Computer Animation graduate Nha Le entered the film industry just four years ago and has already worked as a tracker/matchmover on some of the decade’s biggest films, including The Avengers, Thor, Ender’s Game, Prometheus, and many more.
Her professional journey began in Vietnam, where she worked as a graphic designer. In 2007, she relocated to a school in Seattle to study game design. “When I moved up there I learned a lot about drawing, painting, and art, but I realized I’m not really into them that much,” she chuckles. “So one of my teachers told me about Full Sail, and I moved to Florida to learn about movies.”
At Full Sail, she immersed herself in her studies, spending even her (rare) free time learning more about the industry. “I stayed at school sometimes 16 hours a day, or at labs all night for a project. I rode my bike a lot, and would go to the theater. I place I liked most was the library; my goal was to watch one movie a day. I think I watched all the videos they had, everything I could find – from Disney animation to Indiana Jones, which was my favorite.”
Nha graduated in May 2011, and within two months had landed a position at Luma Pictures in Santa Monica, where she moved with a friend. “When I first started in California, I lived with a roommate – a classmate who was also from Florida. We actually stayed together for a year, to share rent and save money.”
Nha underscores the advantages of this arrangement, and suggests it to other young folks seeking practical post-graduation advice. “My advice for students, when they graduate, is to connect with other Full Sailors who are already in the industry. Ask if they need a roommate or know somebody who has a room for rent. It’s beneficial to have that connection. And it’s fun because you talk to a lot of other people in the industry that way.”
Talking to people, she continues, is key to succeeding in California’s increasingly competitive job market. And for someone like Nha, who works solely on project-based assignments and moves regularly between studios, the value of this perspective increases tenfold. In the past four years, Nha has completed a variety of projects at Luma, Pixomondo, Digital Domain, and Sassoon. And in every case (with the exception of her very first gig at Luma), she was recommended by a previous coworker or supervisor.
“Just be nice to everybody,” she says. “On your first day of work, it helps to bring some cupcakes or cookies. It’s a good way to make friends. I usually bake brownies at home and bring them to work. At the least, it can start a conversation. Don’t be too shy to have a conversation, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Being willing to ask questions is imperative for any film industry professional, but especially for freelancers like Nha. “A question is better than thinking, ‘If I ask, people are going to think I’m stupid,'” she says. “A lot of students have that problem – I was in that position when I started – but everyone needs to give themselves time for training. And never think you’re too good to ask questions. The best team members, in my experience, are the ones who are always learning.”
Most recently, while working on films like Iron Man 3 and the IMAX’s Journey to the South Pacific, Nha has learned how to convert stereo, or “flat” film to 3D format. “There’s a lot involved in the process, and it involves the whole pipeline. The part that [3D matchmakers] do is the beginning of the pipeline. Everybody needs the 3D tracking so they can do the visual effects and animation. Without it, the other people won’t know how a certain image would fit in 3D space.”
Currently, Nha is honing her conversion skills on The Jungle Book, scheduled for release in April 2016. “Every project is a different experience,” she says, “and the most important things are to know your role on the pipeline, and to be a really good team member.”
Check out the following video to hear Nha talk about working on some of her favorite (and most challenging) shots.