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Post Production : Re-calibrating after a career in Visual Effects

grandTetonPanoFinn2

My family and I spent the last five days or so in Wyoming, at the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, where there is no cell phone reception, no email, or computers, hardly a single luxury. Well, I did have my iPad and would read the pile of stories at night that I’ve been promising myself I’d make time for.

Being in Wyoming is such a timeless experience, it reminds me not just of what it means to slow down, but there are stark reminders in the environment of what global warming is doing. The glaciers are shrinking, the reservoirs which supply water to distant cities are very low. It is both breath taking and heart-wrenching knowing that our own government is doing so little to alleviate the problems of global warming.

All of this of course is a reminder of choices we make in our lives, and how we can make better choices. For me, I spent many years choosing the pace of Post Production.

homesteading

Post Production is a term in the film industry that is about the work that comes after the shooting schedule. It is the editing, the musical score, the visual effects which is an increasingly large part of tent-pole films each year.

To me though, at forty-seven, Post Production is now about what do we do when we gravitate away from the world of film production, and try to find that other pace in our life, a slower pace. It isn’t always easy. For me it also involves the choice that my wife and I have committed to that involves home schooling our children, yes very homesteading of us. I think that sometimes the place has helped us make decisions like this, rather than making them completely by ourselves. Had we stayed in Los Angeles I am sure our lives would have unfolded very differently, but here we make choices that sometimes feel driven by the choice we made to leave Hollywood behind. Doing this move mentally has been more difficult at times though.

For those who are used to production, there is a lack of patience in the pacing and unfolding of a different way of life. I know this, I live it. As I move into working on my own artwork, indie games, and writing books and children’s books, I feel the ever present yearning to see production through and get my products out quickly, much like I might in post production work. However that was a world of rapid turn-around fueled by caffeine and sugar. That was a world of seven day work weeks, long pushes in the summer months when I would barely see my family.

Now I don’t drink coffee or sugary beverages anymore. Not to say that this transition has been easy, like trying to pull myself out of Post-production mentality, it has been a hard battle fueled by my sense of self preservation and wish to be healthier as I get older. In short, I try to treat my body with better regard than I ever did when working in post production. I try to figure out this new pacing and it isn’t always easy.

Part of me still feels the pressure to stay “current” in CG technology, even though I am no longer taking on freelance work in VFX (although this is waning). I like others probably at my point in my career, are looking towards new avenues and trying to float new things, perhaps it’s furniture making, or writing, or animating short stories with macaroni noodles.

There is the ever present hope that with each small work of art, with each story that wells up, or illustration, that I’ll do something more personal. It doesn’t have to be great, I just want to do dedicate my personal time in my studio to personal projects.

The frustration for me in this stage is that the path is not as clear as it was in Post Production. In the visual effects or game industry I could apply for a job, and within some weeks I would know whether I had it or not. Now in this stage in life I find myself traveling down the path many indie artists choose over VFX, the longer play, the slower path that may take many years before the shape is clear. Take for example writing. I send out short stories, which are often months in the process before the inevitable rejection letter arrives. There is a process of approaching agents, and publishers that I am simply not used to, and that my psyche doesn’t quite understand.

When staying in the Grand Tetons we stayed at the Signal Mountain Lodge, which was a fantastic place to stay for us. Talking to the young people who worked there you could see their approach to life was so very different from the hectic city pacing of post-production work mentality. These young people were leading hikers into mountains, or working out in the open not because they would bolster their resume, but because they loved what they were doing.

The reward for them was in the doing, and in being in those incredible locations like Lake Jackson, and Yellowstone National Park, or even working at one of the lodges in the area. They are a reminder to me, that there are other choices in life that can be made and that the once seemingly indestructible field of visual effects was anything but that, it was self destructing all along in small ways if not big ones along the way. It’s so easy to get caught up in that, and I had for many years.

When in my twenties I never said no, to the demands of production as I tried to build my experience, and I wish I did. What has lead me back to my studio was exactly that, a series of saying no to production, and the demands of cubicle type environments until I have eventually found myself on the outside of that lifestyle, and happy for it.

I know, I can’t blame all this on the job demands. I have been a very demanding bossy person to myself as well over the years, often skipping vacations, or working around the clock when the demand wasn’t even there. All I can say is that I am working hard at uncovering this other life, that perhaps an alternate version of myself, in a parallel universe has been living all along. I feel like I’ve been uncovering that person I should be one small step at a time like an archeologist uncovering that alternate life. I know that it is going to take time, and that the speed of this alternate reality I’m breaking into moves at a far different pace than the post-production work I used to do. I’m hoping with some practice I can slow down and find myself moving at this pace more and more and being at ease with the slow unfolding, the non-production level of work, and the fact that every day life gets in the way, just as it did for the homesteaders who first came to Wyoming and Colorado.

5 comments to Post Production : Re-calibrating after a career in Visual Effects

  • Dan

    Daev,
    You truly are a man after my own heart here. You’ve said many things that I am just coming to realize about my life in post as well. I love the phrasing that we are now post – production in our lives and trying other things. I too hope that my art and vision will find me a path to greater fulfillment while also finding much more time to connect with my loved ones, my wife and my children. Keep making the world a better place for the next generation, Daev! Let’s stay in touch!
    -Dan

  • Hey Daev,

    I hear you. I’m on this path as well, or I am trying to be. It’s tough, we’re trying to get to the place where paying the bills isn’t the problem…

    Anyway.

    I was reminded in your words of this comic that’s been doing the rounds this week. You’ve probably already seen it.

    http://zenpencils.com/comic/128-bill-watterson-a-cartoonists-advice/

    Cheers.
    J-L

  • I hear ya. I too have gone from a vacation skipping, red-bull slurping, sleep deprived workaholic to someone who eats peanut butter sandwiches and draws and writes. I don’t miss the craziness, but my new life has a craziness of its own: am I, or will I be good enough to support myself this way?

  • I’m in VFX and freelance post production and my dad grew up in Wyoming; I love it there. Wouldn’t be surprised if ended up taking the same route as you eventually. Good luck with everything.

  • Daev Finn

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Juan-Luis, I love that comic by Watterson, I had not seen that before – but yes, he puts it so succinctly. Trying to find that place and pay the bills has been a struggle here, not right now, but we left L.A. in 2006 or 07, so we know rocky times well. Now I’ve left my teaching job, lucky that while I was doing that my wife’s business started to thrive. Now that she is, I’m trying to focus on creative stuff, and raising the boys. I’m lucky that while I was working for years, my wife was slowly building her business. I still am sitting on hundreds of pages of teaching material that I had been fashioning into two books on making games, but I honestly don’t even want to put all my energy into that right now – but I will if I have to. That’s my practical side, but for now I’m trying to just write and create.

    @Namowall, yes, that’s it. That’s part of the drive, to support yourself with your art. Argh, it’s so complicated. I still work on games on the side, because I want to self-publish and explore creating in a visual medium. I’ve self-published one app on the app store, an interactive counting book for kids. That means my total earning this year has been $36 dollars. I have other books in the works, but I have been hoping to actually get published some day. It’s a hard slog though. I think that writing and submitting to publishers, agents and editors is a somewhat humiliating process, similar to some of the humiliation actors talk about going to casting calls. I am currently trying to re-write a children’s book I wrote awhile back, that I am thinking to make a freebie for my next outing, just to continue to get out there. Why is it humiliating? Well, you work hard on a book, and illustrations and then you are essentially told your work is not good enough to get published over and over, but Walter the Farting Dog is? Or, name a book that looks like it was dashed out in an assembly line by big corporate companies that shall not be named.

    @Dan, I think the Watterson link that Juan-Luis attached is so brilliant. Yes, it makes me feel not crazy, and of course hearing from others makes me feel not alone, which is why I wrote, so others may hear from someone else post-production.

    @Suzette, I loved Wyoming. It’s an amazing place, so much to see and yet so spread out. If Grand Teton’s were a couple hours closer we’d probably be there more often. Also, so many people told me that Yellowstone was somewhat desolate and ugly, that I had no idea what to expect. They made it sound like Death Valley. Actually, it was so lush, and amazing we couldn’t believe the descriptions we had heard. It’s definitely more softly rolling than Teton’s majestic mountains, but how amazing to drive through and past steaming vents along various roadways, surrounded by forests. It just felt so alive. I started watching Longmire because of Wyoming, of course it’s not filmed in Wyoming at all but they fake it well – how I’m not sure.

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