By CHRIS McGOWAN
The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.
Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.
By CHRIS McGOWAN
VFX work has grown tremendously in recent years and, consequently, so too has the search for talented new visual effects artists around the globe. The best places to look include: VFX and animation schools and job fairs, conventions and social media. Help also comes from head-hunters and inclusion programs. Once studios have hired a potential visual artist, they can be developed through apprenticeships, mentoring and in-house training.
“The studios are spreading the net wider and wider as their demand for talent grows,” says Dr. Ian Palmer, Principal at Escape Studios in London. “We are certainly finding more people than ever are contacting us about our range of courses, so there is an equal growth in the desire to become a VFX artist.”
Escape Studios conducts outreach with high schools and colleges to make more young people aware of employment opportunities in the studios. Palmer explains, “The VFX industry used to be a well-kept secret, especially in the U.K., but that is less the case now. We also run a ‘Saturday Club’ (saturday-club.org) where young people can come and try out some of the techniques that are used and use resources that they may not have access to in their school or college.”
Shish Aikat, DNEG Global Head of Training, comments, “People who aspire to work in a VFX studio should be aware that there are technical and production roles in a studio that have promising growth potential and high levels of job satisfaction.”
“Future VFX artists are out there; they just don’t know it yet. Through our work we meet young people who create content, make video games on their phones and teach themselves animation software because it’s fun and makes for good TikTok posts. It’s our responsibility to guide them toward a flourishing VFX and animation industry where they can harness their talents beyond a hobby. … We need to get into towns and communities where outreach work doesn’t usually take place and blow their minds.”
—Simon Devereux, Director, Global Talent Development, Framestore
“Future VFX artists are out there; they just don’t know it yet,” says Framestore’s Simon Devereux, Director, Global Talent Development. “Through our work we meet young people who create content, make video games on their phones and teach themselves animation software because it’s fun and makes for good TikTok posts. It’s our responsibility to guide them toward a flourishing VFX and animation industry where they can harness their talents beyond a hobby. There are plenty of entry-level options out there, so we need to get into towns and communities where outreach work doesn’t usually take place and blow their minds.”
Framestore’s Amy Smith, Global Director, Recruitment & Outreach, comments, “There is still a visibility issue for the industry in many of our locations and, more often than not, this is tied to social inequity, but [is] also a result of education systems in many countries around the world still prioritizing academic over creative learning. The VFX industry is in a relatively unique position in the sense that it requires both technical/scientific and artistic skills, a combination that schools often persuade young people away from. Add to this the fact that a lot of adults, who are the key influencers in a young person’s life — parents, teachers, career advisors, etc. – aren’t aware of our industry and don’t understand the skill requirements.” She continues, “Going into schools and running workshops and presentations not only opens the eyes of the students but also helps their teachers and career leaders to understand all of the options that are out there for their young people.”
Devereaux adds, “Outreach with schools is vital. There is talent out there, we just need to keep finding ways to create that inspiration that leads to aspiration and ultimately application!”
STUDIO TRAINING AND APPRENTICESHIPS
DNEG has made a concerted effort to connect with local and global talent pools through various means, including apprenticeship programs such as its Greenlight program. Aikat explains, “Our Marketing Communications and Talent Acquisition departments work closely to identify and develop relationships with communities online and academies worldwide. Our Greenlight apprentice programs for recent graduates have facilitated hundreds of participants into successful careers in the creative, technical and production disciplines. Many of our apprentices have gone on to leadership roles on tentpole films.”
“The growth in demand is generally outpacing the growth of talent at all levels,” says Ron Edwards, Technicolor Creative Services (TCS) Global Head of Commercial Development for L&D. To prepare more artists, the TCS Academy “develops early career talent at scale with over 1,000 students per year graduating intensive eight-to-10-week courses in most VFX and animation disciplines. Courses are 40 hours per week and include daily interaction with highly experienced industry artists who’ve become trainers and work with the creative production team to provide additional ongoing feedback throughout the courses to help develop the students to become production ready. Courses are run in the cloud by providing studio-grade workstations, software, rendering and training assets to increase accessibility and provide a consistent learning experience.”
Edwards adds, “A key aspect of the recruitment process is making it clear that degrees are not required if the skills are there. The [TCS] Academy is skill-based enrollment versus credential based. We test each candidate, and while we encourage a show reel, we don’t require it for entry.”
VFX SCHOOLS AND READINESS
Aikat comments, “Since there is no standard VFX curriculum worldwide, the graduates of most schools fall across a range of proficiency levels and production readiness. Most schools focus on the creative disciplines [such as modeling, lighting, FX, animation, compositing, etc.] while some VFX schools are starting to place emphasis on additional disciplines such as pipeline development and production management. All in all, there appears to be a gap between the global needs [for] qualified VFX artists and the supply of production ready VFX artists.”
Interchanges between VFX studios and VFX and animation schools can help close that gap. Escape Studios’ Palmer notes, “We work very closely with our studio partners on the curriculum and the way it’s delivered, making sure we’re up to date with the software and the way it’s used in a typical studio pipeline. Besides the core technical and creative skills, we put a lot of emphasis on working in teams, communicating, and giving and receiving feedback. Even if you’re a highly talented artist, VFX is a ‘team sport,’ so being able to work effectively as part of a large project is key to success. Having professional artists come in and review our student projects, helping them become aware of what it takes to succeed and the expectations that will be asked of them from day one is a big part of what we do.”
Palmer thinks more scholarships would expand the labor pool. “It’s about targeting those that would find it difficult to support their studies with just the normal financial support available.” Edwards adds, “Increasing access to the industry is important to us, and targeted scholarships could be part of the mix of activities to generate interest, enrollment and success.”
THE TUTORIAL GENERATION
Many next-generation visual artists are training themselves with online tutorials to get ready for VFX and animation schools or to apply for work at the studios. “There’s never been more availability to online resources for helping people get a start with the software,” comments Palmer. States Edwards, “We refer potential [TCS] Academy candidates to external training resources to ensure they have the foundation to succeed in the Academy. We’ve made many of these available on our website and continue to supplement them with our own videos. Many of our artists share external resources as do our trainers to supplement their curriculum. There is a lot of quality content out there, especially from software suppliers.”
Yet, VFX artists cannot absorb everything necessary online. Smith observes, “There are fantastic courses at all sorts of levels for young people wanting to get into the industry. Often the issue is how young people can take what they have learned and translate it into a production environment. That’s where opportunities such as apprenticeships, internships, trainee programs and academies can really help as they not only provide a first step into the industry but also immediately create mentoring relationships in a hybrid world that can be difficult to navigate as a new entrant.”
“Increasing access to the industry is important to us, and targeted scholarships could be part of the mix of activities to generate interest, enrollment and success.”
—Ron Edwards, Global Head of Commercial Development for L&D, Technicolor Creative Services (TCS)
INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY
There are also places to find new artists where no one bothered to look before. Palmer adds, “We shouldn’t be prescriptive about this; I think we need to look far and wide. As I said, we’re seeing the highest-ever demand for places on our courses, and organizations like Access: VFX are doing a great job at getting the message out to less-represented groups about the opportunities that there are. Raw talent doesn’t know any boundaries, and it’s great that we can point to so many success stories to inspire people from all backgrounds to put themselves forward.”
To expand outreach further, Framestore’s Devereux founded the non-profit Access: VFX in London to foster “inclusion, diversity, awareness and opportunity within the VFX, animation and games industries on a global scale.” About the organization, Devereux notes, “We have always been driven by raising awareness of careers in our industry that continue to remain hidden and rarely get discussed when young people are making decisions about their future. From a diversity perspective, we simply want to level the playing field so that everyone has a line of sight to available opportunities no matter who they are and what their background is. We have certainly made strides to focus on specific areas of under-representation that includes the growth of XVFX, our race equity community that we built in 2020, and QVFX, our LGBTQI+ group that came together during Pride 2019.”
The official debut of Access: VFX took place during National Inclusion Week in 2017 and included 28 separate events, screenings and workshops. “Today, we have chapters in the U.K., across the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Most recently, we launched our new European chapter with a mentoring program that supports emerging talent.” Framestore, The Mill, MPC, Epic Games, ILM, Foundry, DNEG, Glassworks, Ghost VFX, The Third Floor and Escape Studios are among the nearly 50 firms and schools that are part of Access: VFX.
Neurodiverse talent is under-represented in the industry, a concern addressed by Exceptional Minds, founded in 2011 and based in Sherman Oaks, California. Head of Studio Scotty Peterson comments, “The mission of E-M is to cultivate the skills of artists on the autism spectrum through customized training and hands-on experience to launch careers in digital arts and animation.” After more than a decade of existence, Peterson says, “We have a really good following and great support from all the major studios and our donors. They see the work of the artists and graduates that come out of the Academy, on major Hollywood projects, and believe what is happening here is a great thing. That spreads quickly and is a huge part of the success.”
Palmer comments, “There’s also Animated Women UK (www.animatedwomenuk.com) that is doing some excellent work promoting more women in both VFX and animation. So, we all have to keep striving to ensure the information is available [with] access to all. One of the most important things is celebrating the successes of a more diverse set of role models, and seeing someone in your own image that you can aspire to be is a strong message for people.” TCS’s Edwards says, “We’ve trialed a few initiatives to increase access including: women-only courses in India to help encourage participation and enrollment, recruiting from different education levels and backgrounds for production, and are launching a new campaign in India to make it easy and exciting for women artists to return to work after taking career breaks.”
Speaking of India, VFX studios outside of North America and Europe are growing and tasked with creating a lot of visual effects work for India, China, Hollywood and elsewhere. BOT VFX, DNEG, TCS (which owns MPC and The Mill), ILM, Digital Domain, The Third Floor, Outpost VFX, Ghost VFX (owned by Streamland Media), Mackevision, Scanline VFX, VHQ Media and Rotomaker Studios are among the multinational VFX firms with facilities in Asia.
“Up-and-coming talent will continue to come from all over the world, and a challenge is encouraging those not in school with talent and self-learning to engage and apply,” says Edwards.
From Aikat’s perspective, remote work and cloud computing have greatly expanded access to international VFX artists, who are in great demand. “Today, VFX is a global enterprise and remote-computing workflows established over more than a decade have enabled VFX studios to tap into talent from any location that suits the technical and artistic needs of a project.”
Concludes Aikat, “The world is our talent pool.”