Capilano University future-proofs students in its digital visual effects diploma program

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      The coordinator of Capilano University’s digital visual effects program says he wants to prepare people for career possibilities that don’t yet exist.

      “We do like the idea of future-proofing our students,” Adam Sale told the Straight by phone.

      To cite one example, he said the program has 10 all-in-one Oculus Quest virtual-reality headsets. Students can sign them out for a week, take them home, and develop ideas about immersive production.

      It’s not part of the curriculum, but it enhances their comfort level with this technology in advance of it possibly becoming a standard industry tool in the future.

      There are also 28 high-end motion-capture cameras in a studio Sale calls the Holodeck, named after a fictional device from the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation.

      “We’re actually one of the only dedicated student spaces in postsecondary that offers almost 24-hour access to explore performance-capture and virtual-reality opportunities,” he noted. “We have face-capture technology as well as wireless virtual reality built into it.”

      These are just a couple of the perks for those who enroll in the two-year digital visual effects diploma program at the North Vancouver teaching university. In addition, they get full conference passes to industry events like the Spark Animation Festival and Siggraph, which is focused on comuter graphics.

      Students are able to hone their skills by collaborating with others enrolled in the film, documentary, animation, costuming, and cinematography programs.

      Sale said there’s a strong focus on helping students become job-ready, so compositing, including for live action, is a big part of the curriculum. That involves integrating computer graphics into filmed sequences.

      Kathy Gu

      Through the process of “look development”—the art of adding emotion to a model with textures, shades, and lighting—students can put a professional polish on their work.

      "We're taking the role of 3-D modelling and we're updating it for the technology that we have now and what's coming down the road," he explained.

      "The modelling job, in particular, is really starting to change with this concept of scanning and photogrammetry," Sale continued. "Photogrammetry is really just taking a number of pictures from a number of different angles and letting software crunch the data on turn it into a 3-D object—or what we call a 'point cloud'—that students then clean up and texture, and add lights, et cetera."

      Sale said that first-year students are trained in programs like Autodesk Maya to simulate crowds, fluid dynamics, smoke, fires, and destruction. In the second year, they learn how to work with a visual-effects program called Houdini that is really in demand in animation studios.

      “We’ve started to get quite a good reputation for our students being hired out on the effects front,” Sale said.

      He’s proud of the way his program makes use of highly skilled visual-effects artists as lab supervisors for second-year students. He acknowledged that many of them may be too exhausted after a 12-hour day to teach a full course, but they’re happy mentoring students in one-on-one situations in their areas of expertise.

      “We just picked up a fellow named Gil Choi, who was the senior visual effects [specialist] on Aquaman,” Sale said. “He specializes in Houdini and water simulation.”

      A fairly recent grad of Capilano University animation, Pearl Low, was a story artist on this year’s Oscar-winning animated short film, “Hair Love”.

      But she’s far from the only success story. “In Vancouver, we have 70-plus visual-effects studios and animation studios,” Sale said. “Our grads are at every studio in the Lower Mainland. We’ve got some working back east in Montreal at a lot of the major studios there, whether it’s a visual-effects house or animation house. A lot of them move from visual effects into games because there’s quite a lot of convergence in the technologies nowadays.”

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      For more information on Capilano University's digital visual effects diploma program, visit the website. The next intake of students occurs in September.

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