The role of an effects animator is thus, "I create effects for feature films. This can vary from clouds, water, fire, smoke, dust and other volumetric effects to particle and rigid body simulations."
HBAD: So, tell us, how did you get your start?
JE: After I finished my college degree (multimedia design with a focus on 3D) my 3D animation teacher helped me get an interview for a 3D tracking job for a Dutch movie that was being made. At that time I was living in Holland, which is where I am originally from. As it turns out, I got job and I quickly fell in love with the industry. Nothing beats the feeling of sitting in a movie theater and watching your own work on screen (and of course seeing your name roll by on the credits).
Afterwards, I freelanced in Holland for a while, working on commercials and music videos, but the market was very slim in the aftermath of 9/11. I then decided to pursue a masters degree in the UK to get my foot into the country (there is hardly any film work done in Holland, most of the big productions in Europe are done in London). I applied at Bournemouth University and got accepted in the "visual effects for film" course. This was a one year master's degree where I was introduced to Houdini, now my 3D package of choice. The main benefits of doing this course is that I got to meet a lot of people that were already working in the industry as well as those fellow students of mine who would be valuable future contacts.
After finishing the course it was pretty hard to find a job but through hard work and of course, some good networking, I was able to land a job in London as an effects TD working on X-men: The Last Stand. When that film was complete they kept me around and I got to work on several other films such as Superman Returns and Underdog.
As luck would have it, during my masters degree studies I met an American girl, fell in love and wanted to spend some time with her. So after the gig in London ended I decided to try and get into the U.S. I got an internship at SideFX software in Santa Monica (they created Houdini) and after a few months I decided to take the plunge and asked the girl to marry me. We got married and after filling out a lot of forms, paying a lot of money and waiting for a long time I finally received my greencard and was able to legally work in the U.S. I quickly got a job working on 2012 where my job was essentially to create a whole bunch of (digital) water using their propietary software.
Following that project I came over to Digital Domain to work on Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (they couldn't come up with a longer movie title). I am currently working on Tron.
HBAD: What are the most difficult challenges you've encountered on your career path?
JE: For me, the most difficult challenge was just getting into the industry. It can be very frustrating to keep sending out your reel of work, making contacts, sticking your foot in every door and not hear anything back.
HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to get into the position you're in?
JE: First off all, make sure you have the skills. There are so many people wanting to get into the effects industry that you have to make your work stand out. Knowing people that can help you get into a company is a huge bonus. Experience also helps a lot but how can you get experience if you're not in a position to gain any?
So make sure that you have the skills, get a reel together showing off your best work and sell yourself. If you do know anyone at the company you're applying for don't hesitate to get in touch. It helps if someone that works at the place drops of your reel at HR vs you sending it in.
Last but not least: be persistant! Send your reel in and then follow up, ask if they had a chance to review it, etc. Just make sure that you keep on reminding them of your availability. Try to go to events where you can meet with artists/supervisors, etc. Siggraph is a good venue to go to cause all the big companies send their reps and there is a job market. There you can have people look at your reel and get some feedback or even land a job right then and there.