A few years ago I had the incredible opportunity to work as a Technical Director at Weta FX on the mega blockbuster "Avatar: The Way of Water", and I wanted to share some of the valuable lessons and insights I gained throughout this experience.
James Cameron, the mastermind behind the Avatar series, once said,
"We've developed new software and new cameras, and the 3D is way beyond anything that's been done before."
🎬 My Role on "Avatar: The Way of Water"
As a Pipeline Technical Director, my main focus was on handling the modeling and motion capture data. My team and I were responsible for building tools to transfer this data and to bring it into the digital world of Pandora, making the avatars move just like the actors did. This required a deep understanding of scripting, the Avatar pipeline and performance capture environment, which was recorded in a studio in Los Angeles and processed at Weta FX in Wellington (New Zealand).
🔧 Skills Involved
Working as a Pipeline Technical Director involved a variety of skills, such as:
Advanced Python: Python scripting for creating, debugging, and optimizing scripts used throughout the pipeline
Custom API: Analyzing and working with heavily customized Maya scenes
Collaborating with other developers and artists to tackle complex technical issues
It's important to note that working with companies like Weta FX, Pixar, and Disney often means relearning software, as they have heavily customized versions of popular tools. Adapting to these changes and understanding the structure of the company were essential parts of my job.
📚 Lessons Learned
Taking responsibility: Working for a big company like Weta FX allowed me to learn from the strongest talents in the industry, and it highlighted the importance of taking responsibility in a professional environment. At Weta FX, everyone in the team was committed to their tasks, which made problem-solving efficient and led to better results.
Teamwork: The level of teamwork at Weta FX was truly inspiring. Questions and problems were categorized and taken seriously, which led to open communication and a willingness to help others. This positive atmosphere pushed me to constantly improve and adapt to new challenges.
Complexity: One of the challenges of working for a big company is the complexity of their systems. Often, their custom solutions make it difficult to find information and understand the concepts and ideas behind the company's projects.
🚀 How Can You Work on the Next Avatar?
To work on projects like Avatar, you'll need to:
Develop your skills: align them with the company's needs by creating content similar to what they're working on and focusing on their priorities.
Build a good reputation: Strong relationships with colleagues are essential, as companies often ask for references when hiring.
Be bold: Apply for jobs even if you don't feel 100% ready - you never know what opportunities might arise!
Watch this episode to: "How to conquer your fears and let time do the work?"
💡 Final Thoughts
Working on "Avatar: The Way of Water" was an unforgettable experience that taught me invaluable lessons about the importance of taking responsibility, teamwork, and adapting to new challenges. If you're aiming to work for Weta FX, ILM, or Pixar on the next blockbuster, remember to be bold, level up your skills, stay laser-focused, and let time do the work when building your reputation and portfolio.
Keep pushing yourself, and never be afraid to seize new opportunities. And if you're looking to transition into the role of a Technical Artist or Director check out my Free 7-Day TD Bootcamp: Technical Director.
Until next time,
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.