Making a graduation film is a huge challenge, but there’s an equally significant challenge that comes afterward: finding work in the animation/vfx industry.

At most schools, when a student graduates, they are left largely to their own devices to establish a foothold in the industry, and it requires a lot of hustling, knocking on doors, and cold-calling companies. But what if a school could help students understand how to network and connect with the industry before they graduated?

That thought is the inspiration for Vancouver Film School’s Fresh Meet, an innovative program designed for 3D and vfx students who attend the entertainment arts school, allowing them to network early with the right people from major studios.

The idea for Fresh Meet was conceived by Sarah von Fersen, who joined the Vancouver Film School (VFS) Animation program as its mentorship and industry relations lead, after having enjoyed a fulfilling career as an artist at Framestore, Electronic Arts, Jim Henson Creature Shop, and Pixar. Her goal was to ensure that VFS’s students had greater opportunities to network with animation and vfx studios before graduation than she had had when she was in school.

A still from a student project produced at VFS.
A still from a student project produced at VFS.

“One of the mandates I had when I started at VFS was to begin working on the concept that would eventually become the Fresh Meet event,” von Fersen says. “Other programs at the school, like Digital Design and Game Design, were doing industry events, so I started researching their events and seeing how they were created and what happened at the events… then I adjusted it to meet the needs of our animation students.”

The Fresh Meet concept takes a common sense approach to helping students. While VFS 3D animation students are still in session and hard at work in their one-year immersive programs, they are introduced to industry contacts during the Fresh Meet event, which allows them to showcase their works-in-progress.

Through Fresh Meet and additional mentoring, students learn how to present themselves and their work in the right way to prospective employers, which is a critical step for landing a job after graduation.

“We prepare them for a couple of things leading up to Fresh Meet,” von Fersen explains. “We prepare them to talk in front of an audience and become comfortable presenting their work. The speech is short…45 seconds or so, where they talk about who they are, where they are from, why they are here—things the industry reps want to know. I work with the students after they write their first draft of their speeches so they understand what the industry people want to know and want to see.”

A still from a student project produced at VFS.
A still from a student project produced at VFS.

This kind of personal mentorship comes in especially handy for the school’s international students (some 47% of the school’s population) for whom English may be a second language. “We do rehearsals of the speech,” she says. “We start off with a small audience, maybe a couple of people, and then gradually increase the number of audience members over subsequent rehearsals. And as this is while they are still in their one-year program, the students haven’t completed their demo reel, but they work with their senior mentors [who are working industry professionals] to help decide what clips showcase what they are best at, and their best work.”

Some students have been offered jobs straight out of the Fresh Meet event, but it is beneficial even for those who aren’t hired immediately. “It makes them known to people in the industry,” von Fersen says. “They are recognized when they go to job interviews later on. So often these days, you apply for a job and it is just to an email address. But we get them networking and talking to people—and so much of this industry is word-of-mouth. If you can make those contacts early, you are halfway there. There is no doubt… Fresh Meet opens doors.”

To learn more about Vancouver Film School’s 3D Animation and VFX program, visit the school’s web site.

If you’re interested in becoming an industry mentor at VFS, click here.

Latest News from Cartoon Brew