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October 06
2021

ISSUE

Fall 2021

London Revisited: Thinking Differently to Meet the Moment

By NAOMI GOLDMAN

VES London members partake in the Wellness Series, including a cooking class, essential oils tutorial and whiskey tasting.

Members and guests enjoy festive pub nights.

VES London celebrating summer in style.

VES London comes out for its popular screening series.

VES London setting the mood for its annual holiday party.

The VES’ international presence gets stronger every year, and so much of that is because of its regional VFX communities and all that they do to advance the Society and bring people together. The London Section exemplifies ‘the big pivot’ compelled by the global pandemic, as they developed interactive online experiences that continue to deliver education and entertainment and foster a strong sense of community among their 265-plus members.

“We were on a tremendous upswing as a Section in 2018/2019, delivering hands-on demonstrations and trainings, starting our collaboration with CAVE Academy, and hosting screenings and sponsored pub nights that attracted hundreds of people,” said Gregory Keech, Co-Chair of the VES London Section. “We had a lot of momentum and buzz in the community and were poised with a roster of amazing events that we expected would draw new members and build out our Section. Then COVID hit. Lucky for us, we have exceptional Section officers, including CAVE Academy founder Jahirul Amin, who helped us adapt quickly to create a calendar of dynamic webinars.”

During COVID, VES London held more than 40 webinars (and counting) with CAVE and other partners, launched as the U.K. went into lockdown in March 2020. The series has covered topics ranging from: how lenses work, digital sculpting, drawing, real-time technology and on-set data acquisition, to panel conversations on mental health, the state of the industry, and diversity in VFX (co-hosted with ACM SIGGRAPH London, ILM and DNEG). The Section brought in more than 50 guest speakers, including VFX supervisors, producers, department heads, directors, actors, R&D executives and FACS experts. VES London also joined in multi-Section events, such as online Speed Networking, hosted by VES Los Angeles with the European Sections (London, France and Germany), to network with people they might not have the chance to meet in person. 

Some of the standout events hosted with CAVE Academy have included “Unleashing Unity for Media & Entertainment” featuring VFX training guru Ben Radcliffe; “Women in VFX” featuring senior industry professionals Debra Coleman, Harriet Edge-Partington, Marieke Franzen, May Leung, Lauren McCallum and Brenda Ximena Roldan Romerol; and “Sculpting Realistic Portraits” with Vimal Kerketta, which had 300-plus attendees – the most popular program to date. For all of these collaborations with CAVE, the Section secured sponsors and contributed to artist fees for the talks; and VES London board member Amin organized and hosted the events and created high-visibility promotions drawing hundreds of attendees. VES London prides itself on its creative approach to programming and takes its charge to building a vibrant VFX community seriously. 

 “Before the pandemic, we looked at hosting screenings and panels with a different spin,” said Danny Duke, VES London Treasurer. “We were moving towards a big passion project, show-casing indie low-budget films, such as our screening of Criminal Audition, and conversation with writer/director Luke Kaile [at the MPC theater on Wardour Street] in Soho. We find that filmmakers with indie budgets that often don’t allow for VFX supervisors on crew are as interested in learning from our members and forging relationships as we are. And when we can share knowledge and glean a diversity of insights into our craft, that’s a win-win for our industry and the Society.”

The issue of self-care and nurturing social connections has been front and center amidst the pandemic. VES London wanted to give back to their members in an engaging way where they could talk and hang out and do something physical, and so the Wellness Series was born under the leadership of Section officer Tony Micilotta. 

“We wanted to create unique online experiences that were interactive by design, where people received things they could touch and feel in their own homes and feel connected to their peers doing the same,” said Micilotta. “Our members-only series had a course on using essential oils, a wine tasting, a whiskey tasting and cooking class where we all made a vegetarian meal. A special component was using our budget to send VES-branded packages to each attendee – the spirit samples, essential oils, local produce and spices to use in the classes. The events were exuberant and have been a springboard to brainstorm future programs beyond screenings and pub nights. I’m so proud we reinvested in our members and created a new way for us to come together.” 

VES London members and guests at hands-on training and demos session hosted in partnership with CAVE Academy.

“Working as a team, we’ve turned these challenging times into a dynamic opportunity,” said Keech. “It’s been a challenge the last 18 months to reinforce the value of VES as a resource for our members. Joining forces with CAVE and other partners to create exclusive educational and networking events gave us the ideal platform to reinforce the benefits of membership and set us on a new course.”

“Tasting and film nights are great fun,” said Duke, “but it’s serving up thought leadership and diversity and education, and fulfilling our responsibility for the artists of tomorrow – that’s our core. If we can play a part in that and also broaden our Section’s reach, that’s why we’re here.” 


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