Guest Post: My Experience as a Female Artist in the VFX Industry

Today is my last day in the visual effects industry.

It’s an industry that I’ve spent nine years of my life completely dedicated to, so it’s a bitter sweet kind of day. My love for animation and film began at 4 years old, when I saw the Lion King at the cinema with my dad. From that point on, having watched these cartoon animals with such believable human qualities, I knew I wanted to be involved with the magic and at the age of 18 finally enrolled onto my dream VFX course.

Growing up with good people around me I never really witnessed or experienced any kind of “special treatment”. Therefore my years in the industry have been a very interesting learning curve, socially as well as academically. From working with the most wonderful people in the world and being supported by amazing teams and supervisors, to being very obviously treated differently to my male counterparts.

Overall, I have really loved my job – it’s been fun, challenging and exciting all at the same time, especially when your shots start to come together! I can even deal with the long, unpaid hours and working weekends (not that it’s right, but that’s another story!)
However one thing I have struggled with over the past few years, is a select number of people who have made me feel very unwelcome as I’ve progressed in my role. There are several notable times that I will never forget, in which I have been patronised in front of supervisors, had my ideas brushed off bluntly in meetings, been excluded from lunches, had handshakes rejected (yep, seriously), and even had one interviewer completely avoid eye contact with me. This may seem like a bit of antisocial behaviour from a few individuals, but it always sticks with you when you realise that the behaviour is aimed towards only YOU, whilst surrounded by a team of guys.

My favourite moment, was when I asked a senior male colleague for a quick explanation of how his code worked, and he replied with “Oh, I never should have sent it to you! It’s got you all confused and upset!” before walking off. Another was getting contacted by a company that I had already worked for previously saying that they wanted me to come back. There were a few positions available on the team and I received a salary offer of nearly 10K LESS than a brand new male junior artist with no relevant experience. The reason I know this, is because I’d actually helped train him up ready for his first specialist interview and we had discussed salary expectations and offers. Of course I turned the job down.

These kind of events have not happened every day, in fact I have truly met the most supportive people and best friends I could ask for in this industry. Sadly though, there has been a steady stream of this kind of behaviour over the years and when it happens so often, it does make you question your own ability as an artist. I work hard, I get my shots done, pull my weight, I have produced some pretty complicated work and have great references. Equally as important, I am polite, make an effort with my team socially and offer help whenever I can. So why all the hostility?

At one point I was greeted by daily unpleasantness by one male colleague who made me question my position and ability for months on end. He was a junior artist but older than me and made my work life miserable until I realised it was time to move on to keep my sanity. He ignored me on arrival every single morning, was short tempered with me and incredibly sarcastic and dismissive whenever I addressed him. He would also make loud, negative remarks about my shots whilst I was in earshot to other members of the (all male) team, even though my shots were challenging and more technical than anything he was tackling himself. The response from the HR department was “Well… he’s just a bit like that isn’t he?”. It was disappointing to know that I couldn’t get the support that I needed from HR and it was at this point that I decided to leave. The treatment from this one colleague had a very detrimental effect on my mental health over time. Interestingly, he was married, which made me wonder how he would feel if his wife was treated the way he treated me.

I have a few good female friends in the industry, and whenever the subject of “being a woman” has come up, I’m often met with sighs, eye rolling and similar stories, of being treated differently, even badly, compared to their male peers. Two of my dear friends last year left the industry for similar reasons; smart, hardworking, team playing women, who have been met with unfair behaviour from some colleagues. I thankfully have never been sexually harassed by work peers, but I know women who have been, inside and out of work. When I talk to my closest male friends in the industry, they are often very surprised at what i have to mention, with responses such as “I can’t believe it” and “I had no idea that this went on”. That’s why I wanted to write this article, to share with everyone and raise awareness to the issues that seem to be plaguing the film industry; not just in the highly reported sexism within the world of acting and directing, but also in visual effects.

Whilst the positives of my career definitely outweigh the negatives, I do think this feeling of “being different” has had an impact on my passion for VFX and motivation to work my way up the career ladder. I’m quite good at picking myself up after these moments, but I have ultimately decided to move on and focus my drive and ambition in a new direction. There are some incredibly strong women in this industry, who I admire and look up to (more than you will ever know!) and my hat goes off to you for being in the positions that you are and encouraging more women into VFX.

39 Responses to Guest Post: My Experience as a Female Artist in the VFX Industry

  1. Jamee says:

    curious — where are you headed now ?

  2. Alex says:

    Well, to be honest, I’m moving out the VFX industry and joined the tech community to be a full time, regular hours, web/software developer. If the OP knows how to code, I would suggest to her to look into these kind of roles as a) she could use her current skillset there in an industry that needs people, and b) out of all the industries today there is a huge amount of support for women joining the industry. In fact there’s a huge amount of progress being made by companies who deal in tech to make sure everyone: men, women, straight, LGBT, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, are all treated and paid equally. Screw VFX! Coding is where you’ll get treated like a human being and not an endless hours machine by those in charge.

    • wightVFX says:

      this might be a nice suggestion if it wasn’t MANSPLAINING on how she could use her skills elsewhere, with a side order of not knowing how women are treated in tech elsewhere either.

  3. JeffLin says:

    Thanks for your post. With so few women in the vfx industry, it’s important that these experiences are shared. I wish i knew who you were because my gut tells me i’ve worked with you before. Maybe that’s because most if not all women have to go through what you’ve been through. I’m happy to hear that you got out of VFX and have moved on.

  4. darkgaze says:

    Good job writting this. As a programer and woman on VFX, which is even rearer, I find we hace much better situación and we are well treated. I feel the dame as my colleagues. We have to be very strong, though, to defend what we know and show that we can do a very good and a different job in style.

  5. contessa12 says:

    I am happy for you that you are moving on and have found another industry that is more welcoming to women. But, this is more the norm than not. Although Trumps behavior is horrific and abusive, it does bring to the surface how many women are treated and spoken to. Sometimes the behavior is even passive aggressive but disturbing non-the-less. It’s not ok to treat women badly, in the work place, in schools, at home and anywhere else.
    Maybe now violence & rape will finally be addressed in colleges. Bad behavior towards women is unacceptable and should be confronted. Women must stick together and speak up or this will continue. If HR doesn’t address concerns they are failing you.

    • rfk says:

      HR is never your protector in these cases. They are there to protect the company, not the employee. You need a lawyer or a union rep.

  6. Better Question? says:

    How many Female VFX sups at Sony?
    How many Female VFX sups at MPC?
    How many Female VFX sups etc……..ILM? WETA? DNEG? DD? etc.

    Then ask yourself how many females at the big VFX companies are pushed into Cordinator or PM type jobs?

    • wishing you well says:

      I wish you didn’t feel the need to leave VFX, I wish I didn’t feel the need to leave VFX. But women slowly get forced out, just like in tech.

      There aren’t enough women being given the opportunities for leadership roles at any of the top companies. I hit a glass ceiling with one company, dealt with harassment, ridicule, contempt. Left that place, on to another. Same issues, coming in different forms.

      Until companies take responsibility for sexism and racism in the workplace in all of its forms, VFX won’t be a good place for us to work.

      High tech with all of its ‘brogramming’ culture can also be daunting. Pretty much all the technical fields are rife with sexism, and it needs to change.

      I wish the poster good luck in her future endeavors, and I hope someday that the industry will have equality for all workers.

    • wightVFX says:

      How many women artists are there, regardless? A couple women artists left my company and the rest of us laughed sadly about how we’re all each 10% of the women there. Haha haaa.. uhgh.

      Women in VFX are often pushed down, ignored.

      They’re not pushed into coord/PM types if they are artists in my opinion. They are, instead, NOT promoted. They are looked over, when leads are being chosen. So many women I know in VFX know more than their male counterparts, and have to work harder to get even similar recognition. Or – much more often -more junior male artists are promoted and they’re never given similar recognition.

      Then when they ARE given leadership/supervisor roles, they are the first to get blame, criticism, and distrust as a response. When they succeed in these roles, it’s made clear it’s not because they succeeded – it’s because their team succeeded.

      Why not more women sups? It’s not because we’re told to go be in production.

      • Better Question? says:

        Then you ask how many females are CG sups?
        and how many females are leads?
        The numbers get shocking………

        Hate to say it …..females you want change….send in your UNION cards…..I believe the Union Rep in Vancouver is Female…..

    • vfx says:

      Google “Oscar Luncheon 2016” and it does not represent the gender and racial percentages of Los Angeles and the film industry. Why ? its because power cliques are formed to keep the majority of society out. Its not a system based on talent or growth.
      So there is ambivalence to the OP more than pathos.

  7. vilijohns says:

    My wife is experiencing the same issues since the day one in the industry.
    Always underestimated, underpaid but doing much more than most of the “experts on the floor”.

    Often verbally abused in a very fancy way.

    Who said the sexism and the racism at the working space is gone…

    What a bunch of dodgy hypocrites…

  8. HotOldMama says:

    You are not alone in your experiences. It’s sad that this has made you leave the industry – or not if you have something exciting to continue with. All of us women in the industry have similar tales. We all know how few VFX supervisors, CG supervisors etc are female, and that extends to the whole industry – directors, cinematographers, etc etc. My favourite story is when I turned up on location for a shoot, as the VFX supe, and as I wound my car window down, before I had even spoken, the locations guys said “wardrobe and make-up that way….”. On the same shoot, a cast member who had never seen me before asked me if I had a needle and thread, since being female, I must have something to do with wardrobe. They are funny stories, mostly because they are true. Of course I am no longer a supervisor – I am a mother. The two are almost invariably mutually exclusive. I lost count long ago of the all male, except for me, meetings I have sat in. Many of these nobody makes eye-contact, as they think you must be there to take notes. It’s sad and shameful. It is slowly changing – but by crikey it’s slow. Good luck my friend. I’m just sorry I wasn’t more help.

  9. you can do something about it says:

    Hate to say it …..females you want change???!….send in your UNION cards…..I believe the Union Rep in Vancouver is actually Female…..(how incredible?)

    Unions will provide legal advice…and advise you of your rights…..and are the only ones who could collectively bargain for your rights.

    If you are a female and your getting shit on in your work place… the union ….they give free advice and council. I know they want to hear your stories……

  10. wishing you well says:

    unions can’t fix everything.

    • got a better idea? says:

      Unions help enforce labor laws, fight discrimination, help you plan for retirement…helps with protections under your collective bargain.

      I wish VFX artist had a union like the police force’s union …i tell you that.

      If i had the police’s union i could shoot a director and get away with it….LOL🙂

  11. […] A new guest post on the VFX Soldier blog takes a look at sexist discrimination in the visual effects workplace and the negative effects it’s having on women in the industry. […]

  12. tam says:

    very interesting read sad. It does goes true in some places the women do have to have bigger balls then the men at times. Its upsetting that you was made to feel that way and I hope you find where you fit and are happy .Tam @U@
    are you on linkedin ?

  13. paq says:

    “a select number of people who have made me feel very unwelcome as I’ve progressed in my role”

    This happens to me and I am white, male, well qualified, polite and do a good job.

    That is how people maintain vfx supervisor and high paying vfx jobs by baseless political repression using cliques.

    It is an industry that does not build on talent.

  14. Sepp Sonntag says:

    I’m very sorry to hear about your experiences in VFX and the treatment you had to go through
    Maybe the environment you worked at wasn’t just right for you and other facilities would have been a better choice and treatment
    I’m supervising environments and I have a huge female part in my team and they are all my superstars. Never had a more professional, hard working and excellent artist. I promoted two so far and cannot wait to see them grow further. If I could be of little help to make a difference then I accomplished my goals

  15. Jack Handy says:

    I don’t really agree with this. I see more and more female leads all the time, the ones that are very good are getting promoted. Also keep in mind it is very common for the entire production side of a company to be heavily female these days (HR, coordinators, producers). I’m male and work very long hours, get along with people, am very competent and good at my job, and I haven’t had much luck rising through the ranks either. It’s not easy! This is a super competitive industry! And yes I’m a senior artists with 10-15 years experience. But you know what? Most of the people who are in VFX sup jobs, supervisor roles, and lead jobs are also older than me. Many are in their 40+ and came up when their where no woman at all in VFX. Now there are many woman and you slowly see the best of them filling the ranks as they get the experience. Most of theses guys (at the big companies like ILM and Sony) are very good at their jobs and have earned everything they’ve got. My guess is the person writing this is in her 30s. Maybe if she sticks with it instead of being a quitter she would eventually get where she wants to be? I’ve met many men and woman in this industry that are not nearly as good as they think they are. Some people are just not pleasant to work with. Sometimes these people are woman who don’t get promoted. Sometimes they think they are nice, but they’re not. Sometimes very talented but difficult men don’t get promoted. Having a chip on your shoulder doesn’t help. When something is hard most people will eventually give up, the system is rigged! It’s not fair! Sometimes it is, but the solution isn’t to quit, it’s to work harder. Did Hillary quit? I’ve never seen any human being deal with so much sexism as Hillary Clinton and she just works harder and keeps going. Now she’s about to be President. That’s not to condone it, but come on, VFX is not that sexist. Look back fifteen years ago? Check back in ten years. You will see many more woman in Sup roles as the best of the best rise up through the ranks, but you won’t see any quitters.

    • qsdz says:

      I agree with Jack. If anything women have the edge since there are so many men, often single due to overwork, itinerancy etc…

      To compensate for the lack of women, women get more chances at promotion….or else they go into production,

      I worked with a very attractive woman who was barely talented..
      I was the person doing all the work, fixing things, she secretly complained against me and got her friend hired……even though she was all smiles to my face….then she did the same to our boss, the person who hired her by talking with his boss.

      The project didn’t complete as a result but she left with an elevated status.

      She would have well known company owners call her up, for a date……. I guessed she bonked the team leader of the other project because he had flowers delivered to her at her desk everyday for a week.

      Really. It was awkward for me seeing this.

      She ended up working for a studio and nearly ran a major vfx studio……the studio execs figured out there was something very wrong with all this and stopped it before it all got started….. then they bought a major per-existing company and consequently made very successful features.


      It’s just like the most political people get promoted…..not the talented or hardworking.

      It’s the tall poppy syndrome

      The most talented, friendly and hard working are resented by the cynicism and peers in the groups so the people who get promoted are not the best at the task but the most Machiavellian and anti-social…..which has no production real value outside of nepotism…….so the industry declines in in-fighting.

      She simply used her looks to manipulate lonely men into positions of power until she got older and they stopped calling.

      • qsdz says:

        I have lots of stories like this but different.

        Like….. about the time an inexperienced woman artist demanded something ridiculous to try and challenge my leadership role : like using jpgs instead of exr’s for compositing feature work…..
        something basic like that……

        she kept repeating it….. and I kept politely disagreeing, that it is normal…… and explaining why……it was friendly at first but she didn’t listen…..then, for no reason, burst in tears and complained to management.

        She basically wanted my job. I was team leader, I was totally polite, but she was unstable… ..she was prescribed lithium I previously learned but occasionally forgot to take it she said.

        I was trying hard to be nice and friendly…… but generally 2+2 does not make 3, even if we all cry that it doesn’t make 3.

        Management demanded to see me,

        I was going to leave a few weeks later but they ended my contract prematurely, used my work on their website to advertise for work later, bad mouthed me to other employers even though our team got along really well and needlessly embarrassed me in the process.

        Why ?

        ………I have lots of stories……

    • wightVFX says:

      You’re calling this woman a quitter for trying to stick it out for a decade, in an industry where you don’t even admit there is sexism because …some women have actually managed to struggle into some decent positions.


      You literally *are* the problem with VFX right now.

      You don’t even know it. You think you’re somehow owed a supervisor position after a decade+, but she isn’t. Note: you also ASSUMED she wasn’t a supervisor, because….well, I’m not sure why other than that you’re a twit.

      I have news. If you’ve been doing this 10-15 years and haven’t been promoted, you’re probably only adequate at your job.

      The point is women don’t have the luxury to simply complain about not being promoted. They have to fight tooth and nail to even stay at a the same level as men. They have to become elite to rise above, where men don’t. Women artists in VFX have to be courageous, tenacious, and driven. Yet you still think they should do more…… Your OWN example is Hillary Clinton, who is literally not just one in a million – she’s one in 315 milliion. “Well if she can deal with decades of sexism, why can’t you buncha sissies?”

      You missed the whole point of the letter, which was she’s gotten to EXACTLY where she wants to be, except for the sexist idiots she has to work with. Probably because you are one.

      VFX as an industry is sexist. It *is* getting better, I’ll be the first to admit. But it’s definitely overtly and unapologetically sexist. Chances are you’ll take what I say as whining. Because that’s what men who put women’s struggles down, do. They say “it’s hard for me too” during when women are struggling, and a decade later when the women finally give up, they put their thumb on their nose and say “aww whiny baby quit.” How smug of you.

      You’re that white guy at a black lives matter protest, holding a sign that says “white lives matter.” You’re the guy in Maine in February saying “well it’s cold where I am, global warming doesn’t exist.”

      You’re the guy saying sexism doesn’t exist cause you’ve seen women in VFX. You, sir, are the problem.

      • Jack Handy says:

        She herself admits in her post that she was never sexually harassed and every example she gives is very vague and open to her own biased interpretation. Everything she points to has happened to me many times as a man. I’ve been treated this way and worse by woman in the office—they’re called Mean Girls. The fact that she went to HR and complained about this guy, and they took the guy’s side speaks volumes. Girls can be bulllies too and I just don’t buy it that she did nothing to this guy and he just horrible to her for months on end. Oh, yeah, maybe going to HR to potentially get the guy fired didn’t help? It just doesn’t make any sense. And I call her a quitter because she is. Plenty of men quitters out there too, but she’s definetly a quitter and probably not nice too work with either. I’d like to hear the other side, like her HR. Her leaving the industry is not going to help BTW. You think a tech job is going to be lest sexist? Good luck with that! The problem to me is most likely her hangups and insecurities. Maybe with you too?

      • lalala says:

        Strawmanning? I think the point he was trying to make was that gender politics doesn’t nullify really annoying or obnoxious women yet, for some reason (probably because we’re easy targets), this is a common response. Just because men happen to be the majority of a given industry (there are female dominated industries out there too) doesn’t give women the right to blame the entire gender for their issues. The problems she described here seem pretty commonplace and probably have much less to do with her gender.

        There are some women I would love to work with and some men I would would despise working with and vice versa. However, if a woman is going to vilify me or my entire gender for, I’m going to fight back.

      • Jack Handy says:

        BTW, since you think I’m Donald Trump, I’ll have you know I’m actually a democratic and voting for Hillary. And how do you know I’m not black? Must be you’re a white racist and don’t think black men are smart enough to work in VFX (Just some of your own logic back at you.)

        I also disagree that it’s harder for woman to get promoted now. I actually think it’s much easier. The super talented woman are flying up the ranks, and even the average woman are becoming leads faster than men. This is because HR and producers tend to be woman, and it’s a recognized problem. I actually have no issue with this. If the man and woman are equal I say you should definetly give the job to the woman to even things out (maybe I won’t have to read crap like this anymore as well). If there is a guy who is exceptional and is working really hard though, it should go to the guy. It doesn’t help anyone to promote people that aren’t ready.

        Also, I’m pretty darn good at my job (my productivity numbers validate this claim) and probably will be promoted someday, but I’m fine either way. It’s not something I’m really chasing. I’m willing to do whatever job I’m most suited for and not blaming some “rigged system” for my own shortcomings.

    • jona says:

      “Many are in their 40+ and came up when their where no woman at all in VFX. ”

      I agree with your comment but.. there really wasn’t a time when no women were in VFX. When I started in 1984 the place was full of women in many roles. From Ink & Paint to roto to coordinators to VFX producers. They were in the model shop and a few were on the stage.

  16. what's that smell? says:

    “He was a junior artist but older than me” “10K LESS than a brand new male junior artist with no relevant experience”

    A jr. level that was older than you but making 10k more… right because artists go around talking about how much we make, am I the only one that smells bullshit?

    • Jack Handy says:

      It sounds like she tried to get the guy fired because some guy wasn’t nice to her (real or imagined it doesn’t really matter because this could happen in any job in any industry). HR is siding with the guy, so she’s quitting. No wait, lets make her VFX supe! This thing is so lame. I’ve seen so many woman kicking butt lately in this industry, and they’re awesome! And they’re getting recognized for it.

  17. Female artist says:

    Wow, so much mansplaining in these responses.

    Men, don’t attack the messenger, work to make gender equality real.

    The author’s concerns are real and faced by almost every woman in our field.

  18. Jack Handy says:

    I guess when men have an opinion it’s mansplaining… Sounds kind of sexist to me.

  19. vfx says:

    “Manslpaining ?”

    didn’t South Park just do an episode on this ?

  20. afsdf says:

    I am glad vfx soldier got around seeing a problem after all that time of saying he never witnessed sex discrimination. What changed your mind?

  21. Eddie says:

    So someone is going to complain about an experience and somehow this becomes a magic epidemic of sexist and unfair treatment? Why not look at the science, gender differences, facts, reason, career choices by each gender, evidence, biology but perhaps it is just misogyny, wanting equality of outcome and wage gaps I suppose… LOL!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: