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Quick Chat: Vancouver Film School’s Marty Hasselbach

By Randi Altman

Recently, Vancouver Film School, whose program offerings are designed to prepare students to be independent filmmakers/game producers and animators, invested in 775 new HP z420 workstations with AMD W7000 FirePro graphics for use in their new 155,000-square-foot campus in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown. The goal was to create an environment that emulates real-world production studios.

The facilities used by the school feature the same tools you’ll find in professional studios. The new campus will be home to the Animation, Visual Effects and Film departments. Other departments will also have access to the resources as opportunities for collaboration arise.

They’ve committed 70,000 square feet of the new campus to classrooms and studio space (including nine independent shooting studios). They had space left over for three 72-seat surround sound screening theaters, a large 280-degree student greenscreen studio and a replica steam locomotive. The locomotive, you might be wondering, is a  holdover from the previous use of the space “Storyeum,” which was living museum.


The 280-degree greenscreen stage.

The school offers programs in 3D Animation & Visual Effects; Classical Animation; Digital Character Animation; Acting; Digital Design; Entertainment Business Management; Film Production; Game Design; Sound Design for Visual Media; Writing for Film & Television; and Foundation Visual Art & Design. For specifics on each program, click here.

On the heels of the announcement we checked in with Vancouver Film School (VFS) managing director Marty Hasselbach.

Why did you choose the AMD/HP combination for your school? What was it about that combo that fit so well with what you do?
We’ve had a longstanding relationship (over 10 years) with HP, and AMD just seemed to be the right product, the right price and the right timing.

What were you using prior?
HP Z400s and Nvidia Quadro 4000s.

What are some software applications your students use?
Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, After Effects, Flash, In Design, Dreamweaver); Pixologic Z-Brush; PF Track; Avid Media Composer; Autodesk Maya; Unity; and The Foundry’s Nuke.


Students at work on HP z420 workstations with AMD W7000 FirePro graphics.

What makes Vancouver Film School so important to those creative types looking for an alternative to a traditional university?
Traditionally, film education and other related programs, such as animation, have belonged to universities. This is odd because these industries are not academic industries — they are creative industries that require tremendous technical skills and knowledge. In understanding that we designed a completely different education model that worked backward from the same goals the industries actually have: to create original content that will be physically produced and exhibited.

We also looked at what the currency of the industry is: The film industry in North America does not hire people because they have a degree, they hire people based on industry credits and portfolios. Therefore, to create the best possible outcomes for our students and for the industry, we have set ourselves as an educational studio where students can create great portfolios.

Ensuring that 1,000 students a year each have a great portfolio is how we are different from every other school because to do this, the entire school has to be continuously in production. To originate and create 1,000 quality student portfolios every year cannot be done in a conventional education setting. That’s just a fact.

Your programs are year-long only, correct?
Yes, but in that year, students can accomplish much more than students in traditional four-year programs: Here’s why: VFS has developed a deep Immersion training process where students literally live in production. Entertainment  properties are not created on a semester-by-semester basis.; they are made with great intensity over a continuous production schedule. VFS curriculum specifically follows the production process in a way traditional models can’t.

VFS lobby

The VFS lobby.

Typically an undergraduate student will receive an average of 1,800 contact hours to complete a four-year undergraduate degree. At VFS, because of the way the programs are structured, all students will finish the program in a year and receive 2,400 contact/mentorship hours. That is to say, a VFS student will receive 600 more contact hours in one year than a typical university student will receive in four years. So if you do the math, you will know that at the standard undergraduate pace of contact hours, a VFS student actually gets 5.5 years of direct education in one.

What about the school’s instructors, are they all working pros?
While teaching faculty are professionals from the industry they must also plan and perform their teaching assignments in conjunction with the VFS education department which ensures best practices both in teaching and material presentation. The results speak for themselves: last year VFS graduates had credits on $18 billion of global film box office. That’s in one year. Of the 30 largest grossing films of all time, VFS graduates have credits on 27.

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