What are junior artists now in the age of outsourcing?

I just was in the “who do you use for roto/ paint” thread and it got me thinking, what is a “junior artist” now in terms of composting work? If so much paint and roto work is outsourced now, what are junior artists actually involved in in terms of comping? These are the “fundamental skills,” right? Where somebody kicks your teeth in and tells you totally eff’d if up but also why and how you eff’d it up and why it’s important that you eff’d it up and how to not eff it up in the future? I guess I just wonder, is the apprentice/ mentor system being subverted and is it possible that’s short-sighted in terms of developing artists?

I want to emphasize, I’m not shi**ing on these practices. I totally understand the margins we’re all working within (this is just a crazy industry and I don’t wanna get into that). And I totally understand why this makes sense. But I’m just curious, what is a junior artist involved in comping these days if not roto and paint.

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Yeah. I have had exactly the same thought.

I justified it somehow by thinking that roto would be getting fairly automatic soon.

I resent sending out cleanup because that really is the intro to good compositing. It has all of the elements and skills required plus the result/solution is quite simple to know when you have done it. Can you see the thing? Can you tell where it was? No? Job done.

I used to find clean up very satisfying.

The problem we have, being quite a small company. Apart from not having had a junior for quite a while. Is that they are so damn busy.

We require them to do all of the data management. They have to conform the timeline for all of the colourists. Then there is the server maintenance and LT0 archiving.

We have been told that we can’t rely on our juniors to do cleanup and roto. They need to do their other jobs first. That takes priority.

Sometimes a cleanup shot can take a junior days and that time is in high demand.

Wish we could keep it in house but sometimes we need it done.

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Super complicated conundrum, right?! And black point, grain, lens blur, chromatic aberration etc etc etc vs. data management- it feels like different universes, especially for someone who has never been asked to paint a production light or boom mic out of a frame.

The closest I ever was to a traditional junior artist was a night archive guy who would do flame tutorials when the machine wasn’t archiving.

I didn’t work on regular flame-type live action in a flame-type way (cleanup, roto) until I was a freelancer charging $100/hour and leading jobs.

Doing three years of roto and cleanup isn’t needed to run a flame. Doubly so now that our jobs rarely require doing of any of that (and soon enough any of the comp at all).

My roto skills are about as good as they were in 2002. I have a few tricks for cleanup, but nothing so nuanced as to require more than a Youtube tutorial to get up to speed.

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In further conversation with TV’s Kirk Balden, he has asked that I try to sum up our conversation and say that junior artists will be found if there is a need. If there is not a need then we are a dying breed (and that is okay).

If there is a need for new blood they will do the simpler tasks and take on harder tasks if they display affinity and aptitude. Those tasks are less and less likely to be roto and cleanup, which is fine because that is less of the job now.

I’m not gonna be teaching anyone how to stripe a digibeta any time soon afterall.

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Well, sort of.

I think Andy first answered the question “where will we get more juniors?” with How I Became A Senior, which wasn’t the question.

Now, obviously the Upper New England Renderdome Champion has a point: a lot of us skipped the junior part, which shows its utility is, as best, iffy, but it doesn’t answer the question of how we distinguish raw talent from the merely enthusiastic with a smaller, or significantly different set of menial tasks.

My sense of where Andy and I arrived was that we will just continue to have juniors or juniors-in-waiting do the same thing we always have: the stuff we lazy, irritable Seniors don’t want to do.

If I’ve mischaracterized that, Andy, I suggest we solve it on the dancefloor.

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Much better written than whatever is in my two posts. Thank you.

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Out of curiosity, what do you mean by “and soon enough any of the comp at all”?

Its an interesting question: in this age of outsourcing. The logical extension might be to consider seniors too. If the outsourcing becomes more skilled and ambitious, which is likely, then what type of artist is needed at the service providing company/post facility that employs the outsourcing? Probably not a roster of highly paid and experienced artists. And then there’s automation of finishing to consider (this seems to be gaining popularity).

Anyhoo, it’s something I’m mulling over a lot for my final paper of my MBA thingy. One paper which has caught my attention is this:

Interested to hear others thoughts.

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Reading stuff like this really make me think i need a career change.

On first reading, I agree. However, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you it that counts.

I think that we did a very big disservice to an entire generation of artists by believing in and instituting career paths that began with roto and cleanup. I think it was a ridiculous practice and instead we should have been training our artists for more valuable and needed skills such as project management, leadership, decision making, client skills, and basically all the things today that studios are desperate to find.

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Hahah. The phrase “Professional Firms” excludes 99% of all visual effects and post production facilities. We’re far from Professional Firms.

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Hard agree.

Some of the bigger shops seem dead set on outsourcing all comp.

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I don’t disagree with this at all, but a lot of the skills you’re referencing require a certain degree of both competence and confidence to really hone. If you’re not even getting the chance to comp shots that you would be capable to comp as a junior artist, how do you build that competence and confidence? There’s a huge satisfaction starting out of “I did that! There was a Starbucks cup on that table and now it’s gone, like magic, I’m a wizard, I killed it!” that I think is easy to forget about/ take for granted.

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Disagree. The most important skill for a senior artist, supervisor, or lead is to have core competence.

The skills you mention are also important, and should be taught alongside basic skills, but not at the expense of them.

Other basic skills that I think are vital is understanding of lighting and perspective. A good paint and patch shot is a great object lesson in lighting and camera angle.

There’s no shortcut to the 10,000 hour rule. You have to put in your time.

You can’t run before you can walk.

It’s also condescending to the true artists in paint and roto. The best ones make the shot great, and you can’t do high end visual effects without them.

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Fair enough, let me be a bit more precise.

Knowing how to do roto and paint is great. And it should be taught. But there is no reason to build an exclusive career path based on needing to do that for years. In the mid 2000’s it was not uncommon for junior artists at major commercial studios to be promoted to artists without knowing what timecode is or some basic conforming skills. Of course, back then, you had no choice but to pay ridiculous rents and pay 65-80k a year plus benefits for someone to do roto for you. So, the junior artists today will be doing that which cannot be outsourced and is at an appropriate level of capability and capacity for them. At some studios, that’s conforming spots. At some studios, its artwork and archiving. At some studios, its a tiny amount of paint and roto.

The studios have historically been pretty terrible at forward thinking/innovation. Imagine how good they could have been when margins were 30%! Now with margins in the single digits, it’s somewhat analogous to the venture capital mattress wars of late.

I think if we’re going to foster growth and keep this bus moving, it might be good to have a common understanding of what it takes. Juniors are our lifeblood.

It is my personal opinion, but I believe what kind of tasks a junior is going to perform is secondary to a foundation of knowledge that makes us the alpha predators of post. To do our jobs, we have to have a multi-disciplinary approach because we’re expected to understand so much of the big and small pictures and provide both practical and creative solutions at all levels.

I don’t know if this is the right way to do it, but at my old company (and implementing at my new one) we didn’t start juniors on roto or comp or striping or any of that stuff. We started juniors with a one month trial employment. In that time they were given homework - the first of which is they had to explain the math of 8bit color clearly so that a busy producer would understand banding. Then they had to watch film - a list of the great VFX films and afterward they had to explain how some of the shots were done - movies like 2001 and The Abyss and Gravity and even Pleasantville. The concepts they needed to be really clear about were things like traveling mattes, stop motion, the principles of animation, color space, pipeline. They had to understand that there’s a history to everything we do and understand why we do it this way. They had to understand editorial as well - starting with Potemkin all the way to Raging Bull to Endgame. They were introduced to half and full adders and they had to understand storage - the hardcore technical stuff so they’d have an understanding of playback and throughput.

If they made it through the month, they were instructed to watch Grant’s videos and demonstrate proficiency in the interface. No question from them was considered dumb and they were free to ask as much as they could. If they had no questions, they had to watch the work happen. It was really important that they understand how to learn other’s techniques and develop their own - all in a way that fostered functioning within a team. In three months, they were doing actual shots, albeit slowly. But within a year, they were doing shots well.

We also told them that the 10,000 hour rule is hard and fast. They would not graduate from being a junior until that first 10,000 hour mark, and they could not call themselves seniors till the second.

That was our general idea of how to bring up and develop talent. Maybe we missed some aspects of an artist that they will need down the road, but they had the tools to teach themselves what they felt they were missing.

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All great points guys, it’s a great discussion. I’ve found myself asking the same questions, including how juniors train and seek guidance in a more flexible remote world.

We often out source most roto and clean up, but who says you have to out source it all. I like to talk to the juniors about a couple shots that they think they can would be comfortable completing. Roto and clean up is how I learnt my way around flame when I started out, it’s a must to know how to do as I still find myself doing it on every job, sometimes it quicker to do it myself than outsource it when I’m deep into a comp. Especially last minute director requests, “oh can we just loose that”…5minutes later boom done and everyone is happy.

Randy makes a great point to, lots of other areas and disciplines that are needed outside of the traditional “roto cleanup”.

Just a handful of things I learnt as a junior that weren’t just roto and cleanup. To reel off a few things:

Flame related.
conforms and matching resizes and moves
Archiving and lto backups
Creating clocks/slates
Understanding workflows
Creating clean plates
Prepping legals
Pulling in artwork, textures, passes.

My background was in a machine room where we assisted the senior flame ops but also had to have a good understanding of non related flame stuff, again to name a few:

Basic qc’ing of picture, legal durations and height, title safes areas…
Deliverables
Understand specs and transcoding/uploading
Watching the offlines and chasing or prepping material that will be needed for the job.
Good relationships with clients and producers.
STRIPPING TAPES.

I get this isn’t the case for all studios, just my experience.

I may not be in the same building everyday anymore, but the junior artists that are passionate about the craft have common sense and are keen to learn we can’t leave behind. I was lucky enough to learn from some Super talented flame artists, that were always keen to offer me shots and teach me new things, I’d like to think I’m doing the same.

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