By NAOMI GOLDMAN
By NAOMI GOLDMAN
As a flourishing global honorary society, the Visual Effects Society’s growing international presence owes much to its thriving network of Sections, which galvanize their regional VFX communities while advancing the reach and reputation of the Society and industry worldwide. Founded in 2011, the VES New York Section hit the ground running and now has a membership tipping 200. Thanks to enthusiastic leadership and a penchant for pioneering impactful new events, the Gotham City arm of the VES has quickly evolved into one known for its robust programming, entrepreneurial spirit and desire to cultivate burgeoning Sections across the globe.
The Section’s membership is largely comprised of VFX practitioners working in feature films and television (a huge growth sector in New York). It enjoys strong support from companies invigorating the region, including Alkemy X, Big Film Design, Blue Sky Studios, BrainStorm Digital, East Side Effects, CineSys-Oceana, Method Studios, Phosphene, Shade and Zoic, as well as those helmed by the Section’s current leadership, The Molecule and Mr. X Gotham.
At its core, the New York Section has created a diverse roster of programs and special events – designed to serve its members by fostering professional development, education, networking, and recognition of the vast spectrum of visual effects talent in the region – while adding its unique flair in sync with the rhythm of the city.
In 2015, the New York Section became the first to stage a regional VES Awards celebration – an innovative extension of the annual international ceremony in Los Angeles designed to recognize local visual effects talent. It was an instant success and has since become a must-attend annual affair at the Brooklyn’s renowned venue, The Green Building.
“The New York VES Awards Celebration was envisioned as a VES Awards after-after party allowing us to celebrate the finest achievements in visual effects artistry – from New York’s VFX community to the VES Award winners around the globe,” says Andrew Bly, New York Section Co-Chair and Co-Founder of The Molecule.
“I wasn’t sure that the New York crowd would get dressed up for this VFX night out, but just the opposite happened. The event was embraced and a lot of local talent was thrilled to participate. It felt really good to be able to provide this important spotlight for so many talented artists and innovators.”
“We would love to take what we’ve been able to do for the film and TV arm and engage the entire spectrum of talent – professionals working in video games, commercials, animation – so that we are all connected and benefit from valuable resources and enrichment programs.”
—Andrew Bly, New York Section Co-Chair and Co-founder of The Molecule
The Section established The Empire Award to recognize a New York-based visual effects professional who has made enormous contributions to the field of visual arts and filmed entertainment and whose work embodies the spirit of New York. In its first year, the inaugural award went to award-winning titles designer and Visual Effects Supervisor Randy Balsmeyer – the go-to choice for New York filmmakers including Spike Lee, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese – presented by Tina Fey. In 2016, the award was bestowed upon Academy Award-winning director and Co-Founder of Blue Sky Studios Chris Wedge, best known for his work helming Ice Age, Robots, Epic and Monster Trucks. In 2017, the VES Empire Award went to acclaimed visionary director Darren Aronofsky, known for his provocative films including Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan and this season’s mother! Plans for this year’s 4th annual celebration are well underway.
Another rich program the Section launched in 2016 is the Master Class Series, a collection of seminars and workshops offering an intimate learning experience. Recent programs have included a session on personal finance for VFX professionals and freelancers, bringing together a financial planner, mortgage broker and analyst from CNBC; a seminar with colorists to help bridge the gap between people in the same pipeline who might not have an opportunity to interact; and a program featuring visual effects supervisors providing their valuable insights from the front line.
‘This is perhaps our most exciting endeavor moving forward,” says Eric Robertson, New York Section Co-Chair and Co-Founder of Mr. X Gotham. “It delivers on our value proposition to serve our members in supporting their growth as visual effects professionals while growing our community.”
An ongoing roster of special events has complemented these signature programs, thanks in great part to robust partnerships with other leading entertainment organizations. In 2015, the VES New York Section and HBO, in association with Post New York Alliance and the School of Visual Arts, hosted a vibrant discussion with women in the visual effects industry, “Breaking into VFX.” Moderated by postPerspective Editor in Chief Randi Altman and keynoted by Marvel Studios Executive Vice President of Physical Production Victoria Alonso, the program focused on the achievement and career paths of the panelists, as well as the challenges and changing opportunities for young women trying to find their way into the business of VFX and animation.
The School of Visual Arts (SVA), a creative and cultural center in Midtown Manhattan, is also a frequent collaborator with VES New York. Many screenings are held in an SVA theater, and the school regularly donates facilities for seminars.
“Our theater managers established an open-door policy for VES to screen the most recent feature films to our members,” says John McIntosh, former Chair of SVA’s Computer Art, Computer Animation & Visual Effects Department and member of the New York VES Section. “The beauty of this partnership is that our students have the opportunity to see great films for free. The result is amazing. VES members are given the best seats in the house and with each screening more than 500 students see the very best in visual effects.”
“This [Master Class Series of seminars and workshops] is perhaps our most exciting endeavor moving forward. It delivers on our value proposition to serve our members in supporting their growth as visual effects professionals while growing our community.”
—Eric Robertson, New York Section Co-Chair and Co-founder of Mr. X Gotham
“Looking at the evolution of visual effects over the past 20 years, I’m proud of what the VES has achieved and for the role we are playing in bringing the New York community together. We’ve made enormous progress since the Section launched and it’s gratifying to see how our original vision has been realized.”
—Sarah Dowland, inaugural VES New York Section Chair
The Section also invites members of the general visual effects and animation community locally to its screenings and other events, including its popular pub night networking receptions and Summer Party. The result is that VES New York events are strong networking opportunities for members and future members alike. “Of everything we do, the biggest thing has been helping our members to network with their peers,” says Bly. “People have actually started getting jobs out of our parties. In fact, I’ve lost some interns because of our parties!”
In building its foundation, the New York Section Managers acknowledge the vital role that peer-to-peer mentoring from more established Sections played in its rapid evolution. “David Tanaka from the San Francisco Bay Area Section was enormously generous in sharing advice from their growth trajectory – the challenges and lessons learned that contributed to their success,” says Bly. “We are proud to have created an organization that was well organized and driven from the outset. And given our experience in program planning and membership recruitment, we now have the opportunity and rewarding responsibility to pass on our knowledge to support the development of other regional VES hubs,” adds Robertson.
The dynamics of the visual effects business landscape have also propelled visual effects practitioners to gravitate to the New York Section and assume positions of leadership. “The release of the VES whitepaper in 2013 on the state of the global industry, labor and pipeline concerns is what called to me to help remedy those issues,” states Dan Schrecker, VFX Supervisor and former VES New York Section Chair. “I didn’t know what the answers were, but it was clear to me that the VES was far and away the best forum to talk about these things. We realized the best thing we could do was focus on building the community in New York and serve their needs.”
Looking forward, the New York Section aims to continuously adapt to keep pace with the rapidly-evolving visual effects industry.
“Looking at the evolution of visual effects over the past 20 years, I’m proud of what the VES has achieved and for the role we are playing in bringing the New York community together,” says Sarah Dowland, inaugural VES New York Section Chair. “We’ve made enormous progress since the Section launched and it’s gratifying to see how our original vision has been realized.”
“We would love to take what we’ve been able to do for the film and TV arm and engage the entire spectrum of talent – professionals working in video games, commercials, animation – so that we are all connected and benefit from valuable resources and enrichment programs,” adds Bly.