Things Have Changed


Well it has been a while since I’ve posted last. Quite a few things have changed since then. Back in November I was laid off from URS to do budget cuts in Government Contracts and due to the company not winning any new contracts for the new year. Loosing my job sucked but after five years of employment I was grateful that I would be receiving a severance package. That was going to be extremely helpful going in to the month of December and with Christmas coming around the corner.

The job search began before I was let go and it wasn’t going very well. It wasn’t until the week before Thanksgiving that I started interviewing for a position with Regent University. I was super stoked about landing interviews with Regent. I received my BA from Regent in ’09 and since then I’ve always wanted to work there. My true dream is to go back as a teacher within the Animation Program. Well about two weeks went buy before I heard the awesome news. I was offered a job as an eLearning and Instructional Design Specialist for the College of Arts and Sciences. I started at the beginning of the year and since then the job has been nothing less than awesome.

The people here are fantastic, the campus is beautiful and the work is extremely rewarding. I’ve worked on a number of projects since starting here. The most rewarding one has been the work I’ve done for Regent’s MOOC “LUXVERA.” LUXVERA is really turning into something fantastic and it’s only going to get better from here. That’s not the only thing that has been rewarding. I’ve been working hand in hand with my boss developing a new course style for a History 101 class. I can’t go into details but everything we’ve done and the things that I have brought to the table are really shaping this course into something pretty cool. Testing the waters with it begins in about two weeks and if everything goes right the course will go live in the fall. Keep those fingers crossed!

On to a different topic… School is still going strong. The semester is 20days from being finished and I’m stressing like I’ve never stressed before. Reason for the extra levels of stress is because this semester I have to pitch my thesis idea, or what AAU calls “Mid Point Review.” What I have to do is come up with a VFX idea where I will showcase my skills that I’ve learned over the semester here. The idea doesn’t have to be original but you do have to produce something that can be finished. I can have help from other students and non-students. The goal is that I produce 3-6 shots of VFX awesomeness. The reason for the review is so you can pitch your idea, or in my case, my idea to a panel of Professors. I have to show my concept, artwork, storyboards, previz, test shots, etc once done they will review the work and discuss if I may proceed. What I mean by that is, if they say yes, I am able to move forward on my thesis as well as take my remaining classes. If they  say “NO” then I have to go back to the drawing board and then re-present.

The whole process is extremely stressful. To help relieve some stress and show off my progress I’ve started another blog, nathansthesis.wordpress.com. Check it out when you can.

The last bit of news that I have to share is that I’m in the process of buying a new house. We’ve been looking and have made a few offers but nothing has paned out yet. I’ll keep you posted.

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Removing the Old


Has I have grown in my walk with Christ I’ve been experiencing a transformation. My transformation isn’t necessarily a physical one but one from within. I created a graphic that represents the identity of my transformation and growth.

pulling back the curtain

pulling back the curtain

Make A List & Check It Twice


No I’m not talking about your Christmas list. What I am talking about is 10 things you should try To-Do everyday. Okay, let be a little more clear. This to-do list I’m talking about is a list that you’ll make everyday when you get to work or, if you’re like me, when you’re working on your skills or updating your demo reel. Before my start at my new career I was never a list person. I kept everything in my head and tried to keep up. Doing that didn’t work for me. I had start making list to help me finish assignments and I’ve made a few to keep track of what I’m working on. I’ll admit now that making a list and then crossing things off feels good. It makes me feel productive. The consistent productivity has this wonderful byproduct of accomplishing more. I heard this saying somewhere when I started AAU:

You don’t wait to do the work until you get the dream job – you do the work in order to get the dream job.

Everyday when I get to work (my job is different from my VFX work) I make a list of ten things I’ll try to do every workday. There are days when I won’t get them all done, but I always do my best to deliver. It has proven effective for me on numerous times. The ten things are:

1. Read something related to my industry.
2. Read something related to eLearning/software development.
3. Send at least two emails to touch base with professional network contacts and/or old colleagues.
4. Empty my Inboxes from my email accounts and social network accounts.
5. I check in with my colleagues to offer help on what they are working on.
6. Watch a video on the latest techniques that apply to my work
7. Review my top three goals for my skills that are focused on growth.
8. Identify and execute one task to support each of my top three goals.
9. Post at least five valuable pieces of content on all my major social networks and media accounts.
10. Take a full minute to appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come.

This list definitely could be longer but you have to take into account that if you make a long list many of your task are less likely to get done. While at work I get way more done then just the 10 items I write on my list, but these are the ten that I know I can do with consistency. Time and time again tells me so. Of course you don’t have to make a list of ten you can make a list with any amount on it, just remember the goal at hand is to accomplish as many as you can without rushing. Take your time. If you only start out crossing off one or two that’s fine. One or two still counts for productivity. Keep at your list and you’ll build your performance and soon will be crossing off your entire list.

When it comes to working on animation and VFX task I create a very similar list. I designed this list to work both ways. I love what I do at URS. Creating eLearning content for numerous clients is rewarding. Plus I know that by increasing my skills I can take what I’ve learned at URS and apply it else where in this field. With the growth of Higher Education and the demand for it online having this skill set is a must. This is the list I use while at home working on my Animation and VFX jobs and skill building:

1. Read something related to the Animation & VFX industry.
2. Read something related to software development.
3. Send at least two emails to touch base with professional network contacts and/or old colleagues.
4. Empty my Inboxes from my email accounts and social network accounts.
5. I check in with my network contacts to offer help on what they are working on.
6. Watch a video or tutorial on the latest techniques that apply to my work.
7. Review my top three goals for my skills that are focused on growth.
8. Identify and execute one task to support each of my top three goals.
9. Post at least five valuable pieces of field related information on all my major social networks and media accounts.
10. Take a full minute to appreciate what you have and how far you’ve come.

Is there STRENGTH in your network?


broken-chain_small

Over the past month I’ve been writing about how to build and maintain your professional network. With constantly meeting new people and growing your professional network is crucial to uncovering job leads and building a successful and lasting career. But today I’d like to talk to you about another really important piece of networking that is, in most cases, often neglected: Network Maintenance. With anything you build you have to maintain it. The same goes with maintaining your connections once you have them. You can’t build up a new network every time you look for a job or have a career need; think of your longer-term connections as a bench of teammates that, as long as you stay connected, will be your supporters for years to come.

If your network is anything like mine it’s made up of old classmates, current and previous coworkers, and close friends. As we get older and move further in our careers we can lose touch with a lot of those connections. A question you might ask yourself is “How do I reach out to that someone I haven’t spoken with in a long time?” Well I’ll admit that it might feel awkward to send an email, friend request, or a request for to connect on LinkedIn to a former colleague, classmate or client, straight out of the blue. I think you should do it anyway. Here are two reasons why: First, social media is still a new enough communication channel that people aren’t shocked to be contacted by an old friend who has come across their profile. Second, it’s so important to your job search and career prospects to maintain a strong network that is worth that potential awkwardness. With that being said, you can lessen the potential weirdness of the situation by making that email or request a “Let’s get back in touch” message.

When you write that message there are a few things you should keep in mind. When I write that email I’ll explain how I “discovered” or even “rediscovered” them. I make sure I have something relevant to talk about. I usually do this by either checking out a few of their social network pages or I’ll even give them a quick Google search to find some recent information (this will show them that you have a genuine interest in them and that you can me a mutually beneficial network connection). And finally I’ll close the message by telling them a bit about what I’m doing and then I’ll suggest a follow-up conversation so that I can keep in touch with them. The follow-up conversation is where you can talk about your job search and offer up yourself to help you contact with any needs they might have. Remember, this first message is to be a friendly networking outreach, it is not the time to ask for a job. Reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken with in years and asking them for work can potentially hurt your chances at a solid connection.

Well lets say that you have already reached out and you’ve reconnected and things went really well. But now what? The real question is how do you keep in touch with someone when you don’t have an immediate need or any thing to share with them? The best advice I can give is to give them something. And I don’t mean anything physical. I’m speaking more on the lines of saying “Happy Birthday” and or, congrats on the new job or promotion. You can even comment on a discussion post they may have started or commented on, or even status updates on any of their social network sites. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman calls this doing “small goods,” and it’s one of the best uses of the site.

LinkedIn provides some great ways to spark this type of outreach. You can use the LinkedIn news feed on LinkedIn.com. There, you can see a stream of what your LinkedIn connections are sharing in their updates and find reasons to reach out. If you like an article from someones posts, they’ll get a notification which will then keep you on that person’s radar screen. If and when something pops up you can use can use their status updates as a reason to reach out with a message. Remember, try to offer something of value to your contact. This is also important for you. Make sure you are posting discussions, status updates, and sharing articles to give your connections a chance to keep in touch with you as well. If you get a response be sure to reply to anyone and everyone who made the effort to reach out. Showing your gratitude strengthens and maintains your relationships.

Seriously, You only get one “First impression”


First Impressionsimg credit: pinsofwar

If you’ve heard the expression, “Your first impression, is your last impression” then you may know what I’m talking about. For a few weeks now I’ve written about using social media sites to help you develop and grow a professional network and create a personal brand with the hopes of finding a great job or reaching a new customer base. This expression fits into what I’ve been talking about. I may have spoken briefly about this before but I’d like to touch on it a bit more especially as it relates to Linkedin.

You’re building your network and so far things are going great then you notice that a lot of your “Request to Connect” are not being answered and now you may start feeling that your network has plateaued. That might be true but it could be you’re not giving that connection the best first impression. If you’re saying to yourself that “I’m not meeting this person, so a ‘virtual’ request to connect doesn’t count. If you thought this you are wrong. That button is your chance at a first impression. Linkedin gives you a short (300 character count) chance at making that first impression count. Because LinkedIn created this incredibly useful way for us to expand our network, it doesn’t mean we should take all the steps out of the process. Not customizing your request-to-connect text, can indicate that you don’t appreciate what it takes to build trust and respect. Nothing says, “I couldn’t spare 10 seconds out of my day to show you why I want to connect,” more than failing to customize the request-to-connect text. Thus, when possible connections see this default text:

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

They may assume it’s SPAM – impersonal and not worth their time. You can avoid this assumption by taking a moment and doing a little research on the person you’re wishing to connect to first. If you already have that’s great, but taking a moment to read an article interview they did, or even an article they wrote and then mentioning it when you are requesting that connection tells them how you know them. I can actually confirm that this works. Earlier this year I reached out to Eran Dinur, VFX Director with Brianstorm Digital. I heard about Mr. Dinur from listening to a podcast that fxphd produced. They were interviewing him on his work with Boardwalk Empire and on The Men who Built America. Being a huge fan of Boardwalk Empire, I did my homework on Mr. Dinur and then reached out to him. With a day or two I got a positive response back and we keep in touch on a semi monthly basis.

When it comes to requesting you have to be careful in your reasoning to why. If you are requesting a connection with someone who you think could help you land a job, please make sure you don’t come off ‘self centered’ and off topic. This is an example of what I mean:

I got laid-off 9 months ago and time is running out on unemployment. Please connect so I can send you my resume. I need you to tell me what to do to make it stand out.

That is an example of a request, I pulled off the web, that someone sent to an individual that could have helped them if they wouldn’t have been so self-centered and off-target. I could never do that to a potential connection. Writing them and making them feel that it’s their job to fix your employment troubles is low. Doing this has seriously ruined your “First Impression.” Networking is best done when both sides enter into it professionally, politely, and without demanding rewards from the relationship before it’s even established. Build that ‘first impression’ first by letting your connections know how you know them, and a really good reason why you want to connect with them. Then build upon that new relationship by sparking conversations on topics the speak about or ones you both have interest in then you can ask that person if they would mind taking a quick moment to review your profile or resume and respond with a few tips on how to improve it. When you ask for something, make sure you always give the person a way to say no, especially if what you’re asking for only benefits you.

Get to the Chopper!!!!


In my last post I discussed about me working towards finishing my VFX demo reel over the summer. I also talked about how I was going to recreate a VFX shot from The Avengers. We’ll I’m still working on that shot and I was able to come up with a twist! (No I will not tell you). But I also talked a little bit about re-doing my VFX scene that I did this past semester for my Production of Compositing Principles class at AAU. I can safely say now that I know exactly how I want to reshoot this entire scene. I orginialy shot the scene with the camera being stationary while my actor came into frame and headed towards the VTOL (Virtual Take Off Landing) aircraft. Here is a screenshot of that scene:

Evac

With the redesign, I knew that I wanted to change locations to something a bit more open and free of background elements that could move into my shot. When I shot this I had a train, random cars and joggers that would keep popping in at times. So I am going to be searching for a wide open field, hopefully without grass, I’d like something with dirt and trash, but I don’t think I’m going to find that around here. I plan on a new ship design based off of this sweet toy that I found at Toy’s R Us last weekend.

LaserStorm

Now I don’t like everything about this design, but I do like certain elements so I will be referencing that elements into my design as well as elements from the upcoming film Elysium staring Matt Damon. I’m also referencing the following shot as what I’m looking for with my scene.

elysium

So that is what I’m planning and I’ll be posting updates on both this scene and my Avengers scene as progress grows. Stay tuned.

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round n’ Round


brain-gears

Yep that’s right the wheels on my creativity bus are really moving now since school has ended. Since my third semester has ended, I’ve been brainstorming like crazy with all kinds of ideas for things do but some ideas have been complicated or to time-consuming. That doesn’t mean I wont do them down the road it just means that for right now I’m looking for ideas that I can do on my own or with the help of one other person. I haven’t posted it here yet but last semester I did a really short, 10sec video, with the help of my friend Shane. It was a VFX piece where Shane was fighting his was to the evac point. I added in muzzle flashes, a matte painting of a sci-fi city and a dropship that was modeled after the one from Aliens. In the end it worked well and I learned a lot from working on it. However, it really needs a make over. We’ll while designing a whole new scene and doing some research I came up with the idea to find VFX shots from some of my favorite films, small ones of course, and my plan is to reproduce them with my own little twist.

I recently came across a demo reel and it had some really sweet breakdowns from the film The Avengers. One of the break downs was from the scene where Natasha is tied to a chair with the russian army general and the three bad guys. One of the bad guys pretends to drop her down and opening in the floor.

Don't Push me!

We’ll now that I kinda know how this was done I’m going to attempt to recreate this shot with my own actress and a twist. I’m not sure what the twist is just yet, I’m still working on that but I’m sure it will come to me soon. Even if I don’t add a big twist the shot will still have my creativity applied to it. Once that shot is finished I’ll be moving over to recreating my scene from school, This is it here:

Get to the extraction Point!