Collaboration adds special effects to career prospects

Flinders University lecturer Katie Cavanagh, right, with some of her students.

When Sandra Bullock was sent spinning through space in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Gravity’, those watching the movie in 3D felt like they had been cast into Earth’s atmosphere with her; tumbling head over heels, out of control, terrified … breathless.

It was a triumphant moment for the movie’s computer generated imagery team, and one which some Flinders University Bachelor of Creative Arts (Digital Media) students hope to someday emulate thanks to a unique partnership with CDW Studios in Adelaide.

CDW Studios offers courses and workshops for students and industry professionals taught by world class industry artists in a realistic studio setting.

From the beginning of this year, Flinders students have been able take part in CDW workshops as part of their degree, allowing them to learn and watch as instructors guide them through industry specific workflows, pipelines and techniques.

CDW shows students what it takes to become a successful concept designer and helps them hone and develop the day to day techniques they will need to be successful in a professional environment.

Flinders University lecturer Katie Cavanagh said the CDW collaboration was a way for the very best Flinders students to get the very best experience available.

“Students can only learn these kind of industry specific skills at somewhere like CDW, where a current industry expert shows their techniques and shares tips and advice,” Ms Cavanagh said.

“These are people who are working as professional digital illustrators, often at the top end of the industry, so they understand exactly what is happening in the industry right now, which is crucial because things are constantly changing.”

Ms Cavanagh said CDW topics were like a “course within a course” for students, who spend several weeks working at CDW in Adelaide’s CBD as part of each CDW topic.

A creature created by student Adam Jabs during a CDW workshop.

“Our students go there to learn the skills and then come back to university to apply them,” Ms Cavanagh said. “They do this as part of a group project, which this year is a video game.

“The game, called Solstice, allows them to work together to apply the various skills they have learnt in order to create the various parts of the game.”

Ms Cavanagh said that CDW system of bringing in guest lecturers meant that students got exposure to industry professionals working on some of the biggest projects in the world.

“They get to work with people like Jared Embly, who is a rigger at Rising Sun Pictures, which made some of the special effects for the movie Gravity, which won seven Oscars this year, including for special effects,” she said.

“They also get to work with the likes of the internationally renowned games concept artist James Paick.”

Student Robert Oxton said taking part in workshops at CDW had redefined his understanding of the standard of work required to succeed in the industry.

“It’s amazing because it gives you exposure to top level industry professionals that you can’t get in the lecture theatre or classroom,” Mr Oxton said.

“When I first went to CDW it was for a two-week workshop and seeing what the professionals can do in a short period of time blows your mind.

“It can be frustrating at first to see how far ahead they are, but they show you how to plan and work so that you can achieve things you never thought possible.”

Fellow student Werner Schindler said students also received an invaluable insight into life within the industry.

“One of the best things was to hear what it’s really like,” Mr Schindler said. “One of the people teaching us would share funny stories about his work and talk about the people he had worked with.

“That meant we were getting more than just technical information, and he was also giving us tips about how to work with people, how to apply for jobs and what to put into our portfolios.”

Another participant, Nick Dowling, said he had learned tips and tricks to help him take his work to the next level.

“The work that we were shown that got put into motion pictures was amazing,” Mr Dowling said. “It’s incredible to have someone go step by step through that process with you and show you the progression of work from start to finish.

“When you learn how to do this, it makes almost anything seem achievable.”

Ms Cavanagh said that the CDW collaboration also gave students the perfect platform from which to undertake a graduate certificate in Creative Arts (Visual Effects) through Rising Sun Pictures.

“In conjunction with Flinders University, Rising Sun Pictures has created a unique and intensive 10-week training program,” Ms Cavanagh said.

“This course offers rising visual effects artists the opportunity to work on real world visual effects challenges in a simulated production environment.

“Combining the use of industry tools such as Nuke, 3DEqualizer, Maya and Shotgun, students are now able to up-skill existing technical and creative skills to achieve tangible industry outcomes.”

More details can be found here.

Flinders University’s game Solstice will be available to be played at the Independent Games Room at Adelaide’s Anime and Video Game Festival in July.

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