Grads Around the Globe
Issue: Volume 36 Issue 7: (Nov/Dec 2013)

Grads Around the Globe

In the feature "You're Hired" in the November/December 2013 issue, CGW asked a range of art, animation, and game development schools in the US how they are preparing their students for the job market during a time when employment opportunities are less plentiful than they once were. Here, we look at what schools in Canada and elsewhere are doing to assist their graduates in this difficult venture.

Vancouver Vision

Vancouver boasts a number of schools and studios where graduates can step into the professional world. At VanArts (Vancouver Institute of Media Arts), a post-secondary school in British Columbia, Canada, students learn to hone their craft before competing in the job market. Wayne Gilbert, dean of faculty and head of character animation at VanArts, notes that the industry continues to be volatile, yet always has been. That's why the school arranges local studio tours and invites representatives from local and international studios to visit. Senior artists will put on workshops and assume short-term teaching contracts when available. In fact, the faculty at VanArts is well connected to studios and artists, Gilbert maintains, and arranges for video lectures with top industry talent.

Additionally, student work is showcased on the VanArts website and is entered into festivals to provide exposure for graduates.

On the VFX and gaming side, the school has experienced "a very good employment rate" within the last year, says Wade Howie, head of VFX and Game Art. "We help students find industry situations through external reviews of senior class demo work in progress by studio supervisors and placing grads in internship programs."

Howie also recommends talented grads to studio heads, and in turn, is contacted by recruiters when they are looking to hire. VanArts students are also encouraged to attend industry events and job fairs.

The Vancouver Film School (VFS) in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers a robust film and game development program. And, like all the other schools, its aim is to prepare students for the job market through instruction and services. To this end, the school provides networking with industry-based developers throughout the year. This includes those who come in to teach part time, developers who come in to work with the students as mentors on their final projects, as well as guest lecturers. The game developers that participate in VFS's showcase event, Pitch & Play, get direct exposure to showcase their games. "It also gets the developers, designers, and HR people playing the games and talking to the students," says David Warfield, head of Game Design.

Located near Vancouver, CG Masters provides on-the-job-training techniques that young artists need before entering the professional realm, as opposed to concentrating on theory. While other schools struggle to place their students in the job market, CG Masters has a different perspective. "We don't see the job market as that volatile worldwide," says Nicholas Boughen, senior education administrator. "Business models are changing and many huge, corporate entities are being replaced by smaller, more flexible and less costly, boutique studios. Some specific markets are suffering due to the globalization of the industry, which is a natural progression. This upheaval and transformation is resulting in the perception of a volatile job market worldwide when this is not the case everywhere. Some markets are extremely strong. Demand continues to grow for well-trained digital artists."

Boughen points out that more movies are being made worldwide than ever. And, exponentially, more movies use animation and digital effects than ever before. "The big problem is that the experienced artists are starting to get spread thin as the training industry fails to fill the ever-increasing demand, so the overall quality of digital animation and effects is dropping," he says. "There is no shortage of jobs for people who know what they are doing. The key is 'well-trained.'"

CG Masters, Boughen says, was specifically designed to fill an enormous gap in the animation and digital effects training industry. "Nearly every school will teach software skills but little or no practical production-line skills," he points out. "Our school has been designed and built by industry veterans who know what production artists need to succeed. What's needed is far, far more than how to model, rig, animate, and do three-point lighting in Maya. So the single most effective decision we have made is to train artists to a film studio production level, with a broad production skill base, not to teach some tools, some irrelevant skills, and then abandon them to make a demo reel."

Each faculty member at CG Masters is a professional mentor/supervisor or senior digital artist currently working in the industry. Most of the school's Masters have been in the industry 10 years or longer, meaning they were probably part of the first 50 digital artists in town. "They have been through it all, seen it all, and done it all," Boughen says. "They know what makes a great artist. So every student is exposed to job opportunities in every single class." The faculty collectively knows most of the recruiters and digital artists in town, he adds, which makes it easy to hook up a talented student with a potential employer. For instance, CG Masters recently put two hotshot first-semester students into professional practicums during spring break, and they came out with two job offers for when they graduate.

The school also brings in industry luminaries to speak at CG Masters. "These talks excite and inspire our students to do better and reach for higher goals," Boughen says. "We could hardly ask for more than that. After all, passion drives excellence."

Canadian Class

Sheridan College's Faculty of Animation, Arts, and Design in Ontario, Canada, is focused on helping its grads find a place in the workforce. To do so, Sheridan hosts what it calls "Animation Industry Day" each year, with screenings that showcase each student's culminating work - a one-minute film they create from script to screen. Students tackle everything from the concept art and storyboarding to the design, art direction, layout, and animation. Following the viewings, students display their portfolios on computer terminals, so industry representatives can ask them about their work. Formal interviews take place the next day.

This past year, 130 representatives from Canada's top film, media, and entertainment companies, such as Nelvana, Mercury Filmworks (Ottawa), and DHX Media (Halifax and Vancouver) attended Animation Industry Day. Nickelodeon was also in attendance, while DreamWorks visited the campus to recruit students in advance of the event. Historically, about 30 percent of the graduating class receives a job offer over the two-day event. For some, the event results not in a job, but in having their films shown. Representatives from the TAAFI (Toronto Animation Arts Festival International) - which was started by four Sheridan animation grads - and the Ottawa International Animation Festival were on site this year to meet filmmakers and find festival content. Approximately $25,000 in cash and equipment (including two complete HP workstations) was awarded to students in recognition of their achievements and to help kick-start their careers.

Sheridan also works closely with its Program Advisory Committees (PAC), which consist of industry leaders in the field from companies such as Critical Mass, T4G, and Ubisoft, who help advise on key trends and market needs so that the college can create a curriculum that provides students with the right skills and knowledge. PAC members often speak with students as guest lecturers and help with networking. Many faculty members teaching in the programs are also personally connected with the industry, and many retain their own private businesses.

Students of Sheridan's degree programs complete industry co-op placements before they graduate, giving them real-world, real-time experience and providing them with the opportunity to make invaluable connections.

"In addition, the school helps students find jobs by creating programs that are relevant to the needs of industry and society," says Ronni Rosenberg, dean, Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design.

According to a 2012 report by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, the country's video game industry generates $1.7 billion annually in direct economic impact and ranks third worldwide based on number of employees. The report states that there are 348 companies operating in the sector and suggests that 77 percent of them expect to hire new graduates. To this end, the school launched a new four-year bachelor's degree in game design. Students in the new game design degree program will learn to create compelling content for multiple gaming applications, including triple-A, serious, casual, and mobile.

According to the Canadian Interactive Alliance, Canada's interactive media sector consisted of 2,960 digital media companies employing approximately 52,000 people in 2008. Canada's Information and Communications Technology Council predicts a shortage of computer programmers and interactive media developers through 2016. As such, Sheridan launched a new degree in interaction design. At the heart of interaction design is researching and understanding people's behaviors to discover their unmet needs, which, in turn, reveal the ideas that help shape the future.

Down Under

The Media Design School in Auckland, New Zealand, aligns its qualifications to industry demand and provides an immersive hands-on learning environment that replicates the studio environment. "This ensures that our students can work to tight deadlines, collaborate, and develop essential production skills," says Dean Fiona Scott.

The school regularly invites guest speakers to lecture, mentor, and provide live briefs. This enables the graduates to more confidently enter the workforce as professionals.

"Our 3D animation and VFX students work on short films each year that are widely promoted and entered into international film festivals. These are developed under the guidance of award-winning directors, producers, and a professional crew," Scott says. For instance, the short film "Shelved" screened at SXSW and includes characters designed by Weta Senior Concept Artist Greg Broadmore (District 9 and The Lord of The Rings). The film won Best Animated Short Film at the Los Angeles Movie Awards 2013 as well as the awards for Best Director and Best Animated Characters in its category.

According to Scott, many studios recruit directly from the school's graduate pool. "In addition to answering demand for highly skilled workers, we are committed to promoting student achievements, ensuring short films enter international film festivals and participate in a variety of global competitions," she says.

European Perspective

Gobelins School of the Image in Paris takes an Internet approach through a private website with a database of all its former students that professionals can peruse. Also, during the Annecy Festival, the school organizes a speed recruiting session. It also hosts a recruiting session the day after its graduation jury. In addition, a group of students attend FMX in Germany, where they network and show off their work to studios in attendance.

Studios visit the school for portfolio reviews, and Gobelins maintains communication and contact with industry representatives throughout France and elsewhere, to stay on top of their hiring needs.

Another French school, Supinfocom, which has campuses in Valenciennes, Arles, and India, works with different companies - such as Ubisoft, Gameloft, Arkane Studios, and so forth - to organize interviews for its students. The companies proceed to test the students, and if all is well, hire them afterward as interns for a six-month period. Laure Casalini, director, says that approximately 90 percent of the students have an internship before graduating. "Our network is big enough to propose to students to work in the US, Europe, and Asia," Casalini says.

An inherent feature of the education at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany is the guest-teaching system. There is no staff; the teaching relies mainly on guest instructors who are professionals from the industry. They conduct workshops or seminars that span two to five days. The school also has regular guest teachers who work with the students on certain aspects of their projects. For example, a VFX supervisor may be brought in to discuss the visual effects breakdown of a project with a student team.

"Education at Filmakademie is learning by doing," says Professor Thomas Haegele, director of the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects, and Digital Postproduction. Students select the format, content, and techniques for their projects. They also organize their teams - director, artists, technical directors, and animation/effects producer - and are responsible for all the steps in the production. Teachers and mentors from the industry guide them throughout the production process.

Students' films are then sent to festivals around the world, giving grads the necessary exposure to be noticed by potential employees.

One of the most important links to employers is via FMX, one of Europe's largest conferences on animation, effects, games, and transmedia, hosted by Filmakademie. "FMX is one of the most influential events on the art, technology, and finance of digital entertainment," says Haegele. A large recruiting hub there gives students and professionals the opportunity to meet local and international companies. Also, graduates of the institute show their final projects in special FMX sessions.

A Better Tomorrow

These schools, as well as many others both inside and outside the US, have a dual role to play in educating today's budding artists and animators. Their job is to teach students the necessary information and skills in the classroom, and nurture their talent. Later, their role as educators have evolved, as students look to faculty and staff to help them find a job where they can show what they have learned and hone their skills further under the direction of professionals and employers.

In an industry that has suffered great losses and has achieved great success, some virtually at the same time, it is a confusing time for those stepping into the professional realm for the first time. But schools are expanding their services to help their grads navigate this confusing new world.

Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor for Computer Graphics World.