How I got my job: Anthony Vega-Cruz, digital animator at Cutting Edge Productions
How I got my job is a series that spotlights a specific job or position that isn’t often featured in media. Through this series, we hope to shed light on the duties and work-life of some of the most interesting jobs in the Philippines. We’ll also share a few tips from insiders on how to land one of these positions.
This week, we talked to someone responsible for bringing imaginary scenes right in front of our eyes: Computer-generated imagery (CGI)-animation head at Cutting Edge Productions, Anthony Vega Cruz.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a digital animation and visual effects artist working for Cutting Edge Productions as the Head of Operations for CGI-Animation. I’ve been in the digital animation industry since 1996, but I’ve been in the classical animation industry since 1989.
What is your educational background?
I have a BS in Architecture degree from the University of Santo Tomas; there were no animation schools back then, digital or otherwise.
How did you become interested in CGI?
I’ve been fascinated in animation and computers since I was a child, it was only a natural progression from there to digital visual effects (VFX).
What kind of training did you go through to become a CGI artist?
In 1996, I joined Optima Digital’s 3D Department as a trainee using Alias-Wavefront PowerAnimator. There was no formal training, we had one month to immerse ourselves in the manuals and make ourselves production-ready, or else we get kicked off the team. I was assigned to my first project by the end of my second week. That was my baptism by fire so to speak.
Can you give us an idea on your journey from your first foray into digital animation until your current job?
I’ve waited for my chance to join Optima since 1993, then in early ’96, I got my chance when they had a job opening. I left two years later to work as a freelance artist.
In 1999, along with my friend Jay Santiago, we joined Underground Logic (UGL) to setup CGI-VFX for TV commercials. Two months after that, we were asked to become working partners/shareholders in the company. We bought the very first Maya license in Manila from Singapore in 2000.
By 2003, Jay and myself left UGL and put up our own company from scratch, Riot Inc. We created a new business model, “fantaseryes” for TV, and CGI for traditional animation.
In 2009, I was asked back into Optima Digital to setup its new 3D department, but when it became clear that Optima’s vision for CGI was incompatible with my own mission, I moved on in 2011.
Jessie Lasaten, the CEO of Cutting Edge, invited me to join the company in August 2011 to setup CGI and handle the Technology Department as an OIC. I’ve been with the company since then.
What’s a typical day like for you?
check my email and my message inboxes even before I have coffee. After a triage, I send my replies before I brush my teeth!
At the office, my producer, coordinators, and supervisors get together and make sure we’re on the same page before we begin the day.
There’s no such thing as a 9 to 5 in my world, it’s mostly an 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. plus.
When I get home, I check my email one more time before bed.
You have worked on numerous projects over the past two decades. Can you name some of your personal favorites?
I’ve got a few.
My favorite is still Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Jose Rizal. It was a personal honor to work on that project. There’s hasn’t been one like it.
In 2000, there was “Afternoon Delight,” our first TV commercial in Underground Logic. It won Best Visual Effects in the Creative Guild of the Philippines.
Next are the qualifying tests Winnie the Pooh and Tom & Jerry. In 2003, these were the first CGI to integrate with classical animation.
Another one is Mulawin, the very first hour-long fantaserye.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like the challenge of figuring out the hows, whats and most especially the whys of each project. No project in CGI is truly ever the same. Learning new techniques or creating new ones are part of the game, you’re always on your toes but that’s the exciting part.
One NEVER stops studying, learning and figuring out solutions to new projects. It’s like a never-ending quest that doesn’t get stale! However, it’s probably the challenge of trying to put the country on the map that keeps me going.
Describe some of the challenges.
No government subsidies (unlike ALL our ASEAN neighbors) on one hand, 33% Capital Gains tax on revenues on the other. The industry challenges are a breeze, actually. It’s the conditions under which we work that pose a true test of will and endurance. Sometimes, I ask myself why we even put up with this in the country—we would obviously do much better some place else. We are all patriotic in our own ways, I suppose.
How competitive is the job market for CG artists in the Philippines?
Locally, there are plenty of opportunities for CGI artists, from game development to feature films. But there are only a handful of big, established companies. Currently, we tend to export more artists to Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and so on, than anything else.
How do you see this industry in the next five years?
There is a huge growing demand for content whether it’s for TV or film all over the world. Locally, the market won’t be maturing in my lifetime, so it’s the foreign market and distribution we should and will be going for. India and China, will always be there to dilute the pot, but their market differs culturally from ours and the west. Our best chance is to position ourselves for the international demand outside of their reach, hopefully our country can get most of its act together by then…Or is that wishful thinking?
How should one prepare for a job and a career in CG?
First, get into the right school. You’ll need a school that develops the ARTIST side of the brain, the part that REALLY matters. Learning the software tools of the trade is insignificant at this point—that comes much later, that’s why it’s called CG-artist and not CG-technician.
Next, you’ll need to find an internship or on-the-job training, it’s where you’ll find what you really need to learn for the real world.
Can you suggest books and must-learn software tools for those who are starting out in this field?
The internet, of course.
Digital Tutors are a must have, then there’s Gnomon Workshop and FXPHD.
As head of CGI, what are the requisite skills that you look for in your applicants?
Proficiency in the tools of the trade initially, traditional artist’s skills next. But, most important of all, I look for the qualities needed to mold CGI-artists in our own image: aptitude for learning new applications, endurance to persevere, and most of all the innate desire and aspiration to be better.
Got tips on putting together demo reels that will help applicants land a job?
No funky audio! CG showreels are meant to be seen, not heard.
Companies are looking for artists who can do what needs to be done and not those who are still trying to find themselves. So, focus on the visuals, cut back on the attitude (I’ve thrown out lots of those kinds of demos, apparently).
Reels need not be long, include only the best clips and works you got; long reels just get scrubbed through or ignored.
Include “shared credits” in the shotlist that go with your reel; it shows you’ve worked in a team and have basic human decency.
CGI is a team player’s art. If you’re not, then you’re probably in the wrong industry.
Any advice for aspiring CG artists?
One word: CREATE!