Vancouver is in the forefront of digital visual effects and animation, no small thanks to dozens of studios doing this work.
According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, the digital entertainment and interactive industry is responsible for more than 40,000 jobs and adds billions to the city’s gross domestic product.
But Adam Sale, coordinator of Capilano University’s digital visual effects program, says the release of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift has the potential to turn virtual reality and augmented reality into an even greater economic powerhouse.
“They’re going to overtake the film industry and the games industry,” Sale predicted in a phone interview with the Straight. “Their tentacles are already reaching into the tertiary [areas] like medical, architectural, military, and psychological.
“Every single aspect of our lives is going to be fundamentally changed by VR and AR,” Sale continued. “And all of the things that we’re doing in visual effects, film, and 3-D transition perfectly into those mediums.”
He said that’s why Capilano University is investing “quite heavily” in these technologies to ensure that students in digital visual effects and animation are going to be prepared for this brave new world.
The school’s North Vancouver campus offers a two-year diploma in digital visual effects in the Nat and Flora Bosa Centre for Film and Animation.
It includes three sound stages, a bar set, a house set, and a Hollywood backlot. There is also a 15-metre, 270-degree green screen.
“We’ve also got a full motion-capture stage and virtual-reality facilities, so we are pretty much an out-of-the-box film studio,” Sale said. “All of our experiences tend to happen on campus except when we go out and do film shoots. We encourage students to scout out interesting locations, get the necessary permits for them, and actually shoot on location, because that’s a real skill in itself.”
Digital visual effects involves creating meticulously detailed images that look real enough to be inserted into live-action footage.
Sale said that this means the lighting, shadows, and resolution of characters have to match what’s created digitally. There’s a smaller green screen on the south campus to ensure students can hone their skills shooting with the proper shading before going out into the industry.
“Visual effects has so many different career paths that there’s not really a mould for the ideal student,” Sale noted. “High school is our minimal requirement for graduation with, of course, the necessary grades.”
There’s also a requirement to provide a letter of intent and a portfolio, which could be a Tumblr blog, Instagram posts, or anything else that might demonstrate a prospective student’s skills.
“We have people who are computer scientists who apply, who show us programs they write,” Sale added. “There are sculptors, painters, writers, and people that actually have experience in the industry coming back.
“It really tailors itself well to people who have an interest in the art of filmmaking and effects,” he noted. “There is a lot of different paths for them to choose their career, which may be more technical or less technical.”
Capilano University’s digital-visual-effects program accepts 25 students per year, with classes starting every September.
In their second year, these students do a 72-hour practicum to gain industry experience.
“We usually have 6 o’clock classes in second year and the industry people come in and really focus the students’ skills that they learn in the foundation of their first year,” Sale said. “Our instructors work all over the industry.”
One fringe benefit of the program is that students receive their own computers.
Sale said that this means they can take them home after graduating with all of their work intact.More