Saturday, 2 February 2013

What Do Modellers Need To Get a Job?

At the end of last year I met with Royston Wilcox, who heads up the modelling department at Cinesite in Soho, one of London's leading VFX houses. We worked together on many projects at Cinesite, including Underdog, Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Marmaduke, and between us we helped set up a super-efficient pipeline for realistic animal lipsync.

We are delighted that Royston has agreed to be one of our external reviewers, making sure our course at Bucks is fit for purpose and gives students the skills they need to find work in the industry. It is through developing and deepening our contacts with industry that we intend to make our course one of the best in the country.

And getting those jobs is more competitive than ever. Cost pressures on VFX work is driving modelling work out to China, farming it out to super-cheap studios who can do it for less. This places pressure on entry-level positions in London, making the job market even more competitive.

The good news from Cinesite is that they do offer entry-level jobs, and also internships. This takes the form of a competition - the submissions get judged and the best work gets an internship at Cinesite.

What does Royston look for in a modeller? - ideally someone who has worked on a film, understands the process. This kind of real-world experience is vital, because it lets an employer know that the candidate understands how the process works.

What about Runners? Does Cinesite hire them? Absolutely. Prospective runners get interviewed by HR and they spend up to a year working as runners, doing a fair bit of drudge work but at the same time learning the business and getting to know the company. This can be a great opportunity to start a career.

What should a good modelling reel demonstrate? Here is Royston's checklist of what he looks for in a prospective modeller:
  1. Good surface topology, properly displayed. A good reel should show the topology of the mesh.
  2. Show the reference used to build it. Does the model match the reference? Is the model accurate? This is super-important, as most studio jobs involve matching reference exactly.
  3. A good working knowledge of Maya. Maya is now the dominant software in the industry in Soho - 3DS Max is less in demand, at least in London.
  4. Watch out for objects built with ZBrush and Mudbox. These tools are very good for creating sculptures but the mesh ends up very heavy. They are not necessarily suitable for production.


  1. This is very informative! It would be great to see one for animation too.

  2. Fascinating to read about the cautionary note on Mudbox and Zbrush! We would assume at Uni that they would bring these into a production pipeline as displacement maps (normal maps more for Games). We've had some pipeline issues at Uni where we export displacement maps from Mudbox into Maya and 3ds Max - usually a problem with poorly set up UV mapping. I've been told that Weta developed Mudbox (originally as an in house tool) for work on Lord of the Rings, so this comment is interesting indeed!