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Students aren't graduating with right skills for vfx industry

28 February 2014

Students aren't graduating with the right skills for a career in the UK's burgeoning vfx industry, says The Mill co-founder and chief creative officer Pat Joseph

Having started my career over forty years ago in a film optical company and as a co-founder of The Mill (the world’s first all digital VFX company), the growth of the VFX industry is something that I am proud to have been part of.

Over the years I have seen the UK VFX industry change and grow from employing less than two hundred people and having its origins in an optical and chemical process for feature films, through to an industry that employs over five thousand and now touches all manner of mediums from gaming, commercials and experiential content through to film.                       

With no large-scale movie industry so to speak of in the UK, our expertise in this field developed quickly due to the rapid expansion of commercial television channels in the 80’s and 90’s, the advent of sophisticated digital technology and the need for more sophisticated visual story telling as a way for advertising to be more compelling.

We opened our first London studio in Soho in 1990 to be as close to our advertising agency and production company clients as possible. During those 24 years the Mill has played a significant part in the growth the industry has experienced and it is incredible to see that VFX is now the fastest growing part of the UK’s film industry.

Initially, one of the key issues that the industry faced was the lack of technological advance; CG systems were restrictive and prohibited the ability to create photo-real CG effects, but with such key software advancements such as the development of Flame, Nuke, Maya, Houdini, Massive, and Baselight, we are now not only able to create photo-real CG animated creatures, build CG head replacements, and re-create whole stadiums and crowds; but we can create realistic content for any brief be it small or large in scale.

However, despite these technological advances and a dramatic growth within commercials VFX, there is still a general lack of awareness about the VFX industry from a careers perspective. The explosion of content requiring sophisticated VFX needs has to be equally matched with suitably talented artists and it continues to be a challenge finding new talent to this high level.

I think that for a long time VFX had been seen as "trying to run a hobby as a business". My concern is that the British education system still isn't really laying out visual effects as a career option and so in turn, students aren't graduating with the right skills. Demand continues to grow, but universities that do train to industry standard, such as Bournemouth University, are struggling to meet it.

I hope that as the industry becomes higher in profile through commercial and film projects, the career path will be more recognized in schools and colleges, enabling students to make university course choices that will lead them into VFX. It is therefore more important than ever that key organizations such as Creative Skillset and Escape Studios continue to bang the drum and lift the lid on exactly what it means to work in VFX, what the roles entail and the varied and exciting opportunities that the industry offers.

To future proof the industry we need to continue to work closely with schools and universities in order to attract the best candidates and engage with them from a young age. So here at The Mill we really believe in backing and nurturing our talent as we want them to do the best work of their careers with us.

There’s a real need for students to be made aware that STEM subjects and Art are both important for VFX, and we need to ensure that the quality of graduates meets our need to continue producing high quality and technically challenging work. From the start, The Mill has always believed in getting brave work made, backing client’s ideas, solving their problems and producing flawless VFX, but we can only do this by supporting the next generation of talent.

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All Comments



Igor Olenitsj
Igor Olenitsj  | March 6, 2014
I am a fresh graduate with background in FX. And I can tell that non of the course offered at this moment match up to the real deal. If graduates are thinking to be able a VFX specialist after graduation. They are dead wrong. Only students with the discipline and motivation to continue their study outside the classrooms will be able to “scratch the surface” of real VFX. Have a look at my portfolio(that I have build during my study)
mark wallman
mark wallman  | March 5, 2014
Hi Pat. I used to work in The-Mill. First in the original Mill-Film, then commercials, then TV. I now run the VFX degree over in Hertforshire..

We try to teach the why as well as the how with VFX. There are lots of companies/universities that just teach software rather than the "why are doing this" as opposed to "just do what the client says".

Something you may not see but we see when we interview is the creative side of things are seen as something you do in A levels or GCSE's if you are not really good at anything. What students are getting A grades for in A level art would have been a fail in my day (to back this up I still have my artwork I did back then and my grades). I have actually shown my old 16-17 year old work to colleges in the South East and the teachers jaws have hit the floor at the quality. The quality of my work back then was just "good" but they said they have never seen any students ever create work that good. The same goes for IT skills. Nowadays just being able to use word or exel will pass you and is seen as an easy A level to take to boast your marks. The same goes for religious studies (when I first starting at the uni I could not work out why everyone was doing these A levels until they told me it is the easiest way to get an A grade and boost their UCAS points)

Parents I speak to are to blame as well. All they are interested in for their kids is the best way to get A grades. I have had A level teachers telling me off record that it is not their job to teach, just to spoon feed the kids to pass exams. we have become a nation obsessed with grades rather than learning. For all the parents out there have you chosen primary/secondary schools for your children based on Ofsted or have you actually seen if the teachers are actually teaching. Again Ofsted is a bad marker for the quality of teaching.

Education aside the big elephant in the room is how my students get treated in big companies. Most tell me they get exploited, work insane overtime for very little money and get treated very poorly. They are not stupid they read the forums and read how some of the big studios treat people.

I'm happy to say everyone who has worked in The-Mill has only had positive things to say. I just wish more companies in Soho were as respectful to artist.



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