Trailblazer Talks: An Insight into the Visual Effects Industry

Written by Calvin Bowers

Welcome to the final instalment of our STEM series for National Apprenticeships Week 2021. Today we are moving away from Science and taking a closer look at the T in STEM, Technology! We hope you have enjoyed the series; You can find previous articles here.

We are so pleased to bring you another instalment of our Trailblazer Talks, a series where we ask an Apprenticeship Trailblazers their thoughts on their industry, it’s challenges and what they expect from the future.

Today we are talking to Amy Smith, Head of Talent at the visual effects company Framestore. Amy is the trailblazer contact for the apprenticeship standards Junior 2D Artist’ and Assistant Technical Director. She tells us about the impact of lockdown on the visual effects industry, diversity in STEM and why our education system needs a restructure.

Have a Read of Our Full Conversation with Amy Smith 

Hi Amy, thanks for talking to us. Could you start by giving an overview of your industry – and, how do you and your organisation fit into it?

“Framestore is part of the visual effects industry, producing digital images for all platforms, from film to advertising, VR/AR to theme park rides and beyond. The visual effects industry is located in several hubs around the world, and the UK is one of the leading countries. We have worked on projects such as the Marvel films, the Harry Potter franchise, on projects for television channels like the BBC and Netflix and with brands such as McDonald’s, Maltesers and Sky.”

“In the UK Framestore employs a little over 1000 people and my role is as Head of Talent, meaning that I oversee our recruitment but also our retention.”

What are the biggest challenges that you and your industry face today?

“Obviously returning to normal after COVID is going to be a challenge!”

“Physical production onset (which needs to happen before we can do our work) was obviously severely impacted by the lockdowns last year, and so there will now be a period of catch up in our schedules to get back to our normal level of work. Additionally, technology and the way people view content is changing, and there is a lot of work for us to develop our skill sets and teams in that changing environment. We also struggle, like a lot of the STEM sector, with diversity in our industry, so that is an ongoing challenge that was brought into even sharper focus in 2020.”

What do you think needs to change? What are the solutions?

“It all comes down to talent for us! Whether it’s working out how to work with and develop the latest technological solutions or whether it’s improving the diversity of our workforce, essentially, we just need to be constantly building a pipeline of interested and interesting young people who want to create world-leading digital images. That’s why a lot of our time is spent working with education, government and other industry bodies to ensure that careers in our industry are visible and available to as many people as possible. As an industry, we have formed a not-for-profit organisation, Access:VFX, which is focussed solely on the promotion of the skills and careers for the industry to a diverse audience.”

What are the barriers, if any, to those solutions?

“There are quite a lot of barriers but the biggest one is our current education system which is structured to promote EITHER a science or arts-based education (when industries like ours require a combination of skill sets) and also promotes University or higher education as the golden ticket to jobs when in fact there are lots of different ways into our industry including apprenticeships and traineeships.”

“Add to those challenges the fact that industries like ours are very unknown to careers advisers, teachers and parents and that the creative industries as a whole are often considered, by those groups, to be unstable, unreliable and not ‘proper’ jobs and it can often be a challenge to help young people turn their passions or hobbies into a meaningful career with us.”

And finally, if you had one clear message to young people that you wanted to get out there – what would it be?

“My piece of advice would be to follow your interests.”

“If you like physics and you like art then DO IT! Don’t let someone tell you that those subjects don’t go together. There are lots of possible careers that use both of those skill sets, and it’s so much more important that you enjoy what you study and what you ultimately do for work than it is to get stuck following a path that doesn’t feel right or interesting to you.”

“Also, make sure that you do your research, there are so many websites out there now that provide information about careers in different sectors, about routes in and offer training and work experience so make sure you’re investigating and trying things out as it’s the best way to decide what you enjoy and what you don’t.”

Thank you so much to Amy Smith from Framestore for offering us these insights. You can find out more about Framestore and their work on their website.

For information on apprenticeships and careers advice, visit our guide for apprentices.

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Last Updated: Tuesday June 28 2022
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