Working on Oscar-winning movies: USW graduate tells all

Rosie Walker_Ollie Hilbert.jpg

Rosie Walker (left) pictured with her DNEG colleague Ollie Hilbert

Rosie Walker, who graduated in BA (Hons) Visual Effects and Motion Graphics in 2012, has spoken about her work on the Oscar and BAFTA-winning blockbuster, Tenet.

The 32-year-old, who is originally from London and now lives in Canada, was part of the team at DNEG which produced visual effects (VFX) work on the film, which picked up the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the BAFTA for Special Visual Effects earlier this year.

Rosie, a former USW lecturer, is based at DNEG’s studios in Vancouver and lives with her husband Andrew and young son Ben. We caught up with her to ask about her work on Tenet and her career since graduating.

What got you interested in this subject and line of work?

I was obsessed with films like The Matrix and Jurassic Park when I was a teenager. I used to watch them over and over again, trying to understand how they created Bullet Time and the T-Rex. I didn’t have the luxury of YouTube and VFX breakdowns back then!

I had an art teacher who taught me about manipulating film photography by double exposing plates in the darkroom, and then eventually introduced me to an ancient Mac and Photoshop. I told my high school careers advisor that I wanted to work in animation, or visual effects, and she told me that ‘only boys’ did that, and perhaps I should work in Textiles instead. So naturally I decided I was absolutely going to do it!

You were a lecturer at USW. How did that come about?

During my time on the Visual Effects course at USW, I talked to my lecturers (then Jason Bevan and Chris Thomas) about joining them one day and teaching VFX, since I really enjoyed helping others. They were incredibly encouraging, and pointed me in the direction of a PGCE at Cardiff University. And in 2013, I eventually joined them as a part-time lecturer.

Was there a particular reason you moved to Canada? Was it a career move, or lifestyle, or both?

I met my husband when we were both working at BBC Wales in Cardiff, and we have both always wanted to live in Canada – particularly Vancouver. As soon as DNEG approached me about relocating us in 2018, we leapt for it and have never looked back. We love it here – we live in a house right by a regional forest and the beach, which is great for us and for Ben, our three-year-old son.

In terms of lifestyle, it’s a lot more relaxed. Having beaches and forests right on your doorstep for the summer, and mountains for snowboarding in the winter, is really good for leading a work-life balance. It’s also been invaluable to have space to escape to during the pandemic. Vancouver is also known for its amazing food, wine and beers! It’s a great place to explore and hang out with friends.

Does the industry offer opportunities across the world? 

The VFX industry definitely offers opportunities in Canada (Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto), India, America and Europe.

Is there a specific gender gap in the industry? Would you say you’re a role model for women in the sector?

There’s certainly still a way to go, but after almost 10 years, I can definitely see a positive change. I remember realising at some point in 2013 that there was only a couple of women in my team on any show. Now I see a lot more diversity. I also hear and am part of plenty of conversation and efforts to change this.

In my time with DNEG, we’ve done lots of work (and continue to do so!) to identify diversity gaps and close them. In Vancouver I’ve been lucky enough to work with organisations like Big Sisters, which teams up younger women with older ‘sisters’, to support them during their young adult years.

I’ve hosted talks or delivered sessions to help demystify VFX, and open it up as a career path, and worked with Science World Vancouver for the last three years, along with my colleagues. We’ve been putting on live motion capture demonstrations and sessions in VFX software like Houdini – again with the aim of showcasing STEM careers, and getting a young school-age audience excited.

As a society, we need to encourage the importance of creative and STEM subjects in schools, and support absolutely -everyone- from a young age in entering these industries.

It’s also incredibly helpful to explain possible roles or careers in the industry in a way that everyone understands, so paths can be illuminated. A list of role titles with no extra information on a careers webpage doesn’t help those trying to understand where their skills or interests and passions can fit in.

And most importantly… we need to change our own bias. If you’re reading this and thinking that you need to fit a certain gender or profile in order to join the VFX industry, then this is your sign to challenge yourself and pursue it regardless.

What would your advice be to someone who’s thinking of getting into the industry?

If you want to be part of an industry that allows you to create something everyday that didn’t exist yesterday, then this is for you. There is no better time than now to learn – YouTube is full of tutorials, and companies like Autodesk and The Foundry, SideFX, are giving away industry standard software for free to students.

Start today, and hopefully we’ll see you in a few years’ time!

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