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So what does a VFX Producer do and what qualities do you need to succeed? NUA VFX students got the inside story from Joe Lloyd Pack, fresh from working on Christopher Nolan’s (Interstellar, Inception) new film Dunkirk. Personal insights brought to life the role, with invaluable advice on skills and strategies for getting the most out of the job. Joe is an NUA alumnus, who graduated from the BA (Hons) Games Art & Design course in 2007. Students appreciated the informal Questions and Answers session and were even given the chance of an individual tutorial! Image credits; Jupiter Descending, Warner Brothers, Dunkirk, Warner Brothers.
In March NUA BA (Hons) VFX, Animation and Film and Moving Image Production students had the opportunity to hear from Andrew Schlussel, Global Head of Training and Development at award-winning production and VFX company Motion Picture Company (MPC). MPC is one of the biggest visual effects studios in the world with global facilities hosted in Vancouver, Los Angeles, New York, Montreal, Amsterdam, Bengaluru, Paris and Shanghai. Recent work includes Blade Runner 2049, Passengers, A Monster Calls, Alien Covenant, and commercials for Nike, Uniqlo and THAT John Lewis ad. MPC recently hit the news for winning the Oscar for Jungle Book and is now developing Lion King which promises to continue to push this VFX driven world approach. Andrew spoke to students about the skills needed to create feature work like Jungle book and discuss how technology and software used for VFX is rapidly developing in the industry.
It’s not often that a student gets to destroy a university Building, but when NUA’s BA (Hons) VFX and BA (Hons) Architecture students collaborated on a recent project during March 2017, looking at how buildings in Norwich might be changed by animals or insects after some kind of apocalypse, they decided to research how the University itself might deteriorate and collapse after 300 years and an invasion of Death Watch Beetles. In a unique 6 day collaboration project, Architecture students researched how the building’s underlying structure might be stressed and disintegrate over time, whilst VFX students incorporated textures and 3D digital projections into photographic documentation of contemporary spaces. Nick Rollason, Year Two BA (Hons) VFX student said “It was really useful to see how Architects and VFX artists see space differently. I learnt a lot about the underlying structures and how things like laths or metal fittings might corrupt or corrode over decades, and I think the Architecture students got some new ideas about visualisation techniques too”.
NUA VFX students were treated to a masterclass on how the VFX for a hit TV series is created, during an industry lecture in March 2017. Henry Badgett, VFX Supervisor at BlueBolt opened up his computer hard drive to show how he researched, prepared and ensured the VFX for BBC’s Taboo hit TV series, were perfect to evoke the menace and intrigue of Georgian London. Henry’s anecdotes and explanation of the role of VFX Supervisor for this flagship TV series gave NUA VFX students an unrivalled insight into VFX for broadcast TV. “There’s a level of diplomacy and people skills that you need” said Badgett “as well as the ability to think on your feet when on the film set”. Following the lecture, year one BA (Hons) VFX student Steph Woodward said “I found it interesting to learn how important it is to have VFX experts on set”. Daniel Ellis, year one BA (Hons) VFX student said “It’s great when top names in industry come in and give us their expertise in such an informal way. Henry answered our questions and let us look at his preparatory work, direct from his hard disk! It made the VFX industry welcoming and seem like a real community”.
The BA (Hons) VFX course visited The Mill, one of the course’s industry advisors who kindly invited students and staff to take a look around their studio in London during March 2017. VFX is now an integral part of some stunning commercials across the globe, and the course were excited to find out more about this during their visit. The Mill who are one of the worlds most respected VFX and Creative Content studios, creating high-end visual effects, design and digital projects for the advertising, games and music industries. Students were able to meet 3D artist David Hempstead, who ran through their award winning work – the acclaimed Orang-Utan for the SSE commercials, the latest Audi commercials, and the famous Chemical Brothers “Wide Open” video. Students were given the opportunity to ask lots of questions, look around the studio and hear about some exciting new developments. VFX students will get a second chance to meet The Mill in May 2017, when second years will by travelling to FMX in Stuttgart, Europe’s VFX and CGI festival.
The BA (Hons) VFX course held its annual Industry Liaison group meeting in Soho, London in March 2017, alongside top VFX companies. The meeting gave the course a chance to seek advice and comments from leading professionals on how the course is progressing. Representatives from Cinesite (Assassin’s Creed, The Revenant), Double Negative (Avengers: Infinity War, Blade Runner 2049), Framestore (Doctor Strange, SS-GB), top architectural visualisation company Hayes Davidson, Lola Post (Fortitude, Ripper Street), MPC (Jungle Book, Ghost in the Shell) and The Mill (VFX, VR, Interactive, Animation work), attended to look at students work and advise on projects. They were joined by national organisations UK Screen Alliance and Creative Skillset who gave an invaluable wider perspective on the job market and government policy. Course Leader Saint John Walker said “We were so fortunate to have such a great spread of VFX employers in the room. We’ve got some great ideas for new projects and a strong vision of what the industry is looking for. It was great to get so much positive support for what we are doing and to have such a great turnout of talent”.
Norwich University of the Arts alumnus and Honorary Doctorate Stuart Craig, OBE has won a BAFTA for ‘Best Production Design’ on J.K Rowling’s ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’. Up against industry completion from ‘La La Land’ and ‘Doctor Strange’, Stuart and Set Decorator Anna Pinnock scooped the award at 2017’s BAFTA ceremony. Stuart also previously won BAFTAs for ‘Best Production Design’ for ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ and ‘The Elephant Man’.
Rob Harvey, CEO of Lola Post joined NUA on campus in January to meet with VFX students to give them invaluable advice on how to get on in the industry. Lola are a widely successful boutique VFX company, with film, TV and commercials work, and a main fixture of the UK VFX scene. Recent work for TV includes Ripper St and Fortitude, whilst film work includes Clash of the Titans and Exodus. Rob gave an in-depth presentation of his work then spent some more informal time with us afterwards on how the industry works and how it is changing.
BA (Hons) VFX is convening its first ILG (Industry Liaison Group) in London, centre of the UK’s VFX industry, to strengthen existing links between the course and industry in 2017.
National agencies such as the UK Screen Alliance and Creative Skillset joined top companies ILM, Framestore, MPC, Double Negative, The Mill, Cinesite and others who will give advice and guidance to ensure the course provides the best education for its students. Course Leader Saint John Walker said, “We want to ensure our course gives students the best head start in terms of industry relevant skills and creativity, and so we formed this industry liaison group to help us keep the course as fresh and as relevant as we can”.
NUA was pleased to welcome Lighting and Look Development Technical Director Lorene Bettker, from BAFTA and Oscar award winning VFX studio Framestore to speak to students on the Animation, Film and VFX courses. Lorene recently finished work on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them the latest film based on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe. Other work includes Jungle Book and the TV special Thunderbirds Are Go! As well as the imminent sequel Kingsman: the Golden Circle due later in 2017. Lighting & LookDev TDs bring their experience of real-world lighting and photography and apply it to computer generated imagery (CGI). They are involved in the technical and artistic aspects of making the CGI fit in to the world that was originally shot on film. Find out more about Framestore’s amazing VFX portfolio.
VFX students brought some Christmas cheer to Mustard TV viewers by creating some short festive stings for the channel to run between programmes in December 2016. Mustard TV Ltd is a local television station which broadcasts to an audience of over 400,000 people. VFX students worked in teams to create the 5-10 second long sections that featured computer generated snow globes, cityscapes, snowflakes and the Mustard TV logo. Saint John Walker, VFX Course Leader said “Mustard TV are always open to students to showcase their talents, and this was a great exercise in giving them a ‘real’ brief to work from. We received three final stings which aired continuously throughout the festive period to give Mustard that extra bit of Christmas sparkle. We hope to continue to work with the VFX course on new content for Mustard in the future.” Said Graham Perrin, Presentation Manager at Mustard TV. “This was a great challenge for our second year students to think creatively about how to bring their VFX skills to the Mustard TV brand. We hope a few of them may want to work in TV later, so this was a great introduction”
In 2016, NUA launched the first free online VFX training course via Futurelearn with 15,000 attendees joining worldwide. Written and curated by Course Leader Saint John Walker, “Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers” was a four week course with collaboration from industry partners MPC and software firm HitFilm.
Students downloaded free software to complete unique VFX exercises and received industry advice from key professionals from film crews Jungle Book, World War Z, Ex Macina and Terminator Genisys. “We wanted to introduce VFX to a wider audience, and help young filmmakers see they could create their own effects in order to enrich their story-telling potential” said Saint John Walker, “working with MPC, one of the biggest VFX companies in the world meant we could help learners make connections between the films they were making and the kind of techniques they could do themselves with HitFilm software”.
Students on the success of the online course commented, “This has been a wonderful class! I am having a lot of fun practicing the tutorials.”, “This class far exceeds my expectations”, “ I am thoroughly enjoying every aspect of this course. Learning so much from both the course and the comments provided by other participants”.
Wednesday 23 November – 10am-4pm
As part of William Latham’s Mutator VR exhibition, which opens in East GalleryNUA on 15 November 2016 running until 14 January 2017, Norwich University of the Arts will host a one day symposium on Wednesday 23 November exploring potential research and innovation themes stemming from the exhibition including: generative and evolutionary art; artificial intelligence; data, design and play; virtual reality; and the implications of living in a world where the boundaries between the analogue and the digital are ever-shifting. Speakers include Prof William Latham, Goldsmiths, University of London.
Current NUA staff and students please email email@example.com to reserve a place.
VFX students across all years had the exciting opportunity to meet award winning VFX artist Mark Ardington in September 2016. Mark presented a guest lecture based on his experience whilst working as CG Lead on Ex Machina (2015), discussing the challenges involved and how the team created Ava (the ‘artificial intelligence’ played by Alicia Vikander). Ex Machina beat Force Awakens, The Martian and The Revenant to an Oscar because of the brilliance and inventiveness with VFX, with a limited budget of only $15 million. Students also had the chance to meet with Mark and hold the esteemed Oscar Trophy after the lecture.
NUA has launched a second online VFX course after the success of it’s first programme in February 2016. In collaboration with Creative Skillset, the first course ran with over 10,000 registered attendees and has been re-launched for new participants, in association with visual effects company MPC, HitFilm Software. The course will teach ‘Guerrilla’ filmmakers on a budget to create realistic visual effects, drawing from NUA’s BA (Hons) VFX course. The course begins on 8th August. Secure your free place now.
Having been invited by Double Negative team member and NUA Visiting Lecturer, Josh Parks, students will view state of the art facilities and gain direct experience of a global visual effects company. Double Negative’s trophy cabinet includes Academy Awards for Interstellar and Inception and BAFTAs for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. VFX students will visit the Double Negative offices in collaboration with Animation students in May 2016 as part of an interactive London field trip.
NUA has worked with the industry skills body for the Creative Industries, Creative Skillset, and one of the world’s largest visual effects companies, MPC, as well at HitFilm Software to create a free online course called “Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers”.
The course started on 8th February 2016 and has already had over 10,000 people enroll. It builds on the success of NUA’s recently established BA (Hons) VFX degree course and is designed with low/no budget and so called ‘Guerrilla’ filmmakers in mind. The course shows how convincing visual effects can be created without big budgets, with a focus on practical tips and detailed software tutorials.
The inaugural VFX lecture at NUA was given by double Oscar winner Paul Franklin, Creative Director and Visual Effects Supervisor at Double Negative, one of the largest VFX Houses in the world. Over the past decade Paul has become known for his ongoing collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, creating visual effects for all three films in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and winning best achievement in visual effects Oscars for Inception and Interstellar. Read more about Paul’s visit to NUA.
In their first week on the course Year One students found inspiration on the Norwich Ghost Walk. View their responses on the project blog.
The VFX course is kicking off with three top flight VFX companies visiting the course in the first five weeks. Visiting lecturers scheduled for the first term are one of the recruitment team from Moving Picture Company (credits include Guardians of the Galaxy, Terminator: Genisys and the Jungle Book, plus commercials for MoneySupermarket and McVities); Murray Barber and Will Cohen, founders of Milk Visual Effects (Ex Machina, Snow White and the Huntsman, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell); and Phil Dobree, Creative Director and Founder of BAFTA award-winning VFX house Jellyfish Pictures (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Hummingbird, Line of Duty, Floogals). Saint Walker says: “The support we’re getting for the course is because industry likes what we’re trying to do here and we hope to eventually repay them with top calibre degree work.” (Image: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Milk Visual Effects)
VFX students will work with the latest version of Nuke – the industry standard software. Students will also have access to 3D software like Maya, Max and ZBrush. Course Leader Saint Walker reflects: “Don’t worry if software isn’t your thing, the course is also about building your imaginative and critical faculties. We pride ourselves on teaching technology in clear and practical ways. We just need you to bring ideas and ambition.”
VFX Course Leader Saint John Walker has been invited to contribute to the development of a new online learning platform at Tate Gallery. Saint will form part of a group of educators testing content and evaluating online presentations for specialised art courses being developed in partnership with the Khan Academy, the USA’s biggest provider of video learning content.
Industry skills body Creative Skillset have commissioned Saint John Walker, Course Leader for VFX at NUA, to act as chief advisor for a national series of workshop sessions for higher education tutors and staff. The sessions will feed into a revamp of the successful Core Skills of VFX handbook, which Saint co-authored in 2011. “As a document the handbook is invaluable as it contains advice for both the learner (a VFX Student Primer) and a helpful curriculum template for the tutor or university (the VFX module suite),” said Saint. “We’ve applied the information and advice that came out of the handbook from the 60 or so VFX professionals who contributed at the time to building our new course at NUA.”
Now you can keep up to date with developments on BA (Hons) VFX via a blog where Course Leader Saint Walker and guests will post news about the course and views about the world of VFX. Visit the BA (Hons) VFX blog.
The BA (Hons) VFX course at NUA will help students to understand two types of lenses – that of the camera and that of the eye. Says Course Leader Saint Walker: “You’ll work with a cinematographer to understand principal photography and the difference that lenses and camera properties make to the image, aspect ratios and how to shoot green screen the right way. You’ll see how light and colour interact with the lens and exposure. You’ll also be introduced to the practice of High Dynamic Range Imaging and what kind of evidence a VFX Supervisor needs to collect from the set, including visual and texture references.
Image: Rain example from Weather 2K, Honeyhouse Films
NUA Course Leader Saint Walker has taught students who have taken their skills around the world. Some of his graduates have worked at Peter Jackson’s WETA studios in New Zealand, while others have supervised VFX in China, become Nuke Artists in Australia, Canada and the USA. The UK also has some of the biggest VFX houses in Europe and it is expected NUA graduates will find work at the likes of Double Negative, Framestore, MPC, Cinesite and ILM. Saint adds: “That’s why these companies have been advising us on the course structure and content here at Norwich!”
Course Leader Saint Walker has commented on the growth of the VFX into new areas. “The UK film industry attracts big Hollywood productions to our shores; indeed, George Lucas’s ILM (Industrial light and Magic) have recently opened up over here working on Star Wars,” he says. “Last year the UK’s Double Negative won an Oscar for the VFX on Gravity. But VFX is also increasingly being used to visualise the future through Arch-Viz (architectural visualisation) and predict new medical cures through simulation and modelling.”
Students of VFX at NUA will be introduced to the history of pre-digital ‘practical effects’ that formed the bedrock for today’s industry. The course content will explore how filmmakers and showmen exploited the properties of film and the lens, from magic lanterns, dioramas and early cinema, to help students understand the lineage and motivation of today’s tools and techniques.
Image: Le_Voyage dans_la_lune by Georges Méliès 1902
The course has outlined one of the many practical projects that students will tackle: visualising outer space. Course Leader Saint Walker says: “Artists are often asked to produce images of things never seen before and to make them look real when no one is quite sure how they would actually exist. In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin and the team at Double Negative were asked to produce images of things that seem accurate to not only quantum physics but also our best understanding of how stars and gravity work. In this project we will play with ideas of what people will accept as real and see how we can use simple optics, lighting and some simple pixel math operations to build astronomical phenomena that are visually interesting, coherent and acceptable to an audience.”
Image: Space by Sweetie187
One of the most well known VFX techniques, green screen is only one of the ways to extract shot elements for use in another setting. BA (Hons) VFX will explore green screen, rotoscoping, matte extraction, scanning and other hybrid and inventive methods, as well as how to light green screen properly and what other data needs to be collected from the set.
Course Leader Saint Walker has spoken more about the ethos of BA (Hons) VFX. “We like to think of students on the course as world builders,” he explains. “They’ll use a range of software like Nuke, Maya and 3DS Max and a knowledge of the core skills of cinematography to build new believable visual worlds for film, tv, architecture, and even medicine! They’ll be shown how to make convincing worlds for films, learn how to use narrative, how to solve tricky cinematographic problems and how to plan efficiently. They’ll be able to experiment and create new sorts of imagery. They’ll learn how to use industry standard software and apply it effectively through core art skills. They’ll learn to blend creativity with sharp observation and inventiveness.”
The BA (Hons) VFX course has confirmed Nuke as its preferred software. Course Leader Saint Walker says: “This is increasingly the de facto software for the VFX industry and will allow students to gain incredible levels of artistry and sophisticated effects. Students will receive tuition and real insights into how Nuke works, allowing them to move towards a professional career.
BA VFX Course Leader Saint Walker has been interviewed about the direction of the course and how prospective students should prepare their portfolio. Read the full Saint Walker interview.
Norwich University of the Arts has announced the launch of a new undergraduate degree course in VFX which will begin in September 2015. BA VFX will be a full-time, three year course with students acquiring the necessary creative and vocational skills to embark upon careers in the visual effects industries. The course will be practice-based and offer opportunities to collaborate on projects with existing courses.