Langara makes major move into animation

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      This has been a banner summer for Hollywood North. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Johnny Depp, Chow-Yun Fat, Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, and Liam Neeson have all been in  town acting in feature films, which is giving a big boost to the city’s booming visual-effects industry.

      That’s because nowadays, Hollywood movies almost always include digitally generated visual effects, a.k.a. VFX. And according to the Vancouver Economic Commission, the city has the world’s largest cluster of top VFX and animation studios.

      This helps explain why Langara College has decided to launch two new animation programs in January through its continuing education division. The  full-time program offers face-to-face instruction over 16 months at Langara’s campus at 601 West Broadway. The takes place at the same location on a full-time basis over 24 months.

      Hollywood producers routinely incorporate digitally generated visual effects into their movies, which has given birth to dozens of companies in Vancouver that are performing this work.

      Langara has partnered with the Kelowna-based Centre for Arts and Technology, which has been offering this type of education for nearly two decades. And it comes as the industry is scrambling to find talented artists and visual-effects experts in storyboarding, rigging, lighting, motion, and character design.

      Langara College’s program coordinator for animation and design arts, Lenke Sifko, points out that there are more than 60 studios in the city’s VFX and animation industry. The digital-media sector is even larger, employing about 16,000 people and generating $2.3-billion in annual sales.

      “Animation touches on gaming, animation touches on VFX,” Sifko said. “There are also business-related needs that require animation.”

      For example, 3D graphics are used in medical animation to teach professionals and patients about surgical procedures or other physiological issues. Architectural visualization also relies heavily on animation, and sometimes includes moving people and vehicles in the computer-generated imagery. Advertising is yet another industry that relies on these skills because so many products are being marketed with the help of animated characters.

      “Animation is far beyond just cartoons and TV and entertainment, though that would be the main focus of the program,” Sifko added. “It’s the main draw for a lot of young people.”

      For those hoping to gain skills to find employment in this field, Langara College will host an  early next month on its 2D and 3D animation programs. It will take place from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday (October 3) in the lower outdoor atrium (L-2 area) of Langara’s West Broadway Centre (601 West Broadway).

      The programs will accept up to a maximum of 16 students in each cohort and there is no age restriction. Applicants must submit a portfolio to demonstrate their drawing skills, including a sketch of one of their hands.

      “The screening process is to really find students who are deeply interested in animation, visual effects, and gaming,” Sifko said. “It does require passion in order to work in this field. This is an extremely rigorous study program.”

      Langara College will have a CINTIQ lab and personal tablets for students.

      Those who are admitted will receive an Alienware laptop and a Wacom drawing tablet, as well as all the software required in the animation industry. They are included with tuition and students keep their device after graduation.

      “They get assistance with the maintenance of it,” Sifko noted. “So they get very savvy at being able to maintain their own hardware, which is really a core competency as you enter into the workforce.”

      The West Broadway Centre has a CINTIQ lab, not unlike what you might see in a professional animation studio, and students have personal tablets for in-class and at-home use.

      There’s also a drawing room, as well as opportunities to illustrate live studio models, according to Sifko. One of the attractions of this campus is its close proximity to the Canada Line and frequent bus service in the Broadway corridor.

      Sifko emphasized that these are applied programs focused from the start on preparing students to find jobs. Professional development begins immediately; small class sizes offer opportunities for one-on-one coaching throughout the program from instructors with a great deal of industry experience.

      “Virtually everything that students start creating is moving toward their portfolio because in the digital-media world, your portfolio is your calling card,” Sifko explained.

      The job prospects look very positive. In 2016, a Vancouver Economic Commission report revealed that there “continues to be ongoing issues in attracting a sufficient supply of workers” in digital entertainment and interactive media.

      At the start of their final term, students will go on tours of major animation and VFX studios in Vancouver. This offers them opportunities to speak to human-resources personnel and learn about the best approaches for entering the industry.

      “It’s a whole day of going to different studios,” Sifko said. “They really get a sense of the working environment. This is done while they’re working on their final portfolio.”

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