Nick Pope has taken advantage of MPC’s global mobility opportunities by enjoying a spell in London before moving to Montréal. He took a break to share some thoughts on life at MPC, working in technology and why he believes 1 year at MPC might be worth 2 or 3 at another company in terms of skills and experience…
What is your job title and how long have you been at MPC?
My job title is Lead Software Developer. I have been working at MPC for 3 years in August.
What and where did you study?
I graduated with a major in Computer Science with a minor in Film Theory at Brigham Young University, Utah , USA.
How did you get started in your technology career?
I worked at a small studio during my last two years of school. This gave me the unique opportunity to build a vfx pipeline from scratch with the excellent guidance of industry veterans.
I got the job at MPC by applying via their jobs portal (www.mpc.jobs).
What key skills do you need to do your job?
Being able to code is the obvious big one with the bulk of my work being written in Python. A lot of our graphics focused tools require knowledge of C++, KL, and some Lua.
Learning to code forces you to think in a careful and systematic way which in turn greatly increased my ability to problem solve effectively which is an absolute must in our line of work.
It’s not, however, just about the code. It is incredibly important to be able to collaborate with stakeholders in a meaningful way to identify their true needs. You could write the best code in the world, but it is useless if it doesn’t help the user.
What excites you most about your job at MPC?
The most exciting aspect of my work is being in an atmosphere which requires innovation. I’ve always loved the act of creation. Whether its building a shelf, drawing, or writing a bit of code, the act of creating something new motivates me in a big way.
Tell us about your software stack. Is it all off the shelf?
I would say we’ve got a healthy mix of both. I can’t speak for software generally, but we develop a number of tools which enable us to stay on the leading edge of the industry. We also realize that there a number of great software out there that we can and should take advantage of without the cost of developing it in house.
Does MPC provide opportunities for career progression?
Absolutely. MPC has given me many opportunities to push myself and get outside of my comfort zone. I started out in London and had the unique opportunity to work on some pretty big projects to deliver pipeline improvements early in my career here. Moving to Montreal has really allowed to me to stretch and take on more responsibility. This opportunity has really helped me prove myself as a leader on shows like Anime reboot Ghost in the Shell and Disney’s upcoming blockbuster The Nutcracker.
Why is film VFX a particularly good career for a technology professional versus other industry?
Since VFX technology changes so rapidly I feel that your growth and experience is accelerated far more than traditional software development companies. This also makes a very exciting atmosphere to work in. It’s like working on a startup that also happens to be the world’s leading producer of VFX. This can be a double edged sword in some cases where we would like to have more time to improve the code further before moving on to the next challenge.
Which other industries have people moved from to work for MPC in technology?
The more common cross-over I’ve seen is from the game development industry. CG Software deals with a very specialized suite of tools that most traditional developers have (and likely never will) encounter so I haven’t seen a whole lot of cross over from non-entertainment software sectors. This crossover happens more in the Core Engineering department which develops and supports the more general software infrastructure.
Can you share any inside info on any exciting projects you are working on?
I’m excited about the work we are doing on Disney’s The Nutcracker – there’s some very large environment and complex crowd shots that are going to look pretty awesome when they’re done.
I’ve also been involved ushering in the next generation model of our pipeline. We’ve learned a lot from our current structure and we believe that this new model will enable us to intertwine user and automated tasks in a far more streamlined manner and cut out some of the more extraneous parts of the pipeline. It’s an exciting development.
What’s your favourite VFX movie?
I have watched The Jungle Book multiple times now with my daughter and each time I am blown away by the quality and scope of the work.
How would you describe the culture at MPC?
I would describe it as an intense playground. Meeting deadlines whilst holding ourselves to the highest degree of quality possible can get pretty intense sometimes, yet we are all doing what we love and enjoying ourselves while doing it.
Is it an innovative progressive environment?
Very much so. We raise the bar with every new show we take on. And each film we put out immediately becomes the new low-bar. This continual ratcheting up of complexity and quality certainly keeps us on our toes.
How would you describe your team?
We may be small in numbers but we are strong in heart!
Which 3 words best describe your job?
Creative, abstract and lots of communication.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in your role?
The biggest challenge is always the clock. We develop our software using the agile methodology, but the agility required to keep up with shows can sometimes make our heads spin. Deciding when to hold our ground and when to make compromises is a daily battle.
What inspires you?
Seeing our demo reel, trailers, and dailies of the incredible work we are doing during Monthlies Team meeting is a huge inspiration. Especially when we aren’t as involved in the day to day shot work.
Likewise I am inspired by the excellent work that our software department is doing to push the boundaries. The same goes for my team. It has been great watching each person step outside their comfort zone to keep pace with the challenges we face.
How would you describe your approach to work?
I have really grown to embrace failure. The trick is to fail fast and up front while it’s still cheap to do so.
I also like to approach my work with a healthy dose of skeptical optimism.
What does it feel like to work as part of a Global team at MPC?
It’s a big comfort, certainly from a software perspective, to know that there are people all across the globe who have your back. Not to say that working globally isn’t hard, but we could have never achieved the scale of success we have without a fully cooperative global team.