When Danielle was a child growing up in Bolton, Danielle Pickup’s favourite film was the Disney animated classic Lady and the Tramp. Little did she know that as an adult, the former VFX student would be part of the team working on the live action/computer animated remake.
Danielle landed a job with world-renowned visual effects (VFX) company Framestore within weeks of graduating from Bolton in 2016. Bosses at the company, which won an Oscar for its astonishing work on the sci-fi thriller Gravity starring Sandra Bullock, were impressed with Danielle’s showreel, which she put together using work from her degree course at Bolton. Now she is based in the company’s Canadian headquarters in Montreal and has spent months working on the new version of Lady and the Tramp, the latest Disney animated movie.
Danielle, aged 31, has previously worked on movies such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle, Paddington 2 and the new BBC TV family drama His Dark Materials, which is also released this month.
But she says she is particularly proud of Lady and the Tramp, which is now being shown exclusively on the new streaming channel Disney Plus which launched earlier this month in the US. She says: “It was my favourite Disney film as a young child. I would watch it all the time – probably to the annoyance of my poor mum – but to be a part of the remake of something I completely loved is amazing. It was films that made the unreal real that made me want to work in film – like The Wizard of OZ, E.T. and Jurassic Park. I can’t even tell you how many times my brother and I watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and all the Batman films.
As well as films, I’ve always had a keen interest in fashion and art. The late Alexander McQueen fascinated me – I loved his unconventional and dark take on various themes. From watching these shows, I started to experiment with make-up and from there I began to play around with prosthetics. I loved the way they could completely change someone’s appearance.”
Danielle initially enrolled on a one-year make-up course at the University, but realised that “it was not for me”. So, with the support of staff, Danielle signed up for the Special and Visual effects for Film and TV course instead. Danielle adds: “My lecturers Richard Jones, Matt Lilley, Mark White and Sam Taylor were amazing. The lectures were really informative and I learnt so much from all of them. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now, without them.
At the university our class sizes were quite small which mean that we had a lot of one-to-one time with the lecturers, about the specific areas of the visual effects pipeline that mattered to us individually.”
She says another important element of the VFX course at the University of Bolton is its strong links with industry.“Often people from different visual effects companies up and down the UK would come in to tell us all about their experiences in industry and their advice for us wanting to get into the industry,” she says.
“In the final year, part of one of the modules involved presenting our showreels to Oscar-winning VFX companies. In my year, we presented to DNEG, who have won Oscars for First man, Ex Machina and Framestore, where I currently work. I have been employed there since leaving university thanks to that presentation.”
Danielle says young people with hopes of getting into the VFX industry need to be willing to learn.“Things change so quickly in our industry and you have to be able to adapt quickly. Don’t be afraid to reach out to those already in the industry. Everyone had to start out somewhere and most will remember when they were trying to apply for their first job in VFX. A short showreel is great to have when applying for jobs; it’s a necessity when applying for an artist role, but not so much for production roles. Keep it short, put your best work first and make sure to label exactly what it is you did in the shots,” she says.
Richard Jones, the University’s Associate Teaching Professor and Course Leader for BSc (Hons) Visual Effects, said everyone was proud of what Danielle had achieved. He said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see Danielle forging such a successful career within the VFX industry. As a student, Danielle was very focused, had a fantastic work ethic and was very organised when working on both individual and team projects. Her academic success, combined with a showreel of work that she produced on the degree, resulted in employment at Oscar winners Framestore very soon after the completion of her studies.”
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