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Computer animation school opens Downtown
The measure of Nick Boughen’s success as an instructor will be when nobody notices his students’ work.
After 15 years as a visual effects artist for films like I, Robot, Invictus and Salt, and TV series like The L Word, along with hundreds of commercials, Boughen has embarked on training the next generation of computer-savvy artists seeking to bring their imagination to life on the big screen.
He and his wife Vickie have just opened CG Masters Academy at New Westminster’s Plaza 88.
By training artists to create photo-realistic effects, Boughen and his faculty of instructors—in areas like particles and dynamics, photography, lighting and shading, compositing and rigging—hope to fill a gap that often forces local production houses and effects studios to import talent from around the world to meet the ever-growing demand for computer-generated visuals by the film industry.
That can get expensive, dealing with language barriers, work visas, accommodation. Using homegrown talent also allows studios to take advantage of provincial tax incentives.
Boughen says visual effects are no longer the exclusive domain of big-budget science fiction or action blockbusters.
As locations become harder or more expensive to access, and directors push their imaginations, visual effects can bring the images in their head to reality.
“Creative people are seduced by the idea they can create anything they can imagine,” says Boughen.
Sometimes those imaginings can be as mundane as placing a specific building in the background of a shot.
It’s not glamourous work, says Boughen. Creating that background can take a team of artists days of writing code. A low-res version is then delivered to the director as a reference for the foreground action he wants to shoot.
The two elements must then be tracked so the camera movements are in sync and the visual effects lit and shaded so they look realistic before everything is composited together. The whole process can take weeks or months for a final product that might appear on screen for four seconds.
And if the visual effects team has done their job well, says Boughen, nobody will notice the White House behind Angelina Jolie as she strides towards a helicopter in the movie Salt isn’t the real deal.
It’s that kind of seamless subtlety that Boughen has come to appreciate as his own career has advanced from being a CG generalist to a supervisor with a specialty in lighting and shading that makes textures look realistic.
“When visual effects are done spectacularly good, you rejoice,” says Boughen. “But you cringe when they’re done spectacularly bad.”
Since the spring, Boughen has traded his keyboard and mouse for hammer and nails as his crew assembles three classrooms with up to 14 computer workstations each, and high definition projectors all connected to an eight-terabyte server, as well as a studio equipped with green and blue screens and digital cameras. The school is holding a bootcamp in Houdini programming in October and the first semester of full-time studies is expected to begin in January.
Locating in New West, away from the hub of film production in Vancouver, does present some challenges, says Boughen. But the city is only a SkyTrain ride away, and his students will benefit from more affordable living expenses as well as a new creative energy he expects will begin percolating Downtown when the new civic centre is finished across the street.
Having a brand new 10-screen cinema just down the hall doesn’t hurt either. He’s had some preliminary discussions with Landmark Cinemas about getting access to the big screen for students to be able to view their handiwork as it would be seen in a movie environment, and possibly even show it off to the public.
“We consider ourselves a production house,” says Boughen.
With the goal of turning out work so good, viewers won’t even notice it until the credits roll.
To learn more about CG Masters Academy, go to www.cg-masters.com