Emma Daines on her remarkable journey growing and leading top VFX company Fin Design + Effects
Fin Design + Effects, one of Australia’s and South East Asia’s most respected and awarded visual effects companies, is a unique VFX studio for multiple reasons. One of them that deserves highlighting is Fin’s CEO and founder, Emma Daines, the driving force behind Fin’s success.
Fin Design + Effects is approaching its 22nd anniversary and CB caught up with founder and CEO Emma Daines to learn more about the company and her inspirational leadership style that is fondly described by her teams and industry peers as ‘gutsy’.
In addition to her Fin teams attracting countless VFX film craft gongs, Daines’ leadership has been recently merited with the Australian “NSW Women in International Business Award” at the Premier NSW Export Awards, (for a second time), and the International “Titan: Female Entrepreneur of the Year’ Award”, while Fin also took the honours for SHOTS 2022 Asia Pacific Award for “Best VFX Company”.
As a company owner, CEO, and totally hands-on Executive Producer, Daines embraces the cornerstone of Fin creativity and leadership. With a 36-year career that spans collaborating with acclaimed directors and producers locally and internationally, prominent advertising agencies, production companies, and post-production facilities in Australia, UK, and Asia, Daines is recognised as one of Australia’s most experienced producers.
Starting Fin Design + Effects over 22 years ago as an adept VFX Producer (and single mum of two toddlers), intent on creating a boutique FX company delivering niche customer service around high-end visual effects, Daines stands out as a pioneering and entrepreneurial leader in the VFX industry.
Over the decades, Daines has, with her team, established Fin (from the inception team of 7 – several of whom are still with Fin today) into a world-class, global VFX company with a talented crew of over 180 across studios in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Shanghai, and Los Angeles, whose award-winning work on international box office features and high profile brand commercials matches it with the best providers globally.
Her renowned enterprising business sense and ‘strategic risk taking’ has her team and industry peers affectionately praise her as ‘gutsy’. With an inherent ‘make it happen’ mindset of seeing obstacles as opportunities, Emma innovatively pivoted and navigated Fin through the pandemic challenges, converting global disruption into exponential company expansion to deliver an unprecedented scope and scale of work over those three years.
Fin’s borderless and agile approach to their clients, team, and craft across all VFX disciplines has enabled them to work on prestigious global brands, such as Nike, Apple, Virgin, BMW, and Hyundai, and earning numerous prestigious international accolades, including Adfest, Spike, CLIO, Cannes Lion, AICP, LIA, Ciclope, New York Festival, Axis, Gerety, and AWARD Awards.
Fin has also embarked on an exceptional volume of movie visual effects work, encompassing numerous critically acclaimed and award-winning films, including Elvis, M3GAN, Three Thousand Years of Longing, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, and Thor: Love & Thunder.
When asked what has been a significant professional landmark in her career, Daines responds, “Now. Every day should be your landmark moment.”
Daines shares some of her passions and philosophies underpinning her leadership which continues to be the driving force behind her and Fin’s success.
CB: How would you describe your leadership style?
Daines: Very, very inclusive. I have firm ideals, thoughts, and disciplines balanced with a strong, caring, and nurturing nature. I applaud hard work, sensibility, and humour. I am still very hands-on, working across multiple time zones with my teams and clients locally and abroad. Although I am a perfectionist, I strongly believe in a work-life balance and adhere to that for myself and my teams.
My founding value for Fin is fostering a healthy, creative, and stimulating working environment across all studios. I have an open-door policy, which is widely used by many and fills me with pleasure.
CB: Have you always had this open-door, entrusting, approachable leadership style, or have you adopted this over time?
Daines: I’d say this is a combination of my 36 years of experience and my DNA and character. I always want to treat people as I’d like to be treated. Yet, you also need to earn that respect on your merit, which is what I expect of Fin people.
Fin’s success I accredit to the people that surround me. That’s my investment. My job is to put great people around me, entrust, empower, mentor, and encourage them. Then we support and lift each other!
CB: What led you to opening offices in Singapore and Shanghai?
Daines: Pure opportunity, coming out of a global financial crisis. There was a market, it was attractive, and it was ready. We had something special to offer, and I wanted to expand our market beyond Australia. I love a challenge, and now 9 years later, I feel so very enriched because of the people I have met in China and Singapore and the friendships I have gained, and the quality work we have done. Thank you, China and Singapore.
CB: What obstacles have you experienced that may have inhibited your personal or your Fin’s opportunities and growth?
Daines: None really. I see it as a mindset of drive and self-belief, to not see ‘obstacles’ but rather as something to navigate and not get bogged down with. Focus is key: remaining wide-eyed, pushing forward to see the opportunities, and then putting your best foot forward to take these opportunities on board.
CB: What has your professional journey been like?
Daines: Totally amazing. I love looking back and feel super proud of our achievements, including navigating pretty tough waters. Our ups and downs have made me stronger, more resilient, softer, and kinder, bringing me even closer to my people who have helped us survive and prosper.
CB: What are some of the guiding philosophies that you embed and hold your teams to?
Daines: Be open, listen to the experts around you, be considerate, and stay focussed. Be succinct and robust, and adopt a calm approach to any problem.
My focus has always been to create like-minded teams with the right skills: choosing people who crucially ‘fit in,’ can get on well together, and passionately pursue our shared goals for craft perfection with mutual respect. This is the Fin essence across all our studios: working as one family and doing our best work.
CB: How did you juggle leading Fin and raising your daughters?
Daines: That took huge energy, discipline, and routine, drawing on my skills as a Producer! Raising my girls alongside my Fin family involved a certain amount of self-sacrifice, sharing myself between them. I wanted to be a fantastic mother and foster a healthy and stimulating career. I was always very present with my girls and ensured they knew they were the most important people in my life. My girls respect and admire what I’ve achieved. Likewise, I’ve seen them embody the same ambitious strength and resilience.
CB: What are your passions outside Fin?
Daines: Funnily enough, I still enjoy travelling, even though I am regularly jumping on and off planes for work, particularly to our Singapore and Shanghai studios.
I love reading, cooking, walking, entertaining friends and family, and especially spending time with my two extraordinary daughters. I am super social and love wining and dining…!
CB: What advice do you wish you’d been given in the past, or what advice would you give?
Daines: Frankly, I’m not sure what advice I wish I’d been given. I have always been an inquisitive, energetic, and driven sort of person, so I think it was good to learn as I went along. My upbringing was all about “to stand up and get on with it.” That’s what I did, and that got me to where I am today. I empower my teams with the freedom to work things out, appreciating their approach. Yet I’m available any time they need me to jump in and offer guidance or advice.
The advice I tend to offer and to those I mentor, just as I did with my own daughters, is “pursue your passion and be happy with what you do, else move on. Strive to be your very best because then you can feel deservedly proud”.
Looking back, I know I could not have worked any harder, not for the good of my company, my family, or for myself. I have really enjoyed the journey – and I still absolutely love what I do!
VFX is incredibly male dominated and incredibly sexist. It always an inspiration to see what Emma has achieved in a world that missed the memo on diversity. She is a complete powerhouse.
Emma is a joy to work with, a great human and amazing EP!
Emma you are an inspiration x
Go get them !
Inspirational lady – leading the way for the rest of us.