District 9 takes a gritty, verité approach to the issue of race relations, depicting a settlement of extraterrestrial refugees marooned in Johannesburg, South Africa. Critics have been taken by the film’s intelligence and action: The Hollywood Reporter calls it “smart, savvy filmmaking of the highest order” and in a cover story, Entertainment Weekly says that District 9 is “the must-see movie of the summer.” A review on the popular film website Ain’t It Cool News compares its impact to Aliens, The Thing, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
VFS graduates have gone on to win Emmys, Oscars, and international acclaim, but District 9 is the biggest theatrical feature film helmed by a VFS grad. In addition to 3D Animation & Visual Effects graduate Blomkamp, the film was co-written by VFS Writing for Film & Television graduate Terri Tatchell, and 3D alum Shawn Walsh served as Visual Effects Executive Producer.
In fact, 25 VFS graduates worked on District 9’s visual effects team. With Vancouver’s Image Engine handling much of the visual effects work (in addition to local studios The Embassy and Zoic), District 9 not only represents VFS’s place within the visual effects industry, but Vancouver’s own emergence as a go-to visual effects centre.
"We are really excited about the upcoming release of District 9,” says Alastair Macleod, Head of Animation & Visual Effects at VFS. “It's great to see this work being done in Vancouver, and I'm really happy that so many of our grads could be involved."
“Nearly everyone who sees the visual effects work [in District 9] says, ‘I didn’t think you guys were capable of that,’” Walsh says, “which just goes to illustrate how important it is that District 9 is seen as a coming-of-age film for the Vancouver visual effects community as a whole and Image Engine in particular.”
The visual effects team represents well over a decade of VFS Animation & Visual Effects graduates, spanning 1996 to 2007. Walsh himself is from those early days. "Our Creature Supervisor, James Stewart, was in the class ahead of me at VFS,” Walsh says. “James, [Lighting Lead] Rob Bourgeault, and I all knew each other from our formative time at VFS."
VFS alumni have been integral to the Vancouver animation and visual effects scene for many years, but District 9 shows that their presence is getting even stronger. Walsh, who oversaw many of them at Image Engine, says, "One thing I have noticed in the new generation of artists coming out of VFS is how quickly they learn.”
Macleod chalks this up to the program’s longstanding ties to the industry. In the past, he has invited Walsh to give students feedback, akin to a production ‘dailies’ session. “I feel this industry involvement and strong focus on skills can be directly applied,” Macleod says. “Students hit the ground running and excel in their roles."
Vancouver Film School is Canada’s premier post-secondary entertainment arts institution and one of the most distinguished in the world. The world-renowned Animation & Visual Effects department at VFS includes three distinct programs: 3D Animation & Visual Effects (one year), Classical Animation (one year), and Digital Character Animation (six months). In one year or less, students at VFS work with industry leaders in a studio environment while creating professional-quality reels and films that get them noticed on the global stage. 3D World named 3D Animation & Visual Effects at VFS the best one-year program in the world.