While walking through the halls of Vancouver Film School (VFS) you won’t see vanilla coloured walls dotted with framed photos of notables. Instead, each step takes you on a journey down memory lane of unforgettable blockbuster movies that have captured your imagination and mesmerized you.
Perfectly placed at eye level for maximum impact, vibrant movie posters with alumni credits for award-winning giants like Avatar and The Lord of the Rings decorate the walls like medals of honour. Last year alone the school had to make room for posters of Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Ocean’s 8, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Antman & Wasp, Aladdin, The Lion King, Game of Thrones, Toy Story 4, and XMen: Dark Phoenix, among others.
Posters of blockbuster movies celebrating alumni contributions line the halls of Vancouver Film School.
Located in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Gastown where you’ll find the charm of cobblestoned streets lined with curated boutiques, one-of-a-kind galleries and some of the city’s hottest restaurants, VFS boasts eight campuses housed in buildings they have redesigned and renovated. Founded by James Griffin in 1987 the school has grown from its modest enrollment of 12 Film Production students to over 1000 students per year enrolled in 13 full-time programs.
With each carefully designed program, students are physically and mentally immersed in the entertainment arts including film, animation, game, and digital design, and benefit from career guidance and expertise from industry mentors, instructors and guest speakers. According to their website, VFS was founded on James’ philosophy that one year of concentrated work that balances industry-led theory and hands-on production gives students the necessary skills to craft a professional-level portfolio.
Graduating students Tiffani Santos and Kyle Castro are two beneficiaries of VFS’s intense curriculum. Faze was given exclusive access to the culmination of their nose-to-the-grindstone programs: a presentation to a panel of industry experts where they’ll be pitching a short film reel they’ve created, titled Mission Vega. The piece is intended to act as an ad for a fictitious company named Lyra, promoting their imaginary new hi-tech headphone called Vega. But in truth they are really there to sell their professionalism and new-found expertise in animation and digital design. Their presentation will also be a direct reflection of the effectiveness of their chosen programs.
As promised, the panelists are notables from the industry. Frank Palmer, one of the advertising community’s most respected leaders (inducted into the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends and recipient of the Association of Canadian Advertisers’ prestigious Gold Medal Award) is flanked on his left by Bob Stamnes, the Founder and CEO of the award-winning advertising agency Elevator Strategy and on his right by Malcolm Levy, the Founder and CEO of Generate, who is still recognized for curating the entire Digital Art component for the 2010 Olympics. The trio is there to assess the presenters and their showcase piece and to offer critical expert advice.
Background: (From Left) Tiffani Santos, Kyle Castro. Foreground: (From Left) Panelist Bob Stamnes, Frank Palmer, and Malcolm Levy.
At VFS, students don’t graduate with the standard GPA (grade point average) of other mainstream institutions. They’ll leave armed with invaluable hands-on experience, practical industry lingo and know-how, strong networks, and a killer portfolio or reel showcasing their skill set. It’s this portfolio that will hopefully open doors to a fulfilling career in their field of study.
Today’s presentation is a big deal. In a way, the reaction and feedback of the panelists will give Tiffani and Kyle a good sense of their “GPA”. With cameras, lights, mics, industry gurus, faculty and media, focused on them and their every word, they begin. A few short, but potentially life-changing minutes later it’s over and both students stand at the front of the room, wide-eyed and vulnerable as they face the intimidating panelists. And just like that, with four priceless words, they know the long hours, exhausting schedule and all the sacrifices are worth it: Bob Stamnes looks over at the other panelists and turns to Tiffani and Kyle to say, “That spot could run.” So, it’s no surprise that the Animation Career Review, a leading online resource for people aspiring to careers in the digital space, published its annual Top 100 International Animation School Rankings and had VFS in its #1 spot for 2018.
A peek at a Vancouver Film School animation student at work.
Computer labs offer industry-standard software so students are workforce ready.
Those four words also validate the founding philosophy that VFS’s unique and accelerated one-year educational model works. James Griffin (who is also VFS’s President) believes it’s a practical advantage to get into the workforce quickly to start building a portfolio where credits are key to your success. Before founding VFS, James was in the music industry as a commercial producer and needed some film training. He says, “At the time the only place you could take a film program was at a university and it took four years. But first you had to go to school for three years and it wasn’t until the fourth year you got to work in film, and that seemed impractical to me.” So, he launched VFS with the belief that programming focused on speed and quality could produce industry-ready professionals.
Determined to ensure that the quality of education matches the speed of the programs, VFS is continually evolving and investing in partnerships to benefit its students. In 2017, VFS became the only school in the world with an on-campus, state-of-the-art performance capture studio. Beyond Capture is a multi-million dollar, hand-built, 32,000 cubic ft soundproof room-within-a-room engineered for efficiency, and is one of the largest of its kind anywhere. By forging this interdependent relationship, both partners benefit with commercial and education resources, and students and faculty gain access to the full-service motion and performance capture studio. Located at the VFS Cordova campus, Beyond Capture boasts 40 Vicon vantage cameras, four head mounted cameras from Standard Deviation, three forty-foot stunt beams, four HD reference cameras and professional timecode-synced audio recording.
Inside Beyond Capture Studio.
Faze founder, Lorraine Zander, and videographer Megan Yam get the chance to play evil rock monster and sword-wielding heroine in the Beyond Capture Studio. Thanks Graham Qually (Owner/President) for choreographing the scene! Fun times! <3
Jon Bell, VFS’s Managing Director says, “We’ve always been cutting edge. It’s important to us to always make sure we maintain that, and that it’s a part of our spirit and our ethos.” He says, “Integration between our students here is part of our fabric and is extremely important to the student experience. As part of the curriculum we have integrated projects that happen across disciplines.” VFS has two major categories or streams that their programs fall within, one is creative technology and the other is production arts, which includes film, writing, acting and makeup. Beyond Capture is just one example of a VFS partnership that fosters the convergence of their programs for an integrated and real-world education. Jon says, “We have a culture and environment here committed to non-stop production immersion.”
Striving to also continually offer industry-relevant, out-of-classroom content to its students, VFS recently launched an AMA (Ask Me Anything) Masterclass Series, which features professionals who share their insights and advice for building a creative career. Faze was thrilled to get front row seats in a packed theatre of students to the inaugural session starring Eric Jacobus, the award winning filmmaker (globally earned 14 awards for his films), stunt man, martial artist, and action designer. In 2018, Eric wowed God of War fans as the motion capture stuntman for Kratos, Baldur and multiple other characters. He also motion captured stunts for Marvel’s Avengers and Spider-Man, Mortal Kombat 11 and Mafia III. At the end of the “class”, which had Eric jumping out of his seat to demonstrate some of his martial arts moves, the audience was invited to the front of the stage where he continued to answer one-on-one questions and happily pose for fun Instaphotos.
Eric Jacobus (standing) shows off some “moves” at the Vancouver Film School Masterclass hosted by Christopher Bennett.
In February 2019, through a creative partnership between VFS and The Electric Playground, student life once again converged with real-world experiences. Christopher Bennett, VFS’s Executive Producer says, “For more than 20 years, The Electric Playground has been a staple of TV that helped to elevate an entire industry by bringing together the worlds of video games, TV and film entertainment week after week.” Students can now enjoy a cappuccino at the VFS Café while watching a live taping of The Electric Playground, hosted by its founder, Victor Lucas. This new collaboration comes to life every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon when student café-goers get to watch, participate and learn from the real-time set-up, filming and eventual tear-down of one the longest running entertainment TV shows in North America.
Faze videographer/editor Megan Yam films the filming of Electric Playground. Host Victor Lucas (left) interviews filmmaker and martial arts expert Eric Jacobus.
Today VFS stands as an internationally acclaimed innovative and creative hub with nods from Variety as a Top Global Film School, The Hollywood Reporter ranked it the Top VFX School in the World and it has the #1 Alumni Network according to Campus Rankings. Students from across the globe vie for limited spots so they can roam the decorated halls 24/7 on their way to group sessions, workshops, production spaces, the green screen room, film sets, studios, screening rooms, theatres, and computer labs, with the ultimate goal of becoming an integral member of the booming, billion-dollar entertainment industry in the shortest time possible…and seeing their names immortalized as a credit on a poster displayed on the walls of VFS.
Behind-the-scenes of film students at work.
President James Griffin has said of the industry, “It doesn’t matter where you graduate from, nobody is going to put a baton in your hand and get you to direct a $50-million film. It’s not going to happen. So the basic premise is, you start at the bottom and if you’re skilled, you work your way up quickly. If you’re talented and skilled, you work your way up even more quickly. So I guess the thinking was: get to the bottom as quickly as possible.”
Within weeks of their presentation, Kyle has been hired and is now a junior motion designer at Thinkingbox, a Vancouver-based interactive production studio. Tiffani is deciding on her next move, while her Mission Vega spot is prominently featured on her LinkedIn profile.