Unit 9 – Reflective Report

I was fortunate enough to receive a good variety of work experience in the last two years. I worked at Elstree studios on Last Days on Mars for two weeks, Plunge productions for one week, and had two commissions. One commission was a private commission for two D20 containers, and the other was for a short film being funded on kickstarter. I got a wide range of experience doing all of these and have learned a lot about professional techniques and work environments.

First, I worked at Elstree. This was an amazing opportunity, but also a very steep learning curve. They were building a very large Mars rover type vehicle when I arrived. It was extremely impressive to work beside people who had worked on so many amazing films and are so talented. I was kind of star struck. It was so odd to hear people talk so casually about life casting celebrities or building light sabers. It made me realize though that these guys were just working men who were good at their job. They didn’t have some impossible level of talent, they just worked hard and had tons of experience.

I learned a lot very quickly from the prop makers there and had to take copious notes to keep up. A majority of the work was fillering and sanding the main vehicle, but occasionally when I asked for further responsibility I was allowed to add some of the curves or make the fibreglass moulds. There was so much to learn about every single thing I did, even fillering. It doesn’t seem like a complicated area, but I learned a lot of techniques on how to get filler to work exactly how you want. I always feel more confident having done something before, but when I saw the impressive way they used fibreglass I felt like I knew nothing about it. This is where I learned the most. One of the men there, Paul Waller, was an expert on fibreglass moulding and casting. He instructed me, very kindly, on exactly how to make a professional level mould. I still have the notes I took and look back at them when I do similar work. It was an invaluable experience for learning professional techniques.

Almost more importantly I learned what it was like to work in a professional environment. I learned what kind of work ethic was needed and what it was like to work beside others without getting in their way. Just being in a workshop is a really valuable experience. I found that although speed is very important so is patience. If you don’t take the time required to do something you run too much of a risk of messing it up. Human error happens more often when you feel rushed. Things are always worth being done carefully and the right way. For example, when preparing a piece to be moulded with fibreglass, I was instructed to apply eight layers of wax. Although the piece would have probably been fine after four, the extra caution covered any mistakes possibly done in haste.

Plunge Productions further clarified that most workplaces operate in the same style. At Plunge I did a much more broad variety of projects, from packaging to cutting 10mm steel sheet with a giant angle grinder. It was very diverse because they were running four to five different projects at once. I knew my place fairly well after my experience at Elstree so I wasn’t as lost as before. I still learned plenty though. One important new thing I latched onto is to not be afraid to ask for things to do. You’re a new member of the team and a temporary worker; so its ridiculous for you to know what’s going on when you haven’t been given a direction. Usually you can clean, but even most of that is left for the end of the day. I figured out that most people appreciate you asking for more and more work to do. It makes you seem keen to work and busy. The opposite side to this though is to never ask for a job other than what they asked you to do. There is obviously exceptions, but generally tackle every job handed to you. You can ask for help, but don’t use apathy as an excuse for anything.

At Plunge I had a chance to ask a lot of the others about how often they worked and how the different jobs. Many of them circulated through a few different companies at a pretty regular rate. Some would work at Plunge for a few months, then another workshop for the rest of the year. Every place has it’s slow period so it works out for a lot of shops to refer their workers to another place when they don’t need the extra hands. Some of the workers found it to be a good system, but others really wanted a solid job, but there aren’t really any unless you are a workshop manager. I still learned what the lifestyle of the typical prop maker is, good or bad. I think it entirely depends on where you are in life.

I then did a private commission for a personal friend to make two dice containers. I got paid cost and had a deadline so although it wasn’t the most professional of experience I learned a lot. I had the experience of being solely responsible for a project. Working to a deadline is something that needs constant practice to get good at so I appreciated the experience. It always gives a project more gravitas when you are making something for a customer rather than a grade. With the container, I employed a few techniques I had used before so I had something I knew I could deliver on, but still found I had plenty to improvise. Problem solving is a very important skill when working alone. In a workshop, you have peers that can help and even take things off your hand if you get lost, but on a private commission it’s all up to you. You have to tackle every issue with patience. When I was doing the container I ran into a hiccup with how the hinge would fit in and I had to drop it for the day and think about it a lot to finally come to a conclusion. It was stressful, but I found the breather to be exactly what I needed to solve the issue.

Lastly, I did another commission for the short film The Halfway Place. Even though the project was being funded on a kickstarter, I was told that I would get paid whether it succeeded or not. This was a really enjoyable job. The client gave me a loose idea of three masks that he wanted for the film, and let me design them. It wasn’t complex, but I enjoy designing and he really seemed to like my ideas. After clearing with him what my design was, I made a price/materials list for him to sign off as well. I got lots of good feedback from the client. He appreciated the amount of professionalism I used and said it made him feel more comfortable about not having met me. I ran into a couple issues in the build, but still finished well before the deadline. I found this to be a really nice transaction with a customer and a really satisfying level of responsibility.

In the end I learned a lot about the job, but the most important thing I took away is just what it means to be a professional. It might sound cliche, but you have to be a hard worker, reliable, and motivated. There is no room in a workshop for someone who doesn’t understand what it really means to work hard and I find that comforting. There will always be a job for me as long as I get that opportunity to show them that I understand my place in the workshop. And if I should choose to do private commissions I know how to handle the responsibility. Also, being good at tea runs will make people like you.

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