Klaudija Cermak – CGA2019 Interview

Klaudija Cermak (born in Rijeka, former Yugoslavia) has over 33 years experience in VFX Compositing on high-end commercials, broadcast programmes and feature films and has worked at all the major post-production houses in London’s Soho including MPC, The Mill, Millfilm, Framestore, Double Negative and Glassworks. Her feature film credits include ‘Gladiator’ that won an Oscar for the Best VFX, ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, ‘Captain America’, and ‘Jason Bourne’. Klaudija is a member of VES and the author of the Kindle bestseller ‘How to Get Into and Survive Film, Advertising and TV Post-production – The Alternative Guide’.

Klaudija will share her insights through her CGA2019 talk How to Get Into and Survive Film, Advertising and TV Post-production on 2. November. (sold-out) and “Nuke Industry Workflow” Workshop (still some places left)


Welcome back to VFXSerbia! Last time we had so much fun talking with you. 

Thank you for having me again! I love your site and now recommend it to everyone. The last interview was only 4 years ago and sooooooo much has happened since, I have to update some of the answers from last time.

First time in Belgrade and at CGA conference. What are your expectations?

Huge! Hahahaha… And on so many levels: 1: I am very much looking forward to all the talks from my amazing colleagues from all over the World and meeting everyone. 2.  I have been watching some of the work coming from Serbia, and from the Serbian artists scattered around the World, and expect to be bowled over. 3. I am giving a talk at the Yugoslav Film Archive, one of the five most important film archives in Europe and one of the ten largest in the world. Wow! Just the thought that most of my childhood and youthood films are stored there fills me with excitement.  4. Belgrade! So much looking forward to visiting the Paris of Eastern Europe. Indeed, I have only been to Belgrade once before, and just to catch a plane so this will be my first proper visit.

On a more personal note, my grandfather had Piano shops on Terazije and Knez Mihajlova before the Second World War and we hope to stumble across one of the Cermak pianos. Also, I can’t wait to take my 24 year old daughter who was born in London to the Yugoslav Museum and prove that  ‘Once upon a time there was a country’ wasn’t just in her mother’s imagination. Hahahaha…

Can you describe your role in Escape Studios/Pearson College?

For the last two years I have been teaching the classic 12 week full time and 20 week part time VFX Compositing courses (Foundry Nuke and now BorisFX! Silhouette) that have been feeding the VFX industry with new talent since 2002. Full time course has 5 hours of teaching a day, 5 days a week and we expect students to work hard outside classes to create a Showreel demonstrating  the core Compositing skills soon after completing the course (within a month). 

The aim of the Showreel is to get them an entry Roto/Prep role in the industry. This particular course is also part of the MA that is run by Allar Kaasik. MA includes another 6 weeks of Advanced Compositing which can be taken as an independent course too. 

 

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Part time course is 2 evenings or 6 hours a week teaching and attended by students who either want to top up their skills, change career or are moving to Nuke from another software. A lot of VFX facilities send their staff to our courses so in the last part-time course we had 8 students already working in the industry. Both courses are filled with students from all over the World, who normally have a degree already, and classes are full of fun. 

We get involved in outside Productions too. My whole class worked on a lovely short film ‘Turning Tide’ that won Best Post-production at the London ‘Lift – Off Film Festival’ this year. Last year we created VFX for a charity film ‘Superheroes’ for the Great Ormond Street Hospital and this year we are doing Production on it too.

Of course I also get involved in the development and have to keep up with the technological advances and new techniques, and that’s a full time job in itself. Hahahaha… I find teaching exhilarating, rewarding and really fulfilling, and while I sometimes miss large productions (my last project was Black Mirror for Netflix) I am really enjoying being organised and knowing when I will finish work. Hahahaha…

Warner Bros studio Harry Potter Exhibition with film crew names on the wand boxes, including Klaudija

Soon I will be moving to teaching BA/MArt The Art of Visual Effects which is a 3-4 year course headed by Davi Stein. On that course we make short films from concept to delivery. This year our Undergraduates won tonnes of awards for their short films. You can check them out on our Animation Blog.

What are the ways for young people to get into the VFX industry in the UK?

Since we spoke last time there have been some developments on that front. Traditionally it was either as a runner or taking an independent course or like me, by accident. Now a lot of VFX companies have their own Academies too. However you still need a Showreel to get into any of these. From our last Full time Compositing course all the students got a job in companies like ILM, MPC, Bluebolt, Jellyfish and Union and one got into one of the Academies. Some of them got Roto/Prep roles and some went in as Junior Compositors.

From the Evening Course some students got jobs as Runners but were within less than 3 months promoted into Roto/Prep or Junior Compositing roles. Escape Studios is very good at preparing students for the industry as the Lecturers are all from the industry and know all the workflows. We don’t just teach software but industry etiquette too. Our students also get the opportunity to go on the shoot, experience different filming roles and learn how to collect shoot data for VFX, with our DOP Clement Gharini. You would be amazed how many people work in the industry who have never had the opportunity to go on the shoot. 

We are also increasingly aware of the challenging times we live in and its effects on the young people so we are incorporating more and more ‘soft skills’ into our courses. Andy Brassington  is very active on this front and organises extra talks and workshops on the transferable skills. And we have very supportive Student Services who will assist students with any life challenges they may face too.

What is the advice you give to students when they start and when they finish your course? 

I give a lot of work and life advice to my students throughout the course. They even know the quickest Harrods entrance (door 5) to the Deli counter and Hungarian salami. Hahahaha… One of my classes produced as a goodbye gift a booklet with the caricatures of me and my quotes. Hahahahaha….

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At the start of the course I still recommend Stella Cottrel’s personal development book ‘Skills for Success’ as we are increasingly losing the ability to stop, think and reflect both about ourselves and the World around us. 

How do you see VFX in the present and how in the near future?

Well, a lot has been happening since we last talked. VFX is thriving at the moment. London is extremely busy and there are a lot of opportunities for all roles at all levels. This is greatly thanks to the streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon. A lot of Film and Commercials VFX facilities have opened TV departments, ILM, Dneg, Glassworks, then The Farm that specialises in Editing, Grading and Sound for TV has opened a VFX department, The Mill has reopened MIllfilm and there are a lot of new companies like Untold Studios being set up by ex employees of larger companies. Technicolor bought The Mill and MPC! 

However some of the issues we mentioned last time, highlighted by Rhythm & Hues bankruptcy after winning the Oscar for Life of Pi, have not been resolved. The facilities’ thin profit margins due to flawed business model (especially in Film) while having to constantly reinvest into new technologies and R&D, artists not being paid overtime, short rolling contracts, no benefits etc. Let’s face it, the industry thrives thanks to the creative and passionate people like us willing to donate tons of overtime to keep it going.

Interesting article on the theme is here: VFX VOICE: GLOBAL VFX: STATE OF THE INDUSTRY 2019

Ha. The future. Technology wise we can expect the merging of real time and VFX. Epic’s Unreal Engine is shaking things up. So much so that I have started learning it. Hopefully the interface will be improved for people like me. Hahahaaa… Luckily there are a lot of experts around me as we are  Unreal Authorised Training Centre.

Trends in animation and VFX at FMX 2019

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out in VFX?

Find a wife or marry a banker! Hahahaha… Sorry, joking again.  Look, I come from a family where women made it happen with or without men so I would give the same advice to everyone, young men too, be kind, keep learning, develop wide skills, be flexible and do the best work you can. I never felt different because I was a woman. And luckily, when my daughter was growing up we didn’t have such strict Health and Safety and NDA’s so she could come with me to work, even sleep on the sofa when I had to work through the night and when my au-pair was ill, Runners would pick her up from school and bring her to work. That’s why she decided to study Maths as she saw nothing exact in the clients’ feedback. Hahahaha…  Now I know I was different as we found out few years ago that women in the industry were paid up to 30% less than men. Last time we spoke the ratio of men vs women in the industry was 20:1. I think the problem arises when one becomes a parent. So how can one make it more appealing to mothers? Flexible working time, Creches etc. I know that Double Negative for example offers some flexible working time to parents. There is a lot of talk about inclusivity and diversity, and not just in gender, in VFX. Access VFX and some other organisations are making a great effort on that front so there is an increasing awareness of the need to make VFX more accessible. However this is a wider issue. To be truly inclusive you have to have a more even education system in Primary and Secondary Schools. I am talking here about class societies where there is a huge difference in resources between schools. 

WE NEED MORE WOMEN IN VFX : AN APPROACH TO ENCOURAGING DIVERSITY IN FILM

I found your career incredibly fascinating while digging into your immense experience listed on LinkedIn page. How does your life as a Freelance VFX in London look to you when you look back?

I have been very lucky that I have somehow sailed from job to job for the last 35 years and when life threw some extraordinary events my way I was able to adapt and steer my career. If I had to pinpoint what helped me the most it was my upbringing and the ideas from the Pioneer’s Oath ‘to study and work diligently, respect parents and my seniors, and be a loyal and true friend.’ That’s the best advice one can get to survive VFX. We live in the times when we are constantly bombarded with the ideas of individualism and having to stand on our own feet but in VFX, and greatly in life, we can achieve very little on our own. It is all teamwork or a collective. Hahahaha…All in all we are lucky because the industry is filled with a lot of nice people.

What inspires you these days?  

I must admit I have a serious problem. Everything inspires me and I am always bursting with ideas. That is an incredible burden as those lacking ideas and then having one just pursue it and accomplish it. Hahahaha…

I paint, write and constantly think of the next thing I should learn. 

So, I can tell you what I found inspiring today: Zivkovic’s ‘Playgrounds Berlin’ Titles and the wonderful Yugoslav Film Archive website. And the realisation that I can read Cyrillic as well as Latin writing because my father always bought me Политикин забавник in Cyrillic. 

Isn’t life amazing? 

My mother used to say “The purpose of life is a life with purpose”. I am a dreamer. I live in a bubble. I am the same girl that stood outside the cinema at the age of 7 and vowed to change the world after seeing Winnetou.

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What can our eager readers expect to hear from you on CGA2019 stage?

Good question. Who knows? Hahahaha… Joking again.

So, I have rewritten the talk few times already, as I want it to be informative, relevant and fun and different to anything I said so far. New and fresh. I have had an unusual career of moving constantly between film, TV and commercials. I have survived against the odds and I have learnt a few things along the way in the form of ‘soft skills’ that I would like to share with the audience and which I think are especially valuable in the Liquid World we live in that requires total flexibility.  

Nadja Regin, Yugoslav Actress

 

But first we will remember Nadja Regin, a wonderful Yugoslav actress and author from Serbia who died this year in London and share behind the scenes story from ‘From Russia with Love‘ that she recorded for BELhospice last year. And the Yugoslav Archive is the most appropriate place to remember her. She will be delighted to be coming home.

Klaudija will share her insights through her CGA2019 talk How to Get Into and Survive Film, Advertising and TV Post-production on 2. November.

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