Vancouver one of the world’s top places to study media arts

Aug 11, 2014    Source: Chantal Moore

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It comes as no surprise that Vancouver, known to some as Hollywood North, produces many of the world’s top talents in media arts. As a recent Globe and Mail article reports, Vancouver is home to “over 800 companies in digital film, animation and visual effects, video games, mobile content and applications, and e-learning.” There are plenty of industry experts to teach students. The media arts sector here is huge, generating $3 billion in revenue annually.

From game design to 3D animation and visual effects, Vancouver digital arts schools are on the world map. Students graduate with skills that are high in demand and companies open doors here just to tap into the local talent.

The BC Council for International Education wanted an insider perspective on the schools that are fuelling our creative sector – so we went on a tour of Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts), a private media arts institute specializing in fields like animation, visual effects and game art and design. It was recently named the 6th best animation school worldwide.

 "I've never seen anything like this," said Wade Howie, Head of Visual Effects for Film & Television and Game Art & Design. Wade has worked in the industry for over three decades, including 12 years with George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic.

Wade credits the media arts boom to the industry’s return on investment. Resilient facilities are opening here in record numbers and there is a huge wave of momentum following through. He cites Double Negative, a London-based VFX giant that is setting up an office here in the Fall. Also “people keep buying the movies.”

Location is another factor. Vancouver is a natural choice for digital production companies because of its close proximity to both Tokyo and Silicon Valley. And Canada ranks third in the world for video game production, behind Japan and the U.S.

Behind closed doors

As my colleague and I walked the halls of VanArts, we were humbled by artwork from past students. Posters were proudly displayed from movies that many of their graduates have worked on such as Maleficent, Skyfall, The Dark Knight, Gravity, and even the Smurfs.

At the end of the hall, Bill Matthews, now in his 80s, gave a private lecture behind closed doors. He’s one of the few remaining animation pioneers who worked with Walt Disney. Students gathered around in awe as he gave a demo using a traditional animation board.

VanArts is awesome. The teachers here know what they are doing and it’s a great environment for learning,” one student said from a computer lab, where he and others raced to finish end-of-term projects.

Record numbers of international students

Students everywhere come to VanArts and Vancouver each year to study media arts. Over 40% of VanArts students are international, the majority from the U.S., India, Mexico and Brazil. “I heard this was the best city in the world,” another student told us.

VanArts President Alan Phillips believes pathway programs will be the key to attaining more students, especially in China. “Many Chinese families are traditional and appreciate the opportunity for their children to earn university degrees.” VanArts is collaborating with University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) on an innovative pathway program that would fast-track students for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA). A 12-month professional diploma at VanArts could be equivalent to two years of study toward a four-year BFA with UFV.

The school has several university partners worldwide where graduates can earn significant credit towards an undergraduate degree, including University of the Fraser Valley and Fairleigh Dickinson University within the metro Vancouver area.

When it comes to media arts, private institutions may have an edge – instructors work in the real world, and curriculum is updated on the spot, allowing students access to the latest technologies. “There is a real talent here that the public sector cannot generate,” Wade said.

VanArts is hopeful that continued partnerships with public and private universities will offer international students the best of both worlds: cutting-edge private arts education with the recognition of a formal degree.

Vancouver is one of the most livable cities in the world with its clear oceans and mountainous skyline. It’s safe, stable and multicultural. Its reputation in media arts is the cherry on top.

As Wade concluded “No one wants to leave once they come here.”

We can understand why.

— Chantal Moore, BC Council for International Education