Stevie Stephens

Texture Technical Supervisor and mentee in DNEG Mentorship Program

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

I have been working in VFX since 2009. I was lucky to start my career at Weta Digital where I worked with an amazing team, and got into the fun community that is film. After 5 years I moved to London and spent two years working in a lot of major studios.

Then shortly after I moved to Vancouver to join DNEG. I have been here for 6 years this month, which feels crazy. I have had the opportunity to explore amazing mountains on my bike and chill with the great DNEG crew here. I have a great number of passions, and making work fun is one of them.

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

The program for me was a platform where I was supported to explore all the options of growth that DNEG offers. I was paired with a more senior member of the team for a period of six months during which I was challenged and encouraged to see what values I already had and how to incorporate them into my work. It was also a place where I got to meet many great and experienced industry leaders, and hear the amazing stories of their own careers.

What made you want to join the program?

To be honest, I almost didn’t. When I got the offer I was actually thinking of leaving DNEG. I felt stuck at the time, like I was going nowhere. But after a conversation with a respected colleague, I decided to stay and give the program a chance. I didn’t think I was the right person for it as I wasn’t sure I could offer anything. But I am glad I made that leap and gave it a go.

You were paired with Fred Chapman, Head of Creature in Vancouver, can you talk about your mentee-mentor relationship, and what it was like to work together?

The great thing is Fred let me set the tone of every chat we had. He would have some structure or suggestions from his coaching experience, but he opened the floor up to me each time so I could go over anything that had come up with work, or thoughts about what I wanted to learn or explore.

The cool thing was that once I had signed on I just let myself go for it. I was open to Fred’s ideas of exploring the skills and values I already had. He also helped me strengthen my work methods and communication skills. I really enjoyed sharing ideas and getting to know him more.

What did you work on?

One of the things we worked on was how I wanted to work as a manager or leader for other artists. We also worked on the way I wanted to handle situations, communicate, and the type of environment I wanted to foster in the department.

Additionally, we did role play for different tough situations to build an idea of ways I could handle things in the future. It was less about my technical skill and more about how I can hold space, and use it to convey what I need or can do for others.

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

Gosh, this is really hard to say. There were so many.

Every key guest speaker we had was incredible. Hearing all the different ways people travel through their work life, realising that we are all similar in so many ways but all have something unique and valuable to offer.

Getting to do my first ever Zoom/ online panel was amazing and then growing it to the point where the team asked me to partake in a panel at SIGGRAPH. Talk to young people and professionals in the audience about how they found value in what I had to share. These moments are so rare and they meant so much.

Additionally, Fred helped me finally see the strength of character I have and how I can rely on that no matter what task or position I have. I learnt to trust myself.

How would you describe Stevie-before-the-program and Stevie-after-completing-it?

Before the program, I was just rolling along. I didn’t know how to grow, but I knew I wanted to. Now, I will take on any task thrown at me. I used to do this before but only with the things I already knew. But now I take on things far beyond my skill base and I am not afraid to learn or to ask questions as I go. It is better to try and learn than to shy away. I value myself and my skills.

The program didn’t solve everything. It didn’t answer all the questions. But what it did do was give me new tools to figure that out. Currently, Fred and I still talk and it helped connect the team more. I am also helping Debbie Langford with her own crowd tests.

How did the program align with your professional needs or goals?

This is a great one, and the answer is simple. Before the program, I felt stuck and didn’t think I could move into any new role. It gave me a little push and then followed with the support to let me step into a new role very quickly. I ran a show for 4 to 5 months, for which I took on the role of Technical Supervisor and developed DNEG’s pipeline. It helped me get my hands on a far wider range of tasks and work in a way that before used to be hard and limited.

What did you learn out of the program, are you/ how are you applying this learning to your day-to-day at work?

I learnt to take time for myself. We often feel during the crazy-busy of work that we have to keep pushing through. And so we skip lunch, we skip morning tea, afternoon tea. And in the pandemic, we do just that little extra at the beginning or end of the day. But I learnt that if I take a small break after a big meeting or in between tasks, I am actually more productive and even better than that, I am less stressed. These micro-breaks actually give my brain time to catch up, process and then switch gears to the next task, next call or actually actioning what is needed to complete the work. It slows the day down so that when I am at my desk my brain is fully engaged and more productive.  It’s incredibly effective and calming.

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

I would give the same advice I was given: you should do it. It has a lot to offer and often ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’. The program is a chance to figure that out, with the support of someone who is there for you. Be open to new things. You can learn many things in surprising ways. And even better you will be teaching your mentor just as much.

 


FIND OUT MORE

Read more about DNEG’s Global Mentorship Program here.

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