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As movies become more dependent on visual effects, the demand for pros educated in the art of VFX has dramatically increased. Many leading VFX houses now recruit directly out of schools that offer such training. For its first list of the top VFX programs (unranked), THR surveyed recruiters, industry professionals and sources in academia. Tuitions range widely — from about $3,500 a year at Germany's Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg to $42,000 a year at Ringling College in Florida. But there's a common denominator: As Filmakademie's Andreas Hykade says, students are "learning by doing," through software training and work on actual productions, and by attending events like the annual Siggraph confab.
Academy of Art University
Its school of Animation & Visual Effects offers BFA and MFA programs in animation and visual effects. Its Studio X program lets ?students collaborate on real projects — like the VFX for a low-budget indie by a then-unknown filmmaker out of USC. His name? Ryan Coogler. The project: Fruitvale Station.
Its National Centre for Computer Animation's mantra is ?"science in the service of the arts," and recently it underwent a refresh to include a B.A. in ?computer animation technical arts, a 50-50 mix of art and science. Grads include Andrew Lockley, two-time VFX Oscar winner for Interstellar and Inception, and Mark Ardington, Oscar winner for Ex Machina.
Its students are clearly getting noticed. Kariem Saleh's student project Song of a Toad claimed the 2017 Siggraph best in show award, and Andreas Feix's Citipati won the 2017 Annie Award for best student project. "The VFX students are encouraged to invent their own projects and take full artistic responsibility," says professor Andreas Hykade.
Gnomon School of VFX and Animation
Located right in the heart of Hollywood, Gnomon taps working industry professionals as instructors and maintains classrooms that mirror a production studio environment. It recently teamed with Marvel to present guest speakers from Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Lost Boys Studios
Originally a VFX facility, it morphed into a school of visual effects, offering one-year certificate and diploma programs. Its hands-on approach includes the use of popular software such as Nuke (compositing) and Houdini (3D animation). During the final two months of its compositing program, students are placed at a VFX facility, where they are given shots to work on in a VFX pipeline. A new Montreal branch also recently opened.
Ringling College of Art and Design
This four-year college has integrated VFX into various majors, including BFA degrees in computer animation, film, game art and virtual reality development, with the VFX skills taught in each major tailored to that program's curriculum. Among its alumni, Jake Ferguson ('16) is currently Emmy-nominated for the main title design of Starz's Counterpart.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Visual effects degrees are offered at SCAD's Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong campuses, which include motion-capture facilities. A "SCADpro" program provides students with real-world collaborations with everyone from NASA to Google. Sean Palmer (BFA '05) — at Blue Sky Studios for ?eight years, now working at Disney, where he was associate technical director on Moana —?has served as an alumni mentor.
Located near Toronto, it offers VFX as a 10-month graduate certificate program. "It's very hands-on," says ?Noel Hooper, the program's coordinator and facility lead. "We have a lab where the postgraduate faculty and students work together." Its alums include Steve "Spaz" Williams, CG animator on Jurassic Park who's introducing a 25th anniversary screening of the movie at Siggraph, and Emmy-nominated VFX supervisor Bob Munroe (The Expanse, The Borgias).
Think Tank Training Centre
It offers a one-year certificate program in 3D animation, VFX and game design and has also launched a new online program. Co-founder Joe Bullock says that during the first term students learn the basics, including tools such as Autodesk's Maya ?(3D) and Chaos Group's V-Ray ?(rendering). During the final term, each student is paired with ?a mentor working at a local VFX house such as MPC or Sony Pictures Imageworks.
Vancouver Film School
The 3D animation and VFX ?school offers a one-year diploma with instruction in software ?like Maya and Nuke. There's also one-on-one mentoring from pros at Vancouver-based VFX facilities such as ILM and Imageworks. Notable alumni include District 9 director Neill Blomkamp and Lino DiSalvo, who served as director of animation on Frozen.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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