A novel experiment in education is currently underway at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. ‘Stina and the Wolf’ is a feature length CGI film created in collaboration with staff, students and alumni. The project utilizes modern production techniques to emulate the current industry workflows and pipelines. These range from established filmmaking techniques, such as extensive production design and storyboarding, through to the latest techniques in pre-viz, performance capture and animation. In combination with this, we are using state of the art VFX, rendering and compositing techniques to ensure that the quality is kept at a level that gives the students a realistic experience of industry.
The standard university curriculum, by its nature, cannot be as reactive as modern production pipelines. By running the project alongside, and in addition to, this curriculum, it allows the students to unify their studies into one continuous project that lasts for the duration of their degree. The students can join the various departments as juniors in their first year of study, working their way up to department leads in their final year. With this constant development of skills it also allows them to mentor the more inexperienced students through their study.
The project is unique in that it is an original full length screen play that has been developed into storyboards and production art, including a research trip to the Carpathian Mountains to collect texture and environment reference, all by staff and students. We then set about recording the characters’ performances on a custom built stage and, over the course of 5 weeks, shot the entirety of the screenplay using Performance Capture and on set audio. This data then entered the pipeline and has allowed us to develop it into our story world using all the assorted departments of a traditional VFX and film production facility, each of which is run by a student lead and ‘staffed’ by students, under the aegis of our in-house studio, FOAM Digital.
The wide range of disciplines required to make a film has allowed us to utilise the skills and enthusiasm across a number of our degree courses; from architecture, sound technology and fashion design through to film, illustration, animation and visual effects; involving up to 120 students from over 9 degree courses at any one time. Developing this project in an educational environment provided the creative freedom to explore artistic and narrative ideas to the full. This allows the students to see a project evolve, that is as rich in content and ideas, as it is in visual fidelity.
Students have learnt new ways of working, relevant to their intended careers. However, staff, have also faced challenging production problems that support them to continually update their skills. This has been underpinned with an open dialogue with industry practitioners, including alumni and sponsors. This has suggested enhancements to the curriculum, as well as supporting the creation of a full production pipeline. Through which a cinematic trailer and numerous test shots have been completed. Sponsorship has allowed us to adopt tools that would have otherwise been unaffordable and stay on the cutting edge of technology. This project is allowing our students to develop their skills in a busy, collaborative environment, where they can react to real world production scenarios, mirroring the reality of learning on the job but in a supportive environment. This provides them with a unique educational experience and a competitive edge when graduating.