Lead Groom Artist Elena Chiarani On Being A Working Parent In VFX

Lead Groom Artist Elena Chiarani On Being A Working Parent In VFX

Elena discusses her incredible work routine while taking care of her first child, going full-time and how you can have it all as a mum in the industry.


22 August 2019

Reading Time

7 minutes, 27 seconds

Hi Elena, could you run me through your career and background so far?
I studied fine art as a painter and I was teaching anatomy, artistry and painting techniques. I started doing VFX through architecture visualisation and was then a painter. I did 2D animation and that led to a foundation degree in London for one year. Then I did a little bit of motion graphics, a bit of arch vis and animation. I was trying to get as much freelance work as I could as I had children. Then I went to visual effects as a generalist at first but then I specialised in crowd TD and now I’m in groom, so it’s not been a linear course! It’s been more experimental, and I liked exploring the different areas.

You have two children right? How old are they?
Pietro is 9, turning 10 and Matilda is 5, turning 6!

You mentioned going freelance, did you go freelance because you had children and felt like this was the only way you could still work?
Yes, because I wanted to stay at home until the second birthday of my kids and I wanted to find a kind of life and work balance that would work. I was studying a lot at the time too, and at one point while my husband was doing his PHD and working, I was working a full-time job while also doing freelance jobs at the same time and it was very tough for both of us! When Pietro was born, I was doing a bit of motion graphics and illustrations for art galleries and private institutions. I remember I would wake up before he wakes up to work, so I’d wake up at 6, do work for a couple of hours and then he would wake up at 8. Then when he had his nap, he’d sleep for 2 hours, I would do a bit of work. Then when he went to bed, I’d do work again for a few hours. It became a bit more complicated once they started getting older… I even worked in retail for a few hours to pay for my one-year VFX course!

Why did you choose to work and study during the first year of having your first child?
I didn’t want to take a complete break as I like my job. I work for passion. There’s a quote from famous artist and sculptor Barbara Hepworth, where she said she would always try to work every day: “A woman artist is not deprived by cooking and having children, nor by nursing children with measles (even in triplicate) - one is in fact nourished by this rich life, provided one always does some work each day; even a single half hour, so that the images grow in one's mind.” So I tried to do at least two hours every day. When you’re a mum, you are also a wife and a worker, but there is also a part that is just me. When the door closes that is the part where I do what I like: painting, CG and working is what I like.

When did you become full-time?
When Matilda turned 2. Before that, my work was based around the needs of my kids. It was for me, not for them and I wanted to be with them. So around 2016, I went back to full-time work.

How do you balance being a mum and working in our industry?
It’s tough. I think things have changed a lot. I had Pietro ten years ago and at the time, I had an interview when he was 2 and I tried to go back to work full-time. I found a lot of interviews were mostly about how I would cope with childcare and I thought it was really not nice as a woman. No question was asked about my quality of work, instead they asked ‘What if you can’t cope with childcare? What if your husband was ill?’. It was really frustrating for me.

Nowadays nobody asks me this question anymore, and my employers have been very flexible! But of course, you’ll work with a group of people and you’ll have tasks to complete and are responsible for, which is important. The industry workload is quite high and there are long hours. There have been times where I’ve had to go to work, pick the kids up at 5, feed them and go back to work, and then work over the weekends. My husband has more flexible work so it helps, he’s an architect so he can work from home sometimes and that helps.

Currently, my kids are in Bristol while I’m working from Bournemouth so I’ve been doing a two-and-a-half hour commute the last few days here, as my husband has the flu. I’ve had to commute back every night and I’ll be going again tonight! I find that people here are understanding and flexible and it’s not been a big problem! My kids are my top priority and as long as they are happy and healthy, and my husband is taking care of them then I can focus on my work.

How do you balance childcare with your husband?
First of all, my husband has always supported me, and that has always been very, very important for me. When it got tough, and I was tired and things at work were not going very well, he was always there for me.

In terms of childcare, they go to after-school club normally, so I drop them off and pick them up. My mum might also sometimes come from Milan when I was working on a show delivery. We also have a nanny three days a week and sometimes the kids might come to work with me, or they will go to work with my husband. Occasionally I have to ask for shorter days and work over the weekend to complete my tasks, but I find that there is a lot more flexibility now to work around parents’ needs.

Do you find any discrimination as a working mum from other areas?
When I was working, there were friends that would say to me ‘How would your kids cope?’ But with my husband, that question was never asked. I think fathers in our industry have to leave home a lot; freelancers are quite prevalent in our industry and have to move around frequently. It’s worked for men for many many years, and I’ve received a lot of questions asking me why I’m working and moving around as a mum and how my kids are. Well, I know my kids are happy and healthy, I would not be working if I thought my kids were in pain. Of course, we miss each other but if they need me, I will just get in my car and drive to see them. My kids see that they are important to me, but they also see that my work is important to me also.

When I had a daughter, I wanted to be an example for her that she could be whatever she wanted to be. I do think being a stay-at-home mum is respectful and that there is no single way to be a mum. People are different and have different passions. It just happens that I love my job. You can do many many things, you don’t have to choose between being a good mum and being a good person or being a good worker. You can have it all.

How do you find Outpost and LifeTime in terms of your work/life balance?
I find it flexible, and the team has been amazing. Yesterday, I left on time and I arrived this morning at 10. The supervisor knew that I wanted to make sure my husband was alright before I left. I just think that you need to perform your duties, always. I never felt that Outpost wouldn't allow me to do anything. The CG Supervisor Ben, Craig [Senior FX TD], Tessa [Mid Animator] and Maurizio [Head of 3D] are great. I don’t feel judged if I leave early. Nobody questions my decision. There is respect and trust. I was talking to Leanne [Head of Talent] too, and she said ‘If you have to take time off, don’t worry’ so it’s all been very understanding.

What needs to be changed in the industry?
There are some places that now have creches, so that would be awesome! But that is a tough question. In the last four years, I haven’t found any discrimination but I will never work in a place where me being a parent is part of considering whether I should be hired, so these places need to be tackled! But it’s never been an issue where I’ve worked, so Outpost is really good for that!

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