Jun 3, 2011
So. Sometimes not everything is sunshine and roses. Not every project is a dream. Life can give us lessons sent in ridiculous packaging.
In my case, the lesson came while working with a new VFX supervisor. The studio decided to represent a new VFX Supervisor / director by giving him this LG pitch to work on. To woo him into our studio they also gave him ‘the best artists to work with’, which meant me. For the studio, he was a wild card. He came with many accreditations and awards, but worked as a Flame Operator for the past 15+ years, and had no team leadership experience. Flame Ops usually work alone.
Working with this man turned out to the one of the worst experiences in my career. It also turned out to be a point of reference for me regarding the amount of growth any person can achieve through support and work.
The bad: Coming from Flame and higher end projects, the new VFX sup had little patience for how long motion graphics actually take. Flames, his previous world, are multi million dollar machines requiring a staff of technicians to keep the realtime compositing engine working at full speed. He also had a habit of changing his mind 3⁄4 of the way to me completing his latest contradicting animation concept, leading me to start from scratch, each time. Consequently, he would complain to production that I was a slow and useless artist, implying to the studio, that people like me, were the cause of wasted money and lost projects. Real classy guy. Sigh. The studio really wanted to work with this guy. So I kept quiet and did my work, staying late and doing weekends..
But soon after, he committed a cardinal sin. A new project he was running did not run smoothly. He would be out of the studio 4 out of 5 days a week because as he put it: “The studio couldn’t afford his time.” After about 4 weeks of missed deadlines and not hitting creative with the clients, we had a tense phone call with the agency. On this call with the client, he call out, by name, each person he did not like, how he thought they were lazy worthless artists and Curious Pictures was the problem. The studio was purposefully giving him bad artists because they don’t like him, or the project. My patience had ran out. In my mind he was an ego maniac. I saw him as a charming narcissistic man/child, unfit for any leadership position in any studio. He waisted our time, and at the first hint of pressure throws his team and his employer under the bus? Oh no. I was not having that.
So, I did my best to protect our artists, the studio, and get this menace reprimanded. Emails, meetings, etc. Professional, but sincere. My words fell on deaf ears and he was awarded another gig.
So I made sure to be on that project (/work/att-uncf/) to monitor the situation and protect my friends from this monster.
The good: Then something unexpected and remarkable happened. This guy, the VFX sup from hell, he was admittedly different than before. One of the compositors described it like this: “It’s as if he read a self help book about managing people and being nice….and is just doing all the things he reads. It is awkward, but endearing!” So, if this was true, maybe he was actually changing? I didn’t see myself, my mistrust, and my resentment being useful to the team or the VFX sups personal growth. I asked to remove myself (and my prejudice) from the show, and monitored the situation. Over the next couple of months, I saw the same change that my friend accurately summed up. This VFX sup, was slowly, awkwardly, changing into a really nice guy!
6 months after that, I would get requests from artists to work on his projects. “The new VFX sup really cool.” they would say, or “He a pleasure and fun to work with.” Etc…..
So, now a days, in my work, and life, when folks are having tough interpersonal relationships, I tell them this story. Before this encounter, I used to think that people didn’t change much. That we carried our steadily increasing burden of scars and misfortunes till we burn up, alone, in a fit of rage and depression, or go into politics.
But, looking at it through these lenses, it’s different. Imagine that person you are right now, is the person you are condemned to be for the rest of your life. Till your dying breath, you are a slave to the exact set of imperfections you shoulder at this very moment. Each insecurity a piece of clothing you can never change. Each inhibition or frustration an unfaltering source of grief. Imagine that!?!
I don’t think anyone is capable of sustaining that morbid vision for long! But, when we condemn someone to being crewel, to being mean, or a tyrant, or a narcissist….with out allowing them the possibility of change and growth….we are in essence saying that no one can change, and no one can better themselves. Neither them, or ourselves. That doesn’t feel true to me. We can improve our health. Our hearts and minds can heal. As we can change, so one must respect the ability to change in others, no?
So that was the lesson I learned from working with someone who caused me trouble at work.