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Industrial Light and Magic Pro Shares Top Tips With NUA VFX Students

You’ll see Josh Parks’ digital wizardry in a red planet dust-storm in The Martian, hidden Easter eggs in Spielberg’s new movie Ready Player One, even whip marks in the cinematic version of Fifty Shades of Grey. But this week Josh took time out from his work as a Compositor at the world-famous Industrial Light and Magic studio to give a four-day masterclass to BA (Hons) VFX students at Norwich University of the Arts.  He spoke to NUA at the end of a productive week.

” NUA stands out as the place to be if you want to hear from people in the industry who are working on some of the biggest movies.”

Josh Parks, Industrial Light and Magic

NUA: How did you find yourself working in the visual effects industry?

Josh: I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was at school – but I’ve always really enjoyed art and photography and loved Photoshop. I always enjoyed trying to understand how things worked. You know the magic shop in Covent Garden where they show you tricks and then how they did it? I love that! I did some work experience as a designer, then someone suggested 3D visual effects and I started creating stop motion animations. I just fell for VFX. It’s the perfect balance for creative people who are a bit techy. I just love the magic of it.

At university we were visited by someone from the Moving Picture Company (MPC) – one of the big names in VFX – and they told us about a summer internship scheme. I applied and got down to the final five, then the final two … but didn’t get it. I then heard about a fast-track compositing scheme where there were two places every year. I really wanted one of those! So, every two to three months, I’d email them my work and ask for feedback. When I got their feedback, I’d work on it and send it back. When the places came up, I could say: “I’m ready to work for you – I’ve been learning and following what you’ve said.”

NUA: That sound like persistence rather than luck …

Josh: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I guess it’s persistence; it’s grit. But this is a very competitive industry.

NUA: So, tell us about your movie work?

Josh: It’s ranged from adding whip marks in Fifty Shades of Grey to creating 3D particles in a Martian storm for The Martian. The visual effects on that movie were Oscar nominated; although it didn’t win. I did get to go to the London Oscar party though! So, then I’ve worked on Wonder Woman, The Jungle Book, Transformers and now Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. He’s great and really open to letting us add little touches – Easter eggs – that people will find through the movie. Some of these you’ll only see if you look at a single frame.

NUA: What can you say about your experience with the students here?

Josh: NUA students are incredibly open and optimistic – keen to learn everything they can. Having worked with them from their first year to third year, I’m also really proud of them – and I feel like I’ve been able to contribute to the course. When you come here as a visiting speaker, you know that Saint [the Course Leader] trusts you to help the students out. And that’s part of what’s really different about NUA: the quality of the visiting speakers who come here. There are VFX supervisors that come to NUA that I’d love to come and listen to! NUA really stands out as the place to be if you want to hear from people in the industry who are working on some of the biggest movies.

NUA: Is there any career advice that you’d give to students – any tips?

Josh: Find every tutorial you can find and finish it. Find people who are making a living in the industry and ask them how they did it. Have a digital presence and post your work on forums for people to see and comment on. Not everyone wants to do it –  but you need to do it if you’re going to learn. Work hard – it’ll work out if you really want it.

Learn more about compositing and Josh’s practical tips.

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