Progress as a Lead

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As a compositor for 12 years; three in Vancouver, one freelance, three in Berkeley, and five in Los Angeles, my career has been punctuated by moments where I have had a chance to dictate the development and progression of a show or sequence. The first was a moment in Australia, on a project called Ghost Ship, in 2002. I came on late, but was able to work quickly and efficiently in moving up the ladder, and was credited as a lead 2d artist. I wasn't initially a lead 2d artist, and I didn't work on a huge number of sequences or be in charge of a bunch of shots, but the shots I did have and the way I delegated them apparently had an impact. 

During my time at Tippett Studio, I had a chance to lead a couple commercial projects in late 2005 / early 2006 (roughly seven to eight years into my career). These commercials were small, less than twenty shots apiece, but it enabled me to have more control and input over the way shots were constructed and how they were presented. I was also a part of the team that met with the client and discussed how shots were faring, what to change, what was good. One of my job criteria was to disseminate that information to the artists working for me on the show. A critical skill was communication of ideas between client and artist. This vital skill is one that some people may or may not have, and can occasionally be the stone that blocks one's path toward the higher levels of production.

After leaving Tippett and heading to Digital Domain in first quarter 2006, I almost had to start from scratch, in terms of proving myself to the supervisors and leads here. This is a theme that runs through every company that you may work for during your career. This can be a hard choice, and can be fraught with frustration. Take it in stride, listen to the notes, address them, and keep your mouth shut. Too many times I have see artists come in, have a huge ego, hear the notes, but never address them. I am about to close out my fifth year at Digital Domain, and after having worked on 14 films as a compositor, I made a big leap to compositing lead. This position is a big one, largely because Digital Domain is a well recognized company, the compositing teams here are top notch, and the show I'm leading on is a huge one. I've worked on some big shows before, but nothing like this. The sequences I'm leading comprise of a total of about 150 shots, with over 600 in total. Those other 450 shots are split among three other compositing leads, each having about the same workload as I. We have close to ~35 compositors total, so each lead retains about a quarter of that for our sequences, with some overlap. My position here as a comp lead is very similar to my other comp lead positions at other companies, the only difference being that it IS Digital Domain, there are a TON more shots to overlook, and a TON of people looking at the work you are doing and supervising. 

The general thing about leading, not necessarily here, is that there is a skill to it. Some people don't have it, and some people don't want it. It's not necessarily being the best compositor, but being there for the artists if they need help, if they need completion of some task, helping them muscle through a shot, oversee the look of the sequence, delegating those responsibilities to the artists, giving and keeping accurate notes, providing options to techniques in comp, helping complete a shot should it be necessary, and keeping morale high. A happy artist is a valuable artist. A lead, needless to say, is a leader I guess. A person the team can turn to should they need help with anything, and a person that the team can feel comfortable taking direction from. Not everyone can do it or want to do it, and it's not necessary to have a career in the field. There are still a ton of requests for senior artists that know what they're doing. 

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