Fancy a funky job with creative as well as technical challenge? Look no further than the UK’s interactive entertainment industry. It’s bigger than its film or music counterparts, while the visual effects sector is growing the fastest of all. Get the lowdown.
Skills shortage alert
The interactive games industry is a big industry and growing fast with a turnover of £50 billion per annum, which is projected to nearly double by 2014. The UK is a major player but its ranking recently dropped from 3rd to 6th – a fall lamented as ‘ridiculous’ by one of the industry’s founders, Ian Livingstone. You’ve guessed it – games companies are turning away work because they’re short on staff with the right technical skills, according to the Livingstone-Hope Review.
Most wanted skills
Essential skills revolve around coding and design. If you want to write games software A Digital Dreamer has the lowdown. You’ll you need to become a master of C++ because it’s the de facto language for games programming. Its sibling, C#, also figures large on the games landscape. Both of these variants of the C family handle objects and are a steep learning curve for the uninitiated. Visual Basic is simpler and used in some board games and war games while Java is becoming more popular for interactive games. Flash is a must for designers who also use ActionScript for animation.
Dare to be Digital
Showcase your talent and get noticed by potential employers at this video games development competition hosted by the University of Abertay Dundee. Teams of art, programmer and audio students from all over the world develop a prototype video game and receive support and mentoring from industry specialists. Prototypes are displayed at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in August and the public and industry experts get to play and vote for the games.
Visual effects explosion
VFX grew at a phenomenal 16.8% between 2006 and 2008: of the 20 biggest films of all time, 17 are visual effects-heavy blockbusters and the other three are computer graphics -animated films. The UK is the best country on the planet for VFX with Inception made in England, and other Oscar nominations including, The Golden Compass, The Dark Knight, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. VFX is playing a larger and larger part of the programmes we watch on TV, too, from Dr Who to Walking with Dinosaurs.
First jobs in VFX
With so much demand for VFX, there are big opportunities for arty programmers in the capitals’ studios. A typical first job, says Garreth Gaydon, recruitment manager for Escape Studios, is a junior match mover. This involves a vast amount of camera tracking in order to fix any CG element onto a static background, so that it doesn’t appear to be floating. There are also roles for junior technical directors who blend of have the right blend of 3D design skills and computer languages. Some of the bigger studios use pure programmers, too.
Technical and artistic fusion
The big pull of the interactive entertainment world is also its greatest barrier – it is both highly creative and visual and technically perfectionist. The association for UK interactive entertainment (UKIE) has called for schools to encourage pupils to study maths and physics and art – an ideal combination for this job. Given that such coveted individuals are very thin on the ground, it may make sense to do a short course first, or get some work experience with the larger studios. That way you can plug any missing skills gaps and pick up valuable work prospects.
How to start out
Escape Studios is a specialist training outfit in VFX that offers intensive courses to artists, computer science graduates or programmers with a yen for film-making. Students can choose from mentored courses or online, self-taught courses. The advantage of investing in training is it can provide a valuable entry point into the workplace: many training houses have with studios, which graduates on a freelance basis and this is a great way to build up skills and experience. It's also worth taking a role as a runner with one of the bigger studios – this gives you a fly-on-the wall view of everything that goes on and provides a route to a junior technical director role.
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