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A longstanding partnership between Winnipeg School Division's Sisler High School and the Vancouver Film School (VFS) continues to evolve and pay dividends for recent graduates looking to break into digital media.
The partnership has yielded a productive pipeline for graduates from Sisler's digital media programs to continue to train in post-secondary and move on to employment in the industry.
Sisler and VFS have established a new group of scholarships in the area of 3D animation and VFX valued at $130,000.
"There is a big push to get more students into animation and visual effects," said Jamie Leduc, Sisler's Department Head of Business Ed, Information Technology & Interactive Digital Media. "They're forecasting around 2,500 empty positions in that area alone in B.C. over the next year and a half to two years."
The B.C. post-secondary institution obviously values Sisler graduates, as it recently named Sisler as the best Canadian Interactive Digital Media High School Program of 2017.
"The educators and IDM program framework at Sisler are in a league of their own—it is perhaps the top IDM program in Canada. Sisler consistently produces some of our country's brightest young talent and we value highly their collaboration with VFS," said Dr. Ted Gervan, VP of Education—Vancouver Film School.
Four Sisler students have already graduated from VFS. Moses Lucero graduated VFS's Classical Animation program to move on to working with Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver. Gerard Jacinto and Daniel Cochon both graduated from VFS Film Production with honours. Aerron Tan graduated from the VFS's Game Design program with awards for the best 2D game and best game project.
Students in Sisler's high school and post-secondary IDM program are already seizing the opportunities provided the Sisler/VFS scholarships.
"It's giving a second chance to our former all-star students, who took a couple of years off," Mr. Leduc said. "The post-high scholarships are perfect for students who are coming back to upgrade."
For post-high students like Denise Diosana, digital media is a new visual art form, and VFS offers a chance to elevate that art. Denise qualified for a $6,150 scholarship to take the VFS Conceptual Art program; she will start her studies in February of 2019.
"In this industry, you are surrounded by artists. You want to conceptualize, you want to visualize, you want to see your work appear somewhere and share it with others," she said. "For video game companies like Bethesda, the concept art for their games is in a grand scale in terms of composition and lighting…they tell a story."
To command these powerful digital tools, it takes time, dedication and a continual willingness to learn new programs. Sisler alumni who are either studying at VFS or have graduated to industry are frequent guests at the high school. The visiting alumni not only let the current crop of Sisler students know the expectations of the industry; they also serve as inspirational role models.
"(Sisler grad) Moses Lucero came back to do a workshop with us, where we worked on an pencil/paper animation jam…he told us all about how we needed to prepare," said Sisler post-high student Kyla Inocencio, who recently qualified for an $8,000 scholarship to attend VFS's Classical Animation program in January of 2019.
Christopher Estebal, another scholarship student who will be taking 3D animation and visual effects at VFS, said he chats frequently with Sisler grad and current VFS student Kara Vallega, who is currently enrolled in the program.
"Kara is a really good role model for me," Christopher said. "She's leading the pack and taking that step forward before us. It's nice to have her helping us and cheering us on."
Sisler also invites industry vets to meet with students, such as Emmy-nominated VFW artist Henrique Reginatto, who came to the school's fourth annual Game On conference.
The conference gave students the opportunity to workshop with the Unity game engine, as well as take sessions on asset design, sound design, level design and more.
"Students are taking workshops, building and learning," said Sisler IDM teacher Bernard Alibudbud. "The big picture is students will be working in teams and making games as they progress, using the skills they get from the different industry speakers."
Teachers in Sisler IDM try to teach their students transferable skills that will be useful no matter which program they are using at the moment.
"Software always changes, so you have to learn to be a creative thinker," Mr. Leduc said.
"As long as you know the principles, it doesn't matter what program you're on," said post-high student Joeffrey Comia, who will be taking 3D animation and visual effects at VFS on 60 per cent tuition-paid scholarship.
Shaw TV also attended the Game On 4 conference to help cover the event.
"We're taking our students and documenting the whole event," said Jonathan Dyck-Lyons, who teaches film with Sisler IDM. "It was fantastic having Shaw dedicate their time and equipment to come here and actually show our students their light pack, and run a live to tape broadcast."
The Shaw partnership provided a perfect opportunity for students to up their game to industry standards.
"Students want to replicate the (presentation quality) they see on the news," Mr. Dyck-Lyons said.
"Sisler brings in the industry to make it relevant and immediate for our students. That's the secret sauce. When students see people who are living their lives and following their dreams…it totally brings it down to their level."