Vision & Craft: Q&A

Meet the Women of ILM – Carol Payne

A Q&A Series

Tell us about your role at ILM, and how long you've been in the film industry.

I am a Color & Imaging Scientist at ILM San Francisco. Our team works with every production and client to make sure image processing standards are of the highest quality throughout film production for all four of ILM’s global locations. This includes writing and maintaining the pipeline for colorspace transforms, camera profiling, image re-formatting and filtering, camera RAW processing and media encoding standards. I’ve been in the film industry for five years - four of which have been at ILM. I started as a Technical Assistant, and worked my way up through several roles to where I am now.

What is your background? What was your main course of study in school?

Most of my professional career has been at ILM. I studied Film & Digital Media, as well as Computer Science at the University of New Mexico. While in college, I interned at Sandia National Laboratories, where I did everything from software development for an AutoCAD-like proprietary software to full stack web development. After graduating, I worked for Pivot VFX, a boutique VFX company started in Albuquerque by several Sony Imageworks alums. It was a great introduction into the world of VFX - because it was a small company, I wore multiple hats: pipeline engineering, animation coordination, editing, compositing.

What inspired you to go into visual effects?

I was homeschooled through high school, and computers played a big part in my education from a young age. My dad taught me basic programming for arithmetic on MS-DOS. At the same time, my mom put me in ballet lessons when I was three, and dance became a huge passion for me all the way through college. I wanted to find a field where I could combine my love for both the arts and technology. At 16, I took my first computer animation class, and I never looked back.

What was the most challenging point in your career and how did you rise above it and persevere?

Almost a year ago, my first mentor in the world of color science told me he was leaving ILM. I was (and still am) very new to the field, and it was hard to imagine a future without him as an anchor and teacher. I took it one day at a time, and relied on the amazing support structure of supervisors and friends who wanted to see me succeed. I still have so much to learn, but the opportunity to dive in headfirst to that challenge has made me so much stronger.

Did you have specific female mentors or role models that helped push you forward?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have several female mentors in my time at ILM. Maria Brill, Director of Studio Technology for ILM SF, has been a wonderful role model and support system throughout my time at ILM, but specifically in this last year in my new role - helping me make connections, get the technical mentorship I need, and giving me opportunities for exposure to our global locations, all of which have increased my development immeasurably. Melissa Abad has been my manager since I started at ILM and has always encouraged me in my big goals and worked on how to get there. I remember running ideas by her in my first years at ILM, and her responses were almost always “sure, that sounds great, let’s talk about how you’re going to do it.” There was never any doubt that I could. Cristin Pescosolido, now a VFX Supervisor at Lytro, is a consistent example for me of a woman making it work in this male-dominated industry - going from a compositor to a lead to a VFX supervisor in the short time I’ve known her, but still making time to teach, mentor, and motivate.

What's your favorite motivational mantra?

“You can do anything if you put in the work.” I think it was my years as a dancer that first instilled this in me - like any sport or art, ‘talent’ only gets you so far - you have to put in the work. However, if you’re willing to put in the time and energy, I firmly believe you can achieve anything you set out to do.

How do you think the film industry can better encourage girls and women of all ages to get involved in filmmaking?

I think the industry as a whole needs to keep working to dispel the ‘boys club’ mentality. There’s a big problem still with the men at the top working with and promoting other men, because it’s what they’re used to. I think the big production companies can get involved and put a focus on equal gender representation for the people making their films. Once women and younger girls see other women in these roles, it will encourage them to know that they too can make it. The web series I am a part of, “Women in Visual Effects”, shares this goal - expose the talent and work of the amazing women in our industry. There’s a long way to go, but we’re already starting to see efforts and results to promote and empower women - we just have to keep the momentum going.

What advice would you give to women considering film, and specifically visual effects, as a career choice?

Speak up for yourself! There is nothing wrong or controversial about vocalising your goals, as well as being confident in your skills. Women tend to let their work speak for itself and count on that being enough - and in an ideal world, it is. However, as we work toward that ideal gender balanced workforce, I’ve realized that being clear about what I want in my career is key.

How can men be better allies to women in the workplace?

The best male allies are the ones that acknowledge the bias and actively recognize and support the women around them - whether it be his peer, his boss, or his subordinate. It may seem obvious, but in my experience, it is not. One of the best examples I can think of is in the midst of all of the fallout over Harvey Weinstein and the many men that have come since as being perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace and film industry, one of the male supervisors made a point to stop by my desk and simply state that he had my back, that he respected me and that he couldn’t do the work he did without me. Those few sentences will stick with me forever.