Selma Sabera

Selma Sabera

Sr. Engineer, Media Systems
Industrial Light & Magic / Lucasfilm
San Francisco, CA, United States
Selma Sabera
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Selma is a Sr. Engineer at a visual effects company called Industrial Light and Magic founded by George Lucas, the father of Star Wars. Selma's interest in art and technology lead her to a career in computer graphics and animation. She has studied mathematics and electrical engineering and has spent her career inside TV, film and animation studios. Today, Selma spends her time designing studios and different systems used in daily studio operations. Interests: mathematics, astronomy, technology, sculpture, painting, photography
  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Selma Sabera

Hi Claire,

Off the top of my head, I would suggest looking into Disney's Imagineering that provides rides and props for the Disneyland and Disney World parks and resorts. They always need fabricators of different levels and there might be research opportunities in their RnD departments as well. Another place that comes to mind is Jim Henson Studios, although those positions tend to be more artistic but you do get to fabricate puppets out of various materials. There are other model shops as well, like Weta in New Zealand, but again, those might be more artistic, model making positions than engineering positions. Hope this helps & good luck!



Hi Laila,

At your age those are fine tools to play with and you could start using Apple Motion as well. Also, I would suggest trying any free animation app that you see and you will see some are better then others. 

Eventually, you will grow into tools like Adobe's Creative suite, Maya, 3d Max, zbrush, Houdini, etc. A lot of the high end, professional tools are expensive but have 30-day trials. Often, these professional tools are hard to get started with and require someone to show you how to do it. The good news is that there are a lot of how-to videos on Youtube, especially for Adobe products. 

As for professional animation studios go, we usually have animations tools we developed in-house, i.e. you can't buy them, instead we teach you how to use them when you get hired. Usually, the prerequisite for this is mastering Maya.

I would encourage you to check out Google's new project "Made with Code"

and under projects you have GIF where they show you haw to make an animation from scratch and learn some coding as well. Also, look up on google "stop motion animation" and how it is done. There are a lot of free tools to show you how to use your toys to convey a story. 



Hi Lindsey,

Yes, most folks do not consider entertainment and media as traditional engineering roles and do not even look for jobs in this industry. I encourage any new graduate to look at the Disney job site (Lucasfilm is part of this). Within Disney, there are numerous engineering positions with varying levels of experience and education requirements. Given that, you should consider the job descriptions true to what is needed, including the amount of previous work experience and level of education. 

Mechanical engineers can do a number of different positions in film. Depending on what you like better you could work in what we call physical production or post production.

Physical production refers to what happens on the actual set with actors, directors, camera crews, etc. You could help physical production by doing one of the following:

-Work for a manufacturer designing cameras or other filming rigs. Consider that a camera is a mechanical system, you could go design cameras and lenses for a manufacturer. Besides cameras, we use a lot of motion control systems, like robotic arms, dollies, drones, etc to get smooth camera movement on set or to film hard to get to places. 

-Some films use mechanical and robotic film props on set. For this a model shop might be hired to build the robotic prop and the model shop will have mechanical engineers on staff to help with this.  If you are more creative, you could work for a model shop, designing robotic props. 

-Another option for building robotic props or even rides is to work for Disney's Imagineering; they design all the rides and props in the Disneylands and Disney Worlds. 

Post production refers to what happens to the film footage after it was shot. This process would involve editing, motion capture, visual effects, sound effects, color finishing, etc. Within visual effects and animation we have a few different roles that a mechanical engineer can do depending on their skill level and interest. These roles can be:

-Hard surface modeler: a CG artist that models in software things like cars, planes, robots, spaceships, etc. This is an artistic position and often hard to find. It requires knowledge of 3D modeling software and mechanical engineering or industrial design.

-Tools or RnD engineer: an engineer, usually with a higher degree, that can program computer simulations specific for mechanical systems. For example, in the Transformers movie series, most of the Autobots and Desepticons have over 20,000 moveable parts. Instead of an animator having to animate how every gear, plate or slider on an robot's arm moves, an engineer will make a program that defines how that arm moves, which parts interact with each other to make a natural arm movement for that creature. This usually requires some good coding skills as well as experience with simulation and mathematical modeling.

-Generalist or pipeline engineer: these folks usually work in the background, developing and automating processes that make help the above teams work more effectively. 

I hope this helps! Best, Selma

Hi Sarah,

The nice thing about school is that you can try different things and subjects and if you plan on continuing to grad school you really have some time to try different things out. It sounds like you want to make a decision weather to be more mechanical or electrical in your focus. My question would be, what do you like about biomed and bioengineering? When you imagine working in these fields, what do you think of? Is there a specific area you are interested in? For example, let's say you want to engineer pacemakers. Go online and look at journal papers on how pacemakers work. Then find institutions that make pacemakers and look at their job descriptions. If you do these two things, you will:

1. Figure out if pacemakers are really of interest to you

2. If they are, through job descriptions you will get a better idea of what the engineers who make pacemakers need to know. This will in turn guide you through the classes you need to take to get there. 

Apply these steps to the topic you think you are interested in and try a few different things. As far as classes being hard, engineering is hard :) but what makes it great is that you figure things out and you solve a problem. Engineering classes are a right of passage to solving problems and if you keep trying, eventually you get good at it.