FX artist Barbara Tucci on completing a ScreenSkills Select degree
Barbara struck gold with the ScreenSkills Select-endorsed Computer Animation Technical Arts degree course at Bournemouth University as it not only combined all her favourite subjects – maths, arts and computer science – but was also the perfect stepping-stone into the industry.
Brazil-born Barbara had made the decision while at Reading College doing a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma that she wanted to get into VFX and it was a lecturer there that recommended Bournemouth. “I knew the university had a great reputation for animation and my lecturer pointed out that a lot of people in the British film industry who went to university attended Bournemouth,” she explains. “Plus, the fact it was a ScreenSkills Select course gave it even more credibility.”
Having no prior knowledge or experience of computer animation and graphics before starting the course didn’t prove a hindrance for Barbara, as it taught everything from scratch.
“We were given a flavour of everything, including modelling, effects, life drawing and programming in the first year, which helped us decide which we’re most interested in and what we’d like to specialise in,” says Barbara.
She was particularly taken with a lecturer who taught compositing on Nuke software. “She gave lectures and then uploaded tutorials of what she’d taught us, so we could practise in our own time, which was very helpful.”
The first two years of the course were particularly intense with long days of classes. This was to pack everything in, but it all proved beneficial because it meant they learned all the basic skills necessary for 3D animation and visual effects. This came in handy when, in the second year, they got to make their own animation as a group, which included doing everything in the production pipeline. “Being able to work on each step really helped us understand the pipeline and how it all works. Each week we would learn and work on a different stage, with workshops, tutorial videos, and feedback sessions.”
“The lecturers were like mentors. They were very knowledgeable in their fields and they were always helpful and willing to have one-to-one’s whenever we needed help,” explains Barbara. “The course also has a number of demonstrators, who are basically staff that assist in the workshops and with any problems the students have with their work, which is vital as it's common in computer graphics for things to sometimes go wrong.”
The university also provides many opportunities for students to meet industry professionals. For example, Barbara points out that every Friday they have visitor speakers from the industry come to the university to do a talk and “that's always a good opportunity to make contacts and network”. And there's also the BFX Festival, which is a visual effects, computer games and animation festival that happens every year at Bournemouth with talks from industry professionals, masterclasses and a recruitment fair at the end. “All these events really help to network, get feedback on your showreel, make contacts etc,” she adds.
Indeed, it was a masterclass unit in which an industry professional gave a brief for the students to follow that led to Barbara getting a job straight after university. The brief was from Dionysis Bouloutzas, the FX Technical Director at DNEG.
Barbara clearly made an impression, receiving positive and useful feedback from Dionysis. When he moved from DNEG to MPC (Moving Picture Company) last summer, he put Barbara’s name forward for a junior role at the company.
“I completed my degree [with first-class honours] and they contacted me offering an interview. It went well and I was offered the job as an FX artist,” says Barbara. “I now create photo-realistic effects, such as fire, explosions, water and destruction on TV series for the likes of Amazon Prime, BBC and Netflix.”
Barbara is extremely grateful for everything she learned on the course, especially the fact that it taught her the technical skills required, “I’ve always been more of a technical person than an artistic one, but I always liked a middle ground between the two and this course specifically offered that,” she says. “The technical units I did, such as maths and programming, have been really beneficial to me as I use those skills on a daily basis at my job as an FX artist. Not all animation jobs require technical skills, but having basic coding skills is a nice extra selling point”
Barbara also points to the importance of ScreenSkills, not only with its stamp of approval for the course, but because she found the job role section on its site really useful. “When I was looking for what I wanted to do and see what was available, that section was vital because it explained what was required for each role and what a person needs to be good at, which really helped me,” concludes Barbara, who is growing in confidence in her new role, learning from her experienced colleagues.