Animator by Day, Thai Masseuse by Night

 | Fri 13 Sep 2013 12:29 ICT

We all have dream jobs. Unfortunately, they are referred to as such because the probability of attaining them is depressingly low (unless you aspire to be a grocery clerk or a bus driver). But some of us are lucky – lucky enough to be an astronaut and fly high in space, lucky enough to have a bed made of hundred dollar bills because you own a chain of the world’s most glamorous hotels, or lucky enough to break into the Hollywood movie biz.  

Gerald Clevy in Chiang Mai

“Never in my life did I think I would be doing a job like this.”

These words came from the modest mouth of Gerald Clevy, one of the lucky few chosen to be an animator and layout artist for big blockbuster films including The Hobbit, Iron Man 3 and Avatar. Clevy – who, despite stereotypes, does not have Buddy Holly glasses bigger than his face and isn’t sporting a shirt that says “Star Wars Coffee” – admitted that he “almost got this job by mistake.”

“Most CG [computer graphics] artists grow up locked in their rooms in front of a computer,” Clevy joked. “These people spend their whole lives wanting to work in the CG industry, but for me, I just wanted to travel and happened to be good at drawing.”

Originally from a small town in the south of France, Clevy – like most young people – contracted the travel bug. Unsure how to embark on an adventure with empty pockets, a friend randomly suggested Clevy apply to animation school. Fuelled by desire to fulfill his two passions in life, drawing and travelling, Clevy sat amongst 600 other applicants in an eight-hour exam to compete for one of the 11 available spots at the infamous Gobelins School of the Image.

Despite his lack of computer know-how, Clevy’s aptitude for a sharp piece of lead and a crisp sheet of paper won him a spot at Gobelins, and there he began his climb up the animation ladder.

“I started off small,” Clevy said. “I did silly things like advertisements for tomatoes, cartoons for kids TV shows and eventually I got a break and was hired to work on quite a well known French film called Renaissance.”

After stints in France and India working on low-profile projects, Clevy landed himself an interview with Weta Digital, a world-renowned digital effects company based out of New Zealand. Clevy joked that he was shocked he got the job after he thought he botched his phone interview.

When he’s not working on Hollywood blockbusters, he’s doodling monsters

“At the time my English was so bad,” Clevy said. “The whole interview they were asking me questions and I just responded, ‘Yes, yes yes,’ because I didn’t understand what they were asking me. I think they took my many yes’s as motivation.”

As wonderful as landing a dream job is, even if it isn’t your own, life at the top rung poses a whole new set of challenges. Not surprisingly, workweeks are extreme and even more so is the pressure to produce. Clevy explained working on big budget films like The Hobbit left him exhausted and lonely. Like the rest of his co-workers, days and nights were spent in front of a computer, and once deadline hit, Clevy’s workweek grew to anywhere from 70 to 100 hours.

“You reach a point where you go a bit crazy,” Clevy said. “You eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in front of the computer. You only go home to sleep and take a shower. When you’re doing this for months on end, you don’t know what a normal life is like anymore. Everyone is really close to breaking down. But they pay well, so there’s no problem.”

Sleep aside (who needs that anyways?), Clevy said there are other just as pressing problems snowballing in the CG industry. One example were the protests that broke out among VFX (visual effects) artists ensuing the 2013 Oscars; Ang Lee, who won Best Director for Life of Pi, didn’t bother mentioning the visual effects company responsible for bringing digital flora, fauna and the movie’s main attraction, Richard Parker the tiger, to life. Shortly after, the company filed for bankruptcy and over 200 CG artists lost their jobs.

“We are rats working in the laboratory,” Clevy said. “We work so much, then the company name flies by on the movie credits. Even a taxi driver that’s in a movie for two seconds gets credit. And I don’t think it’s about us having a big ego. We spend so much time on this work and we deserve to be individually recognized. And nowadays people don’t even go to movies for the actors, they go for the graphics.”

While Clevy said he has had experiences that would last him several lifetimes, he has chosen to take a year sabbatical to travel to some of his favourite places, including Japan and Thailand. Clevy was recently in Chiang Mai, and apart from roaming the markets and sampling some of the best food Thailand has to offer, he also received his Thai massage certification.

“For travelling, Thailand is my favourite country in the world,” Clevy said. “I’ve been here six or seven times. I think it’s the Buddhist atmosphere. There is sort of a soft, delicacy about the people here – they have this way of feeling zen all the time. It seems it’s the only place I can find it.”