Brody Balcomb - 2016
What education did you have before you took the Visual Effects for Film and Television course?
Before taking VFT, I had taken a different program at Seneca, "Digital Media Arts". In short, this program was a smorgasbord of any computer-art related thing you could imagine, graphic design, video editing, 3D modeling, hell even Flash animation. I didn't really have any set direction in mind so I wanted to try it all out and pick the path that most appealed to me. Eventually I really started to focus and specialize in both 3D modeling and video editing, which both sort of joined up in the last semester as a beginner comp/FX style class. I loved how it was both a very creative but also very technical type of work. I asked my instructor what my options were if I wanted to continue this as a career path and further my education, he pointed me to the book "The Art and Science of Digital Compositing" and told me to read it cover to cover... twice... and also to check out Seneca's dedicated Visual FX Post-grad program. (Just so you know I didn't read it cover to cover twice... I'm not Superman.)
Tell us a bit about your experience at the college.
DMA was a program that basically taught me the Adobe Suite, and 3DS Max. VFT used exactly none of these programs. It was incredibly overwhelming at first to be exposed to all this new software, Houdini, Nuke, V-Ray, PFTrack, and Mari, and know almost nothing about any of it (I did have some experience with Maya from high school and the basics carry over from 3DS Max as well). Lucky for me one teacher has the perfect solution to this problem... bombard you with lessons and assignments until you can't help but know the basics of everything. I'm not gonna lie, it's tough and it's stressful, but if this is the kinda thing you want to do, it's worth it. My first semester was riddled with tasks that forced me to learn, and encouraged me to really seek out the more advanced aspects of certain programs. VFT offers many branches of VFX for those who are interested, but my particular class focused mostly on Compositing and Dynamics (FX). Some people were on the fence about what they should really focus on, but I knew as early as halfway through semester 1 that I wanted to do Dynamics. Explosions, fire, smoke, sand, debris, fluids, this kinda stuff was awesome to me and I wanted to know how to make it all from scratch and do exactly what I wanted it to do.
The instructors are all professionals currently working in-industry, which is fantastic because I have had experiences where my teacher had been out of industry for 20+ years, and the entire class suffered for it. In VFT its just the opposite, they are your greatest resource. All of them are incredibly helpful (when they have the time to be), and even if you aren't necessarily focused on their class because you are going down a different path, they are always happy to answer questions if you need it (like for example, if you're not really trying to be a lighter but you need to know the best way to render a giant explosion you made without it taking 3 weeks). It feels like such a short time, 8 months, to learn all this stuff and be ready to work, almost seems impossible in the beginning, but it all pays off in the end.
How do you use the education you got at Seneca in your job today?
I am currently working as an FX artist as a studio which specializes in 3D animation for cartoons, the FX department is small and while VFT really prepares you to be working on Live Action film, the pipeline for Dynamics is quite similar no matter where you are, in contrast to Compositing which is very different depending on what you're working on. Smoke sims are smoke sims, destruction is destruction. The main difference is at times the goal product needs to be quite stylized, and the limited creative control can take some getting used to when in the program you had free reign of the tools to create whatever you wanted.
What advice would you give potential students who are thinking of taking the course?
I'd like to give a quick note that this advice is purely what I've gathered from MY experience with the program and not ALL of it (the final bit) is necessarily "Joe Raasch Approved".
Firstly like I said earlier, your teachers are your greatest resource, but not only for questions about your projects. They are all working in-industry and if you're like me they're the very first important connections you'll make, the second being your classmates.
Second, you gotta want it, and if you want it, you gotta stick with it. I had classmates who didn't want it and I watched them throw their money away, and I watched others who really wanted it but just couldn't handle the incredibly fast paced environment. I didn't think I could handle it either at first, but I did and you can too, you just have to be willing to put in that extra work, stay that extra night, cancel those weekend plans, and get stuff done.
Third, be ambitious but also be reasonable. Time management aside, some tasks are just too big for people to take on at this stage. There were a couple projects where I flew too close to the sun, trying to have these complex shots with all kinds of effects interacting with each other, when I should have had a bunch of shots that all had more focus. Did I learn a lot from these mistakes? Yes, but I also lost a lot of valuable time. You need to be able to balance your ideas with your skillset.
Fourth, pick your start date wisely. It’s important know what you are getting into depending on when you start this program. I started in January, and there was already a class that started in September who now had to share the computers that my class was using. This can be both a good and bad thing, on one hand you get to know all these people who JUST went through what you are about to, and they’ll be a great resource for you, on the other hand sharing computers is hard. It seems to be however that no matter what you will have to share computers with another class in either your second semester if you start in September, or first if you start in January. You need to ask yourself, do you need a computer to yourself when you’re just beginning to learn, or do you need it when you’re in the final stretch and deadlines are closing in?
Finally and probably most important... invest in an air mattress and hope the nightly cleaning staff is cool. I am completely serious. I basically lived ON campus, but your bed is a curse if you're like me. You won't get up when you want to, sometimes you won't even go in on the weekend cause you're feeling lazy... so grab a backpack, stuff in an air mattress and blanket, stay in the room from Friday night to Sunday Afternoon, then hide that sucker in the room so you don't have to keep lugging it in every weekend (those things are heavy when they’re deflated). Also always let the cleaning staff watch whatever movie you put up on the slate monitor when you’re in the room at night alone with you.
(Written in 2017)