August 22-2017
Prime Focus Academy of Media and Entertainment Studies all set for a new innings in VFX education

Prime Focus Academy of Media and Entertainment Studies (PFAMES) has been recently launched in Mumbai in the suburbs of Goregaon east. They have started new courses for rotoscopy, digital paint, rotomation and matchmove. The duration of the course is 15 months where the training is in sync with the industry needs.

We were curious, to find out what is new in store for VFX education for our country and it was undoubtedly a great experience.

We had the interview at Prime Focus World which is nearby the academy. Entering into the happening Prime Focus World office was in itself amazing with vibes of Hollywood films being done here and the VFX artists who were roaming walking past me, seemed buzzing with ideas and passion.

We also met  the whole operations team who were very warm and welcoming and then we finally spoke to Stephen Mascarenhas – Senior Vice President Operations, 3D stereo conversion, Prime Focus World, India, who is currently also heading the academy. He explained the nitty-gritties of the course, the training methodology and the overall development of the training program, as well as the culture followed at Prime Focus World which is a mix of work and fun.

What led Prime Focus World to start this academic Institution?

Prime Focus has been training for a very long time; in fact, the very foundation of the company has been built on its capability of training and creating some of the best talent there is in the Industry. We have been training artists for years especially for visual effects and 3D stereo conversion. We started the formal academic operations in June 2016 and subsequently setup PFAMES as an independent Academic Institution which is a subsidiary of Prime Focus World Creative Services Pvt Ltd. (Prime Focus World or PFW). Our initial aim was to enrol industrial trainees as we noticed, there were a lot of artists who had done some or the other course or had some vocational training and had learned a number of softwares and had a lot of theoretical knowledge, but when we brought them on board we realised they weren’t ready for the job functions that we needed them to fulfil as required by production. Therefore, we had to take matters in our own hands and took serious decisions to skill these artists basis the job roles that they would be cut out to execute and so over a period of about seven to eight months we on-boarded around 750 to 800 artists as industrial trainees, put them thru formal skill-based on the job training from scratch. We then immediately introduced industry focused, skill based and industry level orientation and training courses and introduced the specialised classroom training module for absolute fresh entrants in the industry. We make every effort to train individuals for the bob rather than just training them on the software that’s available. It’s been a year now with PFAMES, operating branches in Mumbai and Lucknow. In fact, Lucknow started its operations very recently this year.

Stephen, you are heading the operations for PFAMES, can you introduce PFAMES to our readers and explain your role a bit?

PFAMES is a premier training academy offering specialised courses conducted and delivered by industry experts, to prepare students for a successful career in the Media and Entertainment (M&E) industry. Our mission is to provide world class training in our industry, leveraging our global expertise and experience to create tomorrow’s creative and technology leaders.” Our courses are carefully designed by industry veterans to develop studio-ready professionals, well-versed in digital production skills and foundational arts while specialising in distinct disciplines. Our award-winning mentors, respected course leaders, and esteemed lecturers and tutors are specialists in their chosen fields, bringing real-world industry experience and knowledge to PFAMES. At PFAMES all our programs are based on the philosophy of  learning by doing. We offer industry focused, skill based, job oriented certificate courses, catering to the AVGC Industry. My core responsibility is to ensure we stay focused on our mission (smiles!) and take the mission of PFAMES forward.

What’s the classroom like? What are the facilities that students can avail?

All our classrooms are designed to have practical and instructional training delivery capabilities. We have a lab which is ideally the classroom with a projection system along with the audio-visual infra needed in a classroom. Every student is assigned a system to train and practice on, at the same time. A trainer is designated for each batch; he has a designated workstation to conduct training demos as and when needed. The trainer is treated or mentor for the batch stays with the batch during the entire classroom training completion. The classroom sessions are not like a typical class where one has to attend lectures and often only take notes and then have a separate time schedule for lab sessions. Visual and practical training is the best learning tool and it adds a lot of recall value, when the “Learning by Doing” concept is at play. Like I said earlier as well, our focus is more on the skill based training (80 to 90 per cent) and the remaining (approx. 10 per cent) is the visual learning process. We believe in honing the skills and talents of our students, making them industry ready, employable and competent to excel in the industry.

Why did you choose to have rotoscopy, digital paint, rotomation and matchmove as the courses that you launched with? There are so many other job possibilities. Do you plan to add any more courses in future?

Ah! Good question! (Smiles) Well, rotoscopy, digital Paint, rotomation and matchmove are in fact the very basic foundation skills that are necessary by every artist looking to build a career in visual effects and stereo conversion. There are many job opportunities and possibilities, but our focus is to first cover the very basic skills you need to start on a job and start off a career as a junior visual effects artist or a junior stereo conversion artist. We are also working towards developing animation, gaming and comic specific course content. However, our current focus remains on schooling artists in rotoscopy, digital paint, matchmove and rotomation, which is currently in huge demand in both VFX and 3D stereo conversion.

Why did you think of starting a PFAMES centre in Lucknow?

The northern region has a great potential and has a pool of talent available and there are a lot of opportunities for young artists. We have some of our brilliant resources & industry stalwarts working at Prime Focus from that region and in fact it’s one of our artists from Lucknow, who worked with us at Prime Focus in Goa, then went on to become an entrepreneur and has now come on board to drive PFAMES in Lucknow. The response we’ve received so far across India is has been overwhelming.

How many students have joined Prime Focus in Lucknow?

We’ve already rolled out our first batch. And seats are filling up fast for our second batch as well. You will be happy to know that we have a batch rolled out in Mumbai as well and will soon be rolling out our first classroom batch in Hyderabad.

During the industrial training period, what exposure will the students receive?

The “industrial training” is for a duration of 12 months subsequent to completion of the three months intensive “classroom training”. During the industrial training the students work within our company structure. They are trained to follow the companies systems and organisational policies from the day they start the classroom training and the same is sustained right through their industrial training. While they work alongside experienced professionals they also stand a chance to work with PFW. We align them to any one of our present locations across India which would either be in Mumbai, Goa, Mohali, Hyderabad or Pune, on the basis of seat availability. Every student must go through the work culture and must get adequate industrial exposure to actual real time studio environment. It is imperative for students to work with the crew and interact with industry experts and evolve in the industry.

Can you explain the ‘Earn while you learn’ feature?

While we realise these are students and they are taking their first step towards a professional life, we also want them to realise and learn what it takes to become a professional. No one will pay you to learn and if anyone does they will make you sign bonds etc. However, we have always encouraged and will continue to encourage learning and accordingly we ensure we reward the student’s efforts by paying them a stipend at the end of each month of the industrial training, until the end of the fifteenth month of their course duration. It is a great concept, because our focus and effort as I said earlier is to inspire more seriousness among students and while we make them realise and make them feel completely responsible, this indirectly also starts building in them a sense of beginning to get independent in life, live within their means and even more, get an opportunity to bring the money back to their parents or guardians who have supported them during their learning months. What we have seen is that they also learn and value the money earned. So ultimately we are training them in a whole lot of things besides just their job functions.

After how many months of training will they start earning?

The total course duration is of 15 months and as stated earlier the 15 months is broken into three months of intense classroom training and the remaining 12 months is on the job industrial training and it is during this industrial training part that the student gets paid a stipend.

Prime Focus is quite strong in South. Do you plan to open offices there?

I’m sure we will go down south! (Smiles…)

How will you know if a person will do well and is cut out to make VFX / 3D stereo conversion a career, moving ahead in life?

We have an entrance test which is more like an IQ test. Based on the scores we are able to identify if a person has technical and creative skills or is better at just the technical skills and has the capacity to develop the creative skill over a period of time through sheer exposure and practice. Basis the scores the student get in the IQ Test and subsequent to a discussion with the student along with a career counselling session, we recommend and encourage our students to make a start and along the way as we move forward based on their learning capabilities and fortnightly assessments, we continue to guide them through their entire journey of 15 months.

If someone is good both technically as well as creatively, what would you suggest him?

As I said earlier, we recommend and encourage our students to make a start, but if they are good in both the technical and creative skills, we are able to determine what they are more inclined to during the post assessment discussion and career counselling session, and accordingly we help them with the choice they have made, by showing them a career path on the basis of what they have chosen. However, as I have been saying for years to all my artists who have known me and worked with me, if you are good with the base skills of rotoscopy, digital paint, matchmove and rotomation, and continue to keep practicing these skills and getting better and better at them, you will find that you have already started the journey towards a successful career in VFX / stereo conversion.

Does the teaching program involve the actual work done in a movie or a TV show?

Every single day! In fact, right from the very first day. The classroom is like a proper work area which is similar to a studio; it’s not a classroom for lectures alone but it is as good as a proper work space. The students are in the formal work area all the time following all the policies and guidelines that they would need to follow when they are placed for industrial training. Furthermore, we track our artists and their activities on our internal management system and the students also get to see what they have done over the days and weeks they have been through, during their classroom training. This system enables the trainer to keep a close connect with the practical sessions of each and every student in classroom and ensure that the student does all the tasks and exercises and keep a track of their own progress.

PFAMES conducts several fun and creative activities. What are these?

We have the concept of ‘Fun Fridays’ at PFW, where the HR conducts fun games and activities on the floor and we have the artists actively participating in these activities. We have incorporated the same culture at each of our training centres whereby even the students get to have some fun. “All work and no play, makes Jack/Jill a dull boy/girl” (laughs!!) It’s simple ‘at Prime Focus, we work hard and party hard’.

How many students end up joining Prime Focus?

While we have on boarded a lot of industrial trainees, we have a lot of them who are almost finishing about a year or so. While we offer them permanent positions, some make a choice to part ways, but we have a majority of them who are happy to stay and show their willingness to be absorbed. For the batches that are still in classroom training we will know once they have completed their 15 months of course duration. Over the years while we were setting up VFX and stereo conversion we have had a lot of individuals who came in learned and have spent over a decade with Prime Focus. With PFAMES rolling out I would be happy to extend our support to all the other companies who are constantly looking for well-trained talent that is ready to start as industrial trainees and post training completion can further their careers in the same organization.

You also have 2D, 3D animation and graphic courses?

Yes we are working and building on those, but we haven’t officially launched any of those courses as yet. Typically our ultimate aim is to be the “skill provider for the AVGC Industry” as that’s what we’ve been covering at Prime Focus and we are also working very closely and support Govt. of India’s “Skill India Mission” and want to be able to provide as many skilled resources for the AVGC industry.

Tell us about your faculty. Do you have any industry veterans?

I think all the trainers are artists who have worked here at PFW and are seasoned artists and doing very well in their careers. They’ve been literally hand-picked from the active production floor to come on board to train our artists, who will may be at some point even work with these artists they train during the course of their careers. Our aim is to keep the trainers hands on so they will have floor experience every now and then, and they continue to stay in touch with the latest techniques they’ve learned and ensure our training curriculum and tools are up to date and in sync with what’s needed by production while the trainees are on the job. My trainers go through the training material constantly, to keep it as current. So they have to continue to learn for themselves, and also develop the new modules that need to be introduced from time to time. This is our biggest advantage, as all of us driving PFAMES have been actively involved in a live production environment and know what is needed on the ground.

Do you recall any student who had done well in the past or went on to make it big?

Prime Focus has a 20 year history of individuals who have come here learned and moved out and made it big, nonetheless, there are many who have made it big being in Prime Focus for a few years while some have been in Prime Focus for even over 10 and 15 yrs. We’ve put a few success stories on PFAMES official website for the world to get to know these talented individuals who make Prime Focus proud each time. I have a long list of names, but yes I would like to mention a name or two in stereo conversion and one of them is Jimmy Philip who started off as a Jr. VFX artist and went on to become a VFX supervisor. He has spent over a dozen years in Prime Focus and Jimmy Senior stereographer at Prime Focus, Vancouver. We also have Ritesh (Ricky) Agrawal who was also a VFX artist here in Mumbai, he then moved on to become a VFX supervisor, Ricky is a stereo supervisor and is at Prime Focus in Vancouver as well. Like I said, the list is long and I could just go on and on…

The VFX industry in India is growing a lot. Almost every film today has a lot of VFX. Do you see a growth in demand?

I’ve myself spent a good 13 years at Prime Focus and I have witnessed the growth & the potential of VFX and stereo conversion in Hollywood and the progress of VFX in the Indian Film Industry. The KPMG India—FICCI Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report, 2017, gives you all the projections and forecasts for the overall growth of the media and entertainment business in India. From the way I see it, we will need to train a lot more people and teach them the right tools to be able to meet these forecasted demands.

Do you feel the VFX sector is lacking somewhere today?

I see a huge gap in the supply and demand for talent, and another issue I see is the gap in understanding the demand and creating a supply without understanding what’s needed. Which is where PFAMES being the industry veteran, is working with a much focused approach to ensure we are able to help the industry find the right talent, for the highest quality standards that we need to maintain, to be able to sustain the growth of the M and E industry in India.

What should a student expect as his or her remuneration while they start in the Industry?

These dynamics have changed over the last few years and the start-up salaries are from 15,000 and onwards and then as the artist gains more experience and moves forward, depending on his/her skill & work experience, the salary can go much beyond. Moreover now, the global market has opened up, so if you have the experience and the skill that’s needed globally, you can find Jobs across the world. I have so many of my artists who have found jobs in North America and Europe and are still in touch and are doing very well for themselves. Work patiently and have a goal in mind and focus on the journey towards that goal which is your best teacher.

After being enlightened about the academy as well as the VFX industry, we had an amazing office ride by PFAMES business development manager Ravindran Selvaraj , India. He showed us the entire stereo conversion division. They were mostly dark rooms with a huge projector in front of the students and trainees for training purposes. We got a hang of how the work is executed on the floor as well. They explained us the effort that goes into creating the most amazing VFX and 3D movies that we see on the big screen.  We also got a chance to see some of the best show Reels of the work done by Prime Focus World in India along with Double Negative’s work on their global international projects. Undoubtedly, the students of Prime Focus Academy of Media and Entertainment Studies will get a world class exposure and a superb environment to learn and grow.

Animation Xpress wishes PFAMES all the best for their future endeavours.