From high school to Hollywood in 2,5 years



When I started out, nobody really told me it was possible, all the  success stories I've heard where over two decades old and hardly relatable, so I feel that's it's a good moment to share this story before time passes and I forget that I actually didn't have a plan till the very end . :)

A while ago I filled a piece of paper with two columns with stuff I really wanted to do, the freelance/studio path and "the great unknown ", then drew a box for the title and wrote as a joke "the great 2015-2016 strategy".

I now  achieved every single one of my  goals on the first column.
But that's what I tell people about, the easy part, the tip of the iceberg, now let's go back 2,5 years in time!


PART 1: clueless, fresh outta  high-school 

(Graduated from a 3 years industrial design high-school program in Britanny, France).

The plan didn't really go as intended : I just heard online that the 3D school I wanted to apply to had major administration changes and it was not a good idea to even go there before it was settled,
bummer.
Then I applied to some  free (but quite in demand) art schools... "Application rejected ",
re bummer.
At this point my parents freaked out and I had to rush to find a school for the  next year.
ESMA, okay meh, let's do it, I have no other choice at this point anyway.
17,000 $  of student loans later, I'm studying there.
And it fucking sucks, like real bad. By the end of the first week I already knew I'd quit after the first year ( my parents didn't wanted me to quit without having  another plan).

So after this series of  unfortunate non-choices, I decided I was going to invest all my  remaining free time into self training.
Let's do the math: There's 24 hours a day, class is 8 hours a day, I need 7 hours of sleep, if I do my homework in 40 minutes that's roughly 8 hours a day to learn  everything I can.
I got to a point where I was watching FXPhD training DVDs at 2x speed and reading "The VES Handbook"  in the bus to maximize efficiency.
This was one of the most difficult year of my life.

Around the end of the year I applied for an internship at MPC as a junior lighter, and I got an interview in London! Fuck yeahh This is what I've been training for, right ?!
Well nah, they hired another guy (who was way better than me).
(I also applied to Bluesky studios, but I was both not good enough AND no Visa, so nah).
After all this disheartening stuff  I just went mad creating  like 10 paintings a day for myself on top of school, i guess this was both because I really enjoyed it, and also a bit of rage against all this bad luck.
I was posting theses speed painting  in some Facebook groups as well as this blog, I didn't really think about it at first, but I started gaining some traction and followers, I was also using
Keywords and tags on my blog post.
Eventually a recruiter from a small 3d animation company called Cube creative stumbled on my blog, that was both incredible  luck, and me maximizing the reach by being strategic and using tags.
They where looking for matte painters during a summer, and all the experienced guys where on vacation.


PART 2: Sailing in unknown waters

"We need matte painters for the new Cartier winter tale commercial, when are you available?"

I've never worked anywhere before, I'm afraid of taking transportation alone, oh and I also live in a totally different part of the country.

"well...tomorrow?"

And here's that crazy leap of faith that got me in Paris.
After 1 month of work at Cube creative I enrolled in a part time school part time Studio contract for 1 year, the company pays me and pays for the school, that's pretty cool.
Looking back I'm not sure it was the right decision and I might have wasted some time at the school (New3DGe), but at the same time I wasn't feeling confident enough to take the freelancer's path at 18.

Anyway around this time some cool guys from New3edge introduced me to THU, I had no idea what it was, but ok let's go to Portugal.
Well HOLY COW it was kinda crazy, I realized that all the artist who are my heroes have had their shares of mistakes, stumbling, bad luck, but they pushed trough.
I also realized that if you're good enough, people will be happy to help you get success, and that's a big one, all the sudden it's not a fight to "get in the industry " but rather a personal battle against mediocrity.

Simultaneously was the launch of Artstation, that's where I got my first international clients, (mostly from the US), even tho my portfolio wasn't really great, it was enough to get me some good entry-level jobs in games.
working at the studio during the day, freelance at night, I don't recommend doing that because it's terrible for your health , BUT it gave me some pretty rad looking resume in couple months.

I was starting to make a lot more money trough freelance than at the studio.

Finished my contract ar Cube, one last gig in Paris at UNIT for Ubisoft: "The Division" and I'm back in Britanny for the summer, I really didn't liked Paris as a city and I'm not planning on going back, but what should I do now?

After 2  weeks of rest and wondering what to do with my life, the freelance gigs start pouring in.


PART 3: aaand...liftoff!



At this point I had lived this crazy freelance life in Paris, but I was back home at My parents house, I didn't wanted to go back to Paris (even tho I had some interesting offers from there), I knew I was going to THU in September and that it was going to be very important!
I was planning on maximizing all that summer time living on the welfare and savings from that year of work at Cube in order to not have to work anywhere and just focus on my portfolio.
But I actually got a lot more freelance work and a lot less time to think than I expected, that's when I did my first "movie" work on Iron sky, but that's also  when I started doing tutorials and getting published in 3dtotal stuff, at the time I felt like it was important even tho it paid a lot less than movie work, but this would become super important in 2016.

Around the same time I get an offer from EA and Dice, they want me in for a new  IP,
I'm like  "sounds good :D"  and then they're like " do you have a degree? Not that we care but it's for the H1B visa".
Well, ouch. They abandon the idea of hiring me.
Getting a visa apparently requires 4 year of studies after high school or 4 year of in-house experience.
I learn everything I can about the different categories of visa, mhh O1, people told me it's usually for people with over 10 years of experience, but I don't see that anywhere on the requirements.
It seems doable.

 I've actually made a mistake by trying to do too much, when I decided to go both to IW and THU (both where happening almost exactly at the same time).
Theses events are expensive so it's better to not to fall asleep during conferences, haha, so yeah theses events are super intense, know your limits  !
Oh I also forgot to mention that I had applied to ILM  around April, did an interview, it went great and then.....nothing! They forgot, super frustrating, no idea what happened.

I take the plane directly from London to Lisbon, direction THU.
When you get to an event like this, it's always a special moment, as freelancers we work in our homes, if you don't live in a big city there's often no fellow concept artist around, nobody understand what you're doing, it can get lonely.
And all the sudden I'm on a beach and everyone is there.
My friends, art buddies, heroes and legends I look up to.. people who helped me or people that I helped, they are all there.
Building a sand castle.

It's kind of an opportunity land, you're wandering around with your beer and accidentally bump into an art director. Eventually , I bumped into a recruiter from Riot games, I said something like "hey I know that my work doesn't really apply to what you guys do, but I'm just interested in hearing what you have to say" then after talking over my portfolio for a bit we mentioned the visa thing, and he said something along the line of "don't worry about the visa, worry about getting really good, then we'll take care of the paperwork".

That sounded really cool.

So anyway, I'm back home, and then... Nothing, no work, no freelance, no offers, no jobs. At this point I was really depressed, where did I failed?
Actually I only failed to realize that companies can take a fair  bit of time to make their mind.

I went from "omg I'm such a looser " to "wtf I don't know what to choose!" Within 3 weeks; it started with some work for a Dreamworks  theme park, to blockbuster films with MPC.
And then all the sudden I had too much companies interested at the same time , guerilla games, DontNod, Qantic Dreams,star citizen, bungie, bioware, framestore, CD project RED, and many others.
I was almost going to go for Guerilla, but once again I felt like I could get something much better for me by waiting a little bit more.

The casual chatting with Riot quickly transformed into an interview as I was more and more interested after talking to the team, they where interested enough to invite me for an interview in LA.
Around the same time, ILM suddenly remembered me, wich was funny because I crossed it out of my list after my unsuccessful application.
This time no fiddling around, no art test, 15 Minutes chat, it's for star wars, here's the offer.

Now is the time to tell you about a whacky concept that I call "strategic honesty"
It can be translated to "Within the limits what feels right, according to your guts and your values, taking the strategic decisions wich are going to maximize success ".

A lot of people who saw the post on Facebook messaged me to ask why I made that choice, and while I won't go into details, all the friends I asked told me it was the best decision of my career.
There was a lot of factors involved into making this choice, ILM was easy, quick and very rewarding for my career, and Riot seemed very far away , even with a probability of failure of the visa, etc.
But there was other parameters like : London VS LA, games vs VFX, World building for a new project vs production concept art on a established franchise.

I really had enough of freelance and I wanted a change, there didn't seemed to be a way to get a visa before a year, so I was about to accept ILM, but then I created a huge Dropbox folder with all my publications and awards and list of interviews, podcast, conferences, letters of recommendations, etc.
And then I asked "do you think we can go for a O1?"
"There's a good chance "
And then I made my choice.

That brings us to about now! Writing this article from Los Angeles,
 I'm running out of funny anecdotes I think, so I'm about to close this chapter!

Now even though I've just rambled about my journey for way too long, there's some things  I sort of omitted because I'm too used to write interviews for magazines.
It's that holy shit, it was hard, during periods of grind I sacrificed lot of stuff, confort, health, social life.
 I feel the need to mention that because I don't want to be misleading, this is the main reason why things clicked at the right time, looking back i could have done much better without being so hardcore, but at the time it was the only thing that felt right.
I also had heath issues, not life-destroying issues, but still, the only times I was "going out"  it was mostly to go to the hospital.
And that's what haters never see, they think you don't deserve, that luck just fell onto you from the sky.
"Luck" is taking advantage of opportunities that you create by being at the right place and the right time.

Now some closing thoughts ; I had some concerns writing this article, I want to inspire people who are wondering if it's worth it, how this stuff happens behind the scenes, who want to get into self training,etc.
What I don't want  is convincing people to go on a path they're not made for, no matter what industry you want to get into, you have to be sure that's what you want, yes it's a pretty amazing way of earning a living doing art, but does it fits your lifestyle to make these kind of sacrifice during the first  learning period?
Also it's totally doable to make it at a slower pace, this way you can get more art fundamentals, skills that someone who has rushed in will need to consolidate later, (like me with drawing for example, hahah).

I hope you enjoyed the read, and good luck on your own journey! :)





Comments

  1. Dieu ce que c'est motivant de voir ton évolution... Motivant et désespérant. Tu vas avoir 20 ans cette année alors que j'ai déjà passé mes 25 et que je suis à des années lumières de ce que tu sais faire...

    Si tu as des ouvrages à conseiller, je suis plus que preneur, que ce soit composition, Lighting, couleur etc.

    Bonne chance à toi et bon vent petit Breton !

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  2. Thanks so much for sharing this! I'm very happy for your success, you damn deserve it :) Waiting for part 3! ;)

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  3. wow, considering my progress being a walking-on-one-spot-not-moving for 3 years of my art pursuit, and also being an ACCD student, I should just fucking kill myself. Who fucking pays 1 year average salary for 4 months courses?

    I mean, I am doing Art, but I am not being an artist, not even trying. Some people like me just deserve to be working in minimum wage works.




    Things just don't work well as I thought.

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    1. I was always very envious of art center students, because I knew there was no way I could ever afford it.

      Well yeah 40K a term it's definitely too much, but at least it's the best school in th the world.
      The US is a tough place for students that's for sure, there should be better free schools, especially since it puts so much pressure on student to rush into choosing their career path, and invest thousands before even knowing if they're going to like it... :/
      I don't have advice because I don't know enough about being a student in the US, but one thing for sure to consider is that OK it's expensive as fuck but you're also living right where all the jobs are!
      Being in Europe helped le a lot to improve my skills without investing too much money, but it also really slowed me down when searching for jobs, especially being in France where there aren't many prestigious studios, there was no way i could continue my career in my home country, the only other route was almost London in VFX, but the work conditions are a bit insane there.

      So I had to work like crazy getting all kind of publications, articles, awards, and recommendations letters to be able to get a work visa without a degree.

      And it wasn't even that easy, US companies tried to hire me qnd just abandoned when they heard I didn't have a degree, i had to research and see what kind of visa I could get, and then I heard about the O1, next time a company contacted me i dropped a huge Dropbox folder with all the publications tl convince them to attempt the O1 visa.

      So yeah, it's super expensive....BUT you are already in LA, took me long to get here :)
      I had a lot of stuff that didn't work either, I was about to quit many many times in the process.
      And to quote Shia lebouf (haha):
      "you should get to the point where anybody else would quit, but yourpnot going to stop there!"

      Anyway man good luck, think strategic, try to make the most of every minute you have, take care!

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    2. Never thought that I would be replied by the author of the blog. It usually remains unseen by many, or so I think. Dude, I don't know since when you started taking Art as a career. But, I started my pursuit since late high-school, and I was pressured to complete my portfolio without any skills or knowledge about art materials. Imagine being forced to do something in a year, while finishing high-school with high GPA, getting to know art, doing the portfolio and submitting applications for college.

      I don't know what to say, considering I CHOSE this, and I am blaming everything just to avoid accepting my responsibility. I have disappointed everyone, every teacher and professor that I have met, and I am still blaming everything for my improvement that shows no change.

      Ironic enough, I got into 7 colleges, which are SVA, ACCD, OCAD, 2 Canada art college and etc... But I chose ACCD because I thought going to such "prestigious" place would put me into good career. Of course, I am partially correct; I knew about this, but I never realized that I would be competing against people who literally put their life into Art since probably middle or early highschool, or a dedicated Art high-school.

      I regret this too much, but as an international student, I cannot change what is a big scale for my parents. I am the first person to be in the US and I barely can handle the stress that professors had put onto my shoulder.




      To be honest, I have learnt more in ACCD than anywhere else in Korea. (I am a korean) The professors are great and thoughtful of their students. I would highly recommend the college, only if one could manage such exorbitant tuition fee.

      Sadly, I was in constant anxiety that I hardly absorbed information from the professors, and am thinking that being an artist is a lost cause, since basically 1000 of amazing art students graduate, and I think I would be chosen amongst them.


      but thank you for the reply. I have wasted so much money and time that going back is not an option anymore. I wish I knew something more than now.

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  4. Whoa, it's really inspiring and motivating. Thank you for taking your time on telling your story. It brings closer to me that whole process of getting into industry and that it is possible if you work very hard. I would love to do the same job in future, but one of my obstacles may be my own laziness. I am 16 years old, I'm in high school on science area and I only draw in my free times. I learn everything by myself. I really want to believe that one day I can be where my favorite artists are being right now. Doing what they love and inspiring other people (and gaining $$$ :D ). I really don't have any plan. One of my fast ideas is that after high school I could pick up any job, get money and then take some online courses (for example on 3dsense) because, well, everything goes faster if you have your own teacher who sees your potential, your strong and weak points and tells, criticizes you and tells you what's next to improve.
    I live in Lisbon, but I'm not portuguese (I was born and lived in Poland for 13 years). I don't know about any industries around here, I would probably have to move to get where I want, but I'm open for that :) For now I will keep working on myself, and who knows... one day! :D

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  8. oh man,,,,this article inspire me so much! I didn't know you became a concept artist at 19!! Im Mingho, I just got 19 5 days ago and I hope its not too late for me to stop wasting time to start hard working!!!

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