Behind the Scenes with Lena Scanlan

Published on September 22, 2023

Susie Kleis LinkedIn Project Manager at Wētā FX

Lena is a Kiwi, a mum, plays netball, likes marmite on toast, she cries watching movies, even if she’s only watching works-in-progress. Her favourite restaurant is ‘Archimboldi’ in Seatoun, has a three year old Golden Retriever, loves champagne and is the VFX Producer on the Avatar Sequels.

What’s your favourite part of New Zealand?

There is an amazing little spot at the base of the Remutaka Mountain Range that I escape to at least once a year, if I can swing it. It is only about a one and a half hour drive from Wellington, but it truly feels like another world out there. There are a lot of options in the area if you choose to be a bit more active, but in truth I usually just find a fireplace and enjoy a nice big glass of local wine.

What do you love most about living Wellington?

Wellington really packs a punch for a smaller city. There is something really endearing about how hard it tries. There are so many events, shows and random pop up’s. It is a city that keeps reinventing itself, you just have to go out and look for it, there is always something to do here.

Can you tell us about your background?

I am a proud Kiwi. I lived in Auckland until my mid-teens when my family relocated to the warmth of the Gold Coast in Australia. That is where I found VFX. I joined a small post house called Photon VFX as soon as I was finished at film school and I have been hooked ever since. In my 20’s I valued travel and my career over all else. The two combined meant I was able to live in different parts of the world and experience incredible collaboration in such diverse environments. My heart, however, was calling me back home to New Zealand. There was this epic company leading the world in VFX and I wanted to come home and be part of it. I have been here 7 years now and I just love it!

Can you summarise your role in one sentence?

I spend a lot of my time planning for the unplannable, building and supporting a world class team and working with the filmmakers to make sure they are getting everything they need.

What was the best piece of advice you were given in your career?

Spend some time to really understand what your core values are and why they are important to you. If you find that you are feeling uneasy about a situation it is usually because it is competing with one or more of your core values. If you are true to yourself you will lead with integrity and purpose.

How do you maintain a work-life balance with a young family?

This is a tough one. In truth there are times when I don’t find a good balance. It is a constant work in progress. I am a constant work in progress. I find what works best for me and my family is to be there for each other when times do get challenging and plan for it as much as possible. I have experienced a few deadlines in my time and they can be hard to navigate, let alone with a young family to care for. My advice to myself is to try and set boundaries and feel empowered to stick to them. I guess it comes back to those core values.

How do you commute to work?

I live five minutes down the road. I have very purposefully removed any commute whatsoever from my life, it has given me back an hour or more a day to spend with my son. It also means I am able to do school drop off in the mornings, which I love.

What’s your proudest career achievement to date?

Avatar: The Way of Water. Producing that project was truly my proudest career achievement. I gave my heart and soul to that one.

What are your favourite things to do outside of work?

I love gardening. I have set up a swing and sandpit near my favourite spot in the garden so my son plays while I plant. There is nothing I love more than weekends in my garden with the sun on my back.

What advice would you give to young people starting out in VFX?

If you are thinking about working towards becoming a VFX Producer, try not to think of your career as a race to the top. Take your time, really get to know how each area of the VFX pipeline works and relates to each other. The more you understand, the more you can trust your instinct when you get in to a leadership role.

-Thanks Lena!