Peter Ocampo, 3D Technical Director
Hello! My role at Double Negative is as a 3D Technical Director, that’s quite a broad job description and at Dneg you can turn your hand to lots of different things. Peter’s recent work includes Exodus, Thor: The Dark World and Jupiter Ascending.
Funnily enough I’m not very technical, so I tend to gravitate more towards the tasks that don’t require so much computing knowledge, things like texturing, modelling and lighting. At Double Negative people tend to be generalists, and I’ll normally work on a film from the start, through to delivery, adapting what I do as we progress from building assets through to producing finished shots.
How did you get into the business?
Luck! I was invited to a networking event towards the end of my degree, and despite whimpering in the corner for most of it managed to get my showreel seen by one of the VFX supervisors at Double Negative, that led to an interview and I was eventually hired.
Is there anything you wish you had done before you joined the industry which would have better prepared you for your career in VFX for Film?
Not really, get stuck in!
Is there any advice you would give to someone coming into the business?
I think moving from education into a professional environment is daunting in any industry, and I remember being intimidated by the standard of work at least in the first couple of years. Being humble and learning from others can help ease the transition and is something I should probably have done more of and something I should be continuing to do! It is also necessary to keep in mind that your work will be used by other people, and to see it as something that slots into a pipeline rather than existing to its own end.
Any other comments you would like to make as potential Careers Advice?
I would encourage anyone to become knowledgeable about anything outside of work that interests them. Sometimes we work on quite varied subject matter and you never really know where you will get the opportunity to apply your knowledge about pretty much anything. As a rather obscure example I was once asked to paint some cliffs for Harry Potter around a time I was visiting Snowdonia quite regularly, I think having that extra curricular experience helped! Anything that helps you understand your craft and art better is worth doing, as is anything that gives you a new perspective or appreciation of the world around you.
Doing things to the high standard required is one thing, but in a job that can be quite labour intensive it is important that you are able to devise ways of doing tasks efficiently and not waste time overworking things. There is definitely such a thing in this line of work of doing things too well, judging where to put the effort and where it probably isn’t necessary is a good skill to develop. I think being able to do things quickly and not just well is important (especially towards a deadline) and more likely to make an impression.
What natural skills do you think lend themselves to doing your job?
I’m detail orientated and can be quite meticulous when I want to be, which are helpful attributes when you’re working on a devilishly complex Parisian facade!
Is there any particular training / courses you’d recommend?
The course I studied at Bournemouth University set me up well, I was somewhat surprised to see that the tools we were using at university were the same as those used here! I think the strength of the course lay in that it gave you a good grounding in all the disciplines. Even if you aren’t proficient in everything from programming to modelling, an awareness of the pipeline will help you make sense of what is being asked of you day to day.
What’s the worst and best thing about your job?
Being able to work to a high standard on such a high profile product. The variety though keeps things interesting, you are never doing quite the same things to quite the same specifications and that helps keep things fresh. Working in London is a huge draw, we have world class collections of art and culture that we can visit in our lunch hours, and access to some great schools and resources.
The worst thing is having your work accountable to so many people who have an opinion! Lots of people here emphasise the importance of problem solving skills, I hate problem solving and fighting with the software is a major peeve.
You initially wanted to work in games, what attracted you to that and, now you are in VFX, why have you stayed?
I wanted to work in games initially because I felt that working in films was for people who were more technically orientated. At the time of choosing a career I was doing a lot of artwork and designing and could see more clearly how those skills might be applied in games. I would say that while I don’t use those skills in my day to day work life, working in film surprised me in that there were aspects of the job that I found engaged me creatively and that I enjoyed, and they weren’t things that would have necessarily attracted me on paper. I’m still not very technical and I’m still much more drawn to the artistic side of VFX, and the company seem to be content with that.
I think the main reason I’ve stayed is that we are working on big movies to demanding specifications that force you to further your craft. It’s easy to become jaded when you’re working weekends and staying late but seeing the standard of work the company produces can go some way to getting you motivated again. I think looking back I’m very happy to have worked on some of the projects I’ve had the chance to work on here and that’s important to me.
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Thanks to everyone for a great selection of questions for Peter. Here’s his answers!
From Lucy Crewe: What did your showreel/portfolio contain that won you the job?
I think it was the high level of detail and the level of finish. If you have an idea of what discipline you want to focus on in your career push that skill to the highest level you can and exhibit it in your showreel, many people spread themselves across all the disciplines too much to try and make a well rounded short film. Thinking back to when I was planning my final project I had a good idea of my strengths and I played to them, and made sure I wasn’t wasting precious time on tasks that I probably wouldn’t be doing in my future career.
From Andy Lawrence: Looking back at when you applied, is there anything you have learnt from your time at Dneg that you feel would have come in handy during the application process?
I would encourage applicants to work hard on their showreel, and even then just concentrate on a few impressive pieces. A large company sifting through many applicants isn’t going to take the time to read your life story and give you a job based on how enthusiastic about film you say you are, use those opening moments on your showreel to sell yourself and make yourself stand out, harsh as it sounds it’s all you’re being judged on in the initial stages.
From James Dower: What would be your advice to a graduate with no previous experience? Is doing unpaid work experience for other companies worth it for some extra points when applying?
I don’t really have the experience to advise you on this, but I find the trend for working for free worrying and think it casts the employers involved in a very dim light. Ask yourself what you will be gaining from doing a free placement, if you’re going to be doing very menial tasks that are irrelevant to your profession I can’t see that helping you, and ask yourself how invested that company really is in your career progression or if they’re taking advantage of your eagerness. A short placement at a relevant company can help show your dedication to the industry to future employers and give you a bit of extra knowledge about how the industry works but I think doing such a placement for a long time is unsustainable. If you live in London and work for free you will be doing so at a financial cost to yourself, so I would consider spending a bit more cash to do a course to learn some concrete skills that will be directly applicable to working in VFX. Honing and then demonstrating proficiency with relevant tools will get you further than being someone’s unpaid dogsbody for a few months.
From Bruno Figueiredo: Hello Peter, how important do you find differentiated perspectives within the work you do and its growth. Do you ‘collect’ different visions from other departments or industries (no matter which ones) and try to bring in these perspectives (maybe even workflow assets) into the daily work you do as a lighting TD? Thank you
Different perspectives are very important, I don’t know if I “collect” them as such but you do become aware of the different ways in which people tackle problems. If you’re open to new ideas you can learn a lot and keep your approach fresh. There can be a collaborative aspect to lots of work here which means you have to consider different solutions, and if these work out better than what you’ve come up with you try and make an effort to incorporate it into your working methods. I think in general openness to new points of view is something worth cultivating.
From Paul McKenna: If you had to choose, would you say that hands on set lighting experiences or computer based skills are more important? Could you get this job with a lot of experience in one and not a lot in the other?
Computer based skills are definitely more important. I’m just guessing here but I doubt many of the lighters here have much on set lighting experience – I could be wrong! I certainly don’t have any and it’s your proficiency with the software that will help you get in the door. That’s not to say that on set lighting experience isn’t extremely valuable, I had to learn many lighting principles on the fly without any prior knowledge and that sort of real world experience will stop you feeling like you’re just winging it!
From Kristof Kiraly: What are your main sources of inspiration for work?
This depends largely on the film, some films have great art direction and ideas behind them, and those are definitely more fun to work on. Other times you have to work harder with your material to find some way to make something mundane into something visually exciting. Those times you’re trying to find inspiration within the confines of the film. In general though seeing the work other people do within the company is a good way to get inspired, both artistically and in terms of furthering your skills.
Brian Tran: Hi Peter – Having worked on several films, how much change has there been in your workflow from project to project? As a TD did you generally have to create lots of new tools for each new film, or has it usually been tweaking previous tools and spending most of the time lighting shots? Continuing from that, what’s a tool you’ve worked on that you feel has been the most beneficial in the pipeline, or what shot was the most difficult to light? Thanks.
The definition of technical director is quite broad in this company, and I wouldn’t say I qualify as a technical person, There are many people here who could give you a better answer with regards to tool creation. From film to film you always have to adjust your workflow slightly as the tools change, each year it’s normal to find yourself having to learn some aspect of the toolset again. The demands of each film are also different, I’ve had whole films where I’ve not lit a single shot.
The most difficult shots I’ve ever had to light were helicopters on The Green Zone, fitting something into a plate in that way is probably the purest lighting work you can do here, and there was a challenge of balancing a high level of realism with something that looked good.
From Bruno Figueiredo: What brought you to vfx and film Peter? Were you simply always passionate about what you did or did you “accidentally” fall on Dneg’s lap? :-)
It’s something I fell into, after university I assumed I would go into games, but this opportunity came up and I thought why not? I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about film specifically, but when I left university I was passionate about 3D and was looking for the best environment in which to improve.