By DEBRA KAUFMAN
By DEBRA KAUFMAN
Many young people dream of working in the visual effects industry. Learning that unique combination of artistry and technology to become hirable in a demanding, fast-paced and ever-changing field of visual effects is a challenge, but numerous universities, schools and diploma programs teach the software and hardware and offer a real-world experience of working through a VFX pipeline, with the advice and experience of talented mentors/ teachers in the industry.
VFX Voice spoke with a sampling of top VFX programs to find out more about what they teach and how they help students get a leg up into their first jobs in VFX. All the schools listed below have graduates working in the top VFX houses in the world, from ILM, Framestore, Walt Disney Animation and Weta to Dreamworks, Digital Domain, MPC, Method Studios, Sony Pictures Imageworks and Zoic Studios among many others. Here they are, with a sidebar on numerous other top programs. This is not a complete listing of VFX schools.
NEXTGEN SKILLS ACADEMY, LONDON AND A VARIETY OF LOCATIONS IN ENGLAND WWW.NEXTGENSKILLSACADEMY.COM
NextGen Skills Academy is not a traditional university, but rather an academy consisting of member colleges. Founded in 2014 through a co-investment from the U.K. government and the games, animation and VFX industry, NextGen Skills was created to develop a pre-university qualification (a so-called Extended Diploma) that emphasizes learning through doing. On completion of the Extended Diploma, students can go on to a three-year university degree course, take concentrated higher education courses in a specialist area like VR or into a VFX apprenticeship. Starting in September 2015, the Academy began expanding throughout England via partnerships with vetted Further Education Colleges; by this September, there will be nine affiliated colleges, with two more slated for September 2018.
The first 106 NextGen students have just made their final submissions; afinal year student showcase in London drew attendees from Framestore, Double Negative, ILM, MPC, Microsoft, Sony Interactive Entertainment and others. Since this is the first graduating class, the Academy VFX and Animation Partnership Manager Phil Attfield doesn’t have data on job placement. “We’re hoping to fill many of the apprenticeship places that London VFX companies are planning to recruit for the summer,” he says, estimating there will be 15 apprenticeships, a 50% jump from last year. This next academic year is expected to have a class of between 310 and 340 students.
DIGITAL ANIMATION & VISUAL EFFECTS (DAVE) SCHOOL, ORLANDO, FLORIDA WWW.DAVESCHOOL.COM
The DAVE School offers a diploma and a BA degree in Visual Effects Production and a diploma in Game Production, as well as online education for BA degrees in Motion Graphics and Production Programming. Academic Director David Sushil reports that the DAVE School, which was founded in 2000, has offered a Visual Effects Production degree since its inception; the Game Production degree was introduced in 2013, and the online degrees have been in place for a year. DAVE typically has between 150 and 180 students taking classes at any given time. To keep up with the needs of the industry, the DAVE School holds an annual industry advisory board meeting where experts describe their needs as employers and the trends they see emerging in industry. “The curriculum is adapted accordingly,” says Sushil. For example, DAVE School just introduced a concentration track for Mixed Reality Development and now supports more physically-based rendering, real-time rendering and previsualization tools. Students train for 12 months, “hyper-focused on developing employable skills” via a “production style” of education modeled on how they will work in the industry.
Career Services Director Norman Justicia says his department teaches students how to network, build resumes, interview skills, portfolio presentation and more. It also acts as a liaison between students and employers, and hosts Artists & Employers for tech talks, presentation, game tournaments and other fun activities.
SHERIDAN COLLEGE, ONTARIO, CANADA WWW.SHERIDANCOLLEGE.CA
Sheridan College opened its Computer Animation Department in 1981, 14 years before the release of Toy Story, and now offers three 8-to-10 week post-graduate certificate programs in Computer Animation, Visual Effects and now Digital Creatures. Noel Hooper, coordinator of the computer animation program, reports that, with a September and January intake, all three programs enroll about 90 students every year. He points out that the Digital Creatures program replaced a former Digital Character program based on performance animation, in response to industry trends. “This was away for us to differentiate our program,” he says. “It’s more of a technical directors’ program for designing, developing and rigging creatures.” Sheridan is also active with the Toronto Section of the VES and holds regular meetings with industry leaders.
As part of their training, the Sheridan students perform every task of creating a shot from learning how to shoot a camera to all the 3D modeling, rendering and dynamics. “They have full ownership of the shot from beginning to end,” says Hooper. “It’s very effective, but it’s an enormous amount of information to get across.” To move students into the VFX industry, says Hooper, Sheridan brings in VFX professionals and studios to give presentations. “That’s where they start networking,” he says. Sheridan also has two “industry days” where students can meet representatives from companies and studios.
SAVANNAH COLLEGE OF ART & DESIGN (SCAD) SAVANNAH AND ATLANTA, GEORGIA; HONG KONG, LACOSTE, FRANCE; WWW.SCAD.EDU
Savannah College of Art & Design offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Visual Effects, with BFA, MFA and MA degrees; the College’s School of Digital Media also offers BFA, MA and MFA degrees in Animation, Motion Media, Game Development and Interactive Design. The Animation Department’s focus is on creating 2D and 3D animation, characters, movement and storytelling. The Visual Effects Department, founded in 2003, teaches lighting, compositing, texturing/shading, rendering, FX, scripting and pipeline skills. SCAD offers Visual Effects classes at its campuses in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong. The total number of undergraduates and graduates at all campuses is approximately 280.
To keep up with industry trends, SCAD has embraced AR/ VR technologies, and developed projects with Oculus, Samsung, Google, Unreal, Unity and others. SCAD spokesman Ramsay Horn reports that the Visual Effects Department’s close relationship with the visual effects industry means that it is “able to respond quickly to changes in the industry,” adding new courses to reflect “ever-changing technology and innovation.” SCAD also offers a Collaborative Learning Center for mentored projects and the College has VFX industry relationships with Pixar, DreamWorks, ILM, The Mill, ESRI and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. SCAD’s Career and Alumni Services division and alumni network helps students find placement; alumni work at numerous facilities including Pixar, Shade VFX and Blur Studio.
VANCOUVER FILM SCHOOL BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA; WWW.VFS.EDU
At the Vancouver Film School (VFS), the Visual Effects Department offers a one-year diploma in 13 different programs, with 183 students currently studying 3D, 78 classical animation and 62 concept art. Vanessa Jacobsen, head of the classical animation, 3D and concept art & design programs, notes that, with three starts a year, the number of students adds up quickly. VFS has close ties with the industry, which allows the programs to quickly adapt to changes in technology, hardware and software. Jacobsen adds the focus is “more about thinking critically and problem solving,” a skill that studio heads and recruiters prize.
VFS also teaches workshops in specific software programs, such as a recent 36-hour, four-week workshop on Side FX’s Houdini. VFS also partnered with performance capture and animation studio, Mimic, to open the largest performance-motion-capture studio in Canada. The campus-based facility gave first priority of employment opportunities to VFS alumni, and Mimic mentors students on projects involving performance capture. Jacobsen adds that VFS also collaborates with other schools, including the British Institute of Technology, which allows VFS students to get a degree, while BIT students can take classes at VFS. Strategies for getting VFS students into the workforce focuses on networking: all the staff works in the industry; 3D animation students can attend a get-together where they meet industry people; and industry liaisons present workshops and guest speakers.
SCHOOL FOR VISUAL ARTS, NEW YORK CITY; WWW.SVACOMPUTERART.COM
The School of Visual Arts (SVA) offers undergraduate and graduate programs in Animation, Computer Animation, Film and Visual Effects; the programs in CGI were established over 25 years ago. Enrollment in the SVA Computer Art, Animation and Visual Effects department is limited to 100 students per year, says John McIntosh, Department Chair of the BFA program. The faculty is made up of working professionals and the curriculum and facilities are constantly updated to reflect the latest tools available and the changing needs of studio productions. One of the school’s advantages, says McIntosh, is the proximity of such world-class VFX studios as Framestore, The Mill, Method, The Molecule, Psyop, MPC, Aardman Nathan Love and Blue Sky Studios, “creating exciting opportunities for activities and events often sponsored by SVA and the Visual Effects Society.”
“The greatest challenge in VFX education is in managing creative collaborations and growingly complex teams of artists,” says McIntosh. As Maya and Nuke have gained ubiquitous accep- tance, he adds, the industry and education are using the same pipe- line tools. “We can provide a better educational experience and the industry can hire more talented artists.” Via industry partners, SVA students are placed in internships, an experience that seasons their education and makes them more hirable.
GNOMON, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA WWW.GNOMON.EDU
Founded in 1997, Gnomon offers both a BFA and a Vocational Certificate in Digital Production. According to Max Dayan, Director of Education for the vocational program, the school has offered the certificate curriculum for 20 years, whereas the BFA is new this year, “the culmination of many years of planning and hard work.” While the BFA degree is a film-centric generalist production art program, the vocational program allows students to specialize in one of five tracks: 3D Generalist, Character and Creature Animation, Visual Effects Animation, Modeling and Texturing and Games. The school’s students represent a range of levels, from beginners to industry professionals looking to broaden their skill set, with an average of 500 students attending the school per term. According to Dayan, Gnomon specializes in computer graphics education for careers in the entertainment industry, with instructors who bring real-world experience into the classroom.
“One challenge in production art education is keeping up with the rate that techniques and tools evolve in our industry,” Dayan says. “We must evaluate and develop relevant curriculum on an almost-constant basis.” Gnomon also has a Placement and Alumni Relations team dedicated to finding “viable and aligned employment” for its graduates, while the Education and Placement departments work in tandem to prepare students for externships, full-time work and freelance opportunities.
OTHER VFX SCHOOLS
Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The Academy of Art University has a Department of Animation and visual effects where students can choose VFX, 3D modeling, 3D animation, 2D animation and stop motion or storyboarding as a primary area of emphasis. Among its offerings is the largest green screen in Northern California. An online program offers AA, BFA, MA and MFA programs. Alumni have been hired at ILM, DreamWorks, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar and other studios and facilities. www.academyart.edu
Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylania, with campuses in Silicon Valley and Qatar. Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center is a professional graduate program for interactive entertainment. Founded in 1998, ETC, as an interdisciplinary research center, offers a Master of Entertainment Technology (MET) degree, conferred jointly by the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts. ETC is led by two co-directors, computer science professor Randy Pausch and drama professor Don Marinelli. All ETC students start with an “Immersion” curriculum, held in Pittsburgh, in the program’s first semester. www.etc.cmu.edu
Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Ludwigsburg, Germany. Since it was founded in 1991, Film Academy Baden-Württemberg has become one of the world’s leading film schools. Students are taught and mentored by more than 300 media/film industry experts. Around 250 films covering a range of genres are created by teams of students each year. The Film Academy is also home to the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction, one of the world’s leading institutions in animation and interactive media. Student graduation films students regularly win prizes at the industry’s major festivals, including SIGGRAPH and the VES Awards. www.filmakademie.de/en/ www.animationsinstitut.de
Gobelins, L’École de L’Image, Paris, France. A global leader in the fields of digital communication, interactive design and entertainment for almost 50 years, Gobelins offers courses in Photography, Animated Filmmaking, 3D Animation, Motion Design and Video Gaming. Animated Filmmaking (4 years full-time) helps students master both traditional and digital animation techniques (2D and 3D). 3D Animation (1 year full-time) is an advanced program in 3D Character Animation featuring international animation and video game experts, production of an individual demo reel and 3-month internship. Video Gaming (1 year Specialized Master’s degree) prepares engineers, graphic designers and IT specialists for game design and creation. Gobelins has a strong “international dimension” with global partnerships. Key courses taught entirely in English. www.gobelins-school.com
DigiPen Institute of Technology, Redmond, Washington. DigiPen Institute offers a four-year BFA program in Digital Art & Animation (the school also offers a BS in Computer Science & Game Design). The BFA program emphasizes foundational skills, including drawing and art concepts, as these skills “remain rele- vant regardless of the technology or medium.” BFA graduates have become character modelers, prop and environment modelers, texture artists, 3D lighting and camera designers, character riggers, character animators, effects animators, storyboard artists, cinematic animators and conceptual illustrators. www.digipen.edu
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue offers degrees in Animation, Visual Effects Compositing, and Effects Technical Direction as part of the university’s Polytechnic Institute, one of its 10 academic colleges. The major in Animation focuses on 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, character rigging and motion, using Maya. The Visual Effects Compositing major gives students experience in creating effects for live action and computer-generated integration, including virtual environ- ments, merging 3D models with live-action sets and layering video and photo elements. www.purdue.edu
Ringling College of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida. Ringling College of Art and Design, which describes itself as a “community of artists and designers,” offers degrees in the Business of Art & Design, Computer Animation, Creative Writing, Film, Fine Arts, Game Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interior Design, Motion Design, Photography & Imaging and Visual Studies. With regard to industry relations, for over a decade Pixar has visited the campus to do presentations and review student portfolios. Ringling College alumni now work at Pixar, Disney, Electronic Arts, Hasbro and many other top facilities and studios. www.ringling.edu
The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The University of the Arts’ School of Film offers degrees in Animation, Film & Animation, and Game Art. The Animation program focuses on drawn animation, CGI 3D and photography-based stop motion for feature films, commercials, TV shows, and independent shorts among other media. Students can collaborate with musicians, dancers, actors and other artists, and have opportunities to study abroad and partake in international festivals and workshops. Alumni work in the industry as production artists, storyboard artists and directors in studios, animation studios and on TV series. www.uarts.edu