From VFX Apprentice to Working on Fortnite for Epic Games

interview student showcase unreal engine Jun 06, 2022
VFX Apprentice Interview - Fortnite FX Artist Abbie Chmil

From jewelry designer to the Fortnite FX team, Abbie Chmil tells us about her journey that has taken her to Epic Games. 

Abigail Chmil is a graduate Savannah College of Art and Design and the VFX Apprentice Booms and Blast course. During her time in the course, she began submitting applications to work as a Visual FX Artist and within months she landed interviews with Bungie, Epic Games, and Blizzard Entertainment

VFX Apprentice's Jason Keyser sat down with this alumnus to talk about her career growth, and what she learned to become an in-demand FX artist.  

 See More from Abbie Chmil

Full Interview Transcript

Jason Keyser: Hello, everyone. Welcome to this student showcase series where we talk with students that have recently come in through the VFX Apprentice program to help give you a better idea of what you can expect and a bit of advice on your VFX journey as you learn with us. So today I'm joined by Abbie Chmil. She is one of our recent graduates, although you never really graduate from learning, she is now working as an intern at Epic Games on the Fortnite team.

Abbie Chmil: Hi. Thank you for having me.

JK: Yeah, of course. So I wanted to dove in a little bit to your journey. Like, how is it that you discovered effects? What is it that brought you to this point of finding us at VFX Apprentice?

AC: Sure. So simply, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in design, but overall, a bachelor of Fine Arts to begin with. And my husband, who I met in college, actually does visual effects for a living. And he kind of, as a joke, mentioned it to me and was like, I think you could do this. I was like, Yeah, I could do this.

And so he gave me like a mini art test, super, super simple. It was like a four frame flipbook of like fire. And I was like, I drew it. And he was like, Well like you actually, like, can do this. And so he'd been following your kind of story and your advertising for this course, and he recommended it to me, and I said, Yeah, I think I'm going to do it. And I quit my job and started the education. So here we are.

JK: Amazing. So you had an education in jewelry design previously? Yes. You had practiced drawing skills, technology skills, all those kinds of things before even arriving with this, right?

AC:  Yeah. My degree taught me the full Adobe Suite and as well as like general art credentials. But I've been an artist my whole life before college.

JK: Awesome. So that's good context. So since you've been with us, I've it's been really fun watching your journey. You've really progressed a ton, even from day one. That was just amazing to see how on fire you were with it. Tell us a little bit about what it was like from your perspective. No holds barred, the good, the bad, the ugly. What was it like being in the VFX Apprentice ecosystem? Of learning?

AC: Well, to start, there was no bad or ugly because everybody in the community is super welcoming, super helpful, it makes it that much easier to feel like this is the right step because everybody just had those like answers for you whenever you had a question. But overall, the education was super straightforward for me because I already did have that art background, so I didn't have to do a ton of other tutorials to kind of catch myself up, but it was super hands on, and in that way I learned a lot. I wouldn't have been able to get where I am right now without this course. 100%.

JK: So awesome. That's really nice to hear. I know that like it was just insane to see how fast you got to where you are, right? This is the other big part that I think we need to share. And we'll start with first the unbelievable story about how quickly things progressed with you. I'd love to hear you talk about that, but then I'll share a little bit about maybe some of the current conditions existing in the entertainment industry.

That allow these sort of things to happen. So from entrance into our program till you got your first job offer, I guess for your internship, you actually got a couple of different job inquiries and interviews. I got to hear about those too. But from that point of entering until the point when you got your internship, how long was that?

AC: So I quit my job as an assistant manager producer, so nothing fancy, but it was a job I quit my job the first week of July of this year, and I started the course that week. Basically and so July, August, September, October. And now we're basically in December. We're in like the first week of December, so six months total. But I started interviewing on my like third month of education.

JK: And had a portfolio within three months that caught the eye of, of Epic Games and others.

AC: Yeah, and others. And it was super, super weird and well, not weird. That's the wrong word. Super nerve wracking because I have not been in the games industry previously. I've been in the design industry, but just not in this specific industry. And so it was a weird to feel wanted when I haven't actually been in the industry. But it all started just by me posting on social media my stuff from this course and I think it caught people's eye not only because they recognize your name and your course, but because of what I was doing.

I was taking the course and making my own content, my own assets based on the education that was given to me from your assets and from your courses. Teachings. But I wanted to make my own things, and because of that, it helped me progress that much faster as well because I was learning as I went yeah.

JK: That's so exciting to hear. That's something that I encourage every instructor that we have as they are creating content with us. I was like, Tell them to not copy exactly what you're doing. This is something that should be the students own work so that it shines, that they know how to be creative. And that's certainly something that you that's advice that you took, and I'm really glad that you did.

Yeah. So this is great. So, you know, you worked hard, obviously, and you didn't have a regular job, which is nice. I'm assuming your husband, he was he was working to cover that while you were doing your thing.

AC: Yeah. Yeah. He was instrumental in me being successful in this so quickly because if I had to work a job as well as do this education, it would have taken me much longer than it did because I was able to focus on this as if it was my full time job.

JK: Right. So tell me about one of the effects that you were so focused on and sort of how that journey went, because I know a lot of people just starting out, they're probably wondering, you know, what is it even like to create in effect, I know you were at a loss completely when you were starting your life. What is this?

What if I stepped into what was it like? How did you get the help you needed to get those answers and to get it created.

AC: So to start, I, I did everything chronologically, like according to the syllabi and so I started with the like atomic bomb type explosion. And that was one was really more so like getting my fuel for the engine for Unreal itself. So once I did that, that was not like a very like I didn't spend as much time on that.

It was more about learning where things were, how to work, certain things. My second effect actually is, is the one I spent the most time on specifically because I did my concepts without any knowledge of visual effects. And how to make them. I kind of did it like, Oh, this is going to be like I approached it kind of like, Oh, this is a sketch for a sculpture.

I'm going to make because I already knew how to make a sculpture. So in my brain I could see it three dimensionally, but I'm like, Yeah, I don't know how to make that. So my second effect is called my skull sludge, and it's based on the Wisp tutorial, like the Nether with kind of that type of effect. It uses some of the same teachings, but just in a different way.

And so specifically I had this awesome concept. I loved it as soon as I drew it and it had this big skull face in the center of it to represent like toxicity and poison and things like that. And in my brain I was like, Yeah, I'm just going to model a 3D skull and do it that way again.

Having no knowledge of visual effects to back me up on this. And so that is not what happened at all. After a lot of trial and error, it ended up being that I had a dissolve map and I had like all these other, like other things that played into creating my skull. But it was not originally what I thought because I had no knowledge of it.

But the way I was able to get to where I ended up was because I was joining the weekly the weekly meetings that this community holds, as well as whenever I had a question, there would always be somebody online that I could talk to because the community has grown a lot. So it made it really easy for me to be like, Hey, I think I need to do this, what do you think?

And then it was easy to have that conversation and kind of keep keep the momentum going because of how many people there are to talk to you in the community.

JK: Absolutely. That's great. So essentially, like because we're spread across the world, we have teaching assistants in various time zones in Europe and North America. So yeah, that's good to hear that we were able to catch you at the times that you needed. So you're working on this effect. You're putting a few of them together. I always get this question. So I got to ask you, what was in your portfolio that caught your eye? Like how many effects and about what they were like?

AC: So I had by the time I had my first company reach out to me, I only had two effects, but by the time I was speaking with Epic, I had three and I had almost finished a fourth, so I was able to show them it in progress. And that was through a very like informal communication. Like here it is informally not finished, but almost finished. And they just wanted to see that because they wanted to see that. I want that I knew how to use certain aspects of Unreal because it's with Epic, they are their founders, so they were just like checking some boxes. But I technically had three effects and the things that caught their I was exactly what I had mentioned with taking your teeth your courses, teachings and making my own like from scratch where I have, I modeled all my spheres, even though there was definitely spheres to like pull from.

I modeled all my atomic bomb things. I like all of those assets while they are similar for mine because I took their time and to, Oh, I see how you're doing this. Let me try it a different way. But with the same asset things like that. So it is a lot of puzzle pieces back and forth. But they, they did tell me that because I took the time to do that, my pieces were while they could still see the similarities to your course and they could see the teachings, they recognized the artistic aspect and were like OK, I see what you're doing.

I appreciate that. As well as the Uber shader couldn't do everything for me. So I did end up writing a couple of shaders for myself and they were really happy to see that as well. It's not even that they were super complex by any means. They just did what I asked easier than plugging it into the Uber shader, and that helped me understand making a material.

JK: I love that you are speaking the lingo. For anyone listening to the flow of consciousness that Abbie is giving us. It was only six months ago that she was brand new. So yeah, this is, these are terms and things that we teach and that we help you understand what it is and how to make it.

Essentially, she's saying you don't need to get super technical with everything. I think it's more about the. Yeah. And the creativity that studios generally that's.

AC: That's what I'm seeing and that's what people were telling me, like approaching me. And they were more intrigued in the fact that I had artistic skill because the technical stuff can be taught that is like one plus one equals two takes longer.

JK: Yeah. It's like.

AC: So they're like they were looking for the looking for one thing. And I had that one thing sort of like, we can teach the rest. And that's basically exactly how I got this internship. I it was the only job that I applied to the rest of the people that I was in contact with had actually reached out to me based on my social media and things like that.

JK: Can you tell us who else reached out to you?

AC: Yeah. So I was in contact with Bungie, Blizzard, and this tiny little company called Pocket Gems and then Epic Games as well. Those were the four studios that I was like actively in contact with. And I actually I actually made it through all of the interview processes for Bungee and Blizzard as well as Epic Bungee gave me a full time offer.

It was they were an excellent company. The only reason I didn't choose them was because I would have to move, and that was just not in my cards. At the moment. But everybody there was absolutely amazing. The interview process was super nice, super quick in like a good way and then epic. The internship is remote and it's for six months, so I chose that because the pay was relatively similar.

So that part didn't really I wasn't really taking a loss anywhere. So I was like, I felt really comfortable with it. And now that I've actually been in it, I it just backs my decision even more because everybody here is absolutely awesome, super hands on and super, super easy to talk to.

JK: So I was going to say, I know people that all of the studios that you mentioned except pocket gems, but fantastic humans that I would love to work with and yeah, that's that you got so many amazing opportunities so we're going to wrap this up. We want to keep this like super concise, but I want to let everyone know that we are available for you to contact us.

I know. Abbie, before you and I were talking, you're cool people contacting you. Oh, yeah. Follow up questions.

AC: Definitely. I my DMS are always open. You can either add me on discord or however the contact works. You can also have my email. Any of the above would be totally fine with me because I was new recently, and so I'm happy to answer any questions a newbie might have whether you've been in the games industry for a long time, or whether you're new to art completely. I'm happy to assist in any way I can.

JK: That's great. Thank you so much for coming today. For anyone who wants to learn more, we've got a ton of amazing content here on the YouTube channel. It's all free. You can check it out, fill it out, understand if the effects might be right for you. If you have any questions that we're not able to answer in the videos, you are free to reach out.

There's links in the description. There's a contact page on the effects apprentice dot com, and of course we'll link Abbie's work so you can get all of her. So thank you, everyone. For watching. Thanks, Abbie, for coming.

AC: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

JK: All right. Bye for now.

Check out Booms and Blasts

These are the very classes Abbie Chmil studied before landing a job with Epic Games. Learn more about our Booms and Blasts bundle of Visual FX courses


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