Thursday, 28 May 2015

Headlines - The University Of Hertforshire's Annual Student Showcase

University of Hertforshire - Headlines
One of the highlights of the animation year in the UK is Headlines, the University of Hertfordshire's annual student Exposé, where the Uni shows off the very best work done by their graduating students. It is a testament to how well respected the UH Animation & VFX courses have become that so many leading industry players show up - including London's Framestore and also MPC, both of whom have employed many UH Grads. The emphasis on many of the industry presentations was on the future of our industry, as new technology opens up new horizons. So, what was in this year's show?

Rocket, by Framestore
Who showed up?

Framestore, one of London's leading VFX houses, talked in detail about their work on Guardians of The Galaxy, especially the development of Rocket, the fully CG raccoon character - which posed its creators a wide range of technical problems including rigging, texturing (apparently each and every hair on a real raccoon has multiple different colours running through) and of course character animation. How do you make a raccoon walk, talk and act like a human - but still feel like a raccoon? The answer is - with a lot of hard work.

All about virtual reality - The Next Big Thing?

Sol Rogers of Rewind FX gave a talk about Virtual Reality, or VR,  a rapidly growing part of the industry - and getting better all the time. Of course, VR has been around for a long time, but only recently has it really taken off.  VR works great for stuff like flight simulation.  Just like great VFX work, it's all about building assets which look just like the real thing - and then creating a virtual world for them to move about in.

Rewind FX - specialists in Virtual Reality

This new fledgling industry is known as "VRX", as in "Virtual Effects" - a rapidly growing industry which could in time be as big as the games of VFX industries. But how many VRX courses have you seen at university?  This is a field which educators are barely even aware of.

What are its possibilities? Imagine for example, people with severe disabilities who find it hard to travel, taking a tour of France or Italy, or going on a rollercoaster ride, or flying a stunt airplane, all without ever leaving their wheelchair. The possibilities for the VRX Industry are potentially huge, and not just for entertainment. This is something that can bring meaningful improvements to people's lives.

MPC Showcase

MPC also gave a presentation, or, rather, student graduates from Herts who had got jobs at MPC gave one. Their advice to current students was to "think globally, and don't expect a job for life". The industry is a "contract culture" - most folk get laid off at the end of the project.

The Herts graduates on stage emphasised the importance of networking, of joining sites like LinkedIn, where students can connect with other professionals to help land that crucial first job in industry.  The industry is global now - if you can't find work in your home country - apply overseas. And don't worry about language barriers - creative media is an English-speaking business.  Why not apply to Canada?  Canadian Government tax breaks mean that Vancouver and Montreal are now global hubs for VFX work.

How can students break into the industry?

One Herts graduate, Josh Parks, talked about his journey from student at Hertfordshire to VFX professional. The most important thing, he argued, was to develop industry contacts as early as possible while at Uni. "Make sure the industry knows you - and likes you". And yes, that means doing internships, meeting recruiters, and getting to know people in the industry.

And, of course, having a killer showreel - and updating it regularly to make it as good as it possibly can be.  Look at the work of students who are winning industry competitions - this is the standard you have to beat. "You need to be better than them - because they are your competition". Your second year is crucial - this is when you are laying the groundwork for your graduation.

Josh Parks - VFX Compositing & Roto/Prep Summer Reel 2013 from Josh Parks on Vimeo.

Josh also argued that you need to be learning new stuff every day. If you're not feeling slightly uncomfortable with your work - you're not pushing yourself hard enough.

Ashley Mohabir is another Herts graduate who successfully got a job at MPC as a roto prep artist. He worked hard at Herts to graduate with a killer showreel - the key to finding a great job. He entered many competitions to raise his game, working in a team of 16 digital artists to win seven awards at BFX 2014.  What really set him up was finding work at small studios - getting experience and polishing his skills.

Whispers Of The Ocean - A Short Film By Ashley Mohabir from Ashley Mohabir on Vimeo.

Ashley recommended applying for MPC's "Comp Academy" - a great way to learn and get better at your craft.  MPC describe it as an "in-house finishing school".

Both Josh and Ashley's demo reels showed very clearly the importance of showing a clear breakdown of their shots - a crucial element to any VFX demo reel. Without a shot breakdown, it can be hard to tell what precisely is being showcased.

Their message was that if you are leaving it to your third year at Uni to start developing your industry contacts and start work on a great demo reel - you're leaving it too late.

MPC Academy - an "in-house finishing school"

Where do MPC go to meet students? FMX, Animex, and Siggraph are the big events where they attend and actively recruit new talent.

What do students need to get a job? 

According to MPC, the crucial elements are:
  • Demo reel. Keep it short, make it your best work. Include shot breakdowns, and include shot credits. Put your best shot first.
  • Polish your CV, and tailor it for the company you are applying for
  • Be online. Have an online profile. Linkedin, YouTube, Vimeo - be available and easy to find
  • Apply! Don't expect the industry to come to you. 
Rare games

Rare's insight into the games industry.

How do Rare hire artists? There are three stages to their hiring process:

  1. Apply
  2. Go through portfolios and demo reels
  3. Interview applicants with the best portfolios 

CVs and cover letters will be "skimmed, not read". CVs get sorted into two piles: "maybe" and "bin". CVs should only contain vital information. This should include your key skills, a link to your portfolio online, relevant work experience, your qualifications, your contact details, and nothing else. What you did on your gap year is of no interest - unless it is directly relevant to the job you are applying for.

But what is the most important thing to do at an interview? The answer? "Don't piss me off!"

What do employers look for in a graduate?

Many industry representatives turned up, and talked about what they look for in a new employee. Insights included "be enthusiastic", be "open to learn new things", "don't just be someone who takes orders and does what they are told - find better ways to do things". Almost every company who spoke talked about the importance of teamwork, of successfully finding ways to work together in groups.

Bigger companies tend to look for specialists, people who are really good at one thing (like, say, animation) but smaller companies want digital artists with more general skills.  But, even at big companies like MPC, there is plenty of room for generalists in their advertising division, which has small teams, tight timetables and fast turnarounds.

Steve Hunt, the programme leader at Hertfordshire, talked about the importance of "soft skills" while on the job. These include - again - working as a team, but also learning to take direction, show initiative and help other people

Where can I see the University of Hertfordshire 2015 Expose?

Follow this link.


To find out more about Animation Apprentice, click here for a link to Frequently Asked Questions. To sign up for our next classroom at Animation Apprentice, follow this link. For more information on finding work and surviving in the animation and visual effects business, read our post on how to find a job in the animation industry, and check out our post about what not to do at a job interview. Also see our post on starting your own small animation business, learn how to create an invoice, and see how we arehelping our students find work through our film co-operative Nano Films. Download the free Escape Studios Careers in VFX Handbook. Take a look at how can help you find a job, and read our piece about how to survive as a freelance animator. Also, find out what Cinesite look for in a student's demo reel, and read our post on setting up your own animation business. Also see our post about freelancers and taxes.

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