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Inside Sony Pictures Imageworks

Friday, January 17th, 2003 | Article by Jean-Eric Hénault

Many people wonder what it’s like to work for one of the largest VFX/CG production facilities in the world. We recently heard that Sony was hiring madly these days. With such high-profile projects in the pipeline such as “The Matrix Reloaded”, “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Polar Express”, no wonder these people have their hands full.

We had the chance to interview Stan Szymanski who supervises the overall day-to-day operations of Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Digital Production. His department, the facility’s largest, includes computer graphics supervisors and digital artists of all types. Imageworks has grown significantly during Szymanski’s tenure, creating visual effects for “Contact,” “Starship Troopers” (Academy Award nominee for visual effects in 1997), “Godzilla,” “Stuart Little” (Academy Award nominee for visual effects in 1999), “Hollow Man” (Academy Award nominee for visual effects in 2000), “Cast Away,” “What Lies Beneath,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Spider-Man” (Academy Award nominee for visual effects in 2002), “Stuart Little 2” “Men in Black II” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”

The CG supervisors and artists in Szymanski’s department are currently in production on “The Matrix Reloaded,” “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “The Haunted Mansion,” “Big Fish,” “The Polar Express” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

This interview should answer some of the most common questions for anyone looking to work for a company like Sony Pictures Imageworks.

CGC: Sony is ramping up production on some very high-profile projects, what are you up to these days?

SS: Imageworks is currently in production on “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” “Matchstick Men,” “Bad Boys II,” “Seabiscuit,” “Cursed,” “The Polar Express,” “Haunted Mansion,” “Big Fish” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” We’ve just delivered some incredible work for the “The Matrix Reloaded” and we are ramping up on the all CG feature animation projects which are in development at Sony Pictures Animation (or SPA, as they’re known to their friends!)

One of the coolest things about Imageworks these days is our ability to offer artists an opportunity to work on both feature animation projects and visual effects productions.

CGC: What are the most urgent positions you need to fill right now?

SS: In no particular order of priority:

All senior level folks needed in these categories:

Houdini-based F/X Animation TDs
Renderman Shader Writing TDs
Look Development TDs (Includes Shader Writing, FX Development,Color and Lighting, Pipeline Design and Implementation)
Programming & Pipeline Design TDs
Dynamic Simulation TDs – Maya-based cloth, hair & fur simulation
Technical Animators (Character Set-Up and Animation Support)
Senior Character Animators

CGC: What are the most difficult positions to fill typically?

SS:

- Senior level, production experienced, technology-savvy and aesthetically gifted individuals in ALL categories!
- Houdini-based F/X Animation TDs
- Look Development TDs (Includes Shader Writing, FX Development, Color and Lighting, Pipeline Design and Implementation)

CGC: How does someone apply for a job at Imageworks?

SS: Multiple choice answer:

a. Submit demo reel and resume that shows off ONLY the good stuff
b. Target and tailor your reel, portfolio & resume submissions to the open positions at Imageworks
c. Talk to your friends who are currently working on the cool projects at Imageworks
d. Attend industry events that Imageworks sponsors or participates in.
e. All of the above.

CGC: How many job requests do you typically get at Imageworks in a month?

SS: We receive approximately 50 portfolio, demo reel and resume submissions each week, so about 200 each month.

CGC: How do you process all these requests you get (Resumes, Reels, Portfolios)?

SS: We conduct multiple portfolio, reel and resume reviews with various lead artists, animation supervisors, art directors, hiring managers and computer graphics supervisors. We look at all of the submissions and determine the fit for an individual on the projects we are currently staffing.

CGC: How significant is it for someone to have a contact or references in-house when applying for a job?

SS: It can definitely make the difference in determining if we should hire artist A, who may be qualified but is unknown to the company, or Artist B who may be equally qualified, but is known to folks in the company.

CGC: What is the best advice you can give for someone who wants to apply for a job at Imageworks?

SS: Do the research. Find out what the projects are, who is working on them, what positions are being filled and what the necessary qualifications are for each position. Always look to tailor your submission to the requirements of the positions.

CGC: What are the work conditions at Imageworks like? (I hear you get great rebates on all Sony goods)

SS: We are a very dynamic company with a significant number of top creative talent working on multiple very cool, high-profile visual effects and animation projects. I think we’re a company that thrives on challenge and the opportunity to innovate. We also place great value on the open and collaborative nature of our process.

And. it’s true, we do a get great discounts at the Sony electronics store over on the main lot.

CGC: How about the environment itself?

SS: We are a company of artists. Or, the lunatics have taken over the asylum – insanity is expected and encouraged. It’s not at all unusual for a funny hat party to pop up at a moment’s notice. Or for radio controlled car races to break out in front of the building.

Most of all, we are a company of filmmakers and storytellers. We have the privilege of collaborating on some of the coolest projects with the film industry’s most creative and innovative directors, producers and supervisors.

And we are just across the street from The Culver Stages – the former home of David O. Selznick Studios, RKO Radio Pictures and Desilu Productions.

We’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to the creation of some groundbreaking visual effects on projects like “Contact,” “Stuart Little,” “Stuart Little 2,” “Spider-Man” and “The Polar Express” on the same sound stages where “Gone With The Wind,” “Rebecca” and “Citizen Kane” were filmed.

CGC: What percentage of your personnel is hired “staff” versus “specific project” workers?

SS: The percentage shifts based on the type and duration of the projects. The type of position is also a major factor in the determination of which positions are core staff and which are project based production positions. It is more likely that a senior level, lead artist or supervisor type will be in a core staff position.

CGC: Given the current political climate in the world, how hard is it for an international worker to work at Imageworks?

SS: Each individual artist’s situation will vary and the ease (or difficulty) in obtaining right to work permission is dependent on a multitude of factors, including relevant experience, educational qualifications and technical/artistic skills. We actively solicit international talent to join us. We enjoy the fresh influx of aesthetic, technical and problem solving skills that feature an international flair!

If you’d like to submit your resume and/or demo-reel, please send to the following coordinates:

Sony Pictures Imageworks
Human Resources
9050 West Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA, 90232
Phone: 310 840-8000

Related Links:

Sony Pictures Imageworks

Many thanks to Stan Szymanski for going through this inquisition with us and a Million thank you’s to Mary Reardon for making this interview possible.

We hope you found this interview enlightening. Please, share your thoughts on our discussion forum and let us know what you think. Share your own hiring experiences with us!

Editorial Assistance by Xen Wildman


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