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Natalie Cooke works for one of the leading visual effects companies in Hollywood – Industrial Light and Magic (ILM). As a Production Coordinator, she has worked on major motion pictures, including Mission Impossible 5: Rogue Nation and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, released in March 2018.
“This is my dream job,” Natalie said. “Working on a project from start to end and then finally seeing it on the big screen is really exciting. When I sit in the cinema and watch the movie, it feels really rewarding. And then my family see my name in the credits and they get really excited.
“ILM are one of the founders of the modern VFX industry and they are a company that many people in this industry dream of working for. From a personal perspective, I love Disney and ILM was recently purchased by them when they bought Lucasfilm, so being able to work for Disney is a childhood dream come true.”
Originally from Milton, Stoke-on-Trent, Natalie got her first taste of movie making between secondary school and college. She took part in a competition organised by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire University, when they challenged entrants to make films about environmental issues.
“When I left school, I wanted to be a chef,” Natalie recalled. “But I got involved in this competition to make a film highlighting environmental issues and I won first prize and realised I really enjoyed it.”
Natalie signed up to a media A Level at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and eventually the Media (Film) Production degree at Staffordshire University. She said: “I didn’t consider Staffordshire University at first because I’m from Stoke and wanted to move away from home. But my mum said that Staffs did a similar course to what I was looking for so I went along to an Open Day and it was the best one I’d been to.
“The Media (Film) Production course was the best I had seen. It was more practical and that interested me, whereas the other courses I looked at leaned more towards essays and theory. In the first month, we went on a field trip to the Lake District and were given three days to make a film as part of a team of six. It was like being thrown in at the deep end but it was a really good learning experience.”
“The other great thing about Staffordshire University is the film theatre and showing your films on the big screen. In our last year, we all made our own individual film, and we were so proud to screen them. I got involved in helping to produce around 12 films in the last year and realised I really enjoyed it. It gave me a lot of skills and prepared me for the industry.”
After graduating in 2013, Natalie joined London-based visual effects company Double Negative as a Production Runner after meeting a company representative at one of the course industry days. During the next three years, she worked her way up to Production Coordinator, and after initially making teas and looking after reception she eventually began working on Mission Impossible 5. In May 2017, she joined ILM.
“I’ve been here for six months and I’m really enjoying it,” Natalie said. At the moment, I’m working on Ready Player One, which is Steven Spielberg’s new film. It’s based in a virtual world, so there is a huge amount of visual effects work and we’re due to finish in two weeks, so it’s very busy.
“There are lots of skills I learned at University that I still use in my day-to-day job. One of the most important is communication skills, which my role is all about. Every day I have to talk to, give instructions, relay messages to my 12 production team members, an array of international clients and over 100 visual effects artists currently working on the film.
“In the future, I’d love to be a VFX producer, manage a team and make the decisions. I’ve learned a lot from my producers, and continue to learn a lot, and I’d love to be in their shoes eventually.”