Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Nicole West

By Guneet K. Singh

Welcome to the NYWIFT community, Nicole West! 

Nicole is a visual effects technical director who has spent her career blending technology with art. She has a great love for the performing arts and is on a creative journey with storytelling. 

Read our full interview with Nicole below to learn more about her experience working in visual effects, her advice for successful collaborations, and her insights about technology and art.

NYWIFT Member Nicole West (image courtesy of Nicole West)


Tell us about yourself! Give us some insight into your creative journey, your career aspirations, and what drives you.

Well, I’m a Carnegie Mellon grad, electrical and computer engineer by training, who decided immediately after graduation to do anything else. Prior to engineering, I spent much of my childhood as a competitive gymnast and dancer with an affinity toward computers. As a compromise, I thought going into visual effects was a perfect way to blend technology with art. Recently, I’ve begun to reconsider that notion.

Over the last 15 or so years, I’ve veered away from the performing arts, which is what I used as my creative outlet and is what I’m realizing was the driving force behind my ability to tell a story. Now I am trying to get back to that. In my current ventures, especially given the recent layoffs, I’m revisiting my old habits – dance, writing, philosophy, and looking at technology as the tool, not the point. 


What brought you to NYWIFT?

I was (and still am) looking for community. My professional and social circle consists of many who are lovely but I have nothing really in common with. I’m missing a sense of adventure and collaboration and that thrill of camaraderie you get from learning and clicking with your peers through experiencing new adventures together. It’s something I’m actively building and theoretically, they will come.


You’ve worked on a variety of films like X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, among others. What is your approach as a visual effects technical director and how does it differ across each project?

I start with assessing what can be done more efficiently. That tends to begin with a conversation with the crew. What’s working? What isn’t? If you could have it your way, how would you like to work? What is a feature that you would add if you could? Or remove?

Getting a sense of the team dynamic can shed light on the kinds of problems that need solving and how much participation and support you are going to get when making those recommendations. Sometimes you get on a project with a crew that will push the envelope. Other times, they just want another button pusher. 


X-Men: Days of Future Past movie poster (IMDB.com)


What is the most challenging aspect of working in visual effects?

The politics. It’s not the greatest business model and that doesn’t seem like something that will change any time soon. A lot of the crew ends up with a sense of apathy that can stifle creativity and excitement regarding even the most engaging projects. At times, it can seem like an abusive marriage where rather than solve a problem collectively, one would rather focus on just having the upper hand. At that point, you know it’s time to leave.


In your role, you collaborate with production and R&D to design and automate production workflows. What do you think leads to a successful collaboration between different departments on a set?

Drop your ego and realize the project is not about you. Once everyone does that, that’s when the ideas start to flow. Also we’re not curing cancer, guys. Have a bit of fun.


You’ve also worked as a software developer on films such as Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049. What did that role entail?

Sometimes as a developer, you work on a specific tool, rather than a specific film, that gets distributed to multiple films upon release. At that point in my career, the products I contributed to were not for any particular film but for the studio as a whole. So on projects like Blade Runner 2049 and Dunkirk, since they were done at the same studio, they’d benefit from the same product release.


Blade Runner 2049 movie poster (IMDB.com)


What has been the most fulfilling project of your career so far? What made it so impactful for you?

It was an untitled project for the new animation division at DNEG. A colleague asked if I’d be interested in helping him build the FX pipeline as he had a specific project in his head that he wanted me to help him design. It was a small team, in its early stages, and we had the tools and time to collaborate with a multitude of departments ranging from pipeline, several R&D teams, to animation and lighting. We also had the unwavering support of our VFX and CG supervisors. It was an amazing collaboration that left little room for the ego trippings of a few. Unfortunately the project was canceled – a “Me too” situation. 


What is the best industry advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t produce your own work. So, I’m going to produce my own work [laughs].

Connect with Nicole West on LinkedIn.


Guneet Singh

Guneet Singh Guneet K. Singh is a NY-based writer and producer. Her first job in the entertainment industry was as an NBC Page and she has since worked in development on multiple projects for NBC from game shows to half-hour comedies. Guneet graduated from Stony Brook University in 2019 with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Business Management. She's incredibly passionate about diverse storytelling and creating a more equitable industry. She is so excited to be a part of the NYWIFT community!

View all posts by Guneet Singh

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