Assistant Technical Director job at Digital Domain

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Mark's picture

This page contains all of my notes as I went through the process of applying for the Assistant Technical Director job at Digital Domain. As they are notes, they are a bit disjoint.

can't sell project management stuff -- one in LA
software group at DD is between 10 and 20 people.
A few hundred at DD

Sometimes the artists are TDs. They can do a bit of coding.

A lot of people are self-taught. Not all people in software group have CS degrees
Most TDs are self-taught
Being formalized about planning isn't that prevalent

Justin was at a company called Dr. D.

TD is production facing -- started as a software engineer and then transitioned
TD is simple tools, scripting, etc

software guys do hardcore C++, plugins, etc

Justin now in pipeline. He is a pipeline supervisor. Does similar work to Mike.

Are commercial DAM packages used?

Emphasize the graphics programming skills to get foot in the door.
Experience with various applications

Keep working on learning
Maya, Houdini (efx - smoke, explosions, buildings crumbling, etc). Global Illumination Renderers (Arnold - Sony Imageworks bought source code) (DD is also using VRay - written by an Eastern European company called the Chaos Group)
Most people had been using PRMan and they have been adding features. But, there are others
Can gain credibility in the community by doing something useful. Naiad is a fluid simulation software that people are getting excited about.
People use Massive, but very selectively. A lot of companies use simple particle based things (Houdini and Maya). DD has one person.
Python APIs are most important. Skip MEL.

Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Star Trek
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Pirates: At World End
The Italian Job

I liked commercials -- Infinity snowball, BMW refueling, Audi intelligently combind

Karen Sickles

Tell me about yourself

I am a Pacific Northwesterner by birth and have recently moved back to the area. I love it here! And I don't mind the rain either. I grew up in Seattle, but moved to Ottawa in 2003 because my job transferred me there. I am now a Permanent Resident. I got married in 2006 in Lake Louise and now have a 2.5 year old named Milo.

I love travelling to different parts of the world on holidays. I am a huge fan of animation, embarrassingly realizing that I wanted to go that direction for my career after falling in love with The Little Mermaid in high school. Passion for Visual Effects came soon after as my love for technology plus animation began to show me how fx was the perfect blend of the two -- how they could be combined to transport the audience into another world.

What first got you interested in fx?

My interest started in animation. And my interest in effects blossomed from there. Use of technology to help tell stories. How the complete environment that is provided by effects is the thing that help customers escape from their current reality and insert themselves in the story being told. Early work by ILM - Star Wars, Indiana Jones and on to their digital work with the Abyss, Jurassic Park and others. I have a book on the history of ILM from the period that was very inspiring. Work by Digital Domain on Titanic brought computers to another level. Work by Weta with crowds and characters on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Relatively recent work by Digital Domain on Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tron, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Why Digital Domain?

DD is known for pushing technical boundaries (Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tron, others) and for its quality. Both of these are things that I consider innate to my personality and professional goals. I am one who either does things to the utmost quality, or I don't do them at all. Can be seen in my Entrepreneurial experience -- I was developing a large part of the initial solution. Focus on quality user experience. Without it, wasn't going to release. I am also one to be on the forefront of technology. Whether it is implementing stereoscopic Virtual Reality software, exploring the possibilities with mobile devices. And though it has been a while, keeping up to date on the latest CG research by attending SIGGRAPH and thinking about ways to extend and build-upon the latest and greatest. Digital Domain offers all of these things.

Why do you want this job?

Follow my heart. To help provide the technology to help bring stories to life. I've been attracted to animation and visual effects since high school. In college, I specialized in the theory and application of the technology in order to achieve this goal (I came out of university with a degree in Computer Science, and I specialized in computer graphics and animation). After school, I went into a different part of the computer graphics field. And with each subsequent opportunity, I got further away from where I wanted to be. No more. It is time to do what I originally set out to do.

To be part of a team that is telling great stories. And specifically to help utilize and create new technology to give other artists on the team what they need to be successful.

What are you looking for in your next job?

A challenge. To be part of the technical team that is helping bring stories to life. To be able to help suspend the audience's disbelief and to transport them to another world. I'm looking for the opportunity to learn. I'm looking for the opportunity to help by being a productive member of the team. As time goes on, I'm then looking for a more significant role on the team -- as a TD, on the production management team, etc.

What interests you about this job?

Blend of art and science as a way to tell and also enable great stories to be told. I'm also interested in it because it gives me the opportunity to prove myself/show others what I can do and how quickly I can learn.

Why did you leave Adobe?

Didn't want to be creating software for big banks. Wasn't fulfilling. And was just too far away from what I was meant to do and to go in to. Wanted to be done with the golden handcuffs.

Why didn't your entrepreneurial experience work out?

Why didn't you go into animation/VFX at the beginning?

Is a difficult question and is one that I regret. Three reasons. I did perform a job search. And at the time, I couldn't get in to the technology side of the animation or visual effects industry with the experience I had coming out of university. Not sure why, but it just didn't happen. Secondly, I had a great internship at a company in the CAD visualization space. While there, I had done some work to extend their visualization software so it would support stereoscopy and Virtual Reality. I added support for magnetically based motion tracking so people could use gloves to manipulate the model, pick out pieces, twist it around, etc. Thirdly, I was tired from school -- I had been working from 9:00am to 2am for months, and was a bit scared of the rumoured 80 hour work weeks in the effects industry. I'm not afraid of work (I work very hard, worked to start my own company, was at Adobe and remodelled my house on the side, etc), but at that point I decided to continue a the company I had done my internship at. I needed some sort of life outside of work.

I do regret that decision now. I should have waited longer and done other things to get more experience so I could have gone into the industry straight-away.

Why animation/VFX now?

My wife and I are at an interesting inflection point in our lives. We used to live in Ottawa. She wasn't happy at her job. It was taking too long to get my company started. And our son is at a point where it was time to think about preschool. We are also realizing how important family is -- my family is in Seattle. But we also know we want to stay in Canada for several years more. So we took a long look at our lives and where we want to be. So we moved. As a part of that change, I decided to follow where I was going when I graduated from college.

What do you see your career trajectory to be in the industry?

Bridge between art and science. Bringing hard work, learning, and perspective to the roles. Then evolve to where I can help the organization where there is greatest need. I have a history of it at Adobe and will do it for Digital Domain. That can be either by saying as a TD, working more closely with R+D to create tools for the artists, working with the pipeline team, or joining the Production Management side?

How can you be sure that you will be able to meet the specific technology needs of animation and visual effects?

Quick learner. Will draw on past experience. Will be able to get thoughts from colleagues. The Internet. Can bring experience in software and hardware. Software Development Best Practices and methodologies, etc.

What fx impress you?

I am always a fan of crowd shots. And nature related effects (I don't mean fire -- I mean things like water, plant life, forests, atmospheric things like dust and bugs, waterfalls).
Seamless merging of art/real-life (non photorealistic rendering, the Infinity commercial)

What movies recently seen?

Well, since I have a 2.5 year old, these are a bit skewed towards his demographic. My wife and I don't get out much since we didn't have family in Ottawa and have just moved to Vancouver. But, here they are:

James Bond - Casino Royale
Blade Runner
Enchanted -- a great blend of CG -- dragon, mice/critters, chipmunk, etc
Finding Nemo

Favourites include Moulin Rouge, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, IJ and the Last Crusade, IJ - Raiders of the Lost Ark, Little Miss Sunshine, Darjeeling Limited,

How would you go about solving an efx problem?

- understanding what sequence means to story
- understanding expectations of director, vfx supervisors, TDs
- reference
- talk with colleagues/brainstorm
- read research and other literature
- create proposals
- create tests, get feedback
- start down path
- Get feedback on work as it is progressing

What fx specialities are you interested in?

- crowds
- natural world - snow, rain, grass, forests, dust/bugs in the air, etc
- non-photorealistic rendering - the Infinity commercial
- extending the world - blue screen/matte with CG world
- new tools and extensions to existing tools to empower the artist
- lighting and rendering technology
- pipeline

What were major challenges at your job and how did you handle them?

Communication, getting buy-in. Identify stake holders, etc. On technical side, identify issues, seek out those with knowledge, get their recommendations. Problem, and then resolution. Abbot.

Getting things from other teams that didn't have resources -- planning, escalating, etc

What was a bad experience you had, and how did you learn from it?

When I was an assistant instructor/TD/render wrangler, the short we were creating really stretched the team and the technology. We had a premiere for family and friends. We didn't make it. It was really embarrassing for all involved. This taught me that even though focusing on quality is extremely critical, you always have to have something ready to show producers, customers, and the audience. you can cycle endlessly to get something even better than it was. But you need to be able to know when to call something done so you can meet deadlines.

What motivates you?

I like to drink the kool-aid. Being part of a vision that I believe in. Working for an organization that cares about quality. Being treated fairly as a valued employee - benefits, total compensation, work hours, etc.

What is your greatest weakness?

Perhaps too much of a perfectionist. Sometimes I need the advice of others on when to stop.

What is your greatest strength?

I like to blend together art and science. With quality being at the top. For example, at Adobe I was focused on providing the user with a great experience in a product that met their needs. At my company, we were working to create a first class user experience and were making sure to bring the principals of animation to our app. Which gives a better experience.

Perhaps more importantly for the immediate future, I have the ability to quickly learn new technologies and ways of doing things. I'm not satisfied with the status quo and am constantly striving to make things better. I can quickly learn new technologies. Learned Objective-C, the language needed to make iPhone apps in 4 days. I have obviously been out of CG for a while. So I am now getting back into the technology and becoming versed in Python, Maya, and RenderMan. In a short time I should have a Maya plugin or two written.

Communicating and strategizing. A big piece of my Product Management job at Adobe was about communication and coordination between teams that spanned different geographies. Ottawa, India, San Jose California, China, Australia

What is your greatest accomplishment?

Raising a kid. But in a work setting:

LC ES3 strategy.

Delivering intersection tests for VisMockup

Helping make the relationship with SAP successful by doing development work that directly led to improving the way customers did business. Delivered code, and had minimal number of support cases -- must deliver quality, because if you don't, it will come back to bite you in the long run.

What do you do to motivate teams?

Get them excited about vision and strategy. In the effects world, get them excited about the story and characters. Communicate as early as possible, as often as possible. When making decisions that affect them, explain why I made a certain decision. Give people creative latitude to solve a problem. There is often more than one way to solve a problem.

How do you manage conflict?

No one likes conflict. I'm not a fan either. I am a "manage by walking around" kind of person. I will go see each of the parties individually to get their side of the story, then work to broker a compromise.

Two teams -- one ATD….another DPA….digital production administrator…..

Questions I would like to ask them:

What position am I being considered for? Assistant TD?
How would you describe the responsibilities?
It this for a salaried position? or for a contract?
How do I get feedback on my performance? How often does it occur?
What is a typical career track? To TD? How long does it take? Is it time based, or performance based?
How long has the Vancouver office been open?
How many people work in the Vancouver office? How many are expected to work there?
Does the Vancouver office work on projects in isolation, or are they part of a larger team?
What do they focus on in Vancouve? film? commercials? games?
Why did Digital Domain have an IPO? To expand geographies? other? WHy? More business? Where will it come from?
What is the culture like?
What is a typical work-week like? How often do people go beyond 40-50hrs?
Kid? Daycare pickups? Etc? People work at home in the evenings? I imagine it is difficult given security concerns and the fact that assets are so large and the issue with software licenses.
When are they looking to fill the role/start date?
If I'm selected to go to the next step of the hiring process/more interviews, when would they occur?

Some in LA…..longest history of running both teams….assistant will set up times.
9:30 or 10am. Will do at least meetings
By next week will have an update
DPA on web?
Python, more technical. Having knowledge of 3rd party software, Maya, RenderMan, etc'
How do you solve problems? Front-line support?
DPA from a rendering standpoint.
ATD is the ones that artists will come to fix things
Other people's code -- ferreting out other problems, passing it on to next tier as appropriate
DPA is the most junior. ATD is more focused. A little more front end -- rigging, layout, etc.

Opened with Tronl. Took on backend. Awarded Thor. Did everything. 80 shots on Transformers to reduce costs. In the middle of Jack the Giant Killer -- all shot production. Would be on this one. 400 shots. Neighborhood Watch. Alien Invasion Comedy. All Vancouver. Another big show coming. The other two delivering in April and June.

250 people by the time the big one lands.

Hires project to project -- have to have work. Neighborhood Watch would open up some roles as well.
Work hard, play hard.
Paid hourly - if past 8 hour day.
Getting to crunch period. Will sprint to the end.
DPA runs in shifts -- 24hr coverage to keep renders going….new guy
ATD is a day shift
Would probably be a short amount of pain
Would work early or late
Trying to do better in Vancouver -- set an example for life balance…staff to a level for not having people all night
Standard 8 hr day….LA is 9.

Amandeep Kochar. Or wait until Monday. 10am


Want the Assistant Technical Director role.

Previsualized shots of the giants in-camera with the live action? Like Avatar? Was it done?
Performance capture used? To what extent?
What would be my exact responsibilities in either position?

I have experience in creating plugins for software -- Adobe Acrobat/Reader, VisMockup. Very familiar with how it is done, though have not done it for Maya.
Am comfortable with how it is done. I just haven't done it for Maya yet.

Awesome!!  Well with your experience, I’m sure they’re just mainly checking to see if you have two arms, two legs, and a head.  Let them know you’re a go-getter, emphasize the work you’ve done previously, show them that you’re a problem-solver, and make sure to demonstrate that you know how to pick apart a problem, get the information, and then devise a solution.

And if a production person asks you to do something sub-optimal, that you will make sure they are aware of the cost implications of that.  Also, that if there are potential problems, you let production know sooner rather than later; they appreciate the truth up front, same as you do. :)  Yeah just be a good guy and show that you know how to talk to people in addition to being a skilled technical guy; people who can wear both hats are the hardest to come by.


Pipeline development and support. What exactly would that be? Maya plugins? Scripting/tools developed to make Maya better suit the artists? Digital Asset Management type things to ensure artists are getting the versions of things that they need?
Focus on modelling? Riggering? Shading? Lighting? Animation? Simulations? Cloth? Hair/Fur? Environment?
What is typical career path?
How fast does someone move up to TD? Is it done via displayed talent and work ethic?
What is the culture like? How does it change as crunch time comes into play?
How many ATDs are there on the show? TDs?
is it Maya? Houdini? Nuke?

Culture…what is it? email? voicemail? walking around? phone?
What would a day be like? meetings? waiting for support requests?
When is it considered to move to a new/increased role + responsibilities
Pay? What does a TD make? Can it be increased? How do the contracts work/how often is pay adjusted?
Health insurance extra? Wife + kid? Do I get additional insurance?
Schedule around Christmas? Are people working? If yes, what are the shutdown days? Monday the 26th and Monday the 2nd?

Claude -- animation team…
Start on Monday
Expeteded end date - March 25th. Delivers in mid-April. Perhaps an extension based on need. I will be on front end of pipeline
Contract position - project employee
Pay 4% as vacation pay - straight and overtime
9-10 BC statutory holidays -- Christmas - 23rd and 26th + 27th. Also the 2nd of Jan
Get on BC coverage…..HR manager will help cover cost. $60/mo. For a family is $120/mo. Maybe addition for children. Laurie will help
Most employees are projects. After been there for 12 months, then on extended enefits -- medical, dental, prescription
Hourly + overtime. Standard work day is 9-6 is unpaid for lunch. Overtime starts after that. Unless I've ben asked, need approval to get paid for it/to work it. 9th and 10th hr is straight time. After 10 is 1.5. After 12hrs is double time. Sat+Sun, is 1.5 time 12hrs it was double.
Range is $20-$25/hr
Approved for max at $25/hr -- $52000
2013……another project coming. Skill set something. Claude supervisor of front-end pipeline. He would recommend me. Based on roles, etc.
200 people level.
Two people
Not in school, so will move quick
pipeline TD "nirvana for TD's" covers all needs, between shows, long-term arrival, etc.
Shader writing would be a show-based need.
Talk to Karen as I find the right thing -- Claude too -- since he supervises team.
Talk to Karen in Jan/Feb. If feeling itchy and someone hasn't heard
$40's hourly "eventually" Range is completion
Some time in the $30's.
Some time in the $50's eventuallys
Someone here that things they are senior aren't senior by LA standards. Pay is roughly the same here, but at the same time things are more there. Some inflation due to market situations…sony throwing cash at people
Accept terms of agreement. Then formal offer letter will be mailed.

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