VFX Tutor Bursaries: Supporting the beating heart of our VFX courses
By: Saint John Walker, Course Leader VFX, Norwich University of the Arts
It's all about relationships
Everyone in the VFX, animation and games industries is aware that most of the new talent comes from universities.
Whilst there have been attempts to widen participation like apprenticeships, figures for university entry (despite worries over student debt) remain obstinately high. If you want better new talent in your company, it’s a good tactic to strike a relationship with a few universities. Or rather, with the tutors on the ground who do the teaching.
In the misty days of 2010, I helped Creative Skillset engage with the VFX industry by working with Ian Murphy to author The Core Skills of VFX Handbook (now updated and split into The Core Skills VFX Repository and Student Primer). Over 60 VFX professionals helped us create a template of practical modules and guidance that could be adopted by universities and incorporated as they saw fit into their courses. It was a simple and direct way for industry to communicate to universities.
Strengthen the right arms
But whilst we sent this document to all the 130 universities in the UK at the time, it wasn’t the universities themselves that made use of it. Very few Vice Chancellors or top management made any moves. They popped it in the out-tray to faculty heads or the like.
It was only when the document trickled down to individual tutors, to senior lecturers that sparks started to fly. They got it. They saw the value in the Handbook of taking what industry was saying, and modified the curriculum where they could (often slyly!) under the noses of management, for the good of the VFX industry talent pipeline.
In short, if you want to change the quality of courses, and therefore the quality of your new talent, strengthening the arm of the lecturers and tutors is the way to go."
Many people have outdated notions of tutors as benefiting from long summer holidays, regular research time and a timetable that demands only a few hours teaching a week. But in my experience, the best tutors' dedication to their courses means a very different story and a very different work schedule – more pressure to deliver, less time to keep up to date with their industries. Burnout amongst the best tutors is often a real possibility, or worse, losing incentive in face of student numbers.
That’s why Creative Skillset’s VFX tutor bursary scheme is such a good idea
It targets and supports the actual talent creators within our universities.
Good tutors are the weakest link in the chain, if they can’t grow and develop and stay up to date then the curriculum slips into obsolescence.
Creative Skillset’s £20K fund is aiming to recharge the batteries and skills of around 15 deserving tutors, targeting industry shortages in current compositing skills, VFX supervision and on-set experience, as well as new areas like VR.
The funds are concentrated on accredited courses, as they’ve been able to prove they are industry-facing, and providing the right kind of talent. It’s really important that those tutors don’t lose their skills as industry marches on. Supporting tutors staying close to the latest developments in this mega-fast-changing industry is the key to staying relevant. We mustn’t lose the beating heart of our great courses.