Profs go pro

Imageworks' outreach efforts pay dividends in talent.

It's been said that those who can't do, teach. That adage couldn't be farther from the truth, at least for educators involved in Sony Pictures Imageworks' IPAX (Imageworks Professional Academic Excellence) program, which targets faculty at schools as diverse as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida, giving them real-world production experience in computer graphics and animation.

Recruitment is serious business at animation/visual effects facilities, which compete for talent in schools around the country and even internationally. Imageworks always has recruited top students but went one step farther by founding IPAX in 2005 to develop those schools' faculty members.

"We found that it is very difficult for faculty to learn about what we do," IPAX founding executive director Sande Scoredos explains. "They needed a more direct avenue to the industry because it's the faculty that stays at the school and passes on that knowledge to their students."

In the past year and a half, seven faculty members from around the country have received fellowships, during which they spend two to four weeks at Imageworks learning its tools and proprietary methods, as well as work in a department or on a production.

"Then they can go back into the classroom and have that credibility with their students, that they've been there, seen what it's like and know what we're looking for," Scoredos says.

For Imageworks senior vp digital production Stan Szymanski, who visits the IPAX schools to talk to instructors and students about what it takes to get a foot in the door, it's all about "being cognizant of the requirements of production." "Students eat up the information," he says. "I don't think they get this kind of specific information on the visual effects companies' hiring practices."

And it's working. "We've cracked the Catch-22," says senior vp animation Barry Weiss, who is on the recruiting committee for animation. "Yes, (these students) are talented, but how will they perform in a production-driven environment? It's a joint responsibility between us and these partner schools to figure out what the next generation of artists will need to be successful, with artistic training, technical training and communication skill sets."


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