How To Get Hired As A Compositor – Part 1: Set Powerful Goals

In this 8-part guide, I will take you through best practices for every step of the journey to getting hired as a compositor. ➜ Part 1 is about how to set realistic, tangible goals that will help lead you in the right direction…

How To Get Hired As A Compositor – Part 1: Set Powerful Goals

In this 8-part guide, I will take you through best practices for every step of the journey to getting hired as a compositor. ➜ Part 1 is about how to set realistic, tangible goals that will help lead you in the right direction.

Why You Should Set Goals

The first step in your job search should be to set goals for what you want to achieve. This is because goals affect behavioural change.

They encourage you to take action, they keep you focused, and they hold you accountable. They’re a way of challenging and pushing yourself to reach further, and can be very powerful when used in the right way.

It’s worth digging a little deeper into this process, rather than simply thinking ‘I want to get hired as a compositor’ and leaving it at that.

Let’s dive in.

What’s Your Vision For The Future

Setting realistic and productive goals starts with imagining your life ahead. What's your vision for the future? What do you want your life to look like two years, five years, or ten years from now?

Visualising your ideal future and figuring out what you truly want is sometimes half the battle. You have to be completely honest with yourself, and carefully consider what you want to plan and commit to achieve.

Think about what inspires you, and what your values are. Your goals should feel meaningful to you, otherwise your motivation to follow through is likely to wane. Visualise the bigger picture first, and get perspective on what’s important in your life.

💡 If you get stuck, follow your curiosity. It’s usually a great indicator for what you should be looking into.

Your goals should give you a clear sense of direction, represent something to aspire to, and help define your purpose. Setting goals puts you in the driver’s seat of your existence because you actively acknowledge what you want out of life and start to take control of your future.

– So, it's time to brainstorm:

  • What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

  • What does a happy life and success look like to you?

What’s In Your Control

Focus on setting goals for things that are within your control. Ideally, your goals should not depend on anything or anyone but you. What can you directly be responsible for?

If one of your goals is to work on a Marvel movie, that outcome is not necessarily up to you. Circumstances outside of your control may lead you to work on other projects.

Instead, a more useful goal would be to improve your skills to reach a standard high enough to be able to work on a Marvel movie.

Now that's a goal which you can break down and analyse, create objectives for, and work your way towards. And, if the opportunity arises to work on a Marvel movie later on, you will be ready. Even if it doesn't, you'll still be able to create VFX of the same calibre.

'Working on a Marvel movie' should be the byproduct of your goal, not the goal itself. However, it should still help inform your decisions about what to do going forward.

What's The Path Forward

Plan out how you can get from where you are to where you want to be.

For example, if you are currently working in the advertising industry, and plan on continuing to do so, that's unlikely to be the path that will lead you to working on a Marvel movie.

At some point you will have to change course and move over to the motion pictures industry where you can get experience working on movies. That might feel like a big step and so let's break it down – How can you get there?

A stepping stone may be to work on TV shows. The VFX in Netflix projects have reached a very high level now, and getting experience working on some of them would help bridge the gap between advertising and motion pictures.

Remember, what you want should be the byproduct of your goals, and so if you want to work on Netflix projects you should aim to reach a skill level high enough to qualify you as a candidate.

Work on improving your keying skills, practise CG integration, learn how to properly do projection work, develop your eye for detail, and so on. Break your overall goals down into smaller subgoals, each with its own objectives.

Ask yourself: What's the smallest step I can take? And then get going. Consistently make efforts to work your way through your plan. Many small steps will take you far. And any step is better than none.

For example, my website and all the posts on it are a sum of many small steps I have taken in researching, developing, organising, writing and rewriting (hopefully) useful information. On some days I write for hours, on other days only for 15 minutes. But I try my best to continually make progress.

You may have a similar experience when progressing toward your goals. Just keep in mind that consistency is the key.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

To help with setting goals, you can use the S.M.A.R.T. system:

  • Specific. Vague goals won’t help you set anything into action. You should have clear and established aims. Who, what, where, when, which, why, and how? If your goals are too broad and undefined they can feel overwhelming and difficult to achieve. Break them down into subgoals and objectives, and be specific.

    'Improve keying skills' is too broad of a goal – it has to be broken down into actionable steps. 'Practise IBK keying on uneven green screens', 'Restore hair detail using multiplication keying', 'Learn to build edge mattes for despilling', etc. are more helpful goals, and can be specified even further, still:

    'Practise the IBK stacking and IBK dilate techniques on poorly lit green screens with dynamic lighting changes, where the foreground subject is out of focus'. That's a pretty solid What part of the objective.

  • Measurable. Your goals should be measurable in some sense. If not by numbers or statistics, at least by some metric or milestone that will help you keep track of how far you’ve come, and how close you are to reaching your goal.

    For example, 'By Friday next week, complete tutorials XYZ about lens distortion and understand how to use it correctly when compositing CG renders'.

  • Attainable. Your goals can definitely be ambitious, but they should also be within reach. If you are a roto/prep artist and plan on becoming a VFX supervisor on a Marvel movie within six months, that’s just not plausible. Make sure to do your research and be realistic about what you want to achieve.

    Going from being a roto/prep artist to becoming a junior compositor in six months – as a small step toward becoming a VFX supervisor – that is certainly a much more attainable goal. You want to set yourself up for success, not place impossible expectations on yourself.

    You do want to push your comfort zone a bit, though. When a goal is difficult, but not impossible, you may find that you will work harder to achieve it.

  • Relevant. Are your goals and objectives contributing to the bigger picture? Going off and learning how to do water simulations in Houdini is great, but it probably won’t do as much for your compositing career as studying keying techniques in Nuke.

    It’s quite simple; if you want to become a great compositor, pay particular attention to mastering skills relevant to compositing. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

  • Time-bound. Set realistic timeframes for your goals. If they’re too short, then complex and time-consuming tasks won’t be done on time which will just lead to frustration. And if you set too generous deadlines for simple goals, you’ll squander your potential and feel unproductive.

    It will take time to find the sweet spot, but keep adjusting as you go and you will get there. And when you do, you’ll find that having a realistic deadline pushes you to work harder and to stay focused.

As you can tell, it takes a lot of research to set specific, actionable goals. Just remember, the time you spend is purely an investment in yourself. If you commit to it, it will help give you clarity in life.

Combat 'Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind'

Write down your goals. Using the tips above, have an honest brainstorm session and put down on paper everything that you really want to achieve.

Afterwards, organise all your notes. Order your goals, subgoals, and objectives by priority. Colour code them if you like, make a list, or create a collage. Make it visual – in any manner that helps you.

That way, your goals don't just stay in your head as thoughts and dreams, but become more tangible and real. And whether they take the shape of simple written notes, a vision board, or a colourful action plan, keep your goals somewhere visible.

Somewhere you visit every day, like on the refrigerator. They will serve as a daily, visual reminder of what you want to achieve in life, and nudge you to work towards it. Not to mention, they will proudly display your progress which can be a real motivational boost.

As an example, I have a physical calendar on my refrigerator. In addition to the daily agenda column I have columns for working out and for writing posts for my website. I bought a bunch of cheap star stickers, and every time I do a workout or publish an article I stick a star on that day, in the relevant column.

It's just a simple, visual way to track progress and help motivate me. But it's so effective. Feel free to experiment with different things, something else might work better for you, specifically.

Revisit Your Goals Regularly

Life does not typically follow a linear path, and neither do your goals and objectives. They are likely to change and evolve over time, and so you should regularly re-evaluate them. Every three to six months is a good rule of thumb.

💡 Set a recurring reminder in your calendar to check in on your goals.

For each goal, ask yourself:

  • Is this goal still important to me? Will achieving this goal still bring (enough) value to my life? Pursuing a goal may mean sacrificing in other areas of your life, and you might find that some goals are not worth it.

  • Is this goal still relevant to my career path? New information may have come to light which has rendered the goal obsolete. A tool or technique you wanted to learn may have been superseded since the last time you set your goals. Or, you may have fallen in love with digital matte painting or another discipline on your journey, and have decided to pursue that instead.

  • Is there a better goal which should replace it? Identify the rewards and consequences, and consider changing the goal to optimise your path forward.

  • Are there any (new) obstacles in my path towards this goal? If so, make a plan for how to overcome or circumvent them.

  • Are there any new goals or objectives I should add? You may have discovered new things and learned a lot since the last time you checked in. Goals also tend to become more specific the further along your career path you are. Update or add goals and objectives as needed.

And, as an overarching question, ask yourself:

  • Am I heading in the right direction? Should I course-correct? Reflect on your progress so far and on where you are currently heading, and assess if that is still in line with what you want.

Just by asking yourself the few questions above, you should get a good idea of which goals you need to reinforce, readjust, reprioritise, or remove.

Celebrate Victories

Lastly, don’t forget to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back and celebrate when you finish your objectives and reach your goals. You are actively taking steps to improve your life. That’s a powerful thing.

I hope you found Part 1 of this guide useful. Next up is Part 2: Build A Strong Network. For more productivity tips, see Productivity.