In the table of dream jobs, the position of visual effects artist must rank pretty highly, especially among readers of Digital Arts. Yet unlike international footballer, music sensation or top model, this is a career - still a very competitive one, admittedly - that has recognised routes to success that anyone with the right amount of talent, ambition and drive can follow. One of those proven routes is Escape Studios, Europe’s leading VFX academy. Formed in 2002 to solve the film and games industry’s lack of educated, studio-ready VFX talent, it has since taken over 4,000 people into successful careers spanning the whole VFX spectrum.
Now part of Pearson College London, Escape offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in addition to its battery of short courses in VFX, game art, animation and motion graphics. These are all taught by industry professionals hand-picked from successful studios. Alumni of the courses, known as ‘Escapees’, have been the creative workforce on many Oscar and Bafta nominated films, such as Jungle Book, Gravity and Suicide Squad, as well as hundreds of other critically acclaimed films, television shows and games, and literally thousands of award-winning commercials.
The reason for this success is obvious. Escape has very close connections with the industries it supplies. Not just the tutors with their years of valuable studio experience, but also the industry partners within VFX, games and animation, who support the courses with talks and events, and provide mentoring for advanced students. These partners include many names familiar to Digital Arts readers, such as Framestore, DNeg, The Mill, MPC, BlueBolt, Cinesite, Molinare, Milk, Peerless and Jellyfish Pictures.
Why are these connections important? Competition for places in studios is high, yet time and again, we hear that the visual effects and games industries are crying out for talent with the skills to step straight into the studio. Escape Studios work with industry so students learn using technology, pipelines and briefs that mirror those used by the professionals. Their connections with studios and professionals also creates a network of mentors, who provide feedback on students’ work to help them develop a standout, saleable portfolio.
This constant interaction and industry-led learning is crucial. It’s all very well, indeed admirable, applying yourself to study Maya, Max or Nuke, perhaps through a personal learning edition, but that’s only a part of the ‘experience’ that studios are looking for. They also need to know that you, as a prospective employee, understand studio pipelines and deadlines, the fundamentals of animation and CGI, what each member of the studio team is responsible for, and how the skills of each artist contribute and dovetail together to deliver a finished scene, game level or visual effect.
The Escape Studios courses are thus designed to mirror a studio pipeline, working towards a final project; students are placed in a team structure, with state of the art facilities in an industry-style environment from day one. The aim is to deliver the ‘studio-ready’ talent that is crucial to the industry. And it works.
On graduating, students are ready to jump straight into entry level positions, such as a rotoscoping or paint/prep artist. From there it’s up to the individual to progress, but the grounding the course provides is invaluable. Escape Studios alumni have worked on some of the biggest movies in 2016 including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book and they all attest to the confidence and insider know-how that their courses equipped them with. One such Escapee is top Nuke compositor Anastasios Agiakatsikas, whose film projects include X-Men: Apocalypse, The Martian, The Legend of Tarzan, Pan and Fantastic Four. Anastasios studied Advanced 3D for VFX in the days when Nuke was still proprietary software, but he says the course provided him with the basis for becoming an expert in this leading compositing tool. “Being able to learn the fundamentals, both from a technical and an artistic perspective, can really help you down the line,” Anastasios says. “Also having a teacher who has worked within the industry really helps.”
Tim Adams is another Escape alumni, who kick-started his career by studying the Compositing for VFX part-time evening course.
“I think what Escape Studios gave me, that some juniors who are fresh out of University may not have, was the confidence of picking up shots and diving straight in,” says Tim. “Escape’s environment mimics that of a large VFX studio. The tasks given to you are similar to what you may have in the industry, and you are shown how to deal with them accurately and efficiently.”
Such training stood Tim in good stead at MPC on his first film, The Jungle Book, where he took on the role of Stereo Roto / Prep artist. He is now branching out to television, recently working as Prep Artist on Paolo Sorrentino’s HBO show The Young Pope and Marvel’s Agent Carter at DNegTV.
More courses to suit different levels and schedules are starting at Escape in 2017, including 3D for VFX (12 weeks), compositing for VFX (12 weeks), advanced compositing (18 weeks), and 3D foundation part time (30 weeks). For more information on course listings click here.
VFX Festival 2017
Escape Studios doesn’t confine itself to the classroom. Building on the central role it plays in the visual effects community, Escape hosts the VFX Festival in London every year. Now in its fifth year, the festival will next run from 7-9th February 2017, celebrating the best in VFX, games, animation and motion graphics.
The 2017 festival is being held in East London, in association with arts and cultural hub, Rich Mix. Taking place over three days, it will span four floors of the cinema and cross-arts centre in Shoreditch, with three dedicated exhibition hubs, and a series of leading industry talks and showcases.
Day one of the VFX Festival 2017 has been designated as ‘Schools’ Day’, welcoming students and academics, while the remaining two days are reserved for VFX enthusiasts, professionals and academics.
Headliners on these two ‘Industry’ days promise to reveal exciting insights into professional VFX and animation. On 8th February, motion graphics superstar Danny Yount flies in from LA to deliver a keynote presentation on the title sequences that span his brilliant career, while on the final day, 9th February, multi award-winning facility Framestore will offer a first time look at the VFX on a top secret project.
At the heart of the festival will be a series of discussions and demonstrations from the leading VFX, gaming and animation companies.
These range from world-class facilities Cinesite and MPC, discussing their respective VFX work on blockbusters Independence Day: Resurgence and The Jungle Book, to games studio State of Play giving a behind the scenes look at the Apple Design Award-winning iOS game, INKS.
As a central theme, the 2017 festival will focus on how new and old technologies are intersecting. It will pay particular attention to VR, AR and other media sharing technology, and analyse how this informs the skillset required for the next generation of VFX practitioners.
A series of panels and talks will also explore everything from diversity to innovation in the industry, chaired by leading representatives from studios, and from broader culture.
The VFX Festival 2017 promises to be bigger and bolder than ever before.
To find out more and book your tickets visit http://www.thevfxfestival.com.