Reflections on the Aspiring Women programme with Liz Mitchell, CG Supervisor, DNEG TV

Aspiring Women was a 6-month personal development programme hosted by NextGen and ScreenSkills, aimed at women working within the games, animation and VFX industries. Here, Liz Mitchell, CG Supervisor at DNEG, shares her journey to a career in the VFX industry,including Aspiring Women programme, and how she is inspiring other women to take up roles in the industry.  

Starting out

I first became interested in animation and VFX when I was a teenager.  I visited Disney World with my family where we watched the animators working on Toy Story. After doing some more research into animation, I decided that it was what I wanted to do.  I studied Art, Maths and Design & Technology at A-Level, before completing a degree in Computer Animation & Visual Effects at Bradford University.

I started my career as a Runner at The Mill in Soho.  After a few months I moved into the Media Transfer Department as a VT Operator and trained in the 3D department around my working hours.  A couple of years later, after working full time and training as often as I could, I was accepted onto a Skillset Visual Effects Course at Escape Studios.  This was a great opportunity where I trained full time for five months followed by a one-month internship back at The Mill. I then started as a junior in the 3D Commercials Department.

The Aspiring Women Programme

I heard about the Aspiring Women programme while at The Mill, the information was sent around to us by the Recruitment team and those of us fitting the criteria were encouraged to apply.  I was very pleased to be accepted as I was keen to take the next step in my career, but needed the confidence to do so.

I was acting as a 3D Lead when coming into the programme, but was at a point where I needed an extra push before being given the title.  I hoped the programme would give me the extra confidence I needed and would encourage me to believe in myself a little bit more.  

The programme was very worthwhile.  I met many like-minded women and it was a great environment to discuss stories and see that despite there not being many women in my department, there were women with the same goals and experiences as me in the industry.

As part of the Aspiring Women programme we were given a mentor in the industry.  Mine was Sheila Wickens, who was a VFX Supervisor/Head of 2D at Lipsync at the time.  When discussing the kind of mentor we'd like, I'd said it was important to me to work with a woman who was a working Mum, as I'd never worked with a senior female artist who was a mother in 3D, and I wanted to see that it was possible.  Sheila was very supportive and encouraging, we would meet up to discuss where I was in my career and what I'd like to achieve.  She helped me to build the confidence to take the next step and not long after completing the course, I got my current role at DNEG TV.  We kept in contact after the course and actually work together at DNEG TV now.  It's lovely to continue to learn from her and swap stories.  She is the only female VFX Supervisor in the department now, so is still a fantastic role model.

Aspiring Women taught me to have set goals in my career and to go for them, and that communication is everything.  I have learnt to vocalise what I want from my career and to tell my managers what I would like to achieve, rather than expecting them to know without me speaking up.   I was a quieter character than some of my peers before, and often less assertive, but the course helped me to speak up and grasp the roles and opportunities I wanted.

After Aspiring Women

After ten amazing years at The Mill, I felt it was the right time to try another company.  The role at DNEG TV was an exciting career move for me and I'm very glad I made the decision to move, despite it being a difficult one after working at The Mill for so long.  While there I have supervised a number of shows that I am very proud of.  I was part of the lighting team for a Black Mirror episode that went on to win a Bafta, which was immensely rewarding.  

I am also particularly proud of a number of other projects.  While at The Mill I worked on a commercial where I shadowed the Head of 3D as a Lead on the project, this really helped me to learn all areas of the pipeline on a project and what was involved in leading a big team.  My first project at DNEG TV was for a ten-episode drama called Will, about William Shakespeare, which was a good introduction to how things were done at DNEG and everyone was so welcoming and helped me to settle into the new role.

I am currently part of a huge team working on the biggest project our department has worked on, so I am still learning new things all the time. For now, I am happy in the role I am in, and have achieved what I wanted to for this stage in my career.  I hope to continue working on bigger and more challenging projects and gain more experience as a CG Supervisor before hopefully progressing to a VFX Supervisor.

Inspiring the next generation

I have been involved with various presentations to inspire women in the industry. I have been back to my senior school which is an all-girls school, to talk about my role at a careers fair, specifically to encourage more girls to enter the industry.  Most recently I did a presentation for Art Week at my nephew's school and it was very rewarding to see the children's reaction to the work we do.

For anyone just starting out in the industry, I know it's quite difficult to feel settled and get into the role you want to be in, so I'd encourage them to stick at it, that they'll get there in the end.  Once you have some experience you can build on that and get to the role that you'd like.  It's important to network and meet like-minded people, and to not be afraid to move between companies, as you'll meet new people and old friends that you've worked with before.  

Using social media such as LinkedIn is a great way to keep in contact with colleagues and to hear about other possible working opportunities. There are also various social groups you can join which regularly arrange networking events, for example Animated Women or Women in VFX. This is also a really enjoyable way to meet people in the industry.

Written by