Recruiters change strategy at downsized confab

The thousands of CGI enthusiasts and jobhunters making their pilgrimage to the 36th Siggraph conference in New Orleans will find a change in companies’ strategy when they arrive.

Attendance is expected to be down, fewer companies have booths, and college grads hitting the job market will find fewer opportunities than in years past.

Visual effects, vidgame, animation and software companies will still be recruiting this year, but many are looking for experienced candidates. Sony Pictures Imageworks’ interviews will be pre-arranged and private, and vfx studio Moving Picture Co. will look to hire industry-experienced workers, who can more easily get visas for work in the EU, for its London HQ.

DreamWorks Animation will be recruiting from a suite as usual, though it is already in full production on its next release, “How to Train Your Dragon.”

The conference is still a must because of the expected 20,000 professional and academic attendees from all parts of the computer graphics world, including movies, games and software companies. But that number is down from 28,000 last year.

“Siggraph is always a fertile ground for recruiting,” said Ken Murayama of Sony Pictures Imageworks. It has “turned into a sort of job fair in its own right…For students and everybody, I think it is the one place where you get a huge congregation of professionals in the industry and the studios.”

Siggraph has traditionally been smaller when it’s not in Los Angeles. Faced with travel costs and the economic slump, some large companies that have run popular booths, including Imageworks, Walt Disney Animation Studio and Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic, are skipping that expense.

Instead, companies are looking for other ways to keep a presence at the venue, including sponsoring events and educational programs.

Some are upping their online presence to make the conference and their resources more accessible to those who couldn’t trek to the Big Easy in this bad economy. Software vendor Maxon will have a booth, where it will bow an animated “short feature” called “Junior Extraterrestrial (JET)” from Dr.-Ing. V. Sassmannshausen, aka Dr. Sassi.

The film will also be fodder for a step-by-step tutorial on how to make an animated short. The tutorial will eventually be posted to Maxon’s Cineversity site.

Companies that are skipping the tradeshow floor entirely are also making their presence felt through panels and tech talks. The panel “Getting a Job in CG for Entertainment: Visual Effects, Animation and Games” includes reps of Sony Pictures Imageworks, Double Negative, Microsoft/Xbox and Microsoft Game Studios, as well as a moderator from vfx studio Moving Picture Co., none of which have booths this year.

“I think it’s important to support Siggraph — it’s our industry,” said Murayama. “It’s just that this year, it is tough for everybody.”

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