The digital revolution has shaken film industry professions from production to distribution. Special effects, which are used in more recent productions, allow directors the freedom to be creative. In this context, ARTFX is opening a new master’s degree in film, which aims to provide students with dual skills- real-life shooting and visual effects- relying on the school’s DNA and its world-renowned curriculum for VFX. Hybrid profiles, which are starting to be particularly sought-after for the creation and production of films and series. An interview with Luc Pourrinet, Coordinator for the new Master of Film program at ARTFX.

How has digitization affected professions in the film industry?

The arrival of digital technologies in film is fairly recent, dating back to the late 1990s. The revolution was swift and above all global: digitization has shaken up every link in the film production chain, from filming to distribution, on all types of screens, including visual effects and sound.   

In 2002 in Paris, Toy Story 2 was the first European digital projection. 15 years later, 95% of films are shot, edited, projected and stored digitally. Previously unknown actors whose careers were born on the Internet, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video have become industry heavyweights. 2020’s pandemic has contributed to accelerating the democratization of VOD: before confinement 30% of French people had used video on demand or streaming at least once in the past year- that proportion has now increased to 89%. In short, nothing is the same anymore. 

Digital tools neither take away from nor add to the talent, no more so than the paintbrush makes the artist. On the other hand, it has become necessary to understand and master these new tools to create and, better yet, exploit the new possibilities they offer.  

What is the most impressive is how digital and visual effects have become a part of everything, without us even realizing it as viewers. We did not even have to be convinced for digital effects to gain a foothold.

Yes, and the practice has inevitably changed as a result. Since a scene can be done over and over again without the fear of ruining the film strip, directing actors is no longer as it was before; we can try things, leave room for the unexpected. Editors find themselves with so many new rushes that they can draw from. The possibility of previewing a virtual set or special effects democratizes their use and in return screenwriters feel at liberty to use them when they imagine their stories. 

Of course, the rise of TV series coincides with the arrival of pay TV channels and responds to viewers’ changing expectations; young, busy people who are in a hurry to watch productions from around the world at their own pace. The success of series can also be explained by their enhanced quality, with film directors who have taken that step and erased the borders that once delimited the 7th art. But we can also reread history in light of the evolution of filming methods. Digitization has created a form of industrialization in the film industry. Without it, we would definitely not have access to such a profusion of quality series, to the extent that we no longer even know where to begin!

Why have special effects in particular become so prevalent in current productions?

There are projects that would have simply been impossible to carry out without these technologies, like Gravity, for example. Sometimes special effects are used to meticulously reconstitute a given reality or historical event. It was the case with the Chernobyl series, for which the DNEG recreated the nuclear power station and the town of Prypiat, places which still remain inaccessible today. Visual special effects can also unleash creativity … again without necessarily being spectacular. Consider Sam Mendesfilm 1979 in which special effects were mainly used to create the illusion that the film was shot in a single sequence, a process that really makes the movie special. 

In a comedy, the special effects budget can be marginal. For a blockbuster like Transformers or The Avengers, in which over 75% of scenes contain VFX, it can represent huge sums of money. More recently, a series called The Mandalorian, which was produced by Disney, combined just about every digital technology available today. VFX have indeed become a genuine industry the world over. And it is no surprise that France has much of the sought-after talent in this sector. French schools are among the best in the world, with ARTFX leading the way according to the latest rankings established by TheRookies specialized media. 

Finally, we can talk about the trend of “green shooting”, the desire to reduce the environmental footprint associated with filming. The CNC announced that at the next Cannes Film Festival it will present recommendations on 4 themes: technical methods, mobility, waste management and digital sobriety. VFXs prevent mobilizing entire teams or creating single-use sets. However, we cannot ignore how much energy that technology uses, in particular as regards render farms. But solutions are emerging, for example using the heat produced by the computing machines to heat buildings…

How do special effects change working methods?

In a virtual setting, one can imagine camera movements that range from the most realistic to the most unbelievable. Executing the shot requires technique as well as solid knowledge of the ways that a choice of shot can be put to use in a story. The director of the Chernobyl series could do just about anything; he chose realistic shots to build a fiction that came as close to reality as possible. Beyond special effects, digitization has made film production more complex. Pre-production, production and post-production jobs require new skills, a mastery of tools and software, of course, but also familiarity with the technology so that people know what can be done with it. 

The film industry has a number of self-taught professionals who learned “on the fly”. I think that it is far more difficult to learn these jobs on one’s own today. They still require artistic flair, but specialized know-how too. 

The other revolution that is shaking up the practice of film is “real time”. What exactly is that? 

Indeed, the digital revolution is not over, innovations continue to be made. Today, the increase in machines’ computing power allows us to work in “real time” which was unthinkable just a few years ago. In the past, one had to create the special effects, the animations … and then wait for the render farms to execute the calculations to visualize the results. Today, the use of “real-time motors” allows us to experiment and visualize the render live: set, lighting, camera position and movements…   

This technology came from the world of video games where the players’ actions needed to be interpreted in a matter of a few milliseconds and then transcribed onto the screen. We are beginning to see artificial intelligence coming to film. As characters, of course (do you remember the movie Her?) but also behind the scenes, in image production. We use it to simulate crowds, for example, whereas in the past we used extras. Once again, these technological breakthroughs imply that professionals have to adapt. It is this agility that we want to instill in our students; being able to take advantage of the tools of today and tomorrow to make movies. 

How did the idea of a new Master of Film program at ARTFX actually come to be?

The training, which is unique in the world, offers future talents the possibility of acquiring a dual skill set, covering both writing and filming, as well as VFX and real time.  

The idea came from Gilbert Kiner, the President and Founder of ARTFX, and a French pioneer of visual effects. The school is known across the globe for its VFX know-how (ranked #1 in the world for VFX by the Rookies 2020). It seemed necessary to create bridges between the film and visual effects professions. In other words, the program is about training from screenwriting to photography direction, set design, all the while seizing the new possibilities offered by digital technologies, which have thoroughly changed each of the aforementioned professions. 

ARTFX was all the more justified in creating this new master’s degree since writing and filming have been part of the school’s pedagogy since it was founded. End of study films, which are at the heart of the 5th year learning, are the proof of that. ARTFX students shoot films in professional settings, work with professional actors or those in training in the “Cours Florent”, and their short films are regularly rewarded at international festivals (over 980 selections since the school was created in 2004).

Concretely, which professions does this master’s degree prepare you for?

  • Assistant Director / Director
  • Scriptwriter and dialogue writer: how can you integrate the potential for visual effects and real time as soon as a project is written. 
  • Assistant Operator, DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) and Chief Operator: working with real and/or artificial light from preparation to shooting, from rushes to post-production. 
  • Assistant Set Designer and Set Designer: how to prepare future lead decorators for digital environments, both in real time and post-production.
  • Pre production and Post Production Manager

What are the main challenges to offering this training?

Developing this curriculum required significant investments. The school has film sets, professional cameras and optics, lighting used on film and series shoots. The price of one current movie camera is equivalent to the total investment a school like ARTFX would make for computers. This implies finding solid partners so that students do not have to bear the burden of the investment. We must be convincing about this new training’s role in supporting the industry and ensure that French know-how is showcased on the international stage.

Where do the teachers for the Master of Film program come from?

They are between 20 and 50, depending on the year. All of them are active professionals.

How many students are expected to follow this master’s program in 2021?

We have the capacity to welcome 25 students in Montpellier and 25 others in Lille, on the Plaine Images campus which opened its doors last September. In reality, the master’s program already exists as a dozen students from Montpellier who had chosen the special effects curriculum were able to switch to this brand-new course at the end of the second year when the 2020 academic year began. 

What qualities are expected of those applying to the Master of Film program?

Admissions open at the baccalaureate level, contingent on passing Fine Arts Foundation Year. A baccalaureate with a film/audiovisual option is an asset, students who have followed that program are equipped with a solid film culture; they have already practised and are often passionate. 

They need to be curious, enjoy watching a lot of movies and series, and have strong skills in drawing, photography and writing. If you are already a bit of an artist, you are welcome. If you are very motivated, you’ll succeed. Having already been involved in the shooting and post-production of a short film is an asset; presenting your portfolio during the individual interviews is one of the steps in the ARTFX admissions process.

How does this master’s degree work?

Learning the cinematic professions, which is indissociable from learning teamwork, is based on 3 phases: initiation, transmission and practice. Like for ARTFX’s other master’s programs, we apply a reverse pedagogy. The student is the actor of their own education; some of their learning is done independently in order to dedicate more time to applying their learning in workshops that are supervised by professionals.

1st and 2nd years for discovery through experimenting with the 13 specializations offered at ARTFX
3rd year: choice of area of specialization
4th year: choice of profession
5th year: completion of the end-of-studies film

In February of 2020, when ARTFX announced the opening of a new training course in new film technologies at the Clermont-Ferrand Festival, you mentioned a “new film school”. It is actually a new program which has been added to the existing ARTFX master’s programs- and it maintains close ties with them!

Indeed, this new film program is positioned alongside the existing programs in 3D & VFX, 2D or 3D film animation, video games and programming (VFX and Video Game Technical Director).

Some disciplines are shared and there is a porosity between the different curricula, there are confluences and complementarities. As I mentioned earlier, some of the technology that is used today comes directly from video games. Borders can be erased in the professional world too; one can work on a film and on a game, be called upon to design virtual reality training when their area of study was video games, or receive a call from a game studio for their skill set in film or 3D animation. In short, there is a good chance that ARTFX students will cross paths down the line throughout their careers even if they did not come from the same program.

Apply for the Master's Degree in Cinema in 2021

Luc Pourrinet’s Biography

Born in Paris in 1960. With a degree in history, he began his professional career in the media industry from 1981 to 1990 as a host/journalist, program director and production manager. In 1991, he worked in the music industry. In 1995, he founded a continuing education company for the communications sector. In 1998, he returned to the world of radio. In 2000, he joined the ARANE film laboratory as a development manager and the deputy general manager. He followed the post-production of over 300 feature films. In 2009, he graduated from the ESSEC in business management. From 2011 to 2013, he was the director of development at TITRA FILM and VIDEOMAGE. In 2014, he created his own company, SOS POSTPROD and became the post-production manager. Between 2000 and 2012, he was a member of various committees assisting with feature films and writing, in the Île-de-France Region and at the CNC. From December 2016 to October 2019, he was the technical director at FEMIS. Today he is responsible for coordinating the Master of Film program at ARTFX.