After graduating from Vancouver Film School I started my VFX career in 2007 at Image Engine in Vancouver where I worked for 8 years, with my last project being VFX Supervisor on Straight Outta Compton. I then went to OATS Studios and Umedia before returning to Image Engine again as VFX Supervisor on Pokemon: Detective Pikachu. After wrapping that one up I started my own business under Hive VFX using AWS.
Outside of geeking out at a computer, I enjoy anything in the outdoors, hiking, running, biking and skiing among others.
Tell us about the first person or studio who paid you to do VFX. How did the opportunity come about?
After graduating from VFS and sending out application packages (in actual DVD format back then, I’m not quite old enough to have sent out VHS tapes) I had to return to my home country of Austria since my study permit had expired. I got a call from Image Engine about a month later, they were just building up their new film division (which would turn out to be the crew working on District 9), and they wanted me to fly over immediately. I remember that was a Wednesday, by Friday I received the work permit from the embassy in Vienna and was on a Sunday flight to start work on Monday. Initially, I helped out on the TV side as a 3D generalist, which wasn’t at all what I studied, but later I moved over to the compositing team on the film side.
Why did you choose to make the transition from VFX Supervision at a known VFX Studio, to starting your own company, HiveVFX? Was there a specific tipping point or opportunity that helped you make the decision?
It was several reasons that drove me to starting my own company, the biggest one was probably the desire for more freedom, both in terms of time and location, and less stress (turns out you definitely won’t have less stress starting your own company though!).
On the other hand, while beta testing Foundry’s Athera around 2015-2018 I also got really curious about the possibilities of cloud computing and thought there was a good opportunity to start something a little different.
So with Hive, the goal is to leverage the strength of a fully cloud-native studio and build an environment that allows for more freedom for myself as well as the freelance artists I work with.
You have been working from home longer than the Coronavirus pandemic has taken place — what have you learned since starting HiveVFX about how to eliminate distraction and manage your time effectively? Is it any different from how you managed your time working in an office environment?
It definitely takes more discipline to stay focused on the task at hand with all the distractions of your own home, but it’s also been really good to have more flexibility about how I manage my time. When it’s sunny out I’m able to go for a run in the afternoon and just make up the lost time in the evening, with much more focus. In the end, it’s about being honest with yourself about how productive you really are and recognizing when you’re getting distracted with non-work stuff. Creating a work environment free of distraction, like a separate office if the space allows, and sticking to a schedule, even if it’s a flexible one, helps too.
Do you see location-independent work continuing to be common-place within the VFX industry as the world eventually returns to normal?
It is really interesting to think about how this pandemic is going to affect the way we work in the future. I definitely expect a big change in some parts of our industry, especially with smaller studios, I hope to see a shift in the acceptance of remote work, I think people will realize that remote work can be just as productive, if not more productive in some cases.
I would be surprised if this has a lasting effect on the big name studios, I would expect those to go back to the way they’ve been working before as soon as they can, partly because they have to, though I would like to be proven wrong!
Of course, there is also something to be said about how working as a team under the same roof is great for collaboration, especially in a creative and visual industry like ours. So while I hope to see a bit of a shift towards remote work, I believe that mostly things will go back to an on-site work model.
What is a lesson you’ve learned from the business-side of running a VFX studio, that an artist might find insightful, or be able to translate into what they do day-to-day?
The best advice I got for running my own business is that cash flow is key, and I think this also has validity for artists who aim to go freelance, which seems to become more popular. There are so many aspects you have to learn when starting your own business, from legal things to accounting and tax credits (to name a few), but having a good understanding of your cash flow and having a forecast for the next 12 months (which is regularly updated) is really indispensable. Working directly for productions means you will get paid with a significant delay (net 30 days from invoicing is common, but often it takes longer), and you are also facing higher expenses (purchasing hardware and software, rent etc), so being able to plan for that accordingly is a must. Funnily enough, I got my reminder to update my cash flow sheet just as I was writing this.
In the past, has there been a particular Supervisor or Mentor who has influenced the way you work? What were some of their best characteristics, and what are some lessons you learned from them?
I can think of 3 people who probably influenced my career the most.
First is Chris Harvey, once nicknamed “Machine Gun Harvey”, and for those of you who have worked with him, that will likely make sense. I worked with Chris on quite a few projects at a couple of facilities and I was able to learn a lot from his style of supervision. He has a ‘get-it-done’ mentality coupled with a very strong knowledge base across all disciplines which enables him to come up with solutions for most problems. He also isn’t shy to ask for advice in areas he is not an expert in, which is one of the most important qualities in a good Supervisor in my opinion. Learning to trust your team and ‘letting go’ can be a hard lesson to learn.
Another aspect which shaped my career was learning the importance of Supervisors working well with their production counterparts (VFX Supervisor with VFX Producer, Department Supervisors with Production Managers, etc). On that side, I was most influenced by Steve Garrad and Geoff Anderson, both VFX Executive Producers. Their ability to see the big picture and manage projects without getting caught up in the nitty-gritty, which implies a high level of trust in your crew and is one of the most important qualities of a well-run production, makes them both fantastic people to work with, as well as highly effective Producers. So what I learned from them is the importance of finding the trust to manage a team in a way that keeps everyone engaged and motivated.
Tell us about your most productive failure — something that didn’t quite go to plan, perhaps in a negative way, that you ultimately learned from.
I think one of the steepest learning curves was when I first started working on set. Often you don’t have the luxury of being slowly introduced to production sets, it’s usually more of a jump in the cold water.
I quickly learned the importance of trusting my gut and making very quick decisions. In our studio environments, we have the luxury of having multiple meetings over big decisions and researching and weighing the pros and cons of each option. In a set environment, you often face unanticipated situations, and with the entire crew waiting for a decision and the 1st AD very impatiently starring a hole in your soul you’ll need to learn to make a call quickly.
What is the most memorable book, article, documentary or TED talk you’ve consumed in the past 12 months (or recent memory), that has made an impact on your life?
Last year I listened to an interview with Paul Jarvis called, “A minimalist approach to business” (hosted by The Ground Up Show), which is very much in line with the way I think about business success and what my goals are with Hive. Paul also has his own podcast and book called ‘Company of One’ (https://ofone.co/) which are really great. If you’re interested in business philosophy and open to viewing things through a different lens I highly recommend this.
If you were to impart Compositors with one piece of actionable advice about how they could rapidly progress the development of their skills & their careers, what would that be?
I don’t know if it’s possible to give one piece of advice that applies to everyone. I guess if I had to I would go with
Think about where you want to end up first.
There are so many different paths in VFX as a whole and Compositing in particular. If you strive to become a Supervisor, you should probably try to learn things outside of your department and broaden your knowledge base and also pick up some leadership skills. You might also want to try to gain some on-set experience as well if that is something you’re interested in.
On the other hand, maybe you want to become a really strong lookdev compositor, in which case you might want to hone your concept art skills, maybe pick up some photoshop skills even.
Another common path is becoming a technical compositor who writes tools and scripts for the entire team, or maybe even some prototype development to help bridge the gap to your RnD team. In that case, learning Python should probably be high on your list (I recommend Ben’s Python course!).
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
There isn’t much public yet as projects we’ve worked on are just being released, but you can find me (and Hive itself) on LinkedIn to see some updates and you can also check out our website, links below: