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Why vfx education is failing

Vfx education in the UK is having to shape up following the publication of the Next-Gen report, but some colleges and universities have much further to go than others. There are already some standout examples of good practice, including the University of Hertfordshire, which created its vfx degree course after extensive liaison with a number of leading UK vfx companies.

Mark Wallman, visual effects BA course leader at the University of Hertfordshire explains why he believes vfx education in the UK is in the state it’s in. A shorter version of this interview appears on page 23 of the June 2011 issue of Televisual.

Are universities/colleges out of date when it comes to the vfx software they use?
Yes. Having worked for 10 years plus in Soho, in companies such as Double Negative, The Mill, Framestore and Cinesite on many different feature films, you begin to see a pattern in the software being used. Although it’s my first year as a full time lecturer I had previously lectured at other universities. Those universities had a big disconnect between what they were teaching and the skills the students needed to get jobs. We are lucky in our university to have Maya, Nuke and now Mari as the main vfx teaching tools.

Do you believe the standard of vfx education in the UK falls behind the US and elsewhere, as claimed in the ‘Next Gen’ report?
Currently, yes. I believe you cannot teach vfx or games art or 3D with a commercial focus without having yourself worked in the industry. I’ve noticed many lectures in higher education in universities throughout England have never worked in the field they are teaching in. They also have a rather institutionalised view of the world. Teaching something creative should not be something you do just pay your bills. You need to have a driven passion for it.

What is the University of Hertfordshire doing to ensure students receive high quality vfx training?
I only took the job at the University of Hertfordshire because everyone who teaches there has come from the industry. I feel this is really important. And the university approached Soho Companies such as Double Negative and Framestore when first setting up the course to ask what skills the students needed to learn to gain the correct skills. So the whole course is based on industry advice.

We also have all the top companies frequently coming in to give presentations and tutorials to the students. We recently had an animator from Double Negative coming in to do a lunchtime talk, which ended up going on much longer than planned. The students were passionate and he was passionate – it was a great atmosphere. Furthermore, we get cg artists from around the world to help design and input into the courses we run.

Our vfx students work on the roto, matchmoving, compositing and 3D on live projects – pop videos, TV commercials, idents on the BBC, etc – and next year hopefully this will also include professional film work. All our vfx students gain a thorough knowledge of the vfx process and from my time at The Mill, I can show them the full process/pipeline. Now The Foundry are pushing Nuke in education, it’s a real help as budgets are tight.

Posted 14 June 2011 by Jake Bickerton

Vfx guidebook released

Skillset has released a guidebook for vfx training called The Core Skills of vfx. It describes the book, which has been written with the assistance of vfx supervisors and artists, as “a comprehensive, modular guide to best practice in vfx education and training”.

The Core Skills of vfx is being given away for free to all universities and colleges across the UK, to provide tutors with guidance on the skills the next generation of vfx talent will need to bolster the talent base within the UK’s vfx community.

Elements of the book can be embedded into courses, or the book could be used in its entirety as the building block for newly developed industry-focused degree courses, believes Skillset.

It includes a section entitled 'The vfx Core Skills Student Primer', which addresses the core skills the UK’s vfx industry currently requires – from technical elements to broader skills such as teamwork and the ability to fulfil creative briefs.

Alex Hope, md of Double Negative and co-author of the Next-Gen report, which was highly critical of the standard of vfx education in the UK, says: “This handbook introduces a new way for us all to work together – it’s an important development that will mean many new and productive relationships between universities and our industry.”

Skillset already has an accreditation programme for vfx courses in the UK and, on top of this, is planning to “signpost the courses that provide the most up-to-date, industry-facing education and training.” The Core Skills of vfx guidebook is part of a drive to improve vfx training across the board following the publication of the Next-Gen report.

Posted 02 June 2011 by Jake Bickerton

3d: basic shooting tips

In response to Televisual's recent feature showcasing good examples of stereoscopic 3d – which included Phillips The Foundling spot (pictured) – Markus Naegele, IT integration product manager at Panasonic Broadcast Europe emailed over his thoughts on what you need to consider when shooting in 3d…

“It has never been easier to hit the record button to begin shooting in 3d, but this increased accessibility to 3d equipment doesn’t necessarily mean the results will always be good quality. In fact, the opposite is true and there are several important considerations to take into account before, during and after any content is captured in 3d. The decisions made in each of these stages will have a direct impact on the quality of the outcome.

All the usual rules for good 2d filming apply while it is also necessary to think more about the end output, paying special attention to the screen size the content will be viewed on, the type of screen (plasma, projector etc), as well as specifics such as the angles involved in filming. Parallax, for example, is key to achieving the right 3d effect and an incorrect setting here will mean the background will show through twice in the final content.

The position of the convergence point will determine whether subjects come to the front or sink back into the screen. Some will know instinctively from looking through the viewfinder if the end result will be good enough, while others may need to view the content afterwards to understand how the settings used affect the capture.
What can be done at the post production stage in the production process is limited. In the interests of producing the best possible 3d, it's preferable not to edit or make corrections at this stage. In the same way that prevention is better than the cure, those that are highly disciplined in the set-up and content capture phases of filming will benefit from the time they invest when it comes to the end result.

In summary, good 3d content is not a given. The ability to produce effective 3d depends on multiple factors such as the quality of the equipment used, ease of operation and the flexibility to amend key settings. Above all, it depends on a heightened awareness of filming in the third dimension and on the consequent need to take a holistic approach to the many variables that impact the final result.”

Posted 02 June 2011 by Jake Bickerton
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