As an industry that’s been around 22-23 years, VFX has always been computer-based and CGI-driven. At the same time, the general pipeline of talent coming out of universities in those areas has been male dominated.
In his work with quite a few different universities, Jonathan Fletcher – Global Head of Learning and Development at Technicolor Academy – has been collecting data that shows the average percentage of females graduating in these areas at about 21 percent, globally. When you delve into the numbers, you see that some regions like America and Europe are doing somewhat better, but other areas like India and Australia are still really low in terms of the percentages. Which is why Technicolor Academy has expanded its creative academies in the growing entertainment hubs of Bangalore and Adelaide, as well as Montreal and London.
Here Fletcher discusses the Technicolor Academy, and the work it is doing to drive diversity within the VFX industry – at the same time fostering more creativity with a broader and growing talent pool.
Q - How is Technicolor Academy addressing the lack of diversity within the VFX industry at these different locations and globally?
A - Technicolor Academy is about giving anybody and everybody the opportunity to work within the industry and its leading VFX studios. We focus on recent graduates coming out of university – and looking to double the global percentages – we set a goal last year of 40 percent women coming into our Technicolor Academy programs. In our first year, we hit a 35 percent female graduation rate, with our Montreal location exceeding the goal at 41 percent.
We recognize that creative potential is not limited to those who have traditionally worked in VFX or computer-driven jobs, and are very active in supporting a range of fantastic projects, such as MPC’s Runners program, which focuses on employing individuals from deprived areas – who bring their own unique talents and skill-sets to Technicolor’s Film and TV visual effects studios and subsequently into the industry at large.
Q - What obstacles must be overcome, and how is Technicolor Academy paving the way through them?
A - We’re still seeing the trend of a male-dominated industry and we don't have enough diverse talent applying for these roles. While it’s hard to pinpoint why this is still the case, there remains a great lack of awareness about visual effects in schools and colleges around the globe. So we're working closely with education partners globally to reach out and educate students so that 1) more diverse talent learn about an industry they might not know about, and 2) they come to see visual effects as a viable career option with more role models looking like them.
Working closely with the amazing artists and talented teams at MPC Film, MR. X, and Mill Film, we go into schools and universities and engage students with personal stories of how they got into the industry and the wide array of work they’ve done on feature films, episodic television, commercials, animation and games. In the process, we’re working to overcome society’s perception of VFX as a traditional computer graphics-based job, but one that offers opportunities to be highly creative and do groundbreaking innovative work.
Q - What has the response been like, and what qualifications do candidates bring?
A - Whether you’re streaming your favorite show, or posting on social media, digital technology is an enormous part of people’s lives, something everybody is naturally entwined with on a daily basis – not just those who have traditionally worked in technology. So we’re getting a fantastic response from women and others who are now more predisposed to be comfortable with technology – to the point where VFX seems like a viable career path for them to pursue.
As far as qualifications for our academies, we focus on recent graduates with a predefined skill set that will help them be successful working alongside experienced talent at one of our VFX studios. During the application process, we evaluate their skills primarily from their show reel – not only what they’ve done but how they highlight their accomplishments, the steps they took to create a particular shot, and just as importantly, their desire to work in the industry and deliver the best results possible.
We’ve again set a goal of 40 percent women for 2019, which we are currently achieving along with our belief that greater diversity is critically needed in a creative environment. We want to give everybody the opportunity to see VFX as a career path – and potentially help set them on that path – whether on the production side, the creative side, or any side they choose. The possibilities are endless.
Q - What makes the Technicolor Academy unique, and what can students expect once they get there?
A - Technicolor Academy is really unique in that it gives students the opportunity to be trained to the standard required to work on both feature films and episodic television – potentially preparing them to work one day on the industry’s biggest blockbusters and most acclaimed shows. We also work extremely closely with the studios to make sure our learning leads have the most updated techniques and skills to share with academy artists throughout their training – something not able to be offered anywhere else.
With each academy working on anywhere from 6 to 10 projects across 8 to 10 weeks of training, students learn to interact with other artists, use the latest tools, pull shots to work on and then push them back out into the pipeline – everything they need to progress forward in the VFX discipline they choose.
The main disciplines are Lighting, FX, Compositing, Animation, RotoPrep, 3DDMP, and Assets. With our courses built upon the skills learned from each previous week, academy artists build up their skills in a way that, once they graduate, they are ready to work with experienced artists on the show floor to deliver amazing VFX shots.
Q - How do you measure success or evaluate students once they’re in the program?
A - Successful applicants are offered a 12-month, fully paid contract. But the first three months of the program is an intense training period that students must complete and graduate from before they move on to the studio floor. Students must demonstrate both the will and the skill in order to graduate; in other words, they must have both the attitude and the aptitude for the job, and be a good fit aligned with our values, culture, and the way we operate.
So far, we’ve had a 96 percent graduation rate, with 306 students completing the program last year. This year, we’re approaching double that number with over 300 candidates in the Montreal academy, 120 in Adelaide, 75 in Bangalore, and 30 in London (hopefully to increase as the future of Brexit becomes clearer).
We have over 40 staff members working for the Technicolor Academy, including coordinators, content creators, and approximately 20 trainers who bring more than 200 years of cumulative work experience to their guidance and evaluation of students.
Q - What are you doing to attract more women and other diverse talent to the Academy in 2019 and beyond?
A - We’re continuing to build relationships with universities and other education partners, to work closely with them to understand their diversity and inclusion strategies, and we’re aligning with them to support greater diversity in VFX education and careers among the next generation of graduating students.
To support our target of hiring 40 percent women in our creative academies, we are working to make sure that all of our job descriptions and advertising are gender neutral and contain no bias – and that applies to all of our external documentation and communications.
In addition to outreach at universities, Technicolor Academy, along with Technicolor and its brands, is part of Access VFX, a cross-industry initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the VFX industry. We’re working closely with Access VFX and other societies to support the awareness of VFX as a career option, and we continue to expand our apprenticeship programs to support individuals from underprivileged backgrounds. Our outreach and educational efforts are based on the belief that anyone with the creativity and skills who wants to work in VFX should be given the opportunity to embark on that journey – and one day help to craft the industry’s next big groundbreaking film.