Friday, 26 February 2016

An Amazing Week at the VFX Festival

Industry Panel
It's been an extraordinary ride at the Escape Studios VFX Festival this past week.

Industry royalty turned out in force at London's O2, including a spectacular presentation yesterday by ILM on the making of Star Wars.

Anyone who was looking for insights into the state of our industry, how VFX movies and games get made, and what the future holds - will not have been disappointed. And the industry stands were buzzing with recruiters - animation and VFX in London is hiring fresh talent.

Yesterday's industry panel saw some of the leaders in animation and VFX talk about the latest trends in the business, and what the future will bring.

The VFX festival was held at the O2 Cineworld
Who was on the Industry Panel?
From left (photo above)
  • Marc Benson - MPC
  • Joce Capper – Managing Director at Rushes. They do "mainly commercials", and are "owned by Deluxe, a big global group".
  • Eamann Butler, Head of Animation at Cinesite
  • Hector McCloud – Glassworks, a "small post house" who offer "small teams for big jobs", with offices in "London, Amsterdam and Barcelona"
  • Darren O’Kelly, managing director of The Mill. They have a "strong focus on VFX", and also  "new content creation".
The first question put to the panel was this:

How healthy is the industry right now?
Marc Benson from MPC argued that London is doing great right now. As he put it "We are doing “a lot of the best work in the world”.  And at "the heart of the industry is London's Soho" - with a great concentration of talent. However, against that picture, there are "Competitive issues – in a global market".  Darren O'Kelly argued that the key to success "is to do great work. Right now, our industry is in rude health”. 

Hector McCloud argued that we should "not get too obsessed with technology". The key is to do great work, and tell great stories.  Darren O'Kelly agreed. For example, Virtual Reality (VR) continues to be "tech led, but not story led".  We have to learn to use VR in a way that entertains audiences; you need to be "swept up in the story". Our industry "is all about stories".

Eammon Butler, head of animation at Cinesite, argued that all the London studios have to "diversify their services. Today, right now, everyone in the audience can be entertained by downloading stuf on their phone". Cinesite are "creating our own content, not just being in the service business. The future is owning your own Intellectual Property (IP)".

The Mill
How hard is it to break into the industry?
It isn't easy - despite the growing opportunties. Darren O'Kelly said that The Mill gets "800 CVs a week from people who want to join the company. That’s a lot of reels to look at". There is a lot of talent out there. But "The best reels have a sense of story – don’t just show technique".

He added that he has been "pretty critical of the universities of late, with not enough focus on story telling, and", He thinks that "this is getting better now", with universities "training students to be better able to work in the industry." Ultimately, "its all about talented folk who want to work hard." The Mill wants people "with a maverick point of view, who are passionate, plus have a great skillset – these people will flourish. The biggest challenge for the industry is finding the right talent for the growth we are seeing".

What skills are studios looking for?
Eammon Butler said that Cinesite have recently "opened up a new animation studio in Montreal", making feature films. It has been "a real challenge to find the right people". In Montreal, there is "not enough experience there yet".

In Los Angeles, "the education system was designed to get folk ready for industry. And it takes time for education here to get to that point". He added that it is "easy to teach software, much harder to teach a sense of entertainment."

Joce Capper from Rushes said that they are a small operation, with "only around 30 people", so "most folk are generalists. We don’t have a film pipeline where skills are broken down". They need generalists who can turn their hand to a number of skills. And, of course, "you have to keep learning. You have to be prepared to learn new software, you must be curious".

Darren O'Kelly agred. At the Mill, he said, there is “constant curiosity” to make things better. The Mill did a CG orangutan for a commercial - the client came back the next year for a sequel, but the team decided not to re-use the same assets as last time.  "How do we push this even further?" they asked themselves.  They "ended up with a fully CG ape, very complex". It's important to "enter the unknown, to push boundaries". VFX is special - it's "different to real jobs".

How do you keep interested creatively?
Hector MCLcoud answered first: "Photography. It's a brilliant way into the industry".
Eammon Butler is excited by TV. "TV is growing, it is getting much better, with projects like Game of Thrones. TV is no longer a dirty word, it is pushing film to work harder".
Joce Capper said that working in central London is a huge advantage because you can just "go to a gallery" and drink in beautiful artwork.

Are there jobs for junior animators in London?
Yes, but Eammon Butler of Cineite said that Cinesite's feature animation projects are going to Montreal….where they are "finishing their first feature now". Cinesite "want to do more in London,  but right now "Canada is more competitive" - because of the tax incentives. The tax credits are very competitive in Canada.

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