When he’s not working as a compositor on features like Stardust, RocknRolla and Green Zone, Ian Murphy teaches the next generation of filmmakers. Here, he discusses his recent work with Skillset, co-authoring The Core Skills of VFX handbook and organising a series of industry-led masterclasses, and reveals why education is so important.
The original Next Gen report [into the future of the VFX industry] was quite critical of the education system, arguing that in this country we have separated humanities and art from maths and science, and that procedural thinking and computer programming isn’t really being taught any more in schools. To teach and learn about things like compositing, you need a pretty good spread between the two.
We’ve got a highly-regarded post-production VFX set-up on our doorstep in the UK, with lots of work coming through, but the companies are reporting that the people who are solving problems on the factory floor, so to speak, are being recruited from France and Germany in particular. The Next Gen report asked why aren’t we training these people? So we wrote this handbook and we’re doing these masterclasses. With Skillset, it’s about getting industry people to talk to university people—the course designers, and some of the students. We’re trying to find a nice visual way of getting some of the skills and complexity across, and unpacking a bit of the industry for these people.
With a lot of the courses, there’s just been no awareness of what VFX is. Allan Burrell and I came up with a set of graphic representations of each job, and there are 16 of them, 16 different jobs just within VFX, that I’m not sure, before we did all this work, the poor university guys were even aware of. We’re trying to put an icon on what each job is about. It’s a lot to do with workflow. It’s really industrialising art, in a way. It’s trying to get across that this is a collaborative activity. It’s about how art is put through this process where different people doing different things have to work together, and as well as their deep understanding of what they have to do in each job, they also have to understand what the person before them is giving to them, and what to expect from that. We are doing our best to transfer knowledge from the industry. It will take time for the lecturers to think about how to teach this stuff, but that’s where their expertise is—not the industry’s—to think through the pedagogy.
There’s a certain set of skills that I’m teaching here; I know what they are, and that’s what this person needs to get the job. They’re the industry requirements for this work. If you were to get that really good technical training in place, and then to put the artist on top of that, it would be so brilliant to see where that would take you.