I’m pretty sure you can’t pack much more into this crazy weekend of visual effects in Vancouver


Did you see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and want to know how it was made?

Did you see Mary Poppins Returns and wonder how they combined 2D animation and live action?

Did you see Roma and not realise there were any visual effects in it at all?

All those projects – and a lot more – are being presented on at SPARK FX in Vancouver at Emily Carr University on 8, 9 and 10 February. It’s an insane event that’s literally for people at every stage of their effects careers, and also for those who are simply VFX or film enthusiasts.

Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato.

The big ticket items include: a keynote from The Jungle Book and The Lion King visual effects supervisor Rob Legato, a presentation by Imageworks on Into the Spider-Verse, a look behind the scenes from Framestore at Mary Poppins Returns, insights into the VFX work by MPC for Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white Netflix film, Roma, and a preview from Weta Digital about their photoreal work for Alita: Battle Angel – which they’re talking about even before the film has even been released.

Plus, SPARK FX has more than just presentations on the latest films. There’s also a Diversity & Inclusion Summit where real tools of change for the industry will be discussed. And there’s a major Career Fair with the top studios wanting to talk to you about your next VFX or animation job.

Let’s break it down.

Career Fair

The Career Fair will be packed with employers.

If you’re looking to get a job in visual effects, or see what else is around, here’s who will be there to ask at SPARK FX:

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)
The Focus (MPC Film)
Sony Pictures Imageworks
Method Studios
Scanline VFX
Animal Logic
Image Engine
Electronic Arts
Rodeo FX
Zoic Studios
DHX Media
Mainframe Studios
Yeti Farm Creative

An insane list of companies. The Career Fair is on Saturday, February 9th, starting at 9.30am in The Hanger, at the Centre for Digital Media, 577 Great Northern Way – right next to where SPARKFX is being held. More info here.

Diversity & Inclusion Summit

The Diversity & Inclusion Summit is all day on Sunday 10 February.

If you’ve been to any previous SPARK events, you’ll know that they’ve been leading the charge with sessions on getting more women into the VFX and animation industries, and improving diversity at studios as well.

This year at SPARK, VES Vancouver and Spark CG Society are co-presenting the Diversity & Inclusion Summit, and the sessions planned are aimed at not just talking about the problem, but actually delivering solutions. Leaders from inside and outside the industry will be on panels and audience participation and discussion is going to be a major feature.

The Summit is free to attend, and is happening on Sunday, February 10th. More info here.

The Conference

Into the Spider-Verse is just one of many talks you can see.

The big thing about the VFX presentations at SPARKFX this year is that so many of them are the first time you’ll be able to see anything about the VFX anywhere. For example:

  • Alita: Battle Angel – Weta Digital is giving a talk about the creation of their CG main character, before the film is even out at cinemas!
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – this Oscar-nominated film has been stunning audiences with its original take on 3D and 2D animation aesthetics, and Imageworks will be revealing behind the scenes of their new tools and techniques for doing it.
  • Mary Poppins Returns – not many people have seen how the 2D and live-action scenes were combined, but they will here thanks to Framestore.
  • Aquaman – ILM is going to break down their underwater work for this crazy comic book film.
  • Roma – Yep, there’s a whole bunch of VFX work in Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white Netflix film, and MPC will be revealing how they helped tell this important story.

In addition to these ‘firsts’, there’s a number of other major moments happening at SPARK, including:

  • A keynote by The Jungle Book and The Lion King VFX supervisor Rob Legato. He’s calling the keynote ‘The Analog Art of Emotional Storytelling’, and it’s about his experience of bringing traditional filmmaking and storytelling tools into the digital world.
  • A whole lot more VFX breakdown talks: Welcome to Marwen with Method Studios, First Man with DNEG, Mortal Engines with Weta Digital, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with Image Engine and Venom with DNEG.
  • Retro 25th anniversary sessions on Forrest Gump and Stargate with visual effects supervisors who worked on those films (full disclosure: I’m moderating these!)
I’m hosting some old-school chats on Forrest Gump, and also Stargate, with actual VFX supervisors from the films.

In amongst these sessions are a whole bunch of free workshops aimed at going deeper into some of the key VFX tools around, with companies including The Foundry and Ziva Dynamics.

These VFX sessions and workshops start on Friday night, February 8 with Into the Spider-Verse and then run on the Saturday and Sunday all day. More info, pricing (which includes full weekend and session passes) and the full programme here.

Come on by

I’ve tried to give you a full round-up of what’s happening at SPARKFX, but it’s hard to capture in a single post how cool it is to just be at an event with a whole lot of like-minded people. You never know who you might meet and what you might learn. Hope to see you there, and please come say hi to me and the SPARKFX team.

Go to http://sparkfx.ca/ to start checking out all the SPARKFX events.