A computer science grad to an Oscar winning visual effects company - Lucy's Career Story.

Lucy's Career Story

Lucy's Career Story.


If you’d have told me when I was 14 that I would go on to work at an Oscar winning visual effects company, responsible for the imagery of some of the biggest titles of the modern day film industry, I would have never believed you. To a shy and insecure teen, a career like this was nothing but a fantasy; though believe me, the imposter syndrome is very much still real.

I always knew I wanted to go into a creative career. The list of directions I wanted to pursue were endless; a traditional artist, a hairdresser, an art teacher, a fashion designer, a photographer, a website designer, a graphic designer, it goes on and on. As a child, you could always find me sitting cross legged in the living room doodling worlds and characters onto scrap pieces of paper, burning through sheets at a rate of knots. As I grew older, I discovered another means to channel my creativity: through technology.

I was gifted my first wacom tablet at around 12 years old and with it came Photoshop Elements, the key which unlocked a whole new adventure in my creative pursuits. Not only was I engrossed in illustration, trying to make my own 2D graphics led me to discover the coolness of website design and I got my very first taste of computer programming.

It wasn't until around 2011 when I was 15 that I found my true passion in film; the perfect fit of everything I love. The death of a family member put me a bad place and I ended up turning to the animated movies that I’d previously tucked away, collecting dust, thinking that I was ‘too old’ to enjoy them. They gave me warmth and offered me comfort and brought back a strong sense of childhood nostalgia. In these moments, I realised that I wanted to be able to give other people the consolation that those films brought me. I wanted to be part of the movie making process in whatever way I could.

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Bouncing back to reality, school education was in full swing and the ominous question of what I wanted to study at university started to loom. How on earth was I going to decide that? I’ve always felt like my brain was wired in two separate parts: the artistic, surreal side and the mathematical, logical side. These two sides were always fighting against each other to take precedence. At school, I always performed the highest in both art and maths.

My parents, being quite traditional and neither being artistic, encouraged me to pursue a degree in Computer Science since I was good at maths and liked working with technology. I will admit, it wasn’t my first choice as my heart was set into going down the arts degree path. Aside from my stint into web coding, I had next to no knowledge of what it meant to be a programmer but as I explored the contents of subject, I became more and more interested. I wasn’t sure if that meant my film dreams would be crushed but still I kept up the hope.

As much as I want to promote the rise in females trying out programming, I want to be honest and say that I had a love/hate relationship with my degree. I did not naturally click with concepts in my courses and it took me a long time to grasp even the very basics of coding. There was also this mental pressure that I wrestled with throughout my degree; I kept thinking that I wasn’t good enough to be there and I wasn’t as smart as my peers.

 

How can I be good at programming and maths if I’ve always seen myself, and been perceived by others, as an artist? People always gave me the impression that you just can’t be good at both so I struggled with this internal conflict of not knowing where I fit in. I’d had many times where I would break down and truly believe that I wasn’t meant to be there. The weights I carried throughout the course of my university experience all came crashing down when results day finally hit: I got a first-class honours. All the tears and all the stress yet all the successes and hurdles I overcame truly shaped me as a person. It taught me how important it is to believe in yourself and persevere in your worst moments. I would never in a million years go back and make a different choice on what degree to choose.

Not many people know that pursuing animation and visual effects is a viable career path. Especially for someone coming from a computing background. Most people see these brilliant, fictional computer generated worlds on their screens as places out of reach rather than crafted by hundreds of talented hands who are still very much normal people. My entry into the industry ended up seeming like the stars aligned at the right time; I was seeking an internship as part of my degree and my now-employer happened to have an availability on a project.

My role in the visual effects industry is within a department called Research and Development. It involves a lot of lines of code and knowledge about computer graphics which covers how image data can be translated into something meaningful. The effects you see in films are all made digitally, so it requires a whole lot of software support to make them look indistinguishable from real life. From the debris you see on streets to the fire from an intense explosion, nowadays it is all done via a computer which acts as the tool for creating incredible virtual worlds and characters.

In order to make the viewer feel immersed in the scene in front of them, the underlying simulations need an extent of physical accuracy; you need software developers to create these effects using their knowledge of maths and science concepts taken from real-world phenomena. The fun thing about visual effects is that it takes snippets of everything around us and translates them through the lens of a whole team of people, resulting in a moving art piece for everyone to enjoy.

Working in my industry has shown me the beautiful diversity of people and their abilities. A co-worker’s wife, who also has a background in computer science, is an incredible potter and he himself is an amazing portrait photographer. Another co-worker studied electrical engineering and she used to sell handmade jewellery in Paris. I don’t sweat anymore whether I fit into my own self-created mould of being the ‘artist’ or the ‘programmer’ and instead I embrace both sides. By day I work as a software developer and by night I am an illustrator. I love what I do and my aim is to constantly strive to show to people that both these skills can be used together in harmony to create beautiful things.


 
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Written by: Lucy.

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