There are many ways to measure success in the creative industry. For many studios, the top priority is either meeting deadlines or the bottom line. But for Reel FX, success is defined by how well they invest in their artists and culture. Supporting their artists’ professional development is an important part of what’s helped Reel FX quickly grow from a small, Dallas-based boutique into a major studio, producing award-winning animated features like “The Book of Life.” Along the way, Pluralsight’s creative training has been part of the Reel FX success story.
Culture supporting learning.
Managing artists’ professional growth means empowering them with opportunities and tools for improving their skills and knowledge. But it also means having a company culture that values and supports learning. Reel FX’s culture builds upon both of these ideas. It’s something lighting and compositing artist, Kelsey Craig, deeply values. “I love it here. I really love it. The studio will feed hungry artists and make sure there’s an opportunity to grow. They will sit and talk with me if I’m feeling stuck or if I feel like my growth is stunted. Reel FX is just a really cool, supportive group of people that want each other to grow as much as they want to grow themselves.”
At Reel FX, the value of learning is also evident within managerial and lead positions. Lighting supervisor, Liz Hemme, understands its benefits. She often allots time at work for her artists to train because it’s essential to keeping their skills sharp. “I think training is part of the job,” she explains, “and some of our artists are learning both inside and outside of work. It’s a competitive field, so people are always trying to get up to speed, to go further with the technology.”
Another Reel FX employee who appreciates the importance of keeping her skills current is senior surfacing artist, Sara Behrnes. For her, having a wide range of technical perspectives helps her troubleshoot problems more effectively. “Whenever I have down time, I jump back on Pluralsight and see what new tutorials they have. I feel like I’m staying ahead of the technology game. It’s amazing how much you can learn by watching different artists tackle the same problem. Pluralsight provides a good array of professionals using the same tools in such different ways that it makes me really well rounded.”
Studos like Reel FX often encounter major changes in personnel during times of growth or when moving from one project to the other. As Hemme recalls, this was the situation Reel FX found itself in when retooling their pipeline for "The Book of Life": “Early on, we were using Pluralsight because we were having to learn new software. We did a lot of troubleshooting with being efficient with our lighting. It was new technology for the whole team, so everybody really needed a good understanding. Essentially, we used Pluralsight tutorials to help establish a new pipeline for lighting.”
Learning new software for "The Book of Life" wasn’t just limited to Reel FX’s lighting department, but cut across the entire pipeline. Behrnes recalls how Pluralsight’s training helped her learn a variety of new technical software. “We went from using Maya to using Houdini and from using RenderMan to using Mantra. We also added MARI as part of our pipeline. I don’t know what I would have done without Pluralsight at that time because MARI is a tough program to just pick up and start using.”
For most studios, retooling a pipeline is common occurrence. Each project has its own unique challenges, stylistic approaches and software needs. That’s where access to fast and effective training can help. “I’ve been at Reel FX for four-and-half years, and we’ve changed pipelines three times,” Behrnes states, “Each time we’ve relied heavily on Pluralsight to enable us to continue to produce great work.”
Fast and flexible training.
Training for new pipelines and projects at Reel FX needs to be quick. Downtimes can be short and learning opportunities hard to come by. “We need to be able to train artists quickly,” Hemme explains, “We try to have about one or two weeks of training when people come on. We need to get them up to speed with their skills because our schedule is so tight.” Pluralsight training provides not only fast, effective introductions to creative software, but its flexibility allows artists to learn anytime, anywhere and on any mobile device.
When downtimes are longer, online training provides staff artists with valuable learning opportunities. For Craig these opportunities are important for her professional growth. “Right now we’re in between projects. I have some time to brush up on my skills, so I’ve been all over Pluralsight trying to learn about different techniques. I even look for tutorials that can improve what I already know. Maybe I can help save render times or make it slightly more efficient.”
Behrnes takes a similar approach: “My first reaction to learning with Pluralsight was that I was excited to have a great resource for training. Training is the most important element of our jobs that helps ensure that we are all working efficiently and consistently on our projects.”
The efficiency that online training gives Reel FX artists like Craig and Behrnes becomes investments in their own skills. But it also becomes an investment in Reel FX itself, helping grow the studio’s quality and output. This is why Reel FX’s culture values education. “Take our compositing lead for example,” explains Hemme, “I can’t tell you how many times he looks online to Pluralsight to see what other people are doing. In this industry, there’s so much information that can be shared. The more access we have to that type of information, the better.”
Learning supporting culture.
Reel FX’s culture strongly supports learning, but learning also supports its culture. “People love working here,” Hemme explains, “For me as a supervisor, it’s really important that the team is happy and takes pride in being part of the studio.” For Hemme, a major part of employee pride comes from learning and growing as an artist. “That’s where training comes in,” she explains, “People want to feel like that they’re a big part of Reel FX’s success. And if an employee feels like they are up to speed on the technology we’re using, can troubleshoot on their own, can really understand how their lighting is shot and take it from start to finish on their own, it gives them a great deal more sense of pride for the film they’re working on.”
It’s this sense of autonomy and personal responsibility that makes artists feel empowered and affirmed by their studio. This in turn helps create a strong culture. “We also have small classes given by team members with specific skills, but mostly we do our training on our own, at our desks and mostly using Pluralsight,” explains Behrnes, “It makes me feel very good that Reel FX provides us with such a great tool for growth and development.”
Investments in effective training and creating ownership also helps retention by motivating studios to keep talented artists like Behrnes. Hemme explains: “At Reel FX I feel like we do a really great job of training our artists to understand what they’re doing and really like their shots. They have a greater sense of ownership. That’s why we try to keep our employees here. If they were to go to another studio, they’re going to be such a valuable asset because they know what they’re doing. So we try to keep people here as much as possible because I think we really do a good job at training them.”
ReelFX at a glance:
- Reel FX is a digital studio that develops and produces award-winning animated films, short form content and virtual reality experiences.
- The company was founded in 1993.
- The Book of Life has received several nominations, including Best Animated Feature Nominations from the Golden Globe's, Critics’ Choice Awards, Producers Guild Awards and Annie Awards.