RAQI SYED has worked as a Visual Effects Artist for Disney Feature Animation and Weta Digital on films such as TangledAvatar, and The Hobbit Trilogy. She also writes about film and the business of visual effects. Her articles have appeared in TechCrunch, Vice: Motherboard, and Avidly: A LARB Channel. She graduated from the USC Division of Animation and Digital Arts in 2001 and also holds a degree in Creative Writing from Victoria University of Wellington. A full list of her film credits can be found over at IMDB.




30 thoughts on “SEPT 2- RAQI SYED

  1. Shang Song says:

    How to balance art and craft ? I think she gave me the best answer. The problem is widespread in the film industry. I have to talk about a story about my experience in china. I have a friend, he is a film director. The time we have to do a short film (about forty minutes), I am working for drawing storyboard. In the final stage of the production, he complained to me, he told me in the VFX company,they could not achieve his many ideas, he had to give up a lot of shoot .
    As far as I know, this is not a problem, but they are accustomed to the production of commercial effects, not in a short period of time based on the requirements of the director to make more artistic effect. This problem exists in many Chinese special effects company. I think it’s because of the artistic accomplishment of the practitioners.
    America is much better than China. Thanks Raqi, she answered the question.


  2. Evan Tedlock says:

    Raqi Syed gave an interesting explanation of this idea of art versus craft. This is generally a hotly debated topic but I think she gave me an interesting new perspective on it. So often in these arguments, processes and mediums come into question as being art or craft. It almost seems more like a game of perceptual categories rather than any sort of tangible reality. Raqi described craft as being creating that you do to realize someone else’s vision. The focus of craft is the ‘how’ and the focus of art is ‘why’. An artwork is born from an individual vision, shaped by questions and research. In this framework it’s not a specific medium or process that is ultimately a craft or a work of art but rather the way you approach the work and what the underlying questions are that categorize it.

    I also found it helpful that she spoke about the necessity of both in an artistic career. That artists these days must also be technical. Though our taste has been developing for our whole life and at this point is, hopefully, in a sophisticated stage, we need to catch our skillset up to that same level. Just like Andrew last week she exhorted us to keep doing our own things and to be creative.


  3. Erik Dumas says:

    I think there were two major points from Raqi’s seminar that really stood out to me. The first was the distinction between art and craft, which I’m sure many people will comment on, and the second was the idea of finding your taste and your style as an artist. I think both of these things are extremely important and they are both inextricably linked to one another.

    I’ve often found myself wondering what the difference is, if there indeed is one, between art and craft. Using the explanation that craft is the how of doing something and art is the why has to be the most effective way of describing the difference that I’ve yet heard. I also like how she made a point of saying that art and craft are on somewhat of a spectrum, or at least a person can shift between art and craft.

    The second part of the seminar, about determining your taste as an artist, had the most impact for me. Everything we do creatively, whether it’s as professionals or students or in our personal hobbies, is helping to define our taste as artists. i think it’s important to keep that in mind and purposefully seek new things out to help refine our taste and our style.


  4. David Nessl says:

    Raqi’s example of the relationship between Rembrandt and his journeymen, to big studios and their VFX teams painted a picture of the current state of a career in the industry. What also really spoke to me was her emphasis on the importance of practical filmmaking knowledge when it comes to CGI. It was refreshing to know that at the heart of it all is still f-stop, shutter speed, aperture, ect…and also daunting to realize how the exponential growth of technical programming in media production requires a steep learning curve for digital artists in this day and age. I just hope that I’ll be able to keep up.

    Raqi’s advise to specialize in a specific aspect of VFX put big productions into perspective.
    It’s always extremely helpful to hear good advise from successful people working in one of your dream jobs. I loved it when she gave us a glimpse of her photography. I could see a connection between the light in her photographs and the professional work she had done in Planet of the Apes and Avatar. Again, its reassuring to see an alumni making her mark in the industry.

    I really liked when we discussed the realistic properties of CGI. I personally feel that a lot of living characters look out of place in their movements and appearance, seeming to lack visual restraints and appropriate color grading. However, I am seeing huge improvements in one or two films each year. Sometimes my grungy wannabe filmmaker eyes can’t even tell the difference between computer generated and practical effects, and the lighting is always gorgeous. How’s that for a shit sandwich?


  5. Kun Xia says:

    Raqi’s presentation is very inspiring. She talked the relationship between art and craft, craft is technique; it requires discipline, practice and repeatability. A craft is a learned skill; Art is not a physical object. Art is an expression of thought, emotion and/or intent. Art is communication. When we create a work of art, we are reaching out to the world because we have something to say. Art is not a separate world from craft. These two things are not entities themselves but rather they are specific aspects of all creative work.
    She also states why it is important to develop taste for artist, develop taste means actually trying enough so you’re able to refine what you like and then articulate why. We learn from new ideas and sensations that expand the boundaries of possibility within our minds. Never stop exploring what you like and what interested you. In that way we can transition our passions from a craft into art. The FilmGrab link she provided is a really helpful website, which contains lots of film screen shots that in high resolution. So we can examine the use of light, tone, and environmental color in those movies.


  6. Yu Yu says:

    It’s great that Raqi use what’s the difference between art and craft as a beginning. It reminds me the book Holzwege of Martin Heidegger. What make an art ART is exactly because art stand by itself. Its existence doesn’t have to rely on others. Craft is a different way. When craft was using or be functional, it have to disappear. Such as the lamp, when it turned on, it wasn’t there anymore. The light is the only thing people need.

    We all want our works to be art. Yet art and craft have to combine together to make a film happen. It’s hard to find yourself a position in a film group. Everyone has their own stories, but if everyone be the director, no film can be done well. To find the thing you really love, not just good at as the work, is the dream job of artists.

    The suggestion Raqi Syed gave us at the end is very important. Even we already find our position to make a great work, never stop developing our taste, and try the things we haven’t tried before. For me, that’s one of the reasons why I decided to leave my job and start a master here. No matter how busy you are, how much you already good at your fields, don’t forget to get out the comfort zone once a while. The world is much more larger than a frame.


  7. Min Shi says:

    The tension between art and craft! What an inspiring topic.

    Obviously, from District 9 to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, from Avatar to Lovely Bone, she did quite well in her field, however, I will like to talk about two aspects that l learned from this seminar that beyond her professional field.

    Starting with a specific example. From the sense of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, (a sense that we can see Caesar’s face is hide behind the shadow, and then in a specific moment he comes out of the shadow) Raqi states that it is the principle of a story that pushes the character to the next level, not only a simply light design. Every element of the film, from lighting to production design, from the movement of the camera to editing, should base on narrative and severe narrative. Tech is always changing, however, the most core thinking should still based on the principle of the story.

    What also resonated me is that Raqi told us her own method of developing taste. First, going out and find out what you think good. Second, keeping a visual scrapbook will help a lot. Third, listing your top 10 films. Fourth, working across genre, and also, do stuff, weird stuff.


  8. HyeonJeong Cho says:

    Are you creative?

    This is the question always follows me. Living in the world where everybody can make artistic stuff, how can I be standing as an artist – am I the person who has a creativity? or am I the one who just can draw better than others? Defining myself between artist and craftsman – and finding a difference is quite difficult for me.
    However, the Raqi’s perspective about those two was very clear and it really helped me understanding the question – Artists use their labour as showing their vision, otherwise craftsman use it as showing others vision. it was so explicit define of difference between them.

    Also, it was good to hear that the principle is stay same, from the person who has a very distinguished technical skills, because recently I’m into story boarding and lay-outing which are mainly focused on how to deliver the story than technical aspect. Although the artists in these days need to be skilled, the fact that the basic principles aren’t changed made me be certain about what I am doing now.

    Talking about the gender inequality was also interesting topic for me. Looking into the situation – male-dominated work field and addressing how to solve the problem was such a good movement for female artists!! I wish I could see more female artists in the field.

    Being and maintained as an artist is not easy. Keep working on not only professional stuff but also personal projects. Thank you Raqi to remind me what the artist is, and what I should to do to be an artist.


  9. josephetemadi says:

    I’d like to leave my honest opinion of this presentation, but i’m not sure if I want to deal with the backlash, so I will try to focus on the positive aspects.

    It’s not easy talking to a large seminar class like ours, and I appreciate Ms. Syed for taking the time to come speak with us with a prepared presentation. It was also nice to see another alumni from our program doing well and pursuing her own creative career. The whole time I was waiting for the moment Ms. Syed would break down the lighting of one of these amazing films, but that moment never came. Maybe that’s why I felt so disappointed.

    It’s important as artists for us to pursue our own creative endeavors, but the reality of the situation is that we all need to find jobs when this is all over, unless you can keep the party going. I like how she put an emphasis on the distinction between art and craft, and how important it is to try to find the right balance. I also liked how she noted that when lighting for VFX it is important to take into consideration the actual lighting and mood of the scene, and how to use that as a basis for the actual production.


  10. Megan Simon says:

    To be an artist, or an artisan? Raqi Syed gave a thought-provoking description on the difference between those who create their own vision, and those who craft the vision of others. Her question began with how. How do I create this light? How do I mimic this effect? The focus was entirely on developing the skills to create realistic, believable work. To get results, and complete the tasks given to her. The question has changed, after her many experiences working on films such as Avatar, the Hobbit and more. Why, she asks? Why create this light? Why create these effects? Becoming more introspective it is clear Raqi Syed began to notice her own voice, and various topics she needed to be heard on. One such example is the large disparity between men and women in visual effects; The implications of social norms on a woman’s career in this industry. She noted how subtle stereotypes would lead a woman to possible be overlooked – not given the role as artist, but rather artisan. Raqi concludes that perhaps it is not due to a mass conspiracy launched against womankind, but instead an ingrained attitude. That conceivably women are guilty of not perceiving themselves as leaders, therefore they do not pursue to take on these roles. It is an interesting proposition; one that is owed contemplation. Especially for those like myself: a female seeking a career in this industry. I might be tempted to ask what blockades I will face in this industry, but feasibly it is more likely appropriate to question what barriers I will place on myself.


  11. Amir Arzanian says:

    Raqi discussed a very interesting issue about who is an artist and who is a craft man. She said a craft man works for other visions but an artist work for his/her own vision. Then she used the terms Animal Laborans and Homo Faber from Hannah Arendt to support the idea of craft vs art. She mentioned when we make craft we are talking about “How” and when we make an art is about “Why” . It was a topic that I had thought about it before but she gave me a new vision and perspective. Especially when she said “the art is how to be part of a process.” I understand from her quote that when you are a labor in an artistic process if you push the boundaries and punch above your work you are more close to an artistic work. She also mentioned Gestalt principles which means breakdown a complexity to the simplest way. She used this term to describe the importance of specializing in film industry.
    She showed some of her works that to me the most interesting one was her example from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. She said they were asked to use dark lighting because art directors wanted the scenes of the movie seems like a work of a famous DOP in 80’s who was famous for giving mysterious essence to the film.


  12. Okike Franklin says:

    I enjoyed Raqi Syeds presentation and her demo reel. I found her talk on distinguishing an artist from a craft man a bit confusing. If I remember correctly she said “a craft man lives to complete someone else’s vision” while an artist “lives to complete his/her own vision” but aren’t we all aiming for studios and production companies at the end of our school year? Hence bringing someone else’s vision to life? This might not apply to those who want to become independent artists but when you’re faced with life’s inevitable challenges your voice might not pay the bills!!

    Maybe it’s just me but I believe what makes someone a true artist or film maker is being able to give life to someone else’s vision or idea and I say this because it’s way easier to think of a concept, story or an idea and bring that to life than to understand someone else’s concept, story or an idea and bring that to life the exact way that satisfies them either after adding your artistic touches.

    The uncanny valley is always a tricky topic when discussed but again that’s only when we see a representation of what we’re already used to seeing. For instance; No one (I think) has seen a live dinosaur before but we buy into Jurassic world simply because we can’t make comparison.
    I found her stroke of luck regarding one render engine fascinating and unique because I thought she had to learn different engines for each project.

    It’s interesting to be reassured that this famous quote “rules are meant to be broken” also applies in CGI.


  13. Mayra Flores says:

    Raqi Syed definitely had an impressive reel. As a fellow critical studies turned animation student, I thought her comments on the benefits of studying all aspects of filmmaking were spot on. She did a great job walking us through the world of cgi and how it is still heavily based in reality. However, I was more interested in hearing about her writing on the gender bias in the industry. I would of also loved to know more about the process of writing for the web—the research that went behind the articles, responses from the internet, and how it all differs from working on a blockbuster.


  14. Chung-Hsuan, Fan Chiang says:

    There are three quotes from Raqi in the speech that inspired me a lot. She mentioned that Chuck Jones once said, every animator has ten thousand terrible works, but what matters is to find the good ones. This reminded me to really build up good habits of practicing drawing everyday, and this is the only way to advancement. Besides, the idea of listing our top-ten favorites every year is interesting. My taste does changed a great deal over years, including music, films, clothing, and so on. It is important for artists to track not only their creative motive but also the taste, so that people can have a overlook of how they establish their work through years. Lastly, from my personal experience, I totally understand how brave one needs to be to ʻGet used to the bear behind youʻ since I have come across a few big changes in life. Leaving the comfortable environment is really torturing but it is the fast way to grow up and learn. Thanks to Raqi for sharing her philosophy and experience with us.


  15. From the presentation, Roqi Syed put more emphasis on explaining fluidity of art and craft and how to combine them in the era of information explosion. What she discussed remind me that “Technique, is something that people can find their position in the universe” by anthropologist Levi Strauss. Indeed, it is vital to possess and exploit technical skills to explore possibilities and then reach the height of art form. In other words, instead of wandering within the ideation, sure-footed methods and real acknowledgements will truly benefit the team project.

    Besides, her experiences and works can show how she overcome difficulties and resistant constantly. “Get used to the bear behind you “ is the only way to jump out of limitation and break through the bottleneck. Staying out from comfort zone can view things in other aspect.


  16. Junyi Xiao says:

    Well, I have to say I really appreciate Raqi Syed’s reel. It definitely has a great quality. And also her experience of becoming a VFX artist with the background of critical study is also impressing. But her speech is kind of soul soother instead of real stuff. To me, Andrew Huang’s presentation is much more inspiring.
    Still, thanks for Raqi Syed.


  17. Sequoyah Madison says:

    On September second I was reminded by Raqi Syed how to be an artist. To be an artist is to actively challenge one’s art by questioning whether the basic principle of form and shape are adding to or hindering the art’s overall meaning. In a fast paced environment where one is expected to produce large volumes of work, I have a tendency to surrender all conscious decision making to my artistic intuition. And although artistic intuition is often informative when dealing with familiar mediums, it gets mushy when dealing with new technologies and modes of expression. Raqi’s lecture reassured me that no matter how daunting and overpowering new technology may seem, it does not have the power to replace the learned foundation of shape, composition, and value which are vital to every artwork, film and animation. Raqi tells that technology is appealing because it has the power to make the film making process easier and faster.

    Though the reaffirmation of the decentralization of American made film is a bit disheartening, any relocation seems insignificant compared to the prospect that the gender bias in the film industry creates a marginalization which could potentially make it more difficult for women to realize themselves in higher level positions. And the fact that some refuse to accept the obvious gender bias in the film and animation industry, is both unbelievable and seemingly expected in an era where we want to look back into history and gloat about the progress we have made, while chastising those who came before us. I mean sorry not to call anyone out, but even if you look through the comments above how many people noted the gender bias as part of the lecture at all? These realities are shocking but necessary to know! Thank you Raqi for bringing them to light! The wealth of information did not stop there, throughout the lecture Raqi gives amazing advice to make top 10 lists, utilize, collect screen grabs to improve your craft and develop your taste, in order to keep focused and remember who you are as an artist and filmmaker.


  18. Yijie Li says:

    There is no doubt that RAQI SYED’s reel is really gorgeous which contains so many mainstream, big-budget productions. Also I enjoy following her journey of becoming a VFX artist then to a lighting TD from a critical study background.

    RAQI SYED made her opinion about the distinction between an artist and a craft man. It is true that an artist has more free space to fulfill his/her idea, concept or vision into reality than a craft man. However, in my perspective, an craft man is mixing his/her feeling and experience into the vision of the director while he/she is doing his/her own job. In Japan, there are so many outstanding artist who is willing to be in the crew and contributing their own special talent. Always, they can bring amazing elements to the film. Hence I don’t find conflict between artist an craft man. Actually in the opposite way, I think we must been through a craft man’s level then go into the independent artist. Just like we can do abstract artworks after we have been through the fine arts level.

    Anyway, thanks RAQI SYED for bringing us an another angle of view.


  19. Joe Stucky says:

    Raqi Syed gave an interesting way of distinguishing between artist and artisan. She explained that the person concerned with the “How” is like the artisan concerned with figuring out a craft. The person more concerned with the “Why” will have a more artistic approach to their work. She backed up her theory with excerpts from her own impressive career.

    I appreciate that Raqi shared a small portion of the problems and situations that she had to overcome on different projects. I would have liked to hear more about these situations, and wish she could have expanded more on the situations that arose for her in regards to gender imbalance. Through her talk I was impressed with the idea of reaching above ones comfort level. As she moved from USC to Disney to WETA, she shared how she progressed by taking on bigger positions even though she may have not been completely comfortable with her craft for those positions early on. She was successful with these companies, because she quickly made herself adept with the craft.


  20. Katie Smith says:

    I found Raqi’s presentation to be insightful and inspiring. I really enjoyed seeing her reel and hearing how she progressed in the industry and got to where she is now. She is a great example of never becoming complacent as an artist, that there is always room for growth and expansion of what one is interested in or creating. It really hit home with me when she discussed how, during certain times as a VFX artist, she didn’t feel qualified to do something but just jumped in and did it anyway (or, the ‘imposter syndrome’.) I think that affects a lot of people, more than they talk about. I know it happens to me, and the trick is just going for it and giving it your all.

    I also enjoyed how she discussed ways to stay fresh and grow as an artist – from making the top 10 list to taking screengrabs of films that you enjoy. Raqi seems to be ever-evolving, I’m really looking forward to keeping track of her career. I also found it pretty great that she discussed a topic that is a bit taboo in the industry – the issue of gender bias. This has been coming to a head quite a bit lately, especially with the new Buzzfeed article that was released. I think nowadays, there are even more women in the Animation workforce and that number will continue to grow; it is promising! However it can’t be denied that we are underrepresented in this field, and it will continually be something that us ladies will need to strive and fight for.

    Raqi reminded me that it is ok to make mistakes, to keep growing, to have a voice, and to never stop seeking change – even if it is scary.


  21. Jinzhidu says:

    I am very interesting in RAQI’s experience about how did she become a VFX artist and Light TD from a critical study field. After watching her Showreel (included so many whooping feature films), I thought that is amazing, she is such an awesome VFX artist.

    What she impressed me most is following your taste. It is inspiring me a lot, cuz sometimes I hesitate that if I need change my taste to satisfy others or audiences’ taste. Now I know I should keep my own taste and make it better.

    About her point between craft and art. I think we don’t have to be too seriously to distinct them. There is no hierarchy in both of them. So just keep in ourselves own mind and do it.


  22. Yingzong Xin says:

    Raqi Syed gave us an interesting idea about the relationship of art and craft. Vision effect is the field I used to ignore , I thought it was all about technic, but Raqi has totally changed my mind. Being a Vision artist is not just add some environment lighting to the frames, it requires the deep understanding and thought of the film. From Avatar to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Raqi has done a good job in her field, I like the Lovely Bones the most, even though it was a old movie, the vision effect seemed not mature enough as Raqi said, I still be moved by the senses of world after the little girl dead.

    Otherwise , I really agree with Raqi ‘s opinion of “Do stuff, especially weird stuff”, this is a good way to do both business work and personal works, no matter in which field, we still need be creativity.

    As the topic of gender, men did dominated the main part of this world, but still, more and more female artists has joined the field, which is a very good sign.

    To sum up. Raqi is a good artist, she reminded me to keep creative all the time and never stop trying ,to learn more of the world .


  23. Tuo Kan says:

    Raqi Syed’s speech was very interesting. She showed us some really good work reels. And I am excited that realizing her has done too many popular movies in the past and nowadays.

    And yes cgi is such a big work that need people to cooperate. And every part of the work is very hard to do. Like the lighting and the texture, the modeling and the effects. They are all needing many studying to make it in a balance of real and surreal. Today that every sifi film needs the supporting of cgi. And these cgi artists are pursuing the realistic looking.

    But in my country, there are too many tv shows’ cgi are too fake and colorful. I feel like that kind of cgi effects are trying to destroy the show. Hope they can improving more in the directing and the production progresses.


  24. Jinyue Wan says:

    Apes, Avatar and Lovely bones all are really popular and successful movie. I’m really appreciate that I can have a chance to meet with the visual effect artist of these movie. And I’m also inspired by her experience and her attitude for her own career. As an animation student, I learnt a lot from this seminar, thank you!


  25. Jing Huang says:

    In Raqi Syed’s presentation, I found the answer that how to balance the art and craft. When I graduated from my undergraduate university I have received some offer from some companies, but I choose to continue study in the university instead of working in a company, because of their project I’m not interested in, and I want to do more practice I like in university. But so many friends told me that my decision is fault because there is the normal situation that people cannot choose what they want to do or what they like to do in Chinese commercial animation company, people just do things they need to do or things superior let them to do. Now I know that it is not hard to balance the art and craft, we just need to find the art style we indeed love, and focus on it, then we can find the project need people such like us. Encourage a lot, thank you, Raqi!


  26. xiruiliu says:

    Raqi Syed’s lesson is a new world for me. She did a lot of lighting job in many famous feature films. In advance, she opens the door for me about the bridge of technique and art work. I think even she is dong the lighting job, she still need a higher view to look through all the concept of art work and then combining the atmosphere lighting to express the right emotion of each shot. I learned a lot from her lesson. and I will consider the lighting effect when I am doing my own project.


  27. Ruchia Masuko says:

    Great thing about Raqi Syed, is that she writes.
    The base of artworks are consists of senses, more than logical thinking so that artists express their senses, words, thoughts, and themes into their artworks. But in the same time, I feels that there are few artists that who writes. (Few writers that who draw…)
    While art are unable to be described or determined in scientific, math or words, There are things that can’t determined in art works.
    So it is great that she corroborate those two together.


  28. mengna Lei says:

    i was very inspired by her own experience about working in film industry and how to find and discover the position. As many students mentioned about, defining our position between art and craft will be hard, the best way to change and finding is get into the different work, then we can find our position. during the work, we can educated our eye, finding our test and style which is helpful for our personal artistic work. I am so amazed that this woman did all different parts in various films. I hope to see more women finding their position in the industry and stand stable.


  29. yudu says:

    Raqi Syed has a very impressive reel. Woman work in film is hard and woman work in film, as a visual effect artist is even harder. I remember when I was undergrad, in visual effect major, only one out of ten are women. It is tough area for women that are why the achievement that Raqi has made is impressive. Woman needs to help woman. And the experience that Raqi has shared with us is priceless. It reconfirmed that woman could work just like a man in visual effect industry as long as we work hard and don’t give up.
    Also I found her argument about the balance between art and craft is interesting. Leaning technique is important but at the same time we should not forget that over all those techniques are only tools. And the core is art. We should transfer ourselves from “How” to make it, to “Why” to make it.


  30. Aya Kashima says:

    Raqi left us good question to think about the attitude as an artist. Her demo reel is gorgeous with many famous movies and everyone can tell her skill as an visual artist is great. It was interesting that she talked about the relationship between art and craft after she got career in famous studios.
    Working in the big project sometimes force people to be a craftsman to visualize the director’s idea. However, I felt that the reason she is successful in visual effect is that she brings her own artistic sense to visual effect. The lighting or other effect elements are important character to tell the story. After I got lecture from her, I felt there is no specific line between artist and craftsman. As long as I try to develop my own taste in personal project, these skill is also helpful to improve the skill as a craftsman.


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