High school students with an artistic bent face a dilemma in choosing a college degree. While most dream of taking up a creative course, many are advised to study more practical programs—business or engineering, perhaps—in order to gain more employment opportunities.
Ironically, creative industries are currently driving a global employment boom. In the Philippines, they are estimated to have contributed 7.34 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed 11 percent of the workforce in 2010—a good argument for following one’s artistic inclinations.
For millennials interested in 3D animation and visual effects, digital natives reared on films and video games, New Zealand universities and higher education institutions represent the most prestigious establishments from which to learn these specializations.
“Animation studies are niche courses in which New Zealand specializes,” shares Ben Burrowes, Education New Zealand’s (ENZ) regional communications and strategic communications manager for Southeast Asia, its government agency for international education. “Many of our institutions are pioneers in offering animation degrees, having started more than a decade ago.”
Media Design School (MDS) in Auckland, for instance, was the first tertiary institution in the southern hemisphere to offer a dedicated program for 3D animation using industry-standard computer graphics software. Its Bachelor of Art and Design in 3D Animation and Visual Effects exposes students early on to contemporary visual effects techniques and provides a studio environment for productions. This culminates in students creating state-of-the-art short films in their final year.
“Students are not only prepared for the rigors of the industry’s production expectations but also produce award-winning films that can be used as part of their portfolio to show professional experience,” explains MDS Program Leader Steven Dorner, who notes that its students—which currently include 10 Filipinos—further benefit from the school’s industry ties and experienced faculty.
Matt Uy, a Filipino student in MDS, shares an important insight while taking the program. “The opportunity to learn is here. I have the creative freedom to use any new theories, techniques and concepts I have learned. I can put these skills to practice and for me, that’s fulfilling.”
Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) Bachelor of Design in Digital Design, meanwhile, offers a hands-on and project-driven approach. Its three “pathways”—Animation, VFX and Game Design—are designed to adapt to the animation industry’s direction and give graduates several career options. The university’s impressive facilities, such as one of the only two state-of-the-art Motion Capture facilities in New Zealand, also attract many students, including some New Zealand permanent residents of Filipino origin.
“There are more students applying as the sector becomes recognized as a serious working field,” said AUT Digital Design Department Head John Piper.
Encouraging career prospect
Dorner and Piper agree that there are plenty of career opportunities for their respective program’s graduates, with the former noting that multimedia designers, including film animators, appear on New Zealand’s long-term skill shortage list.
New Zealand animation graduates currently gravitate towards film or game design, finding work as VFX artists, animators and technical directors. Indeed, Hollywood movies such as Captain America: Civil War, Avatar, and, of course, The Hobbit, were made possible by New Zealand alumni.
Dorner projects this trend to continue, as emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality are poised to explode in the entertainment market. It also helps that 3D animation is becoming a ubiquitous presence.
“It gives young people the confidence that they can become part of and succeed in this area,” confides Dorner. “There is a precedent and there are role models that inspire and drive people to this field because they know that there are viable careers in this area that are incredibly rewarding to creative minds.”
For Filipino students hoping to become this generation’s Walt Disney or Shigeru Miyamoto, this balancing act between creativity and pragmatism is exactly what makes New Zealand learning institutions the ideal stepping stone towards their achieving their dreams.