For Animation & VFX alumni Steph Creek, drawing always came naturally. But making art and working in film was not the career she thought she would pursue until a couple of set tours at Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures. Introduced to the magic of cinema, Steph found herself inspired by those working in the industry and discovering a passion within film."I was like, 'Wow, this stuff is really cool, I'd really like to pursue it,'" she looks back. "It felt like a community where artists were nurtured, and you got to explore different areas."
"I always remember seeing the set of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. [As a kid] I had it on videotape and it had the special features at the end. I'd always speed through parts of the movie in order to get there quicker. It was pretty cool. A few years later, I actually met Aaron Sims who worked on that movie." she says.
Steph's career path has since seen her transition into film from the world of games. Currently Model and Texture Artist at award–winning visual effects company Method Studios (Game of Thrones, Wonder Woman 1984, Ford v Ferrari, Call of Duty Black Ops III) Steph is gearing up for her next venture later this year, as she jets off to London to become a Creature Artist for MPC—the Oscar–winning team behind The Lion King, The Jungle Book, Cruella and 1917 to name a few.
Now, Steph reflects on her time at Collarts and imparts some of the knowledge she's gleaned from working in the industry and her incredible journey to some of the world's most prestigious visual effects studios.
Deer made in ZBrush and rendered in Arnold.
Why did you choose to study animation and VFX?
I studied another [VFX] course before Collarts. It was a two-year course, but it was more of a generalised course. The good thing about Collarts is that it's completely specialised. If you want to focus on just one area, which is what I wanted to do, in digital modeling and sculpting, I could just focus on that area.
I feel like I tailored the course to what I wanted to do as well. I wanted the stuff that I was doing at Collarts to go in my portfolio. I knew someone who had a really polished portfolio because they spent time focusing on personal projects and getting the teachers to give feedback on those works. [My advice is to] get the coursework out of the way and submit it as soon as possible. And then you can just focus on the stuff that you want to do!
I had two teachers for digital modeling and sculpting who just supported me in that aspect and it made class a lot easier. I definitely kept communication as open with them as possible and was never afraid to ask questions.
Horse made in ZBrush and rendered in Arnold.
What are your tips on creating a great portfolio?
When I was studying, I definitely compared my work to the industry standard at that time, and I looked at what other students from other courses were putting on their portfolios.
For every new piece I put on my portfolio, I remove an old piece. It means that I'm keeping my quality bar to a level that is good for recruiters. I keep the pieces that gave me recognition in the industry. You never know who saw that piece two years ago. And then they could be like, "Oh, it's this person."
Get into a good practice of developing your own eye, whether that's getting feedback from your teachers at Uni or people in the industry that you can go to about your work and they will push you essentially. You want to make sure that it's someone that has a good eye, but you also want to make sure that it's someone that can give you the right kind of feedback.
"The industry can be really tough, but it can also be really rewarding. I've been through a lot of struggles, but one thing that kept me going is KNOWING that there's going to be some kind of payoff."
How important is networking and mentorship in this industry?
I think networking is a really great way to get mentors, but I also think going in with the mindset of making a friend in the industry. Don't think of it as I have to make an industry connection.
I found Instagram a really great way to connect with industry people without coming off as just trying to make a network connection. Gio Nakpil (Creative Director at Adobe) who I am really good friends with now, got me a freelance opportunity with Adobe. I remember he posted a picture of San Francisco on his story and I replied and we just got into a conversation about San Francisco, and we got into a conversation about our work because he started looking at my portfolio. We just slowly built up a friendship from there.
Once you make one industry friend, maybe they're friends with other people. It just makes the process a lot easier. I say to the Collarts students, "If you need help, if you need anything, message me, it's fine. I don't mind." So they already have an industry contact within the alumni, so they could be actively reaching out, which a few of them already have to me.
LinkedIn is also a great way for networking. When I posted my crocodile turntable, it went viral overnight. Industry experience is really important, but networking is in my mind just as important. I feel like it's 50/50. Working in the industry is what gets you jobs, but also networking is what gets you jobs. Those two things really compliment each other. And if you get both of them right, you'll probably end up in some really cool places.
What is your favourite thing about the Animation industry?
I love the work, but I also think it's the people. You make a lot of lifetime friendships. You get to travel the world if you want to, explore new things. I'm going to the UK at the end of the year. That's something that I never thought I'd be able to do, but something that I always wanted to do, and it's happening a lot sooner than I thought it would.
The industry can be really tough, but it can also be really rewarding. I've been through a lot of struggles, but one thing that kept me going is knowing that there's going to be some kind of payoff. I wasn't exactly sure at the time what that would be, but it definitely kept me motivated.
Made in ZBrush and rendered in Arnold.
What would you say is the most fulfilling part of having your passion as your job?
Bragging rights? [laughs] It's exciting to say that you get to work on films that millions of people are going to see. I'm really excited to be going to the UK because I'll get to work on hero assets, which are the main characters or creatures in film. It's exciting to be like, “I made that. I did that.” Not everyone gets to have that. I think we're very lucky in that regard, that we get to do something that we enjoy as a career.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I'm heading to London to be a Creature Artist on some really big films. MPC works with Disney and a lot of other big film companies as well. I don't really know what's going to happen from there, but I'm hoping that I could travel the world while working in the industry and see how things go.
I'd really like to work my way up. I'd like to be lead at some point. It feels kind of surreal that by the end of the year I'll be a senior in the industry. There's going to be a lot of big industry stuff happening with my work in terms of exposure. It's exciting times.
Made in ZBrush and rendered in Arnold.
Images provided by Stephanie Creek.