Q&A: Wayne Hollingsworth reveals how to build a career in VFX

Posted August 26th, 2016 by Jim Thacker — Category: Education — 0 Comments

Zoic Studios' Jeep 'Polar Vortex' spot: one of new Gnomon Education Lead Wayne Hollingsworth's recent jobs.

Zoic Studios' Jeep 'Polar Vortex' spot: one of new Gnomon Education Lead Wayne Hollingsworth's recent jobs.

Gnomon's newest Education Lead discusses his path to a career in visual effects, the key trends in modern FX work — and his plans for the school's FX training

He helped give Thor and Spider-Man their superpowers. He helped fairy tales come to life in Once Upon a Time, and to bend the laws of time and space in NBC's upcoming Timeless. In his recent commercials work, he helped demonstrate what happens when you drive a Jeep into a tornado. And now he's teaching at Gnomon.

For the past six years, FX artist Wayne Hollingsworth worked on some of the world's biggest movie, broadcast and commercials projects, for studios including Sony Pictures Imageworks, Digital Domain, Zoic Studios, MPC and Psyop. Now, as Gnomon's newest full-time Education Lead, he will be sharing the techniques he learned during that period with students enrolled on the school's Visual Effects Animation track.

You can experience some of those techniques for yourself in Wayne's upcoming talk on Destruction and Simulation, held at Gnomon's Hollywood campus on September 1st, 2016, and broadcast worldwide on the school's Livestream channel. But before you do, we wanted to give you a chance to find out what makes the man himself tick. Below, you can discover Wayne's route into the industry, what made him want to explore teaching as well as production work – and what he thinks are the biggest trends in FX work today.

Hear Wayne discuss his FX workflow on Gnomon's Livestream channel


How did you get into the industry?

I went to Digital Media Arts College in Boca Raton, Florida where I received my MFA in Visual Effects Animation. I started out as a generalist, so I was taught all the basics, from modeling right through to compositing.

I took my thesis project and went to a job fair at SIGGRAPH 2009 where I was fortunate enough to get job offers from MPC and The Mill, eventually leaning towards MPC. I started as a generalist, then the second year I was there, I was given the title of Junior Effects Artist and specialized into FX on high-end commercials. It was an amazing experience.

After that, I decided to go freelance, working at studios like Psyop, Luma Pictures, Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks. It was an amazing five years, during which I got to work on movies like Thor and the entire Spider-Man franchise. Most recently, I worked with Zoic Studios in Vancouver.

Wayne's R&D reel shows some of the wide range of projects he has worked on at facilities like Sony Pictures Imageworks and Zoic Studios, and the key tools used in modern FX.

How did you begin working with Gnomon?

In production, your schedule is pretty hectic, but I've worked with the school for a while, off and on. I taught every Saturday for a few terms back in 2013, and I've done a couple of Master Classes. I've always had a great relationship with Gnomon.

What made you want to join the school full-time?

Because I wanted to give back. As a student, I didn't really get a chance to learn from industry professionals, so I enjoy sharing the knowledge that I've gained over the past five years.

I'd like to stay here for a while and see how Gnomon can grow and blossom. That's one of my main goals.

What software are you going to be teaching at Gnomon?

Right now, our curriculum is pretty flexible regarding the tools we use. We've recently implemented Houdini – which I'm really excited about, since for the past three years, I've been a Senior Houdini FX TD.

We also teach Maya, which I haven't used as much in production recently, but which is still heavily used for effects work at studios like Weta Digital, MPC and Luma Pictures. At Zoic, the last production I worked on was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, and the entire pagoda destruction sequence was done with Phoenix FD Fluid Solver and DMM (Digital Molecular Matter) - both are very powerful tools.

How do you aim to develop Gnomon's effects program?

We're always trying to develop the curriculum and find ways to improve it. Down the road, we may be implementing some 3ds Max classes. Pixomondo, Blur Studio, Scanline VFX: they all have pipelines that are heavily predicated in 3ds Max, making use of FumeFX and thinkingParticles, and all the other awesome plugins available, like RayFire. We also plan on adding FractureFX, a destruction-based tool.

Wayne’s 2013 reel shows some of the production work created at Blur Studio using ids Max FX tools along with RealFlow.

What's the job market like for young FX artists right now?

FX is great right now: it's blossoming and growing. We're constantly being challenged with new visions by directors and creative directors. Every time I start at a new studio, I'm faced with new challenges every day.

What do you see as the key trends in the industry?

There are a lot of magic effects right now — a lot of particle work — and a lot of destruction shots. There are also lots of effects that have do with the elements, as in movies like 2012 and San Andreas: huge tidal waves and tornadoes and cloud systems that you just can't film practically.

Also, resolution continues to grow. When I was at Zoic Studios, I was delivering hero shots at 8K, and other shots at a minimum of 4K — and that was for episodic broadcast projects, not movies. Sometimes we render at extremely high resolution, then down-res for production, so we have the flexibility if a director comes back to us later. As an artist, you have to have that methodology in mind. Your fluid simulations have to hold up at 4K.

What's the advantage of studying to become an FX artist at Gnomon?

As well as teaching the fundamentals, we develop a pipeline methodology and a storytelling methodology. That's true in every track you choose. Whether you choose Visual Effects Animation, Modeling & Texturing, or any of the other options on offer, our main goal is the same: to prepare you for a real job in the industry.

I train my students to come into class as if they were delivering a shot to a VFX supervisor: we start with the basics and build up through intermediate and advanced techniques, then when you get to demo reel class, we require you to create shot work. It's a fun environment and you get to do a lot of cool stuff, but you also get to learn every aspect of a real visual effects pipeline.

Zoic Studios’ dynamics reel illustrates some of the key technical challenges FX artists now face, from the type of effects created to the resolution at which they are delivered.

Read more

See more of Wayne's work on his Vimeo channel
Watch Wayne's FX training videos at The Gnomon Workshop
Browse Gnomon's on-campus VFX training courses
Discover Luma Pictures' five unexpected VFX careers tips


About Gnomon

Founded in 1997, Gnomon has trained thousands of students and professionals for careers in the entertainment industry. Find out more