Nice work if you can get it: Visual Effects Artist for Weta

(This is just one of many interviews with folks who have awesome, envy-inducing jobs. They all also happen to be my friends. When I was living in New Zealand, I attended a house warming party in Island Bay. As I was nibbling on a piece of Whittaker’s, I heard a sweet, sweet sound in the distance. Whaaaat? Pray tell, is that an American accent?! It was, and it belonged to Michael. As most expats do, we immediately joined forces to talk about home and discuss funny animal videos. Not only is Michael an aficionado on the best viral videos featuring penguins, he also works for Peter Jackson’s production company, Weta. Lord of the Rings, y’all. Jealous yet?)So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I’m a visual effects artist. My official title is ‘Technical Director’ which is a fancy way of saying I make pretty pictures or ‘shots’. A shot is a continuous camera take. A movie can consist of a couple thousand shots a few hundred or thousand of which can have a visual effect in it. These shots are divided amongst us artists, and our job is to add the effect (anything from monsters to buildings to giant turtles) as realistically as possible. Other times we have to remove stuff such as wires, lights or acne. On rare occasions we’ll even remove or replace a bad actor like Keanu Reeves.

Obviously these days the majority of this work is done on computers. We use 3D graphics software such as Maya to produce the said turtle and 2D compositing software such as Shake or Nuke to combine it with Keira Knightley or a likewise sex symbol.

Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
Well we get into work around 8 or 9 and review Dailies – which is basically all the previous day’s work. At Dailies we’ll address notes from the Director, Studio, Producer or sometimes his cousin or niece. We’ll make sure all the shots are headed in the right direction and are looking convincingly scary/pretty/sexy and look good together in sequence. Sometimes the work will look so amazing someone will cry. Most of the time it looks like shit.

We’ll spend the rest of the day making corrections and progressing our shots to show at the next day’s dailies. A couple of times during the week we may have meetings or conference calls with the Director and his at the time girlfriend or other Studio heads and Producers and their relatives.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training? How did you get into this line of work?
There really weren’t any schools for this kind of stuff when I was studying. I did study Computer Science and did some computer graphics work at University, but it was more on the engineering and research side of things than artistic. I got my break in the industry doing an internship while I was in college and then landing a programming job at ILM (Lucasfilm) who was just starting work on the new Star Wars when I graduated.

Are there any drawbacks to working in film?
The hours are pretty long so you really have to love it. You also need a bit of thick skin because there are quite big egos in the industry.

What are the highlights?
The job can be rewarding because people see your work on the big screen. I remember being in a theater hearing a kid next to me gasp ‘whoa’ when my shot came up. You get to meet some important and famous people now and then I guess and the parties aren’t bad. I used to be a Star Wars geek so getting to work on the prequels was a big deal for me.

What are the misconceptions about working in film?
People think its glamorous and working on a movie is a big party. The reality is very meticulous and tiresome with a lot of grueling hours. It’s also very technical. Most people get bored pretty quickly when they find out its not all fun and games making a movie.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in doing this?
I wouldn’t suggest going to school to study 3D graphics. Anyone can learn to use a computer and software. A traditional art background is much more useful as well as a broader liberal education. Its more about having a good artistic eye and understanding color, composition, and lighting. Its an art not a trade and you need to have a place to draw from.

Is anyone out there a fledgling film geek? Any queries for Michael?

Nice work if you can get it: Photographer

(This is part of our on-going series of interviews with people who have awesome, envy-inducing jobs. Said people also happen to be my friends. I met Jess at the international student orientation when we were both starting school in Wellington, New Zealand. I immediately decided that she probably didn’t want to be my friend because she a) looks like a model b) can wear high heels for entire hours at a time c) looks like a model. But you know what guys? Pretty girls can be awesome friends, too! Blew your mind with that one, didn’t I? Jess and I ended up flatting together and spent many a night giggling over cups of earl gray, talking intensely about British literature and wiki-ing obscure countries. She is awesome wrapped in smarts with a generous dollop of hilarious.)

So what’s the deal? What do you do?

My main role is doing photography and marketing for an international commercial real estate firm in New Zealand. My role is divided between shooting for our publications and advertising and creating our marketing material. Most of my photography is architectural but it also requires landscapes, products, retail and people.In my spare time I also shoot freelance. I recently was added to a list of photographers for a corporate magazine and I am beginning to dabble in fashion and portraits.


Tell us about an average day in life of your job.
An average day will always start with coffee. Caffeine is followed by checking the weather, city maps, my emails and deadlines. I like to plan my days around the sun and when it will be in the right position for my shoots. I am usually working from a list of several shoots so I need to make the most of the light.My job is a hybrid of marketing and photography, this allows me to work closely with my company’s marketing coordinator to create and produce our marketing material. I spend most days popping in and out of the office to and from shoots. A large portion of my day is also dedicated to image processing and discussing with colleagues and clients what they are looking for. In my evenings, weekends and ‘lunch times’ I fit in freelance shoots, which keeps me on my toes.

How did you get into photography?
Initially, I actually had little interest in photography. My older brother was taking a photo class and I wanted to have a course with him before he left school, so I enrolled.

One day my professor informed me that I had won an art contest that she had entered my work in (unbeknownst to me). From there individuals who had seen (and liked) my work, began commissioning me. I then worked for a local studio for a few years. Here I learned lots of the basics and got to have a taste of several aspects of photography.

How do you feel about art school?
I have mixed feelings about art school. I tend to tell people to pursue and study what interests them but I also think that technique can only take someone so far; you either have the talent or you don’t.

Also, art school does not always ensure a career (or even a paycheck for that matter) in art. I feel that it can be a large financial commitment with little return. I personally tend to encourage taking art courses at community colleges (or the like) to gain the basics and talent can take you from there.

Are there any drawbacks to working in photography?
Of course. Depending on your genre of photography, the hours can be random and equipment is expensive. There are often Saturday mornings when I would love to sleep in or evenings when I would much rather go out but perfect weather conditions drag me out of bed or away from a beverage to shoot. To keep up with the competition, one must be willing to invest in the newest technology which is rarely in the budget.

What are the highlights?
I have been dangled from helicopters, tip-toed the rooftops of tall buildings, allowed into places I have no business being, met some unforgettable people, seen some of the most amazing scenery and have been paid to do it!

What are the misconceptions about photography?
While photography can be a pricey hobby/occupation you don’t have to use the most expensive gear to get a great result. I once met an editor of a photography magazine that shot an entire show worth of images on a cheap toy camera with a broken back. The photos came out with these stunning ethereal rays of light. This affect was created from light that had managed to seep through the cracks in the camera’s body: an unexpected yet striking result that would not have occurred if he had used a properly functioning camera. So a bit of creativity and ingenuity can take someone a long way. It is the craftsman not the tool.

Also, photographers, just like singers or IT-ers, have specialties. It is important to learn what your strengths are and to play to them. Whilst, it is tempting to take on any assignment it is wise to learn your limits. This keeps you out of trouble.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in becoming a photographer?
Take some classes, learn about the craft. If possible work for another reputable photographer to learn not only the technical side but also the social etiquette of the occupation. Read to keep up with the any changes or trends etc.

Know that there are so many opportunities in photography; you don’t have to just shoot weddings or senior portraits. Every image you see, in magazines, adverts, pamphlets and cereal boxes had to be taken by someone.

Any photography hopefuls out there? Jess is eager to answer your questions!

6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

Looking for financial advice on what to do with your tax returns this year? These fun, basic money tips will get you pointed in the right direction!  Click through for 6 money ideas you can use today!
Ahhh, Spring! When a lady´s thoughts naturally turn to tax returns! Wait, what?
Though not quite as tantalizing as Marc in accounting, tax returns are one of the joys of this time of year. And if you, like me, earn approximately $2, you can count on some serious bank. But since we´re all trying to be grown ups here, how´s a girl to spend that?

6 Smart, Somewhat Fun Things To Do With Your Tax Return

1. Pay off Credit Card Debt
But you knew that already, right? Riiiiight?! It´s not a particularly sexy way to spend your money, but super important and, in the long run, you´ll be really, really glad you did. If the siren song of Visa often overwhelms you, stick those credit cards in a bowl of water in the freezer.
2. Contribute to your IRA or 401K
Yes, again. Deeply unsexy. Super important. Your 65 year old self will thank you!
3. Invest in Yourself
You are your biggest asset, yo! Why not take a class or workshop that will make you a little more pinkslip proof? Maybe you can learn how to write grants, use that software that nobody in the office understands or create a basic website.
If that doesn’t float your proverbial boat, use a bit of this money to buy supplies for your Etsy shop, buy a laptop to help along your freelance writing or get some wicked headshots to kickstart your acting career.
4. Green up Your Living Space
Because I love any excuse to feather my nest. And this excuse is pretty damn valid! Low flow shower heads, fluorescent bulbs, water heater blankets, non-toxic cleaners and compost bins all go a long way towards reducing your carbon footprint.
And after spending money on all that un-fun stuff, you can probably validate a wee shopping spree at global exchange, a fair trade retailer that helps artisans from developing countries sell their wares at fair prices.
5. Donate to Your Local Food Shelf
With the downturn in the economy, more and more people are accessing food shelves, and fewer people are donating to them. Help turn that around with a cash donation or even just donating all those canned peaches you´re never going to eat.
6. Buy Something Fabulous and Frivolous
After all that do-goodery and responsible spending you deserve some tomfoolery! Maybe add a classic piece to your wardrobe that will last forever? Or splash out on a really nice haircut? Or fly to Vegas for the weekend with your girls! Buy yourself something fantastic that will bring you compliments and memories for the months to come.

How are you going to spend your tax return?

P.S. How to pay off your soul-crushing debt a lot faster + You can choose to want less.

photo by Dmitri Popov // cc

Clever Packing Guidelines For Impeccable Travel Style

Looking for packing guidelines that will help you look cute AND stay comfortable while you travel? Click through for a fashion blogger's best packing and travel style tips!
What are the packing guidelines you should follow if you want to a) look cute b) be comfortable c) not sweat or shiver your way across the city? I brought in fashion blogger and personal stylist Sally to tell us!

My personal travel experiences have led me to believe that packing successfully is darn near vital. Although many packing oversights can be remedied through shopping, sometimes you need to conserve those pennies/Euros/pesos/shekels for things like train fare and lunch. So learning to pack effectively is a valuable skill to cultivate.

Now, packing for a 6-month riverboat journey down the Amazon and packing for a three-week sojourn in Paris are going to be different experiences, obviously. But there are some basic rules you can keep in mind as you’re chucking shoes and undies into your rolly bag, no matter where your journey might take you!

Clever Packing Guidelines For Impeccable Travel Style

Choose a single color palette

If all of your items are interchangeable, you’ll be able to pull together outfits quickly and easily no matter what’s already dirty. Going with black, white, gray, and a single bright color works fantastically.

I usually choose fire engine red, because it’s my favorite shade of all time, and one of the best colors for my complexion … but teal, yellow, purple, and hot pink work beautifully, too. Pick a truly vibrant hue, and be sure to bring accessories and shoes in your accent color in addition to tops and bottoms.

Select breathable, natural fabrics

Silk will keep you cool during a long stroll in the Grecian sun, then keep you warm once that sun sets and a chilling breeze moves in off the Aegean. Cotton can be snuggly and warm when you’re hiking in the morning mist, but also allows your skin to breathe if you have to make a break for a fast-moving bus.

Sure, polyester washes well and is wrinkle-proof, but it keeps you neither warm nor cool and amplifies your personal bodystink. Stick to the naturals, right down to socks and undies as much as possible. (Wool is a possible exception: As it requires hand-washing and takes forever to dry, pack wool sparingly unless you’ll be wearing washable layers beneath.)

Avoid wrinkles … or embrace them

Bring lots of jersey, wrinkle-resistant fabrics (such as twill with a hit of spandex), and knitted items, all of which will bounce back quickly from being crammed into a suitcase.

Or, if you love the world-wise and happily-rumpled look, pack your linen tunics and rayon dresses, boho scarves and chunky bracelets. Just make a decision ahead of time: Are you going to pack crumple-proof items and avoid ironing, or go with a laid-back look that includes some purposeful wrinkle-age?

Bring only one pair of heels

Unless you’re going on a journey that involves charitable works, long hikes, and rural travels exclusively, you should be sure to include a single pair of dressy heels.

BUT limit yourself to that single pair, and bring only flat shoes besides. Flat boots, Mary Janes, sneaks, ballet flats … if you’re a shoe person, need options, and don’t mind some heavy duty schlepping, pack ’em all. Just make sure they’re FLATS! Travel = walking unless you’re on a cruise. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can make heeled shoes work for anything other than a fun night out.

Invest in disposable jeans

Jeans are a travel must regardless of destination, but I recommend against bringing your best pair. Your favorite jeans likely fit into at least one of these two categories: They set you back a pretty penny, or they took you a hillion jillion years to find.

What happens when you spill borscht on them, or snag them on an ornery bramble, or lose them at the laundromat? You CRY BITTER TEARS, that’s what!

I prefer to pick up a comfy, slightly beat-up pair at a thrift store for trip usage: I feel free and easy in them, and don’t give a flying rat’s ankle what happens to them once I’m safely back home.

Pack mostly separates, but at least one dress

If you follow rule number one, you’re throwing a lot of black, white, and gray into your duffle, as well as items in your personal favorite bright, cheerful accent color. Generally speaking, you’ll want to pack tops and bottoms: Tees, sweaters, wrinkle-resistant blouses, and tanks as well as skirts, capris, and pants. But make a practice of toting at least one dress.

A flattering dress can be paired with your single pair of heels for nights on the town, but if it’s jersey or cotton it can easily transition to day with a pair of flats. Even if you have no fancy events on the docket, you just never know when a dress will come in handy.

I’ve learned most of these guidelines the hard way, and am fairly certain I’ll never violate them again.

What do YOU keep in mind as you pull from the closet and tuck into the suitcase? Ever found yourself stranded in a foreign land, wishing desperately you’d packed differently? 

P.S. 7 travel tools I won’t shut up about!

photo by STIL // cc