PK 057: Kelly Christophers on Art, Travel, and Creative Communities

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Lighting TD Kelly Christophers says joining a creative group is a great way to improve your art skills fast

“One of the coolest things about this career is that you can live all over the world if you want to.”

~ Kelly Christophers

Kelly Christophers is originally from South Africa, but her art career has taken her to New Zealand and now Vancouver, Canada. In this podcast, she talks about how she ended up working for one of the biggest VFX studios in the world, and why creative communities have always helped keep her motivated and inspired.

These days, Kelly works as a lighting technical designer (TD) in Vancouver, where her job is to take the work of animators and light it so it looks realistic. Like many people in this industry, she started out by learning animation at school – something she’d decided she wanted to do since the age of 12.

However, although South Africa is renowned for its advertising and commercial agencies, Kelly found there weren’t too many opportunities for artistic careers in her home country. Nevertheless, she managed to get an internship at Bugbox (an agency which also produced cartoons as a side project), while studying her masters in animation.

Then, when her family emigrated to New Zealand, she decided to join them and applied for a job at Weta Digital, one of the world’s biggest VFX studios and the creative team behind blockbusters such as Lord of The Rings and Fantastic 4.

Being completely new to the industry, Kelly Christophers decided to start at the bottom and work her way up. She applied for a job as a runner – the person who delivers the mail and makes the coffee. And, although it wasn’t an artistic career choice, it gave her the chance to make those all-important connections and get to know the artists working there personally.

So, when Weta launched a training program to become an assistant lighting director and asked Kelly if she’d like to go for it, she jumped at the chance.

She says: “They gave me a shot, and once I got into that, it was all uphill from there! And, after a few years, I got promoted to the position of lighting TD.”

How did Kelly Christophers get into lighting?

She says: “I started off doing pretty much everything – modelling, rendering etc. I had no idea how to do any of this at first – everything I’ve learned has been through actually being in the industry!

“So, if you’re starting out and want to know how to get into lighting as a career, my advice would be to study photography. Some of the best LDs I know are also great photographers. There’s a lot of theory behind learning lighting, so I’d definitely recommend going down the traditional route before going digital.”

What was it like working at a huge VFX studio?

Although Kelly says she often found herself working 95-hour weeks (!) at Weta, the creativity and passion of everyone in her team kept her going. She worked with artists from all over the world, and everyone was only too happy to help each other.

And, while working here, Kelly made lots of new, creative friends who all loved to make art in their spare time. And, it’s this creative community that has helped Kelly stay creative and learn things about her art which she never had before.

She says: “We’d regularly meet up as a group and set time aside to do art. We’d always work on group projects, where we’d draw ourselves in the style of a different artist each week. It’s so much fun, and everyone is growing as an artist. I’ve improved ten-fold since I started!”

Check out a showreel of Kelly’s work at Weta below:

Kelly Christophers Showreel 2014 from Kelly Christophers on Vimeo.

Kelly Christophers on moving to Vancouver

Kelly loved working at Weta in New Zealand, but she wanted to grow her career and try different things. That’s why she decided to move to Vancouver, Canada, which currently has around 14 VFX studios and therefore plenty more opportunities to get into the film industry.

She explains: “One of the coolest things about this career is that you can live all over the world if you want to. I’ll probably go back to work at Weta in New Zealand at some stage, but I just want to learn more new stuff at the moment – and Vancouver is one of the best places to do this.”

And, although she can’t meet up in person with her artist friends in New Zealand any more, she still takes part in their weekly drawing challenges via email.

So what’s her advice for aspiring artists?

She says: “Don’t ever feel discouraged. You can come from any background, and anything is possible. Just start getting to know more creative people and making connections, and the opportunities will come!”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why starting at the bottom can help you make the connections which will get you to the top in your art career
  • Why joining a creative group is a great way to improve your art
  • Why a creative career can help you see the world

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Mitch

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