Interview with -Jahirul Amin- Founder at CAVE Academy

can you introduce yourself?

Many thanks for inviting me to Vfxexpress.

My name is Jahirul (J) Amin and I am the founder of CAVE Academy, which specialises in VFX, animation and games training for the creative industry. Before launching CAVE Academy, I was the VFX Trainer at DNEG London, and before that, a lecturer in Computer Animation at Bournemouth University.

What inspired you to step into the VFX/ Animation Industry?

I’ve always been addicted to drawing, and as a kid, going through each frame of classic animations such as Disney’s Jungle Book and The Sword in the Stone led me down a path of wanting to work in the creative sector for a living. I say ‘work’, but at that time I did not really know what ‘work’ was, so I guess I just wanted to sit with a sketchbook and a pencil and draw. I went on to study fine art at uni, and at the time 3D feature film animation was becoming a huge thing, along with big VFX films such as The Matrix, so the appeal of 3D, therefore, started to creep in and since then, I guess I’ve focussed on the 3D side of things.

challenges and experiences in your early years, and would you like to share some of your memories? faced?

When I was 21, I became a father to 2 daughters and that meant I needed to drop out of my BA in Computer Animation at Portsmouth and start working full-time. I started working as a kitchen porter at a restaurant during the day and in a hotel during some evenings. I worked in the catering industry for around 5 years full-time and went from pot washer to head washer upper to chef to head chef to duty manager. I really enjoyed working in the catering industry and thinking back at every stage, I was always in a position to teach those in my team and learn new things as I moved from one position to the next. Like VFX, it was all about problem solving and being prepared.

During my final year in the catering industry, a colleague said to me: “Someone said you could draw. Can you?”, and it was at that stage that I started picking up a pencil again. I drew a little every day, sold some portraits, and remembered that this was what I wanted to be doing.

At the age of 26, my boss at the time made a deal with me. She said: “You get yourself onto a BA/MA course and I’ll fund you for the year as a thank you for all the work you’ve done”.

I had a crack at trying to get back onto the BA in Computer Animation in Portsmouth at level 2 but was rejected and was told I’d need to go back to level 1. So going back to university was not looking good as I would not have had the funds to study years 1 to 3. My final option was to try to get onto a 1-year’s Masters course and the best in the country was at the NCCA in Bournemouth. I lived an hour’s drive away from Bournemouth, so although it meant a daily trek, it was doable. Fortunately, the NCCA was accepting students on the basis of their portfolio. I was taken onto the course and the tutors were great throughout my time there, even when I had to tell them after 1 week that I’d need to work from home for a couple of weeks as I was expecting my third daughter.

For the rest of my time at the NCCA, I made sure that I did not waste a single moment. I had one year to learn and create a portfolio that would allow me to transition into full-time work. I also had three daughters, needed to pay the mortgage and everything else that comes with having a young family to provide for. Similar to when I was working in the catering industry, I found myself helping others a lot. I always find the quickest way to learn is to help others as it allows you to run into problems early. Asking questions is another great way to speed up your own learning.

During the final term, the teaching team mentioned an upcoming position for a 3D Demonstrator coming up at the university, telling me I’d be a good candidate for it, so I applied for that role. After graduating, it was a stressful couple of weeks being jobless as I waited for the call to say I had got or not got the job, but it all worked out as the call was positive.

So, my first job in the CG industry, although on the academic side of things, had just kicked off. But one of the downsides when starting at the bottom of the chain is that the salary is not great. It might be good for a single person with no additional responsibilities but for someone with a young family, it was a bit of a struggle. This meant having to sometimes sleep in the office as I had to ration petrol money.

To continue my learning and make it through the tough times, I always looked for additional work. This led me to writing tutorials for 3D Artist, 3D Total and then getting a book deal with 3D Total for the book: Beginners Guide to Character Creation in Maya.

So, bit by bit, and tutorial by tutorial, I managed to keep things going and this then led to me landing the position of VFX Trainer at DNEG, London. And soon into my position, and you’ve probably guessed it by now, I had my 4th (and final) daughter.

Whilst at DNEG, I never wasted a moment of my time. My position as a VFX Trainer allowed me to interact and speak with all employees. I learnt a huge amount from everyone from the runners to the VFX Supervisors, and asked as many questions as I could think of. I was there to teach, but to do so, I had to learn how every aspect of the company worked. Everyone in the building was extremely generous with their time and knowledge.

People seem to think that the ‘trainer’ in the room is there to teach but the way I see it, when in front of a class of 20 or 30 or 50 people, I also have 20 – 50 teachers sitting in front of me.

So, in terms of challenges, managing a young family whilst starting out new in an industry is hard, but doable. In terms of experience, find the people who are happy to share and collaborate and stick with them for as long as you can. And in terms of memories, you’ll have good times and bad times but that’s what makes life interesting. Keep pushing, keep persevering and keep enjoying what you do.


What’s your greatest achievements in the VFX Industry?

That’s an interesting question. Going into the VFX side of things, I remember being told that my name would not feature in the credits of any film as I was in the training department. I know some people want to see their name on the credits, but I was more than fine with that. I was going to get the opportunity to work with some of the best creative minds in the world, and to this day I still get to work with and collaborate with some incredible talents. So, I think that’s been my greatest achievement, and I hope I continue working with the people it’s a pleasure to collaborate with.


who is your inspiration in the VFX industry why?

I could name drop more names than you’d probably have space for when it comes to the individuals who have inspired me in the VFX and creative industries.

Looking back, I did not know the names of the artists behind the magic but characters that blew my mind were Shere Kahn from Disney’s The Jungle Book. How Milt Kahl managed to create such life from a series of drawings is still mind boggling. And there’s Glen Keane with all the magic he brought to life during his time at Disney. Characters such as the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, Ariel from the Little Mermaid and Tarzan to this day still amaze me. The idea that individuals could draw pictures that would then turn into ‘living’ characters with the ability to convey emotions still astonishes me.

Then more on the CG side of things, there is the legendary Dennis Muren of ILM and the amazing work they did on Jurassic Park, John Gaeta and the pivotal work he and the ESC team did on The Matrix, and the inspiring work of Victoria Alonso at Marvel.

I’ve never had the pleasure to meet or work with any of the above directly but if I could pick up the phone and say: “Hey, you fancy grabbing a bite to eat?”, I know who I’d call.  

When it comes to the now, and the people I do get to collaborate with, each one of them inspires and challenges me. For example, I’m working on an internal project and our concept art is being designed by the extremely talented Saby Menyhei, the environments by the magnificent Robin Konieczny and the main villain is being modelled and sculpted by the very awesome Jonathan Reilly. I am extremely luckymto be able to collaborate with this team and whenever they send an image through for review or I get a sneaky peek, I am blown away. And that’s just 3 names from one project we have going, so with the work that the rest of the team are doing in the background, I am constantly in awe of the artistry of the people around me.


What inspired you to start CAVE Academy?

I’ve been a CG or VFX trainer for the past decade now and one thing I’ve noticed is that more and more training is becoming about the software and button pressing, and less about the “Why?” So the company was formed with the plan of answering that question at every stage of the learning journey. Why design the character like this? Why animate the creature like this? The aim of the company is to create training that is more focused on real-world production projects and answering the fundamental question underneath it all: “Why?”

Alongside the “Why?”, we also want to create training that is freely available for those that have little to no financial means. So along with our paid content, we provide a number of free courses, feedback sessions (Dailies) which we host with industry professionals, Masterclasses and our Wiki. In our CAVE Shop, we also provide free resources too so artists can pick up free data to experiment with. When I started out, it was hard to find valuable content to learn from, and the cost of some of the teaching material was out of reach. So it’s our way of giving back and trying to reach out to those who have talent but not the financial backing to learn VFX and CG.


Nowadays lots of new technology coming into our industry in your academy have you implemented current topics?

Yep – there seems to be new tech, new tools, new workflows being added to the mix on a weekly basis. I think it is fantastic. I really enjoy learning new things and coming up with new ways to tackle existing tasks and problems. Virtual production, VR design and development, previs using game engines, USD, PDG, ACES, and on it goes. Again – I think it’s great, and it is fantastic that the big companies that develop this tech are making it available for the wider audience.

When it comes to incorporating this into our training, we try to stay as nimble and responsive as possible, and our courses are developed on the backbone of a production pipeline. So, what we teach in 2021 and the tools used for the teaching will more than likely change come 2022 and 2023. As much as possible, we’ll try to keep flexible and we’ll update our courses from year to year to ensure our methodology and techniques are totally current.

We are also working with many of the software companies to stay in the loop and totally current when it comes to working with the new tech. We don’t want to wait for new software to be released, learn how to use it and then create courses based around that. We want to be working with the software companies, helping them in the development process and feeding back, then when the new tech is released, we can help provide training content to go with the release.

It’s hard when you need to be on top of so many applications and things are always changing but that’s part of the fun of it. Always learning, always creating and always challenging, although a short break would be nice every now and then 😉. Maybe we can ask companies to not release software every other year or something so we can take a breather?!

Finally, one of our main teaching aims is to ground things in reality. So for modelling, we push the importance of anatomy, for rigging, we think about kinesiology, for textures and shaders, we think about how light and matter works. At all stages, we back the teaching up with ground truths, and these ground truths have pretty much been around since the dawn of time. Gravity is always gravity and light is always light. Yes, some things evolve but your clavicle has been around for many thousands of years and I bet if we could look 10,000 years into the future, I bet people will still have clavicles.

Another reason for pushing these ground truths is because we want people to understand the real world and think past the CG. That way they have the tools to critically analyse the world around them and are able to recreate this world in CG. Once you start to appreciate the grain pattern of skin, or the function of your radius and ulna, that’s when things start to open up and you can figure out what tool will be best for what job.


Advice /tips to Young artists how they can grow fast and be more efficient?

When it comes to advice to young artists and how to grow fast and be more efficient, I would actually say, slow down, take it all in, analyse the world around you and then in the long run, you’ll be more efficient. You’ll approach things with more confidence and your reasons behind your decisions will be better informed. I see a lot of people gather a lot of reference as if gathering the reference will give them all the answers they need. What they need to do is gather the reference and then examine the reference. Look at science papers, engineering drawings, speak with zoologists, and study practical costume design, cinematography and filmmaking. Most of what we do in CG and VFX is based on filmmaking practices, so I think it is best to work problems out the way a filmmaker would. Take Stanley Kubrick for example; he created authentic and believable narratives and worlds like nothing else because he had done his research meticulously. And he hadn’t just gathered reference but he dissected the data and understood each and every aspect of the research which he then filtered down to what was needed to push the narrative.

So, my big advice is simple: research, analyse, filter, and then apply.


Ritto prabu – Thank you Jahirul Amin For sharing all

Jahirul Amin – Thank you Ritto thanks for inviting me

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *