“Even though we’re working as a hybrid team at the moment, we do still have days in the office and people will pop their heads in and see how you’re doing. There is definitely a London Comp culture which I love!”
Joining DNEG almost twelve years ago, Helen Carr is a Lead Compositor based in our London studio. Originally starting as a Compositor before progressing into her current Lead role, Helen has worked on many well-known franchises including The Hunger Games, Fantastic Beasts and Marvel Cinematic Universe. Read on to find out how Helen started her career as a Runner and worked her way up in the industry, what it’s like working within the compositing team in London, and which shots have been her favourite to work on so far
Hi Helen! What brought you into the world of VFX and Animation?
I’ve always loved film, and I’ve always loved maths – but I just didn’t know how to make those two things into a career. I’ve always been quite artistically creative and very good with problem solving, I wanted to somehow marry the two up. I went to university and studied Media Technology. During my course, a recruiter came from one of the ‘Big Four’ and opened her talk by saying ‘Did you know that most Hollywood films have their VFX done in London?’. It was a turning point for me. I realised if I followed that path then I might get to work on some of those big Hollywood films! It was then that I really understood what a career that involved my two passions could look like, and I laser focussed on it. After university, I started as a Runner at Framestore, and worked my way up. I learned as much as I could, constantly asking the people around me to let me work on projects, and show me how things worked. I did a few years there as a Paint & Roto artist, before landing a Compositor role at DNEG on my first big show, John Carter.
You started as a Runner and now you’re a Lead Compositor, what did that progression path look like?
Yes! I was literally getting cups of coffee for people for a while! But at each stage, I learnt on the job. I’d learn the software, I’d ask the questions. I would go and chat to more senior people and they’d show me how everything worked – sometimes even letting me work on shots. I just made sure I kept learning. Even now as a Lead, I’m still asking questions all the time. Our industry is always evolving and the key to progressing is to just keep talking, questioning, and learning.
What are your career highlight(s) so far?
I do have certain shots that I worked on that were a bit challenging at the time, but that I look back on now and I’m really proud of. For example, Mags’ death in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It was a really tricky 2D/3D shot and whenever I see it back I think ‘I did that!’. I also loved pushing one of the Kaijus through several buildings in Pacific Rim Uprising. And I worked on a shot where I had to make Superman’s face look like he was flying in atmospheric force for Man of Steel which involved some quite crazy 2D contorting! All of these sit on the spectrum of problem solving and creativity, and have been huge career highlights for me. I love shots that have to look 2D but using 3D renders – it’s always a fun challenge and really rewarding to see on screen.
What is it like working in the DNEG London Compositing department?
I love the people I work with! When you’re on a show, you tend to be in a bit of a bubble with the other people on that project. The great thing about the London studio is that you do still cross paths with everyone else too, whether that’s in person in the cafe or on a team chat. I love chatting to people on other projects, hearing what they’re working on, if they’re in crunch time or not, how they’re finding shots, any issues they’re having. Even though we’re working as a hybrid team at the moment, we do still have days in the office and people will pop their heads in and see how you’re doing. We still socialise outside of work too and make sure everyone has the chance to catch up. There is definitely a London Comp culture which I love! As a Lead, most of my time is spent doing rounds with people, asking how their day is going, and making sure they’re clear on their tasks and any feedback notes. It can be tricky when everyone is working from home, but I try to keep group chats going and have 1:1 chats as well. It’s very important to make sure you’re communicating with people, especially with hybrid working where some people might feel isolated or not kept in the loop.
What do you like the most about your job?
The people! I thrive from being around other people, being inspired by them, and knowing that you’re all in it together. My career highlights could quite easily be a list of everyone I’ve ever shared a room with. It’s the people around you that inspire you to work hard and take pride in what you do everyday.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in the industry?
Everyday is a learning day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – I still ask questions! Keep persevering. Roles in the industry can quite often involve a lot of feedback, and it isn’t always good. Don’t take it personally, you just need to learn from it. Just keep persevering and learning.
What was the most challenging or best shot you’ve worked on?
There have been so many! I’ve just finished work on The School for Good and Evil which had lots of challenging FX work along with 2D. I also worked on the decloaking effects for the spaceship in The Adam Project which was fun. When something has quite a vague brief it can be really exciting as you get a bit of creative licence and can really get your teeth into it. But, like I said before, my all-time favourite shots have to be Mag’s death in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, destroying buildings with a Kaiju in Pacific Rim Uprising, and making Superman look like he’s flying in atmospheric force for Man of Steel!
Time for some rapid fire questions – What’s one thing that is always on your desk when you work?
Coffee and an array of doodles – I tend to doodle a lot!
What’s your ‘special power’ at work?
Talking to people. Especially in a group, I’m usually the first person to start chatting and hopefully put everyone at ease. Oh, and I’m always the first person to ask about wrap parties!
What are you most looking forward to every day?
Catching up with colleagues, it really is the highlight of my day.
How did you feel on your first day at DNEG?
Nervous but excited! I was so excited to be joining DNEG, I’d always wanted to work here. DNEG had all the big projects that I was so excited to work on which really impressed me.
What is your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moment was getting one of my shots featured in an article for Art of VFX – it was the Fire Dragon shot in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. The shot was used as the cover image for the article and I was so proud to be able to say ‘that’s my shot!’.
Finish this sentence: DNEG is…
Always interesting! It’s never boring – new projects, new exciting things to work on, new tools and techniques.
To find out about VFX at DNEG, click here. And if you are interested in joining DNEG’s Oscar-winning team, stay tuned for our next ‘FOCUS’ and click here to find out more about our open positions across our studios in North America, Europe and India.