Environment TD and creator of Wiki-FX Bruno Lévêque describes how working in the industry is different from being in school, shares advice on how students can set themselves apart, and how he strikes a balance between work and play in our beautiful city.
What does your role at Image Engine entail?
My current role is environment TD, but it evolved quite a lot since I joined Image Engine… I first started as a layout/generalist TD on KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV, managing the environment work of the city of Insomnia, and then went to help in other departments closer to delivery: FX, digital matte painting, and even some compositing. This experience gave me an in-depth knowledge of how the pipeline works here at Image Engine, and a good understanding of the needs of our different departments.
Wishing to focus more on what I really like – environments – I now provide a bridge between the 2D and 3D aspects of environment work and collaborate closely with our environment supervisor Damien to tackle the challenges the department takes on.
You’ve recently graduated. How is working in the industry different from being in school?
Working on a VFX project is completely different from what I have been used to at school. There is no magic recipe to follow in order to deliver a VFX shot. You will have to continue to learn every day and find new solutions to produce better images, faster. I would say a good 70% of our job is actually problem-solving. You will also have to learn how to work for a client or supervisor and be aware that your work may have to go through hundreds of iterations before it gets approved.
What advice do you have for students to set themselves apart?
Be curious, be prepared, think outside of the box. Watch, listen, attend conferences, read everything you can. Such website or paper like Cinefex or Art of VFX are a gold mine for every VFX student who wants to step into the industry! If the resources/info doesn’t exist, find them! It’s the main reason I created WikiFX a few years ago, and it has been an invaluable tool since then! In addition to all the knowledge it brings me, it also offered me lots of opportunities to travel around the world and meet some of the best artists on the planet. That’s how I got my opportunity to work at Image Engine. I first met the Image Engine team at the VIEW Conference in Torino, Italy 3 years ago, where I was invited as a media partner while I was still studying at my VFX School ISART Digital. At the time it was my very first VFX job interview, and it was in English!
Take advantage of your school years as much as possible! Enjoy this time to push your limits and show what you are capable of. I think that doing a student short film is a perfect preparation for the VFX industry, as you will have to go through real production issues and lots of problem-solving. It may also give you a good recognition in the industry, thanks to festival nominations for instance: I’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for a VES Award for my student short film “Murphy” two years ago, and it helped me to boost my career!
Also, know your software. Nowadays the software we use tends to be more and more user-friendly and doesn’t require as many technical skills as it used to. That’s why you need to be able to jump between different packages very quickly depending on the production needs. Even if you choose to be a specialist, having some general knowledge in other areas will make your life easier when working in a team.
Finally, talk to people inside the industry! The majority of artists out there are very passionate about their work and would be more than happy to share their experience with you! But do your research first and don’t talk to them only when you need a job!
Oh! And be nice! Everybody in the industry would agree on that: people will always prefer to work with a friendly artist who maybe doesn’t have all the skills yet but is motivated than with someone who has killer skills but is difficult to work with.
What do you like most about Image Engine?
I think it’s this feeling of being part of something big. Not only in terms of the shows we work on but also being part of shaping the future of the company itself. Working here is very collaborative: as long as you have great ideas people will always listen to you and help you achieve your goals. I’m really impressed to see that we keep working on very cool and challenging shows while still respecting our work culture!
What do you love most about visual effects?
Seeing the evolution of a shot or sequence from the early pre-production to the final image on the silver screen, as well as seeing the reaction of the moviegoers who discover your work with a fresh eye.
Every day is different, and every day will bring you a new challenge. I tend to be bored very quickly, but being able to challenge myself on a daily basis while keeping a work/life balance is simply a lot of fun!
I also love the collaboration part of the job. It’s incredible what you can do with a crew of talented artists and what you can achieve by working together. At the end of every single show, you feel like a little family! 🙂
What have been some of your favourite projects?
Each project is special in its own way. At Image Engine I would say Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I grew up reading and watching Harry Potter; getting to be part of the renewal of this magical world, especially on a very technically and artistically challenging sequence, was a blast! It was also my second project at Image Engine, so it was nice to be involved in the show early on and enjoying a better knowledge of our pipeline and the entire crew. In my previous work with other studios, I’m very proud of the upcoming “A Monster Calls” which is a moving story about a boy dealing with his mother’s illness; the visual effects work is there to help the storytelling.
What are you working on now that you’re most excited about?
Lots of stuff! I love using my downtime to look for new software or workflow to prepare for future production challenges. Lately, I’ve been playing with lots of blood and other gory stuff while testing the new features of NukeX.
On a more general note, most of my time is dedicated to helping to build a strong environment department and prepare ourselves for some exciting projects!
You’ve recently moved to Vancouver. What do you like most about living here?
Definitely the work/life balance. Being both a big outdoor enthusiast (I’m actually writing part of this interview in my tent, lost somewhere in the BC backcountry!) and a VFX artist is not always easy, but I think I found my little paradise in Vancouver! I can spend my weekdays working on lots of challenging and cool shows and go mountain-biking, hiking, camping, snowshoeing (and basically whatever outdoor activity you could think of!) the entire weekend! The nearest mountains are 30min away from downtown by public buses, and you have years worth of backcountry exploration waiting for you around the city! Being an environment artist, I could hardly dream of a better place to find inspiration for my work!
I’ve lived in Paris, Edinburgh and Montreal before; all of these cities have their own unique qualities, but Vancouver is the first one where I can combine work and life happiness!
To recap: give me a fulfilling job, a city where I can use my bike every day and access to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and you will make me happy 🙂