Behind the Scenes: Careers in the Movies

film jobYou've seen 'Iron Man' and 'Pirates of the Caribbean' 132,476 times, and not necessarily because your kids made you. The reason? You were amazed by the animation and CGI. If you've ever wondered, "How'd they do that?" you may have even asked yourself, "Can I do that?"

It's easier than you think. If you've got an enthusiastic attitude and a good sense of teamwork, you've already got the foundation to succeed in a career behind the scenes, says Dorne Huebler, a compositing supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas' company that provides post-production visual effects to movies, commercials and music videos. Dorne's most recent work is being showcased in the 'Eragon.'

"When you see one scene in a movie, you're seeing the work of a large team of people," Dorne says. "Somebody who's a great collaborator is going to go a long way."

The only thing left to add to that is a knowledge of computer graphics programs. As the demand for these technologically savvy designers increases, so too does the availability of degree programs for those interested in adding some "special effects" to their career, even ones available completely online. Schools such as offer cyber degree programs ranging from associate degrees in graphic design and multimedia to bachelor's degrees in visual communication.

Dorne earned his bachelor's in fine arts at the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) before the dawn of online learning, just as the very first 'Star Wars' film was coming out. "At the time, it was really groundbreaking," he says. "Something clicked when I heard about the idea of making images move. It was a great integration."

While working on his master's at Cal Arts, Dorne began freelance work doing animated graphic commercials. "It was great to get practical experience," he says. "[It enabled me] to see the application, not just the theoretical."

The experience he garnered led him to his first film, 'Superman IV.' He then moved on to the '80s children's TV program, 'Pee Wee's Playhouse' as animation art director. Since then, he's worked on such films as the 'Star Wars' prequels, and the second and third installment of the Harry Potter movies, among others.

But it was in the '90s, says Dorne, that the industry changed. 'Jurassic Park' blew everybody in the industry away, he recalls, not just in terms of imaging, but technology, too. "I worked with the computer a lot, but it meant stepping it up another level," he says. "It set the bar higher."

The artistic and financial success of the film may have also moved the educational bar up a notch as well, putting to rest the nagging question budding artists, animators and designers used to struggle with: Whether to earn a degree in fine arts or digital technology.

"[The decision] depends on your aptitude and your vision," Dorne advises. "These days, it's more legitimate that people take [computer classes] as a career path. It's just a different kind of paint brush."

In addition to a computer background, however, Dorne advises anyone with an interest in multimedia to study photography, film, and sculpting which may require some classes outside of the online realm. He also says networking is a major component of film school, something online students may have to work a little harder at.

"The truth is, you establish friendships, and three or four years into the future, they're hiring you, or you're hiring them," Dorne says. "You have to get creative online to establish those relationships."

R. Lee Dixon, an interactive media design major at The Art Institute Online, was aware of such online hurdles from the start. "I wondered if it would be too hard for me," he admits. "I was afraid I'd be alone."

What he instead found in the online classroom was "phenomenal" interaction. "I learn a lot faster and a lot more efficiently," says the 32-year-old part-time server and father of three. "And, I've had instructors who've called me and walked me through aspects of an assignment."

Ceresa Fox, also an interactive media design major at The Art Institute Online, says she likes the online program for similar reasons. "I can sit at home and do my homework, instead of sitting in the library where I get bored really easily," she says.

The 33-year-old tried the brick-and-mortar route, but it didn't work for her, as her job as a wholesale logistics noncommissioned officer with the Air Force requires her to move around a lot.

"I needed something more flexible, not something where I transferred schools every three or four years like I was doing," she says. Not only can Ceresa log on to her classes from either California or Kuwait, she can also build a portfolio, something Dorne says is paramount in impressing potential employers.

Lee is already one step ahead. On his Web site, he's created a short called 'The Birth of Insanity.' Without his online course, he would still be admiring special effects in movies like 'The Son of the Mask,' instead of being on his way to creating some of his own.

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