Fred Chapman

Head of Creature in Vancouver and mentor in DNEG Mentorship Program

Hi Fred, could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I’ve been at DNEG for four and a half years as Head of the Creature department in Vancouver. I’ve been working in VFX and animation for over 20 years and most of that time as a rigger and creature supervisor, but over the years I’ve also been an animator, generalist, R&D manager, consultant, and entrepreneur. As passionate as I am about the creative and technical work we do, I’m equally, if not more passionate about supporting people’s growth.

You were a mentor in DNEG’s Mentorship Program – can you describe the program in a few words?

This was a 6-month program which paired me with a ‘mentee’ who was early in their leadership journey. The pairings were decided for us, and there was a designated launch, mid-way, and completion check-in. We also had several group sessions through the program where we got to hear alternative perspectives from external speakers. Everything else about the structure of the mentorship was left open for the mentees and mentors to design together.

What made you want to join the program?

I know the value of both formal and informal mentorship arrangements. I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned a lot over the years from several people I consider mentors, as well as benefiting from a couple of formal mentorship arrangements. I was mentored for 6 months on communication skills by a multi-Emmy-winning news interviewer, and on managing technical teams by the CTO of one of the largest animation companies. I have also previously been an industry mentor for a couple of students as part of UBC’s Computer Science department mentorship program.

I believe mentorship is an extremely impactful and rewarding way to learn and give back. At every stage in our career there is always room for growth, and a lot we can learn from others. I’m a huge supporter of DNEG’s mentorship initiative so I jumped at the chance of being involved.

How would you describe the role of a mentor? What are the main qualities required?

A mentor’s role quite simply is to offer advice and support. Usually, mentors have already achieved some level of success that the mentee wants to learn from and follow. It takes curiosity and humility on both sides, to ask questions, to listen and want to learn, to look for similarities between you both but also to accept the differences.

You were paired with Stevie Stephens, Texture Technical Supervisor, can you talk about your mentee-mentor relationship, and what it was like to work together?

Stevie and I vaguely knew each other before the program, mostly from pre-COVID times when we’d exchange a smile or a few words as we got our bikes out of the storage container at the end of a work day. We had never directly worked together before.

When we first started the mentoring relationship we agreed to meet approximately twice per month. Because I’m also a trained coach we decided to alternate between a mentorship call and a coaching call. Every coaching relationship is different because it’s a partnership, so each of the partners brings unique qualities and insights.

All of our calls focused on overcoming whatever challenge was most immediate to Stevie that week. Broadly speaking, our mentor sessions were more about developing practical skills and techniques that Stevie could use day to day, whereas the coaching sessions were more about developing who she is as a leader and building resilience for whatever challenges may come up in the future. Depending on the topic some of the sessions were quite light, and some got challenging. Despite the challenges, they were always fun and insightful.

What would you say was your biggest highlight during the program?

By far the biggest highlight was having a front-row seat to watch Stevie grow from an established senior artist to a confident powerhouse of a supervisor!

How would you describe Fred-before-the-program and Fred-after-doing-it?

As I mentioned above I’m not new to mentorship, but it’s always inspiring to see the growth in others. It inspires me to keep looking for other opportunities to support people, especially in that challenging transition from an artist into early leadership roles.

You’ve got your own coaching practice on the side, what’s the main difference between coaching and mentoring?

There is a lot of overlap between coaching and mentoring, they’re both focused on supporting the mentee or coachee to overcome challenges. The big difference is that anybody can be a mentor because the value of mentorship is in the mentor’s past experience and all of us have valuable experience to share. Meanwhile, coaching requires more skills and more self-management because the real value in coaching comes from how the coach helps the coachee to connect with their own inner wisdom.

As human beings, we have a remarkable ability to self-sabotage, often by overthinking so much that we lose sight of the obvious. Coaching helps build self-awareness about patterns of thinking and behaving so that the coachee is better able to be at their best and to make more conscious choices about how they think and act in any scenario. It goes much deeper and requires a lot more trust and vulnerability than mentoring, and the results can be much more powerful and transformative.

None of that should take away from how valuable mentorship can be though, especially since any of us can be a successful mentor or a mentee without formal training!

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a mentor?

Firstly, as much as I want to mentor members of my team, being a line manager will always give me different expectations and responsibilities that take priority over mentorship. The best mentors have relevant experience, and a willingness to share that experience, but no skin in the game. As a mentor, I want to see my mentee succeed, but it doesn’t directly impact my work if they don’t. This gives me much more freedom to be fully present and candid in a way that I can’t do as a line manager.

Beyond that, I think anyone can be a mentor. It’s so easy to overlook the experience and knowledge we pick up every single day, creatively, technically, and in the soft skills and awareness of how to successfully navigate interactions with different people. If there is someone in your department who has less experience than you, offer to meet with them once a month for an informal chat, so you can celebrate their successes and talk over anything they’re finding challenging. It really is one of the most valuable things you can do not just to support them, but also as a stepping stone to developing your own leadership skills.

 


FIND OUT MORE

Read more about DNEG’s Global Mentorship Program here.

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