Visual Effects in Sweden – The Little Engine that Could
The digital visual effects community in Sweden is small, having been driven mainly by its clients and their interests within advertising and the “commercial film” sector, which generally dictates shorter, intensive projects that must be cost effective. One big reason why the VFX industry has remained rather exclusive is because special effects have not been fully embraced as a part of Swedish film production culture. Traditionally, the focus has been rich in real life drama, playing off of socially realistic situations that would typically not have a need for special effects as extensive as in international success stories such as “Snakes on a Plane”.
Article Author: Anders Willstedt
Translation from Swedish: Hans Westman
However, Sweden was early in producing “reklamfilm” (commercials made for the cinema). The advertising community saw the advantages of enhancing film campaigns by using visual effects and quickly embraced the technology, which was the reason for the growth of post-houses in Sweden during the 90’s, building their production pipelines to meet the needs for projects coming from the advertising world.
So, when I was asked to write an article about the current state of the Swedish VFX industry and how “Interakiva Akademin” in Eksjo fits in to serve this growing industry, it gave me the opportunity to analyze this more closely. Right now there is movement in the industry where the use of visual effect is in a state of gradual migration, finding its way into more and more Swedish feature film productions.
The first Swedish feature film that was driven by digital visual effects was “Håkan Bråkan och Josef”, produced in 2004.
In short, the story is about Håkan, a boy that has a special relationship with his turtle, Josef. Josef was created fully in 3D by Fido Film, Stockholm.
As a key character, the turtle is pivotal to the story.
"Håkan Bråkan & Josef" ©2004 AB Svensk Filmindustri
Photography: Alexandra Aristarhova
Modeling & Animation: Fido Film
This was a late awakening, considering the rest of the world had started incorporating the technology of digital VFX in films 15 years earlier. Even so, Sweden has been able to show its ability to deliver world class quality visual effects. This has in recent years created the necessity for training programs that can meet the needs of the Swedish market, focusing on effects in post-production for both feature and advertising films.
Despite the late start in the Sweden, post-production companies have been able to attain a high professional standard measurable to their international competition. Further notable are those Swedes that have traveled abroad in pursuit of projects that are larger and more laden with visual effects. During the production of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, 13 Swedes contributed to the special effects.
Robbie Williams music video "Trippin'". Directed by Johan Renck.
Compositing - The Chimney Pot (Stockholm 2005).
Johan Renck and Jonas Åkerlund have established their reputation through their music videos for Madonna and Robbie Williams. However, keeping up with international competition requires multiple Swedish contributors and (above all) educational programs that can step up to the growing demand for qualified people in the field.
What then is required to create an educational program in visual effects that can hold its own both on the national and international market? Should one follow the traditional model of universities that offer degrees with broader, more academic course content (such as calculating algorithms for spill suppression), or is the model developed by software vendors more appropriate, offering certificates verifying successful completion in the orientation of “NUKE” and the skills necessary to be a qualified compositor.
The answer is not so simple. Obviously a good compositor or 3D artist needs to know the software inside and out, particularly for the Swedish market, which is steered by reklamfilm with short, focused production schedules as well as small budgets and where there isn’t much time for pondering over new solutions to repetitive problems.
Undeniably, getting a good theoretical foundation in school and having a good understanding for the production pipeline is half the battle won. Add to that the skill of being a apt problem solver, the chances are very good to be successful in the VFX production community.
Interaktiva Akademin is one of the few institutions in Sweden that offers special effects on the schedule. The school started in 2003 and currently offers two career focused programs within visual effects. For two years students study either Digital Animation/Compositing or 3D Modeling/Animation for VFX. We believe the best approach to be a combination of traditional university education together with a modern career focused education. We are the only institution in Sweden that can award a “KY – examen” (qualified career deploma) and university credits simultaneously.
In order to give a clear picture of how it is to work in the real world, assignments are project based with short deadlines and high expectations. Of course it would be wonderful if we could allow for longer film projects where students could spend weeks on one single project to reach even better results. However, this does not reflect the criteria of the VFX industry in Sweden today and we see our primary responsibility as a career focused educational institution to match student skills with market needs.
Compositing project, student work - Digital Animation/Compositing & 3D-Animation
Interaktiva Akademin, October 2006
Ensuring that the programs give students the experience of how it is to work as a professional is a constant challenge. Since Interaktiva Akademin’s beginning, we have chosen to contract instructors from the professional sector who contribute to courses through lectures in subjects such as advanced keying, shading, lighting, grading, etc. Using this model, students gain an understanding of current professional production methods and develop direct relationships with future contacts in the industry.
Pacshot of XBOX 360, created in 3D
Student: Rasmus Arnell, 3D-Animation för VFX
Interaktiva Akademin, November 2006
With the possibility if working on real jobs from real clients, students get a genuine sense of market expectations and how it all works in the “real world”. In addition, students have a 6 month internship where, after having completed all their core subjects, they participate as assistants for larger productions and are often given the opportunity to lead projects themselves.
Our goal has been to be able to alter course content so that it is always directly relevant to their future positions as 3D artists or compositors. Students receive university credits for the two year program while only taking courses that are directly relevant to their chosen professional field. This means that they do not take general education courses such as mathematics or physics while at Interaktiva Akademin, which incoming students will have already taken during “gymnasiet” (roughly equivalent to high school).
All education in Sweden is free to its citizens, so students enrolled at Interaktiva Akademin can obtain a university qualified education in compositing or 3D modeling/animation free of charge, which is subsidized by state taxes.
This means that cost does not bar anyone from studying at Interakiva Akademin. However, there is a selection process where all applicants are interviewed to evaluate incoming skills conducive to succeeding in the program and to becoming successful compositors or 3D artists.
We, along with many of the post-houses, would like to see a change in the domestic film industry. We would like to participate actively in broadening the scope of Swedish filmmaking where visual effects are a natural part of the process. That would lead to a new generation of movies that can attract audiences even outside Sweden’s borders. Therefore, it is conceivable that Interakiva Akademin can also become a place where the Swedish VFX community could meet regularly for lectures, seminars and act as a forum to exchange ideas, much like the annual SIGGRAPH conference, only in miniature.
In addition, we encourage students to seek out internships abroad where they can learn new things and bring their experiences back to Sweden. Who knows, we might even end up seeing the next production of “Independence Day II” in Stockholm, so we Swedes can finally blow things up, too!
|About the Author:|
Anders Willstedt is Program Head at the Interaktiva Akademin, which is Sweden’s only school for visual effects.
He has been the driving force since the school’s inception, which provides the Swedish film industry with new and exciting talent annually with every graduation.
In his position, he keeps his eye on what’s new with visual effects and loves nothing better than to dissect and find mistakes in blockbuster movies.
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org