The purpose of this article is to give some tips to artists after they’ve got their first international gig booked. Especially for those who are planning to relocate from another country. Doing that myself years ago, I know it's not easy and I wish I knew some things before I moved.
My knowledge is based on Canadian realities but it applies to 90% of the VFX opportunities around the world.
After I got my confirmation letter from the VFX company in 2012 and got my work visa approved it was time to pack my bags, buy a ticket to Vancouver and go.
Depending on what part of the world you are from you might need an additional visa to enter the country of your destination (that was my case), or have a medical exam prior or certificate to prove you are speaking the native language to an adequate level. Any of those questions could be answered by your local embassy.
By now you probably already know the terms of your contract, but you should always clarify with the studio if they provide accommodation on your arrival and if yes, for how long. You should also ask if the studio will pay or reimburse you for the flight ticket. This is usually all bundled together as "Relocation" Cost/Allowance.
Some studios will just pay you a certain amount on your first or second week, to cover the cost of the hotel or AirBnb for 1 or 2 weeks. So it's worth knowing that amount before you book anything to avoid paying more than you will get back. If the studio can organize this accommodation for you it's usually better as the hotel is usually closer to the office and more expensive than you would probably book yourself.
For a junior artist however, it's not very common for a studio to offer very much in this regard, so just be prepared to pay out of pocket for any moving you might have to do.
Once you land, you'll need to start looking for your own place to live as you will only have 1 or 2 weeks until you have to pay for yourself. I strongly suggest to get familiar with the market before arriving and maybe even book some viewings before you arrive because two weeks will fly by super fast. You don't want to end up up like I did, paying for an additional week in the hotel from my own pocket because I just wasn’t paying attention.
In Canada, the rental move-in and move-out days start on the 1st or 15th of the month. Some cities like Montreal have a bit different rules. It's worth knowing that and checking beforehand. Another point to know is that some countries have different things included in the rental. In Canada, the fridge, drier and washing machine all come with the rental, but in Australia this is not the case.
Most of the time in Canada you can check vacancies on Craigslist or Padmapper. If you're unsure of where to look for rentals, just ask your studio, you might be surprised how helpful and friendly VFX people are! There may even be someone working in the studio who has a room spare.
Sometimes it's also useful to know how much life will cost where you are moving. Countries and cities are all different and sometimes food will be very cheap, like in Singapore, but rent is expensive, or it might be the other way around. Check out the website, Expatistan, for comparisons on living costs. Here below I have searched the living cost comparison of Vancouver and Singapore.
As you can see, Food and Personal care in Vancouver are more expensive than Singapore but the other categories are cheaper. This is just an overview too, you can click on each of these sections to find out more information and get a better breakdown. This is useful because the Housing section will give you more details on the cost of apartment living in the inner city versus the outer suburbs, etc.
This is a great tool for understanding what to expect when moving to a new city. And once you're a mid-level or senior-level artist, you can use this website as a guide to understand what your equivalent Salary might be in another city/country.
One thing I totally forgot on my first contract and didn’t check until my second or third week in was healthcare coverage. Most provinces in Canada require you to get a resident status before you can apply for a basic government health plan but the US, for instance, has a completely different approach so once again, double check with your HR personnel.
Usually it takes 3 months to get health coverage. After the 3 months period some companies will participate or offer you some kind of plan. Usually it happens on long contracts like a year long, so you may not get the offer if your gig is only 3-6 months to start.
With that being said, basic basic travel insurance can be extended to 3-6 or whatever your contract length is and that will do just fine.
On your first date you will need to show up to the office usually an hour later than the normal start of the work day. This is to give everything some time to get sorted before new hires arrive.
Even though you're starting later than normal, you should aim to arrive on time for a normal work day. This will give you some experience on how long it might take to get to the studio that week and will also give you some time to find the front door to the studio. VFX Studios don't stand out like a Mac Store, most studios don't like to promote themselves too much on the street so their entrances can be tricky to find! Once you find the front door, you can go for a walk to fill in the remaining time and come back with 10 minutes to spare. The energy and excitement of the first day in a studio is high, so a walk will help you to keep calm.
Most likely there will be other new-starters arriving and most of the day will be taken up by filling in HR papers, obtaining some form of a Social Security card, open a bank account and so on. Depending on the company, you and may have an introduction to the pipeline and tools for your discipline. From my knowledge smaller companies will have a Wiki page set up with articles or videos. Bigger studios may have proper training sessions for new starters.
Some companies reserve a week or two for new starters to get familiar with the work, others may have only a day or two before you start doing actual work on the show you were hired to work on. You can always ask your HR contact what your specific situation is. Don't be stressed about it though, there is always a lot of support.
It is very common to assign you a “buddy” for the first period of time. This is the person who will help you directly and will be your point of contact about stuff like “how do I set up my shot?”, “where is the time tracking page?”. They will also gladly help you with suggestions about local restaurants or cafes where you can grab a bite at lunch. Often during your first week, the whole team will go out to a group lunch to welcome you!
Most likely your Head of the department or discipline supervisor will introduce you to the room you are going to sit, but if not, don’t be shy, introduce yourself to the people around you throughout the days.
There are two main approaches to the company structure, either a Show-based structure or Department-based.
Department-based means you are surrounded by people from the same discipline who are working on different projects within the department. I.e. all the matte painters sit in the same area, but you might be working on different projects.
In a Show-based structure, you could have a compositor to your left and a modeler on your right, but you're all working on the same project. This is less common, and you will still have plenty of support by others in your role, but this allows you to potentially work more closely with the compositor and modeller or lighter working on the same shot as you are.
Don’t forget that all companies have their own tools and extensions created for the software you are using every day. Even Photoshop most likely will have an additional panel to help you set up your projects, export passes, etc.
As a junior artist, you will be helping out mid and senior members of the crew with repetitive tasks. My first “big movie” gig had a very generic task; for 3 months our DMP team was cutting out trees and replacing one type of the foliage for another. So don’t expect to be doing epic establishing vista's from day one. You are new to the industry and it will take some time to gain the trust of your supervisor or lead before you are given such a big assignment. And trust me - it’s better that way, unless you are really big fan of the stressful situations and want to spend a lot of hours in the office without paid overtime! ;)
Also, be aware that most companies have a rigid pipeline you have to work within. This means even if you have a better knowledge of some specific software or tool for your task, if it is not in the official pipeline - you won't be able to use it.
It will be pretty stressful to relocate to another country and start a brand new job in a new company but it's also very exciting and rewarding! Hopefully this article has brought your attention to the main points of the journey, but remember you may encounter different obstacles. The main point is to do as much research and ask as many questions as possible. In fact, if you have any right now - join our Discord server and we will be happy to help!