On the table of dream jobs, the profession of visual effects artist should rank quite high. Yet unlike a worldwide-renown footballer, music pop-star or international model, this is a career – still an extremely competitive one, undoubtedly – that has identified paths to success that anybody with the right amount of skill, aspiration and drive can follow. Among those paths is Escape Studios, Europe’s leading VFX academy. Formed in 2002 to fix the movie and video games market’s absence of informed, studio-ready VFX skill, it has given 4,000 individuals the opportunity to work in projects covering the entire VFX spectrum – using software for animating and lighting through to developing the software with ISTQB.
Now part of Pearson College London, Escape offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees alongside brief courses in VFX, video game art, animation and motion picture. These are all taught by market experts carefully picked from the studios. Alumni of the courses, referred to as ‘Escapees’, have been the innovative labour force on numerous Oscar and Bafta award movies, such as Jungle Book, Gravity and Suicide Squad, in addition to many other well-known movies, TV programs, video games and countless acclaimed commercials.
The reason for this success is apparent. Escape has extremely close connections with the markets it provides. Not just the lecturers with their years of important studio experience or the English tutor with years of experience and a portfolio on scriptwriting and storyboarding. But likewise the market partners within VFX, video games and animation, who support the courses with talks and events, and offer mentoring for innovative students. These partners consist of many names familiar to digital art fans, such as Framestore, DNeg, The Mill, MPC, BlueBolt, Cinesite, Molinare, Milk, Peerless and Jellyfish Images.
Why are these connections so important? Competition for spots in studio is high, yet time and again, we hear that the visual impacts and video games markets are looking for skill alongside the ability to step directly into the studio. Escape Studios work with the market so that students can use innovation, pipelines and briefs that mirror those used by the experts. Their connections with studios and specialists likewise develops a network of coaches, who offer feedback on students’ work to assist them establish a standout portfolio (much like what a year 8 or 12 tutor would do for students’ trying to achieve a top mark in class).
This consistent interaction and industry-led learning is vital. It’s all undoubtedly exceptional, applying your self-motivation to study Maya, Max or Nuke, maybe through an individual student learning edition that’s just a part of the ‘experience’ that studios are trying to find. These experts also have to understand that you, as a potential worker, comprehend studio pipelines and due dates, the principles of animation and CGI, what each member of the studio group is accountable for, and how the abilities of each artist contribute and dovetail together to provide a completed scene, video game level or visual impact.
The Escape Studios courses are thus developed to mirror a studio pipeline, working towards a final project; students are organised in a group structure with cutting-edge art facilities in an industry-style environment from the first day. The goal is to provide the ‘studio-ready’ skill that is essential to the market. And it works.
On finishing, students are ready to leap into entry level positions, such as a rotoscoping or paint/prep artist. From there it depends on the individual to advance, but the grounding the course offers is important. Escape Studios alumni have dealt with a few of the most significant motion pictures in 2016, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Jungle Book. These alumni members all vouch for the self-confidence and expert knowledge that their courses had equipped them with. One such Escapee is leading Nuke compositor Anastasios Agiakatsikas, whose movie projects consist of X-Men: Armageddon, The Martian, The Legend of Tarzan, Pan and Fantastic 4. Anastasios studied Advanced 3D for VFX in the days when Nuke was still an exclusive software application undergoing software testing, however he states the course was a leading compositing tool and supplied him with the basics to be an expert. “Having the opportunity to learn about the principles, both from a technical and a creative viewpoint, can truly help you down the line,” Anastasios states. “Likewise having an teacher who has actually worked within the market truly helps.”.