Should Graduates be Runners?

10 February 2017

Event Photo by @dripster

Written by Tom Box. Photo by Ian Palmer.

Last week at The VFX Festival, Andy Brassington from Escape Studios hosted a panel discussion to talk about recruitment in the VFX & Animation industry. Part of that focused on whether a Runner was a valid route into industry from education, here’s what the different studio’s representatives had to say….

Henry Bull, The Mill

In terms of working in groups and time management, that’s what we try and teach our juniors, it might be they may be the best concept artist or animator, the fact is they may not be ready to work on our shots as they don’t know how to follow a delivery schedule or receive feedback from their supervisor. Breaking into the industry on a running level teaches those really strong qualities. Then over a few months you can learn those, so you step into suite or client feedback session and you’re ready. No matter how great your academic institution is, you are learning information you can’t get anywhere else. As an average at The Mill you’ll spend 5-10 months as a runner, you’re paid, you’re in london and you’re getting support. So when you step into the role, then boom, you’re up and running. We talk to producers and see what roles we need in 6 months, so we can push for a VR runner and promote them. It’s a strucutre that works.

Paul Wilkes, MPC Advertising

Obviously there is an aspect to running that is making tea and coffee, but there is a huge variety of other tasks and we move runners around departments - they get to meet key people. MPC is a large company with interconnected parts which is quite hard for people to get and understand if they have never worked at VFX company. To be totally honest from MPC Advertising point of view we have very few opportunities for junior artists to come straight into the department and work on a live shots because of the expectations of the work to be produced. Unlike the film businesses which have more of a training structure in place, for us, everyone is a billable artists so the opportunity for a junior artist to come in and work on a live shot is rare. So there has to be the process of learning, developing getting to know people and trust to do that sort of work in the right way.

[Update from Paul] Just for clarity the Runner role at MPC (both Film and Advertising) tends to be a route into Production (Scheduling, Production Assistants etc) - we do hire Junior Artists directly into both 3D and 2D but these openings are relatively few and far between.

Amy Smith, Framestore

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and there is a strong part of me that doesn't know if that is the right way anymore. As with The Mill and MPC, we have a Runner development programme we take very serious. The majority of senior management at Framestore started as runners. But I almost feel that's the problem. It's the status quo and as a result nobody challenges it. And I wonder if we’re reaching a point where we do have to think about challenging it. There are lots of other industries out there who have same challenges with bringing graduates into their business; how to get them up to speed and how to learn the business. But they don’t do it by having them make tea and coffee, they do it via other methods of training. And I wonder if as an industry, if actually we’ve ever taken a step back and say, you know what, that did, and has worked for us, but does it still work for us?

Tom Box, Blue Zoo Animation

I think it also it depends on who you are as a person, if you are not sure of what department or career path you want to work in, then Running is a good route for that. But if you've spent three years at University and are 40k in debt, my own personal opinion is that I don’t think you should be making cups of tea. At our studio we don't have Runners, instead we opt for internships where you can learn on the job at a lesser wage but still a living wage in London. So it comes down to the person finding the most appropriate route and what they feel are comfortable doing. Also research the company to make sure their development program for Runners is well thought through - I saw a company advertising for “freelance runners” - don’t apply for a job like this! You will not get anywhere. Additionally, I think it’s different from VFX to Animation, in VFX it’s a common route to become a runner, for Animation it’s a lot more common for graduates to go straight into artist roles.

Jill Wallace, Axis

At Axis we don’t have a running programme per se, we feel the same as Blue Zoo - people who have studied and spent money shouldn’t be making cups of tea. We have a mentoring scheme we’ve put in place where we have relationships with local universities, where students come in one day a week and have one to one time with a mentor and feedback on their projects. We find that’s a good way to engage and train them up. By the time they graduate they are in a good position to come into the studio as a paid artist at a junior rate. We also are looking at a similar work experience program, where you come in for one day a week to work on your own project.

Claire Norman, Milk VFX

We have a mentor scheme - we work with various groups like Creative Skillset and Screen International. Job warranted we’ll have junior positions open that we need o fill but it’s always based on projects we have. We do have runners and lean to people who want to progress into artists jobs. I think we do very well as our Runners don’t remain as Runners very long and we’re aware that they are joining us because that’s the career they want to go into. If you do apply for a Runner’s position, research that company and find out how long it takes to move up within the company.

Andy Brassington, Escape Studios

I think what we’re hearing is, check what progression path the studio is offering - if they will take your seriously. What Running allows you to do is see how a company works, and for the company to see how you interact with colleagues and take instruction. Apprenticeship schemes may be the future, where they do actually allow you to gain industry experience while you’re learning. That might take away the need to be a Runner, if we’re saying a Runner’s role is to understand how a company works.

Summary

Every company is different in the way they operate, but times are changing. Traditionally Runners literally ran tapes around local companies, but now all of that is done online, which leaves a bit of a void in purposeful responsibilities. So it’s important for all companies to continuously analyse if having graduates doing Running duties is the best route for the graduates and the companies. At Blue Zoo we’ve opted for alternative approaches, where graduates learn on the job, some working as Juniors, and others via internships. But we find our staff are fully capable of making their own tea without asking a graduate to do it.