School is over and the kids are enjoying summer break, while I’m writing up these interviews, transcribing them, and spending time away on a film set. But it won’t be long before summer break is over and that means back to school. For those who graduated, it also means straight to post-secondary education. There are so many options in Vancouver to choose from, but most of them go on for quite a long time. Not to mention, the expenses. But then again, it is Vancouver. EVERYTHING is expensive. Luckily, there’s one way that problem is being resolved, and that is with the help of the reliable and incredible Vancouver Film School. Notorious for having educated many of my colleagues and associates (as well as some of my writers), and being featured on this site a couple of times, VFS continues to find new ways to help out those looking for film industry work and learn the most facts possible in the most efficient way possible.
So what are they up to now? VFS has teamed up with a variety of high schools around the land, offering a great new single year of concentrated work that is sure to have the students graduating and finding work instantly. This is sure to help students find their bearings in the film industry as they find what they just might excel at. I went through something similar in my days at Art Institute.
I spoke to Colin Giles about this great new year of courses, as he has worked at VFS for a while and been on the animation scene for even longer. Colin has over 17 years’ experience as a Character Animator, Animation Director, and Designer, with credits in traditional and computer animation. His credits include work for Cartoon Network, Disney Interactive, and HBO. Colin filled me in with a lot of fantastic details. Get ready to learn all about what VFS now has to offer in this super quick course done in interview format!
HNMAG: So I understand student loan debt is a big issue. Could you tell me how VFS is resolving this?
Colin Giles: VFS offers numerous program-based scholarships to help students overcome financial burdens and further their schooling, including our Women in Game Design and Indigenous Peoples scholarships.
We also offer fast tracked programs, VFS has a unique accelerated education model that balances intensive and industry led-theory with direct production experience. This acclaimed curriculum is for students who may not be able to financially afford a full four year program, so this model exists so students can finish quickly and get into the field immediately. With this program they have the opportunity to begin earning quicker than the traditional post secondary route. Students are ready to become entertainment and creative media arts professionals in just one year.
HNMAG: Now, I’d also like to know about your position as Head of the School for Animation & VFX?
Colin Giles: I lead all three of our animation programs – 3D Animation & VFX, Classical Animation, and Animation Concept Art. With over 23 years of industry experience, my goal is to bring an award-winning curriculum to our students by focusing on industry relevant, story driven and collaborative educational models. I do everything from teaching, holding workshops, reviewing and/or updating the curriculum, networking with various organizations and studios for partnership opportunities, leading or hosting industry panels or events, allocating financial resources, working on marketing initiatives, and helping staff execute program-based initiatives in order to raise the quality of education for all three animation programs.
VFS prides itself not only on being fully immersed in the industry, but also on actually being the industry. Our goal is to give our students tangible real-world experience before graduating and building their skills to a professional level. As the Head of Department, I want to set the students up for success in the industry, and in order to do that we mirror the industry to prepare them for their career in whatever field they may choose to specialize in.
HNMAG: How have you contributed in making decisions regarding cost-effective remedies for post-secondary education?
Colin Giles: New technologies such as remote learning, shared resources, efficient rendering hardware are all items we’ve learned from our studios partners through our integration with industry.
HNMAG: When a student enrolls, they go through one year of concentrated work. Do you feel it is more efficient compared to 4 years at a university?
Colin Giles: While the programs are short, they are also very intensive and hands on– think of it as a bootcamp program. While we do value theory, we really value the direct education of putting students in a contextual and experience-focused curriculum. Our programs are practical, specialized courses that prepare students in a specific set of skills, software, and process to match the quickly changing industry. Enrolling in a year of concentrated work allows the students to be fully immersed in their desired industry and gives them a glimpse of what it is like to work in the field prior to actually joining. With our intensive model, students are ready to work before they even graduate and go on to work with amazing people.
I am proud of our success in this model and VFS has been recognized several times by top outlets, including Top Global Animation Schools by The Rookies; Top Global Animation Programs by Animation Career Review; and Top VFX Schools in the World by Hollywood Reporter.
HNMAG: What kind of courses are offered through a single year of work in the 3D Animation & Visual Effects program?
Colin Giles: The 3D Animation & Visual Effects program allows students to specialize in three different areas: animation, modeling, and visual effects. Our courses teach them the skills and techniques needed to become knowledgeable with each one of these areas and give them the option to hyperfocus on the one that interests them the most. The students will eventually be required to take certain courses based on their specialization at the beginning of the third semester.
Term 1 and 2 are more focused on foundational courses like Modeling , which teaches them how to create assets using a variety of applications and learning how to implement a full production process to take the design idea to the final product. There are also courses like Life Drawing, which focuses on the principles of movement, weight, balance, shape, and anatomy. The idea is to increase their observation so they can begin to understand how characters move.
In term 2 and 3, we like to focus on lighting, animation and visual effects the tools offered in these modules are the exact softwares and tools that people use in the film industry today, with technology and softwares constantly changing and upgrading, VFS is up to speed with all of these changes and we adapt our programs accordingly. VFS has a flexible curriculum to allow for these constant changes. In term 4 our students are able to learn from industry mentors where students can respond to constructive critiques and modify their final project based on advice from industry mentors. Many students collaborate on group film projects and gain increased experience working in a team.
In the last two terms, term 5 and 6 students take on courses such as acting for animators where they create dialogue and perform that through the fictional animated character and they also learn digital sculpting where they refine the characters they have created. In term 6 it’s all about and finalizing their final project. Although this program is catered to specialize in 3D Animation and Visual effects we still want to give students the chance to gain a foundational understanding of other important skills needed for the industry such as understanding how creating dialogue and acting can be beneficial in the animation creating process, all our courses blend all the different skills needed to gain a foundational level of understanding in each aspect of the film industry.
If you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown, you can take a look at the term courses here.
HNMAG: How do you keep the course filled with information but prevent it from being overwhelming?
Colin Giles: At VFS we provide our students with resources to combat academic burnout. From a content aspect we only deliver knowledge and tools that we know the students will want to know and strive to improve in daily. However, being a close knit community, our program directors plan out their modules to be aligned with the other programs to ensure that deadlines and examinations do not clash and that the modules given from each program are manageable for the students, considering all their other workload.
VFS also tries to encourage learning outside of the classroom by connecting them to real-word professionals during special workshop sessions, training presentations, and industry social events. I think it can help to make their education more exciting and well-rounded. In fact, one of the amazing things that we do is host an industry mixer, where students can present their projects and get feedback on the work they’ve done throughout the year. They can learn from people who are actually hiring and at the same time make some great connections.
Besides attending school many of our students volunteer or work on smaller film projects/studios around the city to get hands-on experiences, as leaders at this institution we keep this in mind to allow our students to gain a healthy school/work life balance. Many students are passionate about succeeding in this industry, therefore all the content we do feed them they take it in positively and all the knowledge fuels their passion even more.
HNMAG: You also do partnerships with high schools. What do you discuss with them to make a suitable plan for new students at VFS?
Colin Giles: One of the amazing things that VFS offers is called CONNECT, which is essentially an online certificate program that students can enroll in to explore different areas in the creative industries– including, but not limited to Animation programs. The seasonal sessions offer a series of workshops only available to high school students. These happen twice a year (one during March Break and another during summer). These workshops are meant to help young creatives discover which field is right for them before they even consider applying to VFS. The important thing to note is that they are entry-level workshops and offer everything they need to build a portfolio for post-secondary study.
This year as well, VFS is hosting a 3D Animation keynote event for students interested in applying to the program. The purpose is to fast track anyone who is interested in the 3D program into enrolment. We will be offering tours of the campus, portfolio reviews, and arranging for students to speak directly to admission. This is the first year VFS will ever be admitting students on the spot. Our Creative Portfolio Review initiative will connect you directly with an expert and give you professional tips and creative feedback.Portfolios and demo reels are a huge part in securing work within the creative industries so it’s important that they show them off in the best way possible.
HNMAG: Do any high schools you’re partnering with recommend many of their graduates to attend VFS?
Colin Giles: Absolutely. Schools are often impressed by our programming and alumni success. We find that students are excited to hear they can complete their education in only one year, so I think that draws them in a bit.
HNMAG: You’ve also built up relationships with film and animation studios. How has their relationship helped improve VFS over the years?
Colin Giles: One of VFS’s many industry partnerships, Beyond Capture Studios offers students real world experience within their 32,000 cu. ft motion capture facility onsite at VFS. The studio originally had $1.4 million invested into it, but has since invested over $2.5 million – equipping the studio with leading-edge technology and making it a gold-standard in global performance capture studios. Not only do these partnerships benefit the students, they benefit the studios too. At VFS, studios are able to work alongside the next generation of artists; building a strong foundation for the future of the entertainment industry. This past fall, approximately 15% of Beyond Capture shoots were student projects.
These partnerships not only help to provide our students with state-of-the-art technology, but helps to provide real-life studio experience and industry relationships before our students graduate.
Studios from around the globe continue to hire VFS grads and long-time Alumni are now hiring VFS grads as well. Our long standing legacy means many alumni are now influencing the industry whether by producing, directing, showrunning or founding their own studios.
HNMAG: Schooling tends to evolve and develop as the years go by, how does VFS adapt to the new changes to keep in the loop?
Colin Giles: VFS staff are recruited straight from the professional world, so we know first-hand how the industry works. We are the industry and as the industry adapts we do too. This is why we’re always looking to partner with industry professionals and organizations. VFS has become known for our students’ high quality work, and so it has actually led businesses to want to partner with us for various projects and even set up shop within VFS walls. Our students don’t even have to leave campus to know how the industry works. From industry talks, networking events, to mentorship programs, we connect our students to the right people so that they can graduate feeling prepared to enter their field.
We also give our students control over how they want their years at VFS to be filled, our programs are flexible and personalized based on each student’s goals and dreams. We continuously strive for a collaborative environment, we take the feedback from other educational leaders around the world and our students. We hold industry roundtables annually for additional insight and trends.
With award-winning faculty and mentors from top studios and companies, VFS constantly adapts its acclaimed curriculum to meet the evolving demands of the industry. VFS educators are passionate industry professionals and thought leaders in the entertainment world. They curate ever-evolving course curriculums based on real time industry demands and provide students with studio style learning environments.
HNMAG: With the way things are going currently, where do you see VFS graduates going after graduating from this current program?
Colin Giles: We are proud to see our graduates step directly into the film, game, television and advertising industries. Many of our students also go on to start their own production companies and boutique studios. To name a few of the alumni successes we have at VFS, our students get employed by companies such as Disney, Dreamworks, HBO, Atomic Cartoons, Google, Netflix, Pixar, Warner Bros, Paramount and EA.
By now, you’ve probably learned a lot about the new method of learning at VFS and it’s probably gotten you interested. It’ll be exciting to see what the next students will be doing after taking this course and starting on a great new path into the industry. I’ve seen VFS students succeed pretty quickly and I know so many alumni so maybe this course will pump out even more professionals than ever.