How can we create side gigs to develop our career?
You feel a little bit stuck in the current position, maybe are short on cash and would like to get better opportunities at work, reach different companies and projects which unobtainable if you continue your current path? Your first step is probably to get this showreel polish, to get additional experiences and education to get to the level to apply for ILM, Framestore, Pixar and Disney. Where do we go from here?
Let's unlock your professional potential with side gigs: 🔓
A lot of people in visual effects, animation and games are already overworked. Depending on the position or department the hours could be around 40, 60, even 80 per week. That's already draining especially with other commitments like family, friends, health and life itself. Just adding a side gig with additional projects and additional work is not always the best idea.
How can we do it right?
1. Clear goal
Know the goal and how to get with the side gig without just working more and hoping that something comes out of it. Make sure the side gig aligns with the goal that you want to fulfill. It sounds obvious but more often than not we take the short and known path instead of the one that brings us the fastest to our destination.
Need more money? What jobs pay the most?
Need more experience? What would upgrade your skills and portfolio?
Need to change roles? What skills are needed for the new one?
For example: If your goal is to create a better portfolio for a better application it's good to start with education, additional projects and some freelance work. Important is that take all of them serve your goal. Don't just pick any masterclass or project but one that really helps your portfolio and sharpen the skills that you need; instead of taking something just because it's there. At the end of the day if it doesn't really align with your goals it's a waste of time. Of course we don't always have the best options at our disposal ("I take what I can get!") but it's important to pick wisely and to create better once instead accepting the scrabs.
2. Recycle and reuse
My 2nd tip is to always "recycle and reuse". Doing side gigs often improves our current work or allows use to ask for new work opportunities using the newly learned experiences and skills. It's always helpful if newly learned skills have practical implications especially for your current situation. If necessary take the extra time to polish and to add so the result is not only serving your your current goal but also your current work situation.
For example: You're a Lighting Technical Director who knows about lighting, render layers, AOVs, rendering processes and Python. The goal now is to add education or side gigs to really dive deeper into the position and to become someone who is better with rendering and lighting on a technical side while improving your Python skills. One path could be to enroll in educational masterclasses to improve your lighting, rendering and scripting fundamentals.
Watch this to find the right masterclass for you.
There are now 2 paths:
The direct path: Ask your company if they would like to support you on this educational path. Ask them for financial or time support. Maybe they can give you an opportunity to connect what you learned into your day-to-day work.
The indirect path: Learn something new and spend the extra time after hours if necessary to really integrate it, to see the effect, to not just have abstract examples at the end of the masterclass but really use it where it actually matters: In a production. This can have the effect of you scaling up, having practical examples, being recognized by your peers, by the company which can lead to additional opportunities or a promotion. That way we skilled up and created a better portfolio for ourselves in the future while also making a better situation in the here and now.
Important here is that such change takes time. To learn a new skill like Python takes a lot of dedication, practice and time. Just be aware that watching few tutorials on YouTube won't teach you anything on a practical and professional level. The hard reality is often: It takes time to get it but when we get it and we spend enough time practicing it becomes much more rewarding and we can see a slow transition into the desired position.
3. Stay focused
Another point is to always make sure that you focus on what exactly matters, stay consistent and define how much time you need to spend. The hard part about extra work outside of the normal day-to-day is to stay motivated and have the energy after a 8 - 10 hour day. Most of us just want to chill down, open a beer or wine, watch some movies and go to sleep. Nevertheless we need to give things time and consistency especially in our "on demand" environment where we want things too fast, we're too tired, the situation is often not optimal, the job not exciting or even draining.
That's why it's important to create a clear strategy and discipline similar to what we do when we want to get in shape. We always have to do the first step, start small, create a routine and combine it with multiple elements; just going to the gym will not cut it. We also have to change what we eat, what we drink, when we wake up and who we work with. All these elements are very crucial parts to make the change and we need to stay focused
The same applies for side gigs. If you want to find a side gig or create additional knowledge for yourself you have to find the discipline and cut out the time for it. It shouldn't be just: "When it happens or sometimes ...". If you really want to find a freelancing job spend extra time to post your work, search for open positions etc.
Here are 2 of the most common side gigs in visual effects, animation and games:
Sell time and skills for experience and money.
Finding freelance work can be tough especially in the beginning. We need to skim through applications, forums, Facebook groups etc. Also not all opportunities appear in our specific field. Additionally we can also become proactive and create something for a company for free. Why? This way we can support a company we like, it creates good will and an opportunity to develop something meaningful. Side gigs aren't always just freelancing opportunities that we need to wait for sometimes it's on us to create positions and projects especially in the beginning of our side gig journey.
A warning when looking for a side gig: If you're already working your 40, 60 or 80 hour/week side gigs can burn you out. Always preserve a balance. Also it can be a valuable asset in our main job to ask for a higher pay or a more interesting position. Make sure to recycle and reuse.
b) Sell digital products
Sell a (digital) product for money.
A lot of potential nowadays lies is selling digital content. Everything that we create is sellable and could be interesting to someone. If we create models, lights, textures, software professionally it has a value. The question is if that value is scalable. Is that something that we can sell for a price outside of a closed community or company?
If you create models that are valuable, have good quality, have the right price and the right exposure than you have a source of additional income here. Additionally don't underestimate how much your side work can influence your main career. That is also the cool part about it of selling a product and at the same time showing your work to potential employers.
We all have important reasons why we want to find side gigs. To find the best side gig it's important to look for one that matches our time investment, interest and is combinable with our career. The better we're doing at our work, the more skillful we become, the higher our reputation is, the more positive influence it has on our side gigs and vice versa. Even if our goal is to earn more money it's always wise to make sure that we combine that by adding an extra level to our career. This way we use every part of the meat, invest into our future and find the synergy between our career and side gigs so both can profit from each other.
Thank you for reading,
PS. Learn more about the TD role? Check out my Free 7-Day TD Bootcamp: Technical Director.
About the Author
I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.