From AUB to our Bournemouth studio and then a dream transfer to Montreal, Niamh breaks down her VFX journey so far
Can you start by telling me how you got into visual effects?
As a kid I often found the bonus features more exciting than the actual film so watching the behind the scenes and making-ofs were a big influence. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean were the big players in my decision to pursue it further so I took VFX Design and Production at Arts University Bournemouth and now here I am!
Did you always want to get into film and TV or did you have earlier aspirations?
No I was pretty late in making that decision, I wanted to do everything from architecture to journalism to psychology to professional sports growing up. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades so it was tough picking one and sticking to it.
What brought you to Outpost?
They developed strong ties with AUB at the time I was studying so I took the opportunity for experience alongside studying. It also gave me an excellent excuse to stay by the beach during summer break.
Has Outpost given you much opportunity to develop as an artist?
Yeah so much! I worked my way up through the entry level roles in 2D while studying and since becoming a comper and moving out to Montreal I’ve developed a lot. I’ve had very strong mentorship throughout and still do, for which I am very grateful.
What would you say the culture is like at Outpost for an artist?
Healthy is the first word that springs to mind – you hear horror stories through the industry grapevine of terrible hours/treatment and Outpost just isn’t that. Artists are highly valued, equally so to the rest of the company and are very often celebrated. The teams are very close knit and we have fun, for sure.
You were originally based in our Bournemouth studio but transferred to Montreal. How did that come about?
Canada was a goal of mine for a long time. I was fortunate that the industry is so prevalent out here and I must have banged on about it enough that Ian [Fellows, Learning & Development Manager] mentioned it to Gez [Hixson, COO] who made it happen (ridiculously quickly I might add)!
How have you adapted to living in Canada?
Alright I guess, once you get over the excessive use of ‘z’s in words and lack of ‘u’s it's not too bad. I still convert everything back to pounds and get my parents to send over tea bags but I’ve tried to get stuck into the lifestyle as much as possible. I snowboard in winter to deal with the cold and can definitely eat my bodyweight in poutine. Learning the questions they ask at checkout in French helps a lot, too!
Which project has brought you the most joy to work on? Do you have a favourite shot that you’ve been a part of?
The Alienist was a big one for me – it was my first show where I was a ‘proper’ comper and I really got to know the team in Montreal. It pushed me out of my shell and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. The prison sequences were ace; the large cg interiors with lots of god-rays are pretty satisfying to see in the final shots.
How have you adapted the way you work over the last year during the pandemic?
My working ‘style’ hasn’t changed much, I stick to the same hours and work through shots in the same way. I actually talk with my team more now than I would in the office as my noise cancelling headphone induced ‘zone’ no longer exists and we catch up way more often. My commute is obviously a lot shorter and I definitely miss that time before and after work to clear my mind so I try and get out when I can. I also have a dedicated work area where I can purposely unplug and walk away from, to try and keep that separation.
Any tips for a great home office environment?
Trying to keep the separation is a biggy, stick to your hours where possible, take lunch away from your desk, have a dedicated zone of work in your place to physically leave behind at the end of the day. Get up often, you get stiff and grumpy otherwise. Good music, plants and sunlight equals happiness – get as much of these as possible.
Any inside secrets you’d like to share with anyone hoping to become a compositor?
We definitely create the coolest stuff. Seeing your work on screen and your name in the credits never gets old. Hotkeys are your best friend. Patience is a virtue. Stick a blur on it, gamma down 0.9.
Finally, some quickfire questions:
What’s the one thing you always keep on your desk?
A photo of friends and family.
You can eat one thing for the rest of your life – what is it?
If I can have a meal then a roast dinner, if not cookies.
What would be your superpower?
I’d like to speak all languages but in reality, it’d probably be something super lame.
You’ve got a couple of hours to kill – what do you watch?
What are you currently learning?
Quebec life. Also doing a course on leadership styles.
Not with me currently, my parents have a white cat called Albus back home though.
Favourite way to relax?
In the sun or a bath with a book, depending on the season.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Currently, home would be nice. Generally, New Zealand or Australia.
Dog-earing pages, bad manners, gross mouth noises.
80s films/music, terrible dancing, quizzes.
This question stresses me out too much.
Last present you bought yourself?
A signed copy of a book by one of my favourite authors (this is more exciting than it sounds I promise).
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