Liz Mitchell

Member Profile | Liz Mitchell | CG Supervisor at DNegTV

What inspired you to get into VFX and how did you achieve it?

I always loved creative projects in school, but after visiting Disney World with my family when I was eleven, where I watched the animators work on Toy Story, I knew I wanted to be an animator.  I chose to complete Art, Maths and Design & Technology A-Levels at school before studying Computer Animation at Bradford University – one of only a few Universities with this kind of course at the time.  A few months after graduating I started a job as a runner at The Mill in London.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career?  Have there been key points that you would like to share?

My biggest challenge was getting a role in the 3D Department.  Starting as a runner at The Mill was surprisingly simple for me, but it felt like a long road to move into a 3D position.  I was fortunate to be hired as a runner after just walking into The Mill with my CV, which wouldn’t necessarily be possible now as it’s a lot more competitive.  I then spent two months as a runner before starting as a VT Operator in the Media Transfer department. This role involved shift work where we worked ten-hour shifts, four days a week.  Nearly every week on my day off I would train in Mill TV, mostly camera tracking and environment modelling. Junior 3D roles didn’t come up very often so I spent a long time training like this while working full time.  After a couple of years, I knew I needed to take action in order to achieve my goal of moving into 3D. I was accepted on to a Skillset Visual Effects Scholarship course at Escape Studios. It was really difficult to leave work to go back to study for 5 months, but it was definitely the best decision.  It allowed me to train full time and included a one month internship back at The Mill at the end of it. I actually did my internship in 2D having enjoyed learning new skills during the Nuke module at Escape Studios, but then chose to go back to 3D and the Commercials Department offered me a position. It took over two and a half years from starting as a runner to achieve my goal of working in the 3D department which felt like a very long time!

What has been your experience as a woman in the VFX industry?

My experience as a woman in the VFX industry has been generally positive.  I have worked in male-oriented departments through most of my career, but currently work in a more balanced environment.  I can honestly say that in my current position I don’t feel that I am treated any differently for being a woman. And while I was one of only a few girls in my previous work environments, I didn’t struggle with it.  The people I worked with were lovely and after a while you don’t really notice it. I was once told that people enjoyed having a woman on the team as it kept things more balanced and set a different tone to the team, as we’d bring different qualities to the role.  At the start of my career I was a quieter character and didn’t really vocalise what direction I wanted my career to go in, which may have slowed down my progress as I competed with louder peers. I don’t think this was necessarily because I was a girl, but it probably didn’t help!  My quieter personality didn’t exude confidence in my abilities, which in turn didn’t help my progression and at times I was less assertive at asking for the kinds of roles I wanted. As I have gained experience, I have gained the confidence to speak up and grasp the roles I want. I no longer feel so intimidated and am happy to speak out.

A pivotal moment in my career came after about 6 years in 3D, when I enrolled on a course run by NextGen Skills Academy.  It was called ‘Aspiring Women’ and was aimed at encouraging confidence in women who wanted to take the next step in their career.  Here I met many like-minded women and it was a great environment to discuss stories and see that despite there not being many women in my department, there were many women with the same goals and experiences as me in the industry.

Liz’s NextGen Skills Academy ‘Aspiring Women’ course

Did you have mentors or support networks throughout your career that really helped push you forward?

I have worked with many supportive people throughout my career.  My boss in Media Transfer at The Mill, Miles Stormer, was always very encouraging and gave me lots of support when I left to go to Escape, offering me the opportunity to work on Saturdays while I studied.  This also left the door open to return to The Mill, which meant I didn’t really have to leave properly. He has followed my career throughout which I’ve always appreciated. As part of the Aspiring Women course we were matched with an experienced industry figure who acted as our mentor over a 6 month period.  Mine was Sheila Wickens who was a VFX Supervisor/Head of 2D at LipSync at the time. When discussing the kind of mentor we’d like, I’d said it was important to me to work with a woman who was a working Mum, so I could see that that could be achieved. I had never worked with a woman who was a mother in 3D, so wanted to see that it was possible!  Sheila was great at encouraging me to work towards what I wanted to do next in my career and helping me build the confidence to take the next step, and we still keep in contact now. Not long after completing the course, I got my current job at DNegTV as a Supervisor, so I think it really did help my confidence!

What changes would you like to see in the industry, both general and in regards women in the industry?

I’d like to see more women in senior and management roles.  Over the last few years I have seen more women coming into the industry at entry level, so I think as time goes on, more women will be taking on these senior roles, and I can already see a difference.  I hope those women who already have experience in the industry will have the confidence to apply for more managerial positions, as groups like Animated Women UK continue to encourage and support us.

What advice would you give to women wanting to enter the industry?

I’d just say to go for it and stick at it, you’ll get there in the end.  Once you have some experience, you can build on that and get into the role you’d like.  I think it’s important to network and meet like-minded people. Having moved companies recently I have seen how people move around quite a lot and you’ll meet old friends in new positions, so it’s beneficial to stay in touch with social media like LinkedIn.  Also, as in most industries, it’s important as a junior to invest your time learning new skills and training, and not feel the need to rush between different companies.

If you had the opportunity to chat to any film/TV personality, dead or alive, who would you pick?

I’d love to have a chat with Walt Disney and hear what inspired him and what he thinks of the industry now.  I’d be interested in his thoughts about all the new technologies we use today, compared to how his films would have been made 50 years ago.

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