Like many of his peers, Thomas James was inspired to pursue a career in visual effects from watching Harry Potter movies as a youth. Today, after several years of working as an effects artist in film, TV, and advertising in his native London, James is Rising Sun Pictures’ newest teacher.
With credits including Avengers: Infinity Wars and the Tom Hanks drama News of the World, James realized that his true passion was for training and helping aspiring artists. He soon discovered that he had a knack for teaching by assisting coworkers at Outpost, London.
“I helped people debug their scenes,” he recalls. “I enjoyed sitting down with them and saw that they were gaining knowledge. I wanted to do more of that. When a trainer’s job became available at MPC, I thought, let’s give it a go. Now, I don’t think I could go back to a role as a fulltime artist. I want to do this continuously.”
Teaching not only altered James’ career path it changed him as a person. Previously, a self-described introvert, working with students drew out his gregarious nature. “I never thought I’d be teaching young artists; I was always more comfortable curled up in a room, reading a book,” he recalls. “Visual effects are all about teamwork. You have to be able to talk, work and get along with many different people. I was surprised by how well I got on with my students.”
James spent a year as a trainer at MPC before moving halfway around the globe to join RSP. During that time, he learned a lot about what it takes to be a good VFX teacher. A deep knowledge of industry standard software and professional practices are obviously essential, but an even more important quality is empathy. “It takes a good person, someone people can go to and say, ‘I need help,’” he explains. “You need to be able to show people how to do things in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. You also need to be supportive and a good motivator.”
Aspiring artists, too, need to master the toolset and develop problem-solving skills, but determination and a positive attitude are critical to long-term success. “Be passionate, strive to learn and accept criticism,” James suggests. “There’s a chapter in RSP’s handbook that says, ‘leave your ego at the door,’ and I think that’s really good advice. Being humble is a great place to start.”
James has just begun teaching his first classes at RSP, but he’s already impressed by how quickly his students are developing their skills. “It’s going well,” he says. “The program was designed by RSP in partnership with UniSA to give students their best chance of success. My students are very enthusiastic. Some are familiar with Houdini, but others are entirely new to visual effects. We teach the basics of the software and expose students to a bit of everything. The goal is to make them ready for industry.”
While job prospects for aspiring artists have never been better, expectations are rising too. “The skills required by employers are getting higher and higher,” James says. “This course is like a 12-week job interview. Students who do well have proven themselves. It’s common knowledge that RSP graduates are in high demand. So, if you are passionate about visual effects, do your research, see what the course offers, and do what you can to stand out. If you succeed at that, you’ve got a great shot at success.”