For Junior groomers, the core is to be able to read the details. When at MPC, the thing we were most was a person that could propose an appealing project, understanding the shapes and textures of the fur based on references.
The requirements are the capacity to read forms from a reference and interpret them into a groom. These conditions can be on human hair or a creature or animal.
Is software important?
The software used is not as essential as the understanding of the process. For example, it knows how to read the size and variations of the clump, it knows to read the flow of the hair, has consistent management of the length, the density of the hair is correct, and it makes sense against the width.
Some of the most common mistakes from artists that tackle groom is not following the references correctly and trying to come with information on the fly, and those are most than not discarded.
What's good to have on the portfolio?
It depends on the company that the artists want to work for, MPC is a bit more focused on creatures, but a digidouble will help the artist; Dneg has been known for digidoubles but lately on creatures for Framestore. Small to medium studios will focus on creatures and cartoon characters, while big studios do digidoubles more often.
So solid start will be one creature or animal, and one digidouble, any of them to a reasonable level. If realistic, it is probably better for the big VFX studios; cartoons would do better for medium to small studios. Here are two portfolios of artists that we hired at MPC and one that Dneg hired.
This is a good example of a Lead reel
It is worth mentioning that it is also essential to be knowledgeable about when the studios are full. Projects are too many; they hire as many people as they can find, now, as the studios are less busy, the reels are going to be above average when hiring starts again, but at the same time, the demand will be huge.
Typically Q2 and Q3 are good moments Q4 is dead.
Any examples of something to have in the portfolio? What is terrible to put there?
Krissi is a good example of a solid portfolio to be hired; Natasha is also an example of a solid groom profile
Are groomers expected to know multiple packages of grooming tools, or is that job-specific?
The short answer would be no, but it always helps to know as many as the artist can as long as this will not impact how sound can be on a single image. Groom software is like renderer, and they are pretty much the same as long as they know the basics well enough. Techniques would be slightly different, but the artist should be able to learn them pretty quickly.
If the artists know a grooming software already, then a safe bet would be on Houdini. Most studios, big and small studios, are changing already to Houdini. In the next two years, the groom will probably be Houdini focused.
Are there any Houdini-specific skills I should know, in addition to the grooming tools? Should I have tools in my portfolio?
CFX helps a lot for small to medium studios. Mainly a complementary skill will help. Lookdev is a good one; CFX is one of the fully booked areas, and artists are not enough for it, but if the artist's goal is grooming, it is probably better to stay a bit further away from CFX and sim because it demands much time. Lookdev or modeling can be more effective to land a job.