Interview with Alex Kong – Layout Artist & Headhunter

Interview with Alex Kong – Layout Artist & Headhunter

Meet Alex Kong, a seasoned professional with an impressive track record in the animation industry. With 17 years of experience, Alex has established himself as a 3D Layout artist, Headhunter, and Artist Coach. His contributions span across the creation of teams for five feature films, two series, and numerous video games, successfully assisting over 600 artists in their job placements.

What motivated you to pursue a career in animation?


I was motivated by multiple things. First, I wanted to be an actor, I really enjoyed taking part in theater plays when I was in high school. Two, I loved cartoons and film since forever, and three, my dad wanted me to study something serious and then Toy Story came out and I saw a possibility to study computer systems and act with the computer!

As a layout artist for films such as “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” and “The Lego Movie,” can you describe your role and some of the shots you worked on for these productions?


In The Mitchell’s, Lego Movie, The Willougbys, and Marvel’s What If? I worked doing rough layout and a bit of Previs, which is basically as its name states, to ‘layout´ the cameras and characters in a 3D space in accordance to a 2D storyboard/animatic.


In the Mitchell’s I worked on a couple of sequences, one was the sequence that actually ended up being the trailer for the movie on Netflix where they are figuring out what to do when they are at the dinosaurs highway shop, the sequence was much longer and funnier, but a big chunk of it got cut and turned in the 2D motion graphics part, bummer… some times that happens but at least I got to do the end sequences and the final shot of the movie with the camera traveling alongside their car and craning up to the sunset, that was a fun shot to work on.


In the Lego movie, I worked on many sequences but the one I liked the most was the space fight, a very complex sequence with a lot of actions,  lasers, characters, and SPACESHIIIPS!


What distinguishes the roles of a Layout Artist and a Previs Artist, and what was your experience like working as a Previs Artist on “Fantastic Beasts”?


Basically, Previs is Layout on steroids. As Layout artist you lay out the cameras and a basic character choreography but in previs the animation is more refined, you also do a little bit of rough lighting and pre-vising effects that look a bit cooler.


There are many levels of layouts and pre-vis out there but yeah layout could go from animating low-res characters in a T-pose with basic animation in a gray set made of cubes all the way to looking like a PlayStation 2 version of the movie, hah!


I worked briefly in Fantastic Beasts in Rodeo FX, I worked mostly doing post-vis, it was a very challenging job because post-vis was done with Nuke and Unreal Engine, and back then I had no previous experience with Nuke and I was just getting started with Unreal Engine. 


Still, it was a great experience, I really liked working on it and I learned a lot, but I find that post-vis and VFX are not really my thing =P

What inspired your shift from being an Animator and Layout Artist to a full-time Artist Coach and Headhunter?


Well, I loved animation but I was presented with an opportunity to do Layout on my first feature film participation and I LOVED Layout, I really liked working in broad strokes and touching more of the story.


And the Headhunting/Coaching thing came about because of seemingly random events in life, in which a friend that was producing that first feature film that I worked on, knew that I knew a lot of people in the industry and he asked me to put together the team for that movie.


From then on I continued a parallel career as an Artist and a Headhunter for many other features and projects, it’s been 14 years since that 1st movie.


And since a lot of people started to ask me how to get into the industry and climb inside of it, how to put together a good demo, how to get a job, how to negotiate, etc.… 9 years ago I eventually started offering that as a service for people who really wanted to dedicate time to work on their careers and get unstuck!


Can you provide some recommendations for improving student portfolios?


Sure! QUALITY ALWAYS AHEAD OF QUANTITY, you are as best as the WORST piece in your portfolio, or at least an average of the best and worst so make sure you are not introducing pieces that bring down the average too low, it’s better to be judged by a few great pieces.


Don’t make recruiters have to dig for the info they need, consider that you have 4 to 8 seconds before a recruiter quits on you and goes on to the next profile.


Categorize your portfolio in accordance with the most important skills required for the type of job you are looking for, READ THE JOB DESCRIPTION.


Consider your Artstation’s frontpage your portfolio, those thumbnails in your artstation are THE MOST important in your portfolio, most recruiters won’t dig into every single project to find out what they are looking for, make sure they look good by themselves and all together.


Consider your portfolio your COMPANY’S website, each category should be a service that your company provides, in general, don’t offer more than 4.

What are some key dos and don’ts for creating a compelling professional showreel?


There are plenty, but here are a few besides the ones I just mentioned that also apply to reels.


  • Keep it short, I find that after watching literally more than 10,000 reels, the best are always 45 secs to 1 minute.
  • Always open with the best, fill it out with good stuff, and end with the 2nd best. 
  • First impressions count, start with an attention grabber, and end on a high note!
  • Do start and end with a card with your name, specialty, and email, remove the fade at the end, so that your data stays on their screen.
  • Lower the music when you have lipsync on-screen


  • Don’t add crazy music or famous music, especially not with lyrics, they just distract from the content.
  • Don’t add anything you don’t like doing or you’ll get more work like that


What are the other key qualities that you look for other than their artistic abilities?


Other key qualities are: The ability to work in a team, being able to give and receive feedback, being a problem solver, being self-taught, being resourceful, having initiative and being persistent, being a person in constant growth and evolution, people who do personal projects are always interesting because they are always growing.

Could you elaborate on the benefits of your personalized 1-on-1 coaching program for artists?


Sure, I basically help artists get unstuck by helping them get clear on what they want, what’s the ultimate dream job or end goal, and then tracing a couple of paths to get there, then I help them to execute that plan.


Most artists seek me out because I can help them get a job, get a promotion or a raise, or simply get clear on certain career topics that are keeping them stuck or confused.


For the ones looking for a job, I help them by optimizing their online presence (Demo Reel, Portfolio, and social networks) to not only look more professional but also to make it EFFECTIVE!


Most artists know how to make something look good and professional, but they don’t have the recruiter’s perspective…how they think, what they are looking for, and how to peak their interest; I make sure their online presence has all of that to the most minute detail.


Once that is fully optimized I give them the right psychology, tools, and strategies to go out on the job hunt: Where to find job posts, how to stand out among dozens of applications, how to network with decision-makers, how to make a good interview and how to know how much to ask for and how to negotiate.

What are the advantages and drawbacks of working as a freelancer compared to a full-time job?


Well, they are famous and well known but basically…



As a freelancer you are in business, you have more control over your hours, with who you work with, when and how much you charge, but also your pay check is not secured, some months you do great, others not as much, and sometimes you did great but certain clients can take a lot of time to pay and you gotta pursue them which sucks, also you have to deal with your taxes and you have to impose limits on yourself in terms of working hours.

I recommend freelancing to those who have made a career and are somewhat known, they know their craft very well but also know (or are open to know) more than that, since you are in business you have to know branding, marketing, selling, systematizing, optimizing, budgeting, headhunting and much more.

It’s also harder to work with big studios and projects as a freelancer but not impossible, also, some specialties are more prone to this than others.


Fulltime job

In a full-time job you are likely to end up working on big projects at big studios, with big teams, although now everyone is mostly working at home which feels very much like freelancing for a company, most of the “teamwork spirit” is gone in many studios, some are trying to recover it, but things will never be the same.

You get a safe and reliable paycheck, but your income is somewhat capped and it can be really hard to cross those glass ceilings, and the higher you climb, the more that is demanded from you, leading and supervising roles in the industry can be incredibly stressful and require lots of upaid overtime.


Honestly, both alternatives can be very stressful but I find that I like the stress of building something of my own a lot more than the stress of building something for someone else.

I loved working in big studios on big projects, but I am super happy to be independent at the moment, maybe I’ll get back to a studio in the future if I ever feel like it.

From your perspective, what are your thoughts on the issue of VFX artists being overworked and underpaid, especially as a growing number of films with extensive VFX are being released? Are there any potential solutions to address this problem?


Well gee, this is a complex topic with many many layers to it, but I feel like the entire chain is stressed by capitalism.

Most of the time, us soldiers in the ranks feel like the bosses are making the big bucks on our hard work drinking margaritas at the beach, but I’ve gotten to know many many studios heads over the years, and let me tell you they suffer just as much if not more.

It’s just how the capitalist system works, competition in a free market puts pressure on the entire chain to create better quality for less money and that’s a perfect formula to create “overworked, underpaid” people. Unfortunately, as of now, we haven’t come up with a better system, none that we are ready for as a society anyway.

Right now the “Streamer wars” bubble just burst, and there are massive layoffs all around, it seems to me like the industry is going back to pre-pandemic levels, just with more fish in a pond that is getting smaller.

And the uncertainty and pressure that Ai is providing to the mix make it even worse.

That is all to say that unfortunately, it seems to me that “overworked and underpaid” not only won’t ease for a while but increase, except sadly, for the fired ones who “will be underworked and not paid” 🙁

The solution? Well, I guess one thing that will come out of all this will be a HUGE wave of solo creators, small indie studios, and crews of independent artists, it has become increasingly easier to do more with less and that seems to be the tendency, will that be a solution? well for some and for a time…

For the rest, unionizing or at least banding together somehow to demand better work conditions has worked in the past, and raising awareness is part of that so thanks for this opportunity to contribute in that respect I hope I laid some useful information nuggets here and there.


If you read all the way here, thank you, and have a great rest of your day 😀

You can connect with Alex at the following links:




About the author

  • Mohammad Khalikh

    Based in India. Khalikh is a Previs and Cinematic Designer with over 6 years of experience in the Indian Film Industry. His passion for films and animation led him to the city of dreams, Mumbai, and he found the world of filmmaking. He loves to share knowledge and he believes what J.M. Cornwell has rightly said "“Knowledge is wasted when it isn't shared.”

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