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Unhappy with a college course? Then why not set up your own school...

Stephen Lohan has set up Image Ireland because he believes Irish colleges don’t offer enough VFX training.

Image: Thesuperrofights via YouTube

STEPHEN LOHAN IS a longtime worker in the visual effects (VFX) sector – so when he began to believe that Irish students weren’t getting the training they needed to be employed here, he decided there was only one thing he could do: set up his own training school.

That became Image Ireland School of visual communication,  which offers one-month-long intensive courses in specific elements of VFX.

After Lohan read a 2011 report which stated that nine out of the 10 animation companies polled would not employ an Irish graduate because of a lack of skillset, he again thought that something needed to be done.

Doing something about it

Lohan told TheJournal.ie that he believes there is a gap in visual effects education in this country, so he has signed up Oscar-winning experts who have worked on movies such as Iron Man, Frozen, Sherlock Homes, Tangled, The Avengers, and Gravity to teach at Image Ireland.

He believes that the school will help create jobs for people in Ireland, and bring more companies here.

“VFX is an intensely specialised industry with a very specific skillset,” he explained. “The ability to provide a well-trained talent pool of Irish VFX artists will play an integral role in enticing multimillion euro productions to these shores.”

He said he founded the company in 2013 as younger people had begun approaching him about where to get relevant, employment-ready, practical training.

His career

When he started out, there was no training in VFX in Ireland, so he studied in London and France. “I realised they were miles ahead of anything that was going on here”.”

He returned to Ireland and worked in Windmill Lane before freelancing here and abroad.

During a stint guest lecturing he said he felt “that a lot of individuals were really outdated in the context of what they were trying to teach and subjects they were teaching”.

into the storm vfx

He decided that a company that offers specialised VFX training was the answer. It’s for people who are very serious about a career in VFX, said Lohan, rather than someone curious about what to do in the sector.

“We’re trying to introduce a level of professionalism in Ireland that hasn’t been seen before.”

So far, the courses have attracted people aged from 18 to their forties. The courses are intensive, with just six participants, are a month long and cost from €550 to €2,700, depending on the subject.

He hopes there will be different strands to the operation as it progresses, with courses for beginners and school leavers.

He said Image Ireland is “trying to build a pool of talent that is well-educated in Ireland” for the homegrown industry here.

But they also don’t want to turn out far too many students when there aren’t the jobs for them.

“The thing is we have a responsibility to industry as well. There is no point in taking on 20 students when we know there are five places this year.”

Lohan describes this as a “chicken and egg” situation, where he hopes that having trained students will lead to the creation of new jobs.

Ireland’s a big scene for animation and VFX at the moment, with companies like Brown Bag, Screen Scene, Piranha Bar and Egg post-production incorporating VFX into their work.

Lohan asserts that companies who hire artists from abroad can be “held to ransom” because of the shortage of talent here.

“So they can charge what they want,” he said. Due to the cost of visas and accommodation, he believes “ultimately it costs an awful lot more money to industry not to employ Irish graduates. So it’s in their best interests to employ Irish graduates.”

One popular course is the Nuke 8 compositing course – Image Ireland is Ireland’s first authorised training centre for it. Then there’s Z-brush, which is “like digital clay for all intents and purposes”, while there are also courses on storyboarding, copywriting and Python.

A number of the tutors come from the UK. “We want to create a community – a VFX community,” said Lohan. “It’s about forming this community that welcomes some of the best artists in the world and keeps our students coming back.”

There’s one course a month lined up until July of next year, and they are adding evening courses as they go on.

Funding

The company has had “absolutely no funding whatsoever”, and like most start-ups, money is an issue. After putting thousands of euro of his own money into it, Lohan said that the next six months are key.

“We have no doubt that our students will go into the marketplace better trained than anyone else. We have to get our students out there.”

He’s in the process of aligning himself with a college, but it’s not an Irish college.

“I’m not doing this to make money at the expense of my students or my students’ parents. I’m doing this because I’m passionate about VFX – it’s all I’ve ever done.”

He hopes that the Image Ireland certificate of excellence “will become the standard bearer of VFX excellence” in this country.

Read: Here’s how you bring an animation from page to screen>

Read: Animation secrets: You won’t believe how long it takes to create a nine-second clip*>

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