I completed the three-year course in April 2017 and was awarded a Professional Diploma in Digital Animation. During my college years, I had the privilege of working as a camera operator for an interior exhibition event held at my college, titled "EDEN", I learned how to capture and record specific aspects of a scene with other students, and gained the necessary behind-the-lens practical skills.
I also competed in a Digital Animation competition, where I won the Bronze Award and was named the Top 10 Young Artist in 2016. Upon graduation in September 2017, I immediately landed a job as an in-house Visual Effects Compositor at Mirage Works, based in Puchong, Selangor.
Life as a Visual Effects (VFX) Compositor
As a VFX Compositor, my work involves special effects, animation and visual clean-up for feature films and commercials. What I love about my job is that I worked on a wide range of projects, from advertisements to blockbusters, alongside industry luminaries from Malaysia, Singapore, China and Hong Kong. One of my first projects with Mirage Works was to work on a local movie called A House of Happiness (一家親親過好年), which was released in 2,000 cinemas across China.
Visual and special effects can be used in a variety of ways. It benefits all types of video production services from stylised videos, live action videos and realistically rendered CG (computer-generated) projects. Almost every film, no matter the genre, has a little VFX somewhere. For instance, there was a scene where actress, Louisa Chong, had to wear big, old-fashioned glasses to flashback an incident that happened in the early 60s. In that scene, the director was not happy with the reflection of the camera crew in her sunglasses, so my task was to remove the reflection so they would appear polished and clean.
It may sound easy, but it was a complicated task. I was overjoyed when the movie premiered, complete with a red carpet event held at the Paradigm Mall attended by the A House of Happiness cast and crew production team. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see my name on the big screen alongside the Mirage Works team.
After a year at Mirage Works, I was promoted to VFX Compositor and 3D-generalist. My primary responsibilities were to design more complex photo-realistic and stylised visuals. The job of a 3D-generalist involves architectural visualisation, 3D modelling, animation and many more. I had to learn the creative aspects of stylised visuals that resemble those in the commercial industry, while meeting deadlines and producing high-quality executions. Eventually, I will be able to specialise in one area rather than being a jack of all trades and master of none.
During this time, I was also invited by my college's Digital Department to share my work experience and student life at the college as a guest speaker for "Alumni experience sharing and workshop”. I was presented a Certificate of Appreciation by the Managing Director in recognition of my contribution.
Up until today, some projects that I am proud to have been a part of includes Zombitopia, which is a local movie released in 2021, and commercials for McDonald’s (Singapore), Standard Chartered Bank, Nissin Foods and Hitachi. These are short videos of 15 to 60 seconds which promote products or services.
Commercial and advertising projects are different from shows because creativity is required to execute various art styles; this is where you get to explore the wonders of art, as each company has its own creative niche. The challenging part of the job is that you need to be extra patient with clients who can be difficult and only have a vague idea of what they want. It is only through many trials and errors that we can get it right. I have to dig deep and ask them many abstract questions to get the palette and the mood they desire.
A new challenge presented itself when I became a multimedia designer with Skymind Holdings Berhad, Penang’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem builder that develops its AI applications. The company has many departments that require video creators to produce short commercials for their products – Covid-19 test kits and AI websites for software engineers.
What is cool is that we frequently had weekly meetings with many people from other departments, brainstorming ideas to market our products, and planning how to shoot the videos with the team. It was where I collaborated with colleagues from diverse fields, such as software engineering, law and marketing, among others.
Videographer and Video Creator
While I was with Skymind, a recruiter contacted me through LinkedIn and asked if I was interested in working as a videographer and content creator. I accepted the offer because of the high demand for videographers, which will be a valuable skill for me – plus, it is one of my passions. Just like visual effect compositors, 3D-generalists and multimedia designers, videographers, too, have a lot of options when it comes to specialisation – from filming, directing, pre-production, scriptwriting and post-production to taking down the set; video editing is something that brings new anticipation into my work life.
Knowing what I know now, I will no doubt encourage others looking to venture into non-traditional vocations to follow your passions and dreams because it will take you far in life. As long as you remain curious and continue to explore the opportunities that come your way, an endless and exciting journey awaits.
Tips for Animation Enthusiasts
Start small, and do it one step at a time. If you are interested in exploring 3D, there are plenty of great software like Blender, which is free! If you’re trying to get into film making, practise capturing with your smartphone; you can even edit on professional software, like Davinci Resolve, which has a free version.
enjoys exploring many different art forms and having a creative freedom to express himself, dream about it and make a living at it.