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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Staff Reporter

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