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Students on the CGI and VFX courses have embraced the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has created around their learning.

10th June 2020

Solent University students on the CGI and VFX courses have embraced the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has created around their learning by using industry standard programmes which allow remote peer working, in preparation for their graduate show later this month. 

The lecturers have been using Shotgun - designed for visual effects, animation, and games teams of all sizes and the same tool they use in the VFX industry to review and collaborate - to remote review and feedback on student work.   

“In many ways our students are getting the same work at home experience that artists in the VFX industry are getting,” says Ken Pitts, Course Leader in the School of Media Arts and Technology. “We have been using Shotgun as part of our teaching for just over a year now and are working on ways to make the formative assessment and peer review process work as close to industry practice as possible.” 

The University IT department has ensured students have had access to specialist software they may need, and many vendors have put special plans in place to help support students, who also still have remote access to the course’s render farm for producing their final photo-real images and films.  But it is Shotgun that has really shone through for both students and staff.  

Shotgun screenshot of some of Mariah's work

Mariah Thamm's work on Shotgun

“Stopping a studio video or animation on a particular frame in Shotgun and typing feedback returns a copy of the exact frame with the notes you have made on it to the student that submitted it,” explains Lecturer in CGI/VFX, Alex Scott. “Many have commented on how useful this is and the proof is in the next upload that they do a few days later with the changes often applied. 

“The move to Shotgun has been a very quick and immediate change, it has simply been an increase in the amount of work students have had to upload and they've responded very positively to this.   

“The lockdown happened mid-March and teaching for the semester had moved to project based learning rather than taught lessons, so in terms of delivery it's been more a case of making sure students have had ongoing feedback and interactions with the course and that they feel supported with the changes. 

“Although we have always maintained regular contact with students throughout the course and have a good rapport with them, I think this has been a good time to appreciate that many of them may have had difficulties working remotely, or be dealing with situations that cause anxiety, so I have taken even more time to touch base with them during this crisis and signposted them to extra help if they needed it.” 

Mariah's work on the BA (Hons) Digital Arts Top-Up degree course

Mariah Thamm's work on Shotgun

Mariah Thamm, who is in her final year of a BA (Hons) Digital Arts Top-Up degree, and Sara Grencho, who is in the third year of BA (Hons) CGI, still felt supported by their lecturers with their studies, despite the coronavirus crisis. 

“This pandemic messed up quite a lot of my plans,” says Mariah, 21. “But I am still impressed and very grateful for how well the University handled the situation as it occurred. 

“As my course was already using Shotgun, I wasn't too worried, especially since our tutors asked us to contact them if anything was unclear or if we had any questions - so it didn’t feel too different to before the pandemic, and now I feel like I am more than ready for a job in the industry!” 

“The pandemic ended up giving me a lot more time to focus on my studies,” adds Sara, 23. “Whilst I did miss having more contact with tutors, I feel overall the course team really stepped up to deliver online teaching, and there was plenty of support from them online with opportunities to expose our work and get feedback throughout.”

This year the graduate show will take place online on the course’s existing portfolio platform, where visitors can attend and see some of the incredible work accomplished by the students. 

“Students have been working hard and have produced some really exciting work,” continues Alex. “So, we are looking forward to launching our new online graduate show! We will be inviting many of our existing industry.  We are doing everything we can, despite recent events, to ensure our students have excellent opportunities to progress their careers as they leave us.”