Digital students say they're not worried about future - Many have a wide variety of skills and a willingness to relocate

Digital students say they're not worried about future - Many have a wide variety of skills and a willingness to relocate

By Marke Andrews, Vancouver Sun February 17, 2009

With graduation only a week away, and the economic crisis forcing layoffs in his chosen field of video games, Sean Williams has narrowed his career search.

"The [economic slump] has changed my outlook a little bit. I'm gearing myself to look for a small development company as opposed to a larger one," says Williams, a game design student at Vancouver Film School (VFS). "A lot of the smaller companies are still doing just fine, and I think a lot of them are hiring en masse right now."

Major Vancouver studios such as Electronic Arts Canada and Radical Entertainment have laid off workers during the slump, although French giant Ubisoft just moved into Vancouver with its purchase of local company Action Pants.

Dave Warfield, VFS head of game design, hasn't noticed any increase or decrease in enrolment in the program, but he has seen a change in the attitude of students. "Our current students are really making sure they're doing the right things to create opportunities for themselves," says Warfield. "They're wondering if Vancouver is the place to go or whether they should look at a wider net of opportunities."

Mike Torillo, one of 21 students in the first graduating class of the new Masters of Digital Media program in Vancouver, does not have a job lined up when he leaves school in April, and while he's concerned about layoffs at Vancouver games companies, he's not worried about his future.

"Despite the economic situation, I'm still really confident that within six months I'll find a creative role in the digital media space," says Torillo, 28, adding that a number of Vancouver companies have expressed interest in his portfolio.

Gerri Sinclair, president and executive director of the Masters of Digital Media program, believes her students have wide-ranging skills that enable them to work at places outside the video games area. One of the school's projects has been using video game techniques to build a Georgia Strait ecosystem for the University of B.C.'s fisheries centre.

"Our curriculum is very much focused on creativity, innovation, inter-disciplinary improvisation, so the training they receive allows them to adapt very quickly to new ideas and new situations," says Sinclair, adding that the school has had more inquiries from companies looking to place interns and fill jobs than last year.

"I'm not completely specialized in one thing," says Torillo. "I can transfer my skills and be adept at doing different kinds of tasks, and a lot of companies need that right now."

Both Torillo, born in Vancouver, and Williams, a native of Abbotsford, hope to work in the Vancouver area.

VFS doesn't keep statistics on placements of their graduates in the industry. Warfield believes through word-of-mouth that about 75 per cent move from school into jobs. A high percentage work in Vancouver's video game hub, but others go to Quebec, Prince Edward Island, California, Illinois and North Carolina, as well as India and China.

The school's recent Game Expo and open house was sold out, indicating there hasn't been a shortage of interest in the video game area.

Instructors at many schools advise students to work on outside projects, even if they're done without guarantee of a sale, to keep active in the industry and build a portfolio. Following this advice, Williams and a friend are creating a game for Xbox Live Arcade, and Torillo is part of an eight-member team working on an Xbox 360 game.

"We're hoping to spin that out into our own independent studio," says Torillo, "maybe our own startup. Who knows?"

mandrews@vancouversun.com
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