How to kickstart your career in VFX and animation

Just a few years ago, if you wanted to learn visual effects or 3D animation you had to either teach yourself, go to a specialist school, or buy training DVDs. None of these methods are bad, but they do pose drawbacks.

Amersham & Wycombe College, in Buckinghamshire, England, tackles this problem with its latest courses, designed specifically to get students up and running in as short a time as possible, giving them the skills to get a foothold in the industry, as well as giving them the tools to refine their skills.

The courses on offer range from a Foundation Degree in Animation and Visual Effects to a BTEC in VFX and Animation, and a Level 2 BTEC in Media and Animation.

A formidable foundation

The college, in partnership with the world leading mocap facility Centroid, is now one of the BFI Film Academy partners, delivering one of five specialist residential courses to 16-19 year olds UK-wide. This course offers an intensive nine-day course, where students create an action trailer, starting from the ground up.

Learning how to model in Maya, 3ds Max, using Motion Analysis hardware for motion tracking, green screen filming and compositing in Nuke are all covered, giving students a solid grounding.

Part of what makes the college so well suited to teaching VFX and animation is the resources it has to hand. Close relationships to studios such as Centroid really benefit all involved, with the college having its own motion capture stage and green screen facilities. The software and hardware are equally impressive with Dell workstations running Nuke, Maya, 3ds Max and Adobe CC products.

The college facilities are second to none – it even boasts a large motion capture/green screen studio

The college facilities are second to none – it even boasts a large motion capture/green screen studio

Of course this wouldn't be of much use without knowledgeable and passionate staff, and if one aspect of the college is evident it's this. The course leaders all have great experience in the industry, as well as being well-rounded educators. Tim Skegg, who teaches, among other things, green screen techniques and cinematography, helped to create the course, along with Neil Bedecker.

When asked about the course and how it benefits students, Skegg's response was clear: "The quality of student animation work has exceeded expectation year on year and many students have shown an abundance of raw talent with showreels to industry standard. Several students have attracted the interest of big entertainment companies and we fully expect them to go on to greater things."

Visits to Double Negative and Aardman Studios have been some of the course highlights

This isn't only the view of the staff. When asked about the college, Sabah Masood said: "The knowledge of my lecturers, the individual modules we undertook, such as life drawing and media theory, helped me immensely to understand how the process of animation is achieved. Visits to Double Negative and Aardman Studios have been some of the course highlights and these have given me an insight into working within the industry.

"This course was recommended to me by my friends and I have recently completed my third year at the college having already done a BTEC in animation before moving on to my Foundation Degree course."

World-class connections

The facilities at the college are first rate. The students get to use the mocap stage at Centroid in Shepperton – something many professionals would love to do! What's more, the college has worked with Centroid to have its very own in-house mocap stage.

This isn’t a collection of Microsoft Kinect devices either; there's a full Motion Analysis setup, which, alongside the high-end software and a passionate and experienced faculty, makes for a solid grounding in VFX, animation and 3D.

Neil Bedecker, one of the course leaders, had this to say of the college’s capabilities: "The BTEC VFX and Animation Course has been
running in its current guise for the last eight years. We have industry spec computers and software ranging from 3ds Max, Maya and Mudbox for the modelling, sculpting, texturing and keyframe animation side.

The students get to use the mocap stage at Centroid in Shepperton

The students get to use the mocap stage at Centroid in Shepperton

"We have the Centroid Motion Capture academy. This is a collaboration with one of Europe's biggest motion capture companies, who have been involved in capturing movement for a variety of characters and animals for blockbuster films, television shows, advertising and games, and ourselves.

"They have assisted us on setting up an in-house industry spec motion capture facility on our campus and provided training to ensure that we are able to cascade their knowledge down to our students, so that they are industry-ready by the time they complete the course. This link has meant that we have been able to push the boundaries of our knowledge and experience.

"The staff have a variety of skills and use them to develop the course. We have adapted our delivery so that the students understand the process of producing an animation from concept to final product through pre-production, production and post-production. We work on one project throughout the year and adapt our learning criteria around the brief that we have set."

To discover more about the courses on offer, visit the Amersham & Wycombe college website.

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 181.

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