PK 035: VFX Legend Allan McKay on How to Make it in The Visual Effects Industry

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Allan McKay knew he wanted to be a VFX artist at the age of 14

“To be a successful artist, you’ve got to see opportunities or make them for yourself.”

~ Allan McKay

Ever wondered how to become a visual effects artist? Allan McKay did. In fact, he started his art career as a 14-year-old with an almost unbelievable goal: To make it as a visual effects artist in Hollywood.

Turns out, his goal wasn’t that unbelievable after all. Since those early days, he’s worked with some of the world’s biggest studios, including Industrial Light + MagicAtomic Fiction, Ubisoft, and many more. And, in a career spanning almost 20 years, he’s worked on film titles such as The Equalizer, Star Trek Into Darkness, Metallica, and Transformers 3.

He’s currently working on what promises to be one of the hottest video games of 2015, and regularly gives talks to the Visual Effects (VFX) industry. So, how did a 14-year-old with a crazy ambition actually manage to turn his dreams into reality?

“When I started out, there weren’t all the resources available today,” he explains, “so I had to do anything I could to get by. I also learned how to de-construct my goal into bite-sized pieces that I could manage one step at a time.”

And so the young Allan McKay started working towards his dream of becoming a visual effects artist, asking himself questions such as ‘Which qualifications do I need?’ and ‘What do I need to do to get where I want to be?’

Finding Work as a Visual Effects Artist

A key part of this approach was his persistence. He dedicated his time to building a solid portfolio of work, and looked for opportunities in every situation. Naturally, he got knocked back countless times, but he learned to deal with rejection by picking himself up, dusting himself down, and moving on to the next project.

“You’ve got to see and make opportunities for yourself,” he says. “As an artist, getting hired is more about what you can do than a piece of paper with a qualification on it. Just approach people and show them your work – even if they’re not currently advertising for jobs.”

Eventually, Allan’s hard work paid off, and he got his first job working on the hugely popular video game, Half Life. Since then, he’s worked on a wide range of big projects. You can check out a showreel of his work here:

Allan McKay – VFX Reel 2013 from Allan McKay on Vimeo.

So what does Allan McKay put his success down to? He says: “When you’re working as a visual effects artist, it really helps if you can understand everyone else’s different areas and how they work. It also helps to get out of your comfort zone, and look at ways in which you can work more efficiently. For example, you can automate a lot of tasks in software such as Maya, Houdini, 3DS Max, and even Photoshop – these will all help you work a lot faster. Basically, you need to become that crucial key to a company’s success.”

Having spent almost 20 years producing high-end VFX and CG, it’s clear that Allan has got to exactly where he wanted to be when he was 14.

He says: “I do what I do because it’s my passion – it’s what I love doing!”

And, if a career as an artist is what you’d like to aim for, there’s no better time to start than today.

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How to be resourceful – even when you don’t have money
  • How to make the right connections and network effectively
  • Why rejection is just part of the process – and how to deal with it
  • How working with others and sharing your knowledge is the key to a great creative career

People on this Episode:

Mitch
Allan

Mentioned in the episode:

Allan’s Website

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.

Cheers,

Mitch

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