Do something different
Like most things in life, to get a job and be successful and renowned you need to do something that other people don’t do. I don’t mean this as in inventing something super new and unique like a software or a plugin that does amazing things. It is more like being very good at making destruction effects or developing some plugin to make life easier or maybe creating some satisfying abstract renders or creepy disgusting creature models etc. Basically you should try to become someone that people know you as this guy. (The liquids guy, the robot modeler gal, the tutorial gal, the After Effects boy, etc…).
Of course at first that is not easily achievable while you are looking for your first job. However, if you are on the way there, it will be effective. For me learning Houdini was that something different, because I got into many different VFX houses locally and got freelance works from all around the world because people needed someone that used Houdini. And the more satisfying part of it was they found me and called me in for interviews. I wasn’t great with the software but still people needed some new guy who could use it. Therefore, the main thing is if you do something different, somehow, people that need your skills find out about you.
It is not just your renders or work
As the title says it is just not enough to have good renders or content to show. You need to demonstrate to the reviewers that you have creativity. Anyone can give a fluid sim a shape and crank up the particle number and meshing quality of a simulation and render it with amazing shaders and lighting but if it lacks creativity then it’ll still look boring. Those technical settings and parameters are available in tutorials and documentations all around the internet so everyone has access to them. But the creative part is nowhere to be found except inside you. So you need to show the unique and different idea behind your render even if the render has mistakes and flaws.
It is easy to say “add creativity into your work” but how do you do it? It is basically by looking at other artists works (not just 3d renders but drawings, paintings or sculptures etc.), inspecting the different aspects of the effects in movies, looking at commercials with a different mindset or seeing the subtle details in games. Take a look at the scene in Stalingrad(2013) below (IMDB Link) where a slow motion tank shell hits the room (2:40 mark of the video below), the lighting, the slow motion effect, camera following the tank shell, tank shell breaking the frame, movement of the people inside the room, they make the effect so unique and adds creativity. The director could have just made it a 2 second scene with a tank firing and hitting the room with dust and smoke with a static camera. The viewer would still know what was going on, the movie would still be released and liked. However, those kind of creative aspects made the movie a better project overall.
Another example is I once saw someone do a tall building destruction but strangely it was not a building that was standing, instead it fell from the sky and collapsed hitting the ground. It is not realistic but it surely showed the artists different idea, skills and perspective. Or check out those satisfying animations that loop endlessly, there are some extremely creative renders there with unusual but fascinating colors and lights.
In addition, learning some different art also helps; like drawing, painting or calligraphy will also add into your creativity because you’ll start to look things in a different way, you’ll see things that you missed before. So your creativity will put you in front of other people in your search for a job.
Internship is another way to start climbing the steps of finding a job. The main goal of internship is to get into the community. You’ll get to know new people there who you might meet again in another company. Besides do your best in the internship, show that you love what you do and shortly that you can be of help to that VFX studio. Just make sure the internship does not take too much of your time, if it feels like you are starting to lose time just leave there. The chances are low that you can become an employee even if you become an intern in some countries but still you got to try. Also if you are called in for an interview on even a small/bad/unsuccessful company, you should go and talk to them. You never know where those people will end up in the future and it is better to be acquainted with people face to face instead of by mail or by your showreel. Some years ago I had an interview with a VFX house in Turkey, the interviewer reviewed and gave comments on my work and told me kindly that I wasn’t good enough yet and they didn’t need anyone like me for now. After a few years that same place called me in for a job because they kept following my work and what do you know, they now needed my skills urgently.
Another way is getting exposure on social platforms where people share their works like Behance, Artstation, Vimeo, Instagram, Twitter etc… You might argue that one is better than the other or maybe some are unnecessary, that is for you to decide. The goal here is to try to make as many people to see what you do. Do not try to get as many likes or mentions as possible, that does not always reflect if your skills are good or not and might even make you overconfident or vice versa. (Social media on CG industry might be another topic for this blog later) This one also works a bit in tandem with the first title (doing different stuff than other people) because you’ll be more in the limelight. My own experience was exposure to the industry this way, mostly got me freelance projects which might be another way to get your name out there. Maybe you can become the amazing freelancer guy!
Searching for a job when you have a job
This might sound a bit unethical but this works and you never know when you’ll be out of the job in this industry. It is the best if you signed a contract that tells you when the project is going to end but that is not always the case. Thus looking for another job while you are in a post production house without an end time or have a freelance job at hand, still spend some time looking for new opportunities. I am not saying if you find a better one leave your current work and go to the better one. Never leave a work halfway if it is not absolutely necessary. That will damage your reputation and will make it a lot harder to find another job later. It is again good to get to know new people and to find out what is in demand in the industry. Maybe there are more than a few places/jobs that need a lighting artist, why not start improving your lighting skills right away even if you are not a lighting artist.