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The inside track

People are often surprised to hear that many of the films they see in the cinema have their VFX created in the UK, or that there are careers to be had in this area.

The visual effects industry needs new talent to maintain its competitive advantage. Visual effects is widely recognised as the fastest-growing component of the UK’s film industry and has been growing at an explosive rate since the success of the Harry Potter films and the consolidation of the UK as a global film production hub with major features shot at UK studios, such as Pinewood and Shepperton.

VFX education

So where does the VFX industry get its skilled workers from? While most talent comes from university courses, there are a number of education options available.

University degree courses

Overwhelmingly they come from universities and higher education institutions, which reflects the level of skills needed. Those courses can be BAs or BScs in a range of subjects from art and media to engineering and the sciences. However, if you haven’t been to university, or you’ve decided on a career change, there are still plenty of ways to succeed.

Level 3 diploma

The VFX industry has been looking at supporting further education and schools too – ensuring quality entrants progress to HE or gain direct entry from college. The NextGen Skills Academy has created a new Level 3 Diploma in Games, Animation and VFX Skills, which was created in collaboration with companies in the British games and VFX industries.

The structure and content of the course are geared towards the needs of employers. It is equivalent to three A-levels and it will be taught at further education colleges across England. The qualification has been designed with a clear progression route to a degree, HND or higher-level apprenticeships.

The two-year qualification covers the fundamental skills in games, animation and visual effects as well as essential work skills that have been identified by employers as invaluable for new people coming into these industries.

Apprenticeships

Two higher apprenticeships are planned based in VFX: junior 2D artist (led by Double Negative) and assistant technical director (led by Framestore). The VFX industry is widening its choices, so no one should be too discouraged if they haven’t been to university.

Showing the necessary knowledge and skills

The way you demonstrate these competencies is primarily through a showreel, rather than passing an exam or gaining a qualification. This may also be a way of signalling that you have what it takes to recruiters, although they will still refer to your reel before accepting you.

Because of this it is important to:

  • Build your reel as you progress.
  • Think about how best to show your skills within a short timeframe of a couple of minutes.
  • Think of how the audience (usually a recruiter) will read your reel in relation to the role you want.
  • Incorporate breakdowns of shots if you need to show attention to detail.
  • Be accurate in crediting your own work within shots created by a team.
  • Be prepared to critique your own work and the decisions you took at interview.
  • Where is your creative edge in a competitive market? How will you stand out from others?

I made a total mess of my showreel. I tried to do it all – playing around with techniques, really far-out concepts, prioritised narrative over technique. These days a reel like that would struggle to get you an interview. Fortunately back then it was a less crowded field – but I still had to work my way up and didn't get an artist job straight away."
Gavin Graham, Head of 3D Department at Dneg.

The VFX Student Primer

The Student Primer contains many more wise quotes from VFX professionals and it is suggested that this is a great course of top tips, especially as they are gathered around individual issues or ‘gems’ as they are described. This can currently be found in The Core Skills of VFX. An updated version of the VFX Student Primer is due to be released soon.