12 January 2024

Legendary Star Wars VFX studio in movie-making masterclass at Abertay

Local school pupils and Abertay University students given insight into world of Hollywood VFX

Two visiting school pupils play with toy light-sabers in Abertay University's Virtual Production Research Environment, in front of a screen displaying the inside of a Star Wars Star Destroyer ship.

The next generation of movie-making talent received a masterclass in virtual production at Abertay University led by experts from the world-renowned Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).

More than 270 Scottish school pupils and around 80 students attended the two-day engagement, workshops and mentoring event at the University’s School of Design and Informatics, learning from industry experts from the company behind visual effects for some of the most successful movies of all time.

Industrial Light & Magic is the visual effects arm of Lucasfilm and part of The Walt Disney Company and has for decades been the driving force behind visual effects and production for much-loved movie franchises ranging from the Star Wars series and E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, through to The Mandalorian series, the Indiana Jones films, the Harry Potter series, the Back to the Future series, and many more.

Supported by Developing the Young Workforce Tay Cities and sponsored by Innovation for Games and Media Enterprise (InGAME), the invitation-only event was designed to give S3 school pupils and Abertay students a taste of the industry and a chance to use the University’s new Virtual Production Research Environment, which includes a section of a high-definition LED wall that was used by ILM in the making of the movie The Batman. The screens were supplied by VSS (Video Screen Services).

Young people from nine schools across Tayside and Fife listened to talks from ILM production engineers and Abertay’s visual effects experts, also taking part in tours of campus and got the opportunity to design their own superhero as a first step towards the concept design process.

A group of 20 students from Abertay’s Computer Arts programme took part in a session to showcase their artwork portfolio to ILM representatives and discuss potential career routes into the sector.

Abertay is a leader in virtual production, a process that blends computer-generated imagery (CGI), high-definition LED screens and motion capture to create virtual sets, allowing filmmakers and theatre directors to create large-scale digitally generated environments to support real-time interaction, offering a faster, less expensive alternative to green screens.

The University’s global research expertise in video games technology places Abertay at the forefront of virtual production, with the same engines used to create and power games now used to produce movie scenes.

Phillip Vaughan, a senior lecturer at Abertay and Programme Leader of the new MSc in Technical Art & Visual Effects, said the ILM visit had been inspirational for both pupils and students.

He added: “To get access to ILM’s expertise and mentorship is a money-can't-buy experience and it has been great to give the group a behind the scenes peek into the world of movie magic. Virtual production has enormous potential as a growth industry for Scotland, so it is important to us here at Abertay and to our industry partners to have a strong pipeline of young, engaged, and fresh-thinking people coming through to work in the sector.”

Amy Backwell, ILM’s Emerging Talent Specialist, said:

“We are extremely delighted to have partnered with Abertay and Perth schools networks for this bespoke taster programme. We recognise the high importance and value of outreach and inspiring the next diverse generation of talent, especially those in a different geographic region. It is exciting to have sponsorship in order to deliver an enriching programme of VFX careers and interactive workshops that are wide-reaching and accessible to young people where they may not get the opportunity otherwise.”

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