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September 27


Fall 2018

Recruitment Counsel for the Professional

Ila Abramson

“Some studios or talent may be wary of recruiters, or ‘headhunters,’ but many of us are small agencies run by real people who want to make a good match.”

—Ila Abramson

This occasional column explores a unique set of considerations for the global VFX professional. This issue’s column features a VFX Voice Q&A with Ila Abramson, owner/recruiter of New York-based I Spy (ispyrecruiting.com), which specializes in 3D animation, 2D animation, motion design, visual effects and production management.

VFX Voice: What should the working professional do to keep pace with leapfrogging changes in the industry?

Abramson: It’s important to always stay engaged with the community and what is happening in the world beyond your studio walls. Sometimes artists will be so inwardly focused on their production projects that they forget to come up for air. When they do pull their head out of the sand to look for new work, it can be a bit bewildering.

I encourage people to always be revising and reassessing their skills and materials, whether they’re looking for a job or not. Keep your skills sharp, and your portfolio of work up to date and ready to share. To keep evolving as an artist, keep an open mind. That could mean exploring opportunities in related areas or a bit “outside of the box” – such as gaming, VR/AR, scientific animation or architectural visualization.

And don’t just look things up online – network! Meet an old co-worker for drinks, go to a screening, a conference, or a professional meet-up. And pay it forward by mentoring someone – get involved with students through portfolio reviews or screenings, for example. Share what you know.

VFX Voice: How does staying current differ depending on the expertise of the individual? VFX pro? 2D/3D animator? Motion design? Post production? Are there general guidelines?

Abramson: I wouldn’t “chase the tool.” That can be a bit of a rabbit hole. You can teach a tool, but you can’t teach talent. However, if you do notice a tool becoming more widely used or discussed, it may be worth exploring and familiarizing yourself with it.

VFX Voice: What are your tips on continuing education?

Abramson: Taking classes can be a great opportunity to stay engaged and network. Picking up an additional skill could help float you through down times, and some houses prefer artists with a generalist skill set, so the more you know, the better. This shouldn’t be limited to just classes on specific software – also traditional skills, i.e., sculpture, painting or photography.

VFX Voice: Are you noticing much more movement in terms of VFX recruitment these days?

Abramson: Obviously, the days of staying with a studio indefinitely are over. Production schedules and budgets are changing, and studios are increasingly recruiting more on a project basis.

VFX Voice: There has been an explosion of VFX-infused programming by companies like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and cable channels. Is this creating more work for more people, or are the usual companies able to fill that gap? Big VFX movies seem to be increasing also. Animation is healthy (think Coco and Incredibles 2).

Abramson: Yes, more channels and programming definitely means there is more work – and more room for smaller shops as well. I think the trick is balancing talent, budget and schedule. Yes, larger studios will pick up a lot of this new work, but if small studios can keep a low overhead, they can benefit from these trends too.

VFX Voice: What are the pros and cons of working with a recruiter?

Abramson: For the artist, I don’t think there is any harm in applying to all the studios that interest you and also reaching out to recruiters. Many times we know of opportunities that the artist may not be aware of. Or a studio can simply be too slammed to handle all their recruiting and will ask a recruiter to assist. So why not cover your bases?

Some studios or talent may be wary of recruiters, or “headhunters,” but many of us are small agencies run by real people who want to make a good match.

VFX Voice: What are some of the things a pro should ask when a recruiter calls? Is there a fee? Job description?

Abramson: You want to understand their process and how they operate. First, understand if you’re talking to a recruiter or an agent. An agent or rep is someone who goes out and ‘sells’ them as an artist, for a fee.

As a recruiter, I’m hired by the studio, and the studio – not the artist – pays my fee. Some recruiting companies will also act as a “third party,” meaning that they, rather than the studio, will actually make payments to the artist for a given job. In the case of my company, I Spy, payment is directly between the studio and artist.

When I do have an opportunity that may be of interest to an artist that has submitted to I Spy, I will contact the artist about it. Sometimes an artist will apply with me and I’ll have a job the next day. Other times, an artist may not hear from me for six months or a year. But the artists are always under active consideration.

VFX Voice: What are the top advantages to using a recruiter?

Abramson: You have someone shepherding your through the process and dealing directly with the people that make the hiring decisions – your résumé isn’t just sitting in a pile. Many times, a recruiter steps in when a studio is simply too slammed on a project, so you are already halfway in the door by the time a recruiter presents your work to the studio. You have someone proactively keeping you posted on opportunities you may not be aware of.

VFX Voice: What are the essential items a pro needs in their search tool kit? Résumé? DVD? YouTube site? Social media presence? Etc.?

Abramson: Yes, yes and yes. Reel, résumé, website, credit list, LinkedIn profile, cover letter – think 360. If I’m on your website, can I connect to you on LinkedIn? If I’m on LinkedIn, can I get to your work and understand your contribution? Some folks dismiss LinkedIn, but it is a great tool for connecting with new people, reconnecting with others, and finding that inside connection that’s so important for getting in the door.

Remember, many times we are already looking at your work before you are aware of it. Make yourself easy to find, and make sure that what we can find is what you want us to see. Keep your professional separate from your private.

It’s a good idea to update materials at least every six months. That’s far easier than trying to hunt down shots later. And if you wait too long, you might even forget projects you’ve done.

VFX Voice: What areas seem to be expanding now in terms of new work opportunities?

Abramson: I’m seeing opportunities in gaming, VR/AR, experiential, scientific animation and architectural visualization.

VFX Voice: Are you seeing more women coming in to the business?

Abramson: Yes – and the more diverse talent pool we have, the better!

VFX Voice: Any final words of encouragement for job seekers?

Abramson: Remember, the job search can be a positive process. It is an opportunity for the artist to get to know the studios that are out there, what they are doing, and the skill sets they’re looking for. It’s a chance to reconnect with your network. Be proactive. Don’t just respond to a job posting, rather make yourself the person they think of before they have to post the job.

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