I've been working in the VFX (Visual Effects) industry for many years now and I've seen it grow from a world of a few mad scientists, working with rooms of computers and pushing a few pixels around, to legions of artists, animators and programmers all around the world working on the latest blockbusters. When I started out it was a very tricky industry to enter, and today it still is, but for very different reasons.
The traditional route for an artist like me was to work as a runner: looking after the client's every whim, and running film and video around Soho. From there you were expected to befriend the artists and use your initiative to get access to the incredibly expensive equipment and teach yourself. There were very few colleges or universities who even had the right equipment, so as you can imagine it was a pretty arduous task!
Today it's a very different story. The tools of the trade are far more available, but the expertise to give you the right skills is not. Many universities and colleges offer degrees in computer animation, but with very little understanding of the world of production. As such, thousands of students are leaving each year, but without the real skills necessary for a successful career in VFX. Unfortunately, this skills gap is not a phenomenon specific to the world of VFX; it exists in all of the creative industries and is a global problem. When you have a fast moving industry, driven by technology and artistry, it is hard for any traditional learning environment to keep up.
This experience was what inspired me to start Escape Studios, to offer people like me a fast track route into the industry, a place where you can pick up the right skills from amazingly talented and experienced artists. I have been lucky enough to be involved in an evolution over the past decade that has created amazing spectacles for audiences all around the world, from Harry Potter and Iron Man, to Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. And have been proud to see some of our Escape Studios graduates credited on the VFX on these films.
To celebrate this, between October 10-13th, we have set up the UK's first ever VFX Festival, to offer an insight behind-the-scenes of this fast-paced and exciting industry. Where enthusiasts and budding VFX artists can get a glimpse into what it really takes to get into the world of VFX, and to even work on big blockbuster films.
The VFX industry over the last ten years has truly become a global industry and this is not set to slow in any way. As audiences have become more accustomed to the spectacle and creative power of VFX, their demand for more complexity to fuel the escapism of cinema has risen exponentially. To keep audiences coming back again and again, the bar needs to continue to rise.
The world of VFX production is being driven by the economics of filmmaking. Film studios seem to be concentrating their VFX efforts on larger, more predictable and bankable vehicles. As such, these films are worked on by multiple vendors, which are mostly selected based on which country is currently offering the best tax breaks for film production. The UK, Canada, some US states, Eastern Europe and Australasia all vie for feature production to happen in their territory, and increasingly VFX companies are having to set up shop in multiple territories to stay competitive.
Although there is always local demand for VFX in the world of advertising, film work is still driven by the macro-economics of movie making. Other than for the special few, key relationships between Directors and VFX teams are the thing that brings that extra something to the big screen.
It will be interesting to see what the next ten years will bring in terms of technological advances and talent, and how these will drive the experience further. I for one will be there in-line ready to be taken off into the many worlds that this amazing industry has had a hand in creating.
Dominic Davenport is the Founder of Escape Studios, a world leading VFX Academy www.escapestudios.com