From psychology major to visual effects producer on Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets may seem like an unusual career path to take, but for Sandra Scott that’s exactly how things worked out.
'I thought I might be a therapist at some point as I’m interested in communicating with people and problem solving,' she says, adding with a smile, 'There are some difficult personalities in Hollywood and you have to navigate those on a daily basis, so my psychology degree does come in pretty handy!'
Sandra was sharing her knowledge and experience with participants at a filmmaking workshop run by Honeycomb - Creative Works, an EU INTERREG IVA-funded business support programme aimed at the digital content sector in Northern Ireland, the border counties of Ireland and the western seaboard of Scotland.
While she has progressed to the top of her industry over a 20 year career, working with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Sandra’s advice to anyone thinking of entering the visual effects industry is pretty simple - start at the bottom and work your way up.
Rather than specialising in one particular skillset such as animation or compositing, Sandra encourages new recruits to train in an additional area, as this will lead to more stable employment in what is a largely project based industry.
Having recruited artists from colleges in the early days of her career, Sandra recognised that graduates who have had a lot of freedom to create at university assume that it’ll be the same for them as they enter the industry - not so. 'You’re not making your own movie, you’re making the director’s movie', she says 'and the director is the creative king.'
As part of a wide-ranging programme of activity, Honeycomb – Creative Works has been addressing the shortfall in training for the digital content sector over the past 18 months, as Programme Manager Fiona McElroy explains:
'We have trained 1800 participants in skills courses, developed 50 e-learning courses and created five postgraduate modules in areas such as Developing Creative Entrepreneurs and Game Music Composition, in addition to producing four skills map reports and an online skills database.'
When asked what the best piece of advice she could offer to someone embarking on a career in the creative industries would be, Fiona says 'As well as taking a relevant training course which includes business skills, make networking an absolute priority. There are numerous online and offline groups available which provide new entrants to the creative industries with valuable connections and access to experienced role models.'
One person who knows the benefit of networking is Honeycomb guest speaker Jason Lopes, who credits his current role as Lead Systems Engineer at Legacy Effects - a practical effects studio which creates monsters, anthropomorphic animals, robots and armoured suits for films including Avatar and Iron Man – to having a conversation with someone who he had worked with early on his career and kept in touch with ever since.
Like Sandra, Jason didn’t take a traditional route into the film industry, starting off by making skateboard videos with his friends and going to art school. He recalls: 'I started at art school right when film, television and computers were all circling around each other and ultimately just crashed together. I was very lucky to have that timing.'
After college, Jason decided to get hands-on experience in the industry as soon as he could. 'There’s something to be said about apprenticeships, internships, learning from people who have been doing it for years – it’s the best knowledge you can get', he advises.
As he told the audience at a Belfast music conference supported by Honeycomb, rock star Andrew W.K. never dreamed that music would be his main career, saying - 'It’s just a skill that you have for its own sake, like learning how to read or learning how to walk.'
Letting the audience in on the guiding principles behind his creative career, Andrew continued: 'The most consistent technique that I’ve used from the very beginning was just to say yes to almost everything – almost every opportunity, almost every offer.
'Things that I didn’t want to do, things that I was very scared to do, things that I never really cared about doing, I would say yes to. I just like the idea of working as much as possible, sort of having this faith that I’m being pulled along to where I’m supposed to go.'
For further information and career advice from guest speakers on the Honeycomb – Creative Works programme, visit the Honeycomb Learning Videos page.