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Interview from AV Magazine: Evolving the Lighting and Video Role

Director of courses, Robin Watkinson, talked to Zoe Mutter from AV Magazine about the ways in which Backstage Academy’s new course will equip students with the knowledge and skills to become an all-round visual artist.

The brand new unique BA Visual Production degree course launches this October with a few limited places left.

Why was it important to launch the BA in Visual Production?

We recognised an evolving industry role that nobody knew existed – lighting designer, video designer, lighting technician and video technician all being in one person.

We were previously treating lighting and video roles separately, and so was the industry, but when we looked at what was going on in the LS-Live rehearsal arena next door, it was clear these roles were falling to one person.

Treating them as two separate roles wasn’t equipping those two separate roles with the skills they needed.

Where does the course take place and how long does it take to complete the BA?

Students on our three-year BA Visual Production degree (validated by The University of Bolton) will be based at our Unity Hall Campus in Wakefield.

Who have you teamed up with to offer the training?

Our partnerships grew organically from when we first started thinking about this many years ago.

Litestructures was working on an interactive lighting and video display at the Victoria & Albert Museum for United Visual Artists (UVA). I met UVA’s Chris Bird when he was here visiting Litestructures because we were talking about setting up a d3 training suite at Backstage Academy.

I then got talking to Fix8Group’s Neil Trennell when he worked in the LS-Live Studio.

Going through the process of talking to him about his role and the capabilities of new technology I realised his role, like others, was seeing a convergence of lighting and video.

I put the idea of developing a new degree course to them and saw there would be a need for this type of training.

We have had great support from d3, Fix8Group, Green Hippo and XL Video.

We will be the first educational establishment in Europe to have a dedicated d3 training suite, which we are currently setting up.

It will contain the full d3 server and d3 education suite with 20 machines, and each student will work with a d3 designer dongle.

We recognise that d3 and Green Hippo aren’t the only solutions and will provide training on a variety of technologies on the course, such as WYSIWYG, grandMA, Maya, Final Cut X, After Effects, Photoshop, 3ds Max, AutoCad and Catalyst.

How do students gain the qualification?

Applicants must have either 260 UCAS points or a creative or technical portfolio from at least two years of work. We are offering the non-academic route because there is a whole sub culture of people working in visual production who have been precluded from uni or felt no other degree options grabbed their attention.

What skills does it equip pupils with? What are the core topics?

The course is about equipping students with the knowledge and skills to become an all-round visual artist. This includes a variety of roles: the creative, so students can build their own content; technical, so they can take this content and select the right system to show or project it; and a project manager role so pupils can plan a project, deal with clients, transport the equipment, liaise with local crew and production teams, install the system, operate the show and load out.

The course is about engaging students in the workflow, from creating visuals to get client sign off and developing renders in year one, to choosing the right tools and technology in year two. The third year is about putting your knowledge and skills into practice through a real-life project.

How do you plan to develop the course?

It has now been validated by The University of Bolton so the content won’t change, but the exciting bit is developing the facilities and how we deliver it.

We’ll put a lot of money into a new IT suite – encouraging pupils to push the boundaries of their work – and add a 4K edit suite and cameras. A render farm will appear next year, and we’ll be further encouraging them to get out there and do visual mapping projects, for example.

Unfortunately technology changes so quickly, but we are lucky to have partnerships with people like Fix8Group as they are giving us access to things we couldn’t afford otherwise, those partnerships are important.

Backstage Academy is looking to develop its network of tutors and master class experts, as well as work placement opportunities, and invites anyone interested to contact Robin at +44 (0)1977 659880 or email: robin.watkinson@backstage-academy.co.uk

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