Visual Effects BA Hons Degree

Carve your future identity as a visual effects artist

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Overview

In our flagship 3-year HE Bachelors Degree course, you’ll get a taste of nearly every subject in the broad territory of Visual Effects. Rather than tunneling into one narrow and specific technical specialization, we’ll be providing you with a broad perspective and a solid foundation, in combination with relevant practical experience in the tools and methods used every day in the industry. Master the latest, cutting-edge digital and physical working environments whilst immersing yourself in classic techniques as old as time.

During the first year you will focus on gaining practical experience, working on multiple ongoing projects, alone or in team, with your peers and in collaboration with the film production, acting and music production students. As the year progresses, you will go deeper into the fundamentals of image composition and storytelling with a balance of theory and eye training, accompanied by, of course, a lot of practical hands on experience. 

In the second year, we will widen the scope of traditional visual effects for film to a larger area including extended realities, live performance, digital installations in space, computer interfacing and signal processing. As you master new territories we will strengthen your skills in 2D composition and 3D animation with modules such as mechanics and dynamics, addressing for instance fluids, particles and other volumetric effects as well as advanced digital compositing. Other modules like Creative Coding and LAB will support your practical and collective exploration of a variety of tools such as Kinekt Azure, VR headsets and Arduino - to name just a few.

The second year also provides you with the space to reflect critically on historic and contemporary practices, with analysis modules and multiple guests sessions from a variety of media and visual effects fields. 

The third year focuses on your own creative approach to visual effects. You will design, produce and present your personal project using the tools, format and support that fits best to your creative vision. With the support of supervisors and inspiration from guest tutors, a wide range of technologies at your disposal and a growing network of creatives, you will consolidate your creative practice and skills, define your artistic voice and present it to the world. The third year is also the space for actively collaborating with like minded individuals and establishing a professional framework. Launch yourself into the visual media scene with an empowering personalised portfolio of projects that prepare you for the real world and your chosen path.

Degree course structure

Year 1

Overview

Train your eye, explore a variety of techniques and approaches to visual effects, create and mix elements in a final image by shooting practical effects and live action footage with real actors (in collaboration with our Acting, Film & Music Production Schools!), take photos and references, supervise on set and in a green screen studio, create and animate 2D graphic elements, compose matte paintings, sketch, and bring 3D assets to life.

During this first year of you will complete:

  • 15+ concept shots/installations
  • 1 or 2 master shots
  • Countless collaborations with our Film Production students 

The digital portfolio you walk away with will not only contain your original work and projects. It’ll also serve as a certification of the software and technical skills you’ve developed. You can also include sketches and concepts, case analyses, and project-based learning descriptions and outcomes.

Semester 1

Each week of the first semester you will be assigned a brief that will challenge everything you are experimenting during each workshop. These workshops cover Live Action and Post-Production including photography, camera work, lights, the film team roles, editing, colour grading, keying, sound design, and video effects. This is your entrance ticket for working on films. To support this practical learning you will have access to industry equipment, a modern film studio with a green screen, countless lights, flags, stands and everything you could think of when it comes to a professional filmmaking set. 

In parallel, you’ll be exploring Image Composition with topics such as colours, typography, perspective, framing and lights. Additionally, during this first semester you’ll be attending a 2D Assets class covering the use of software and creating elements using programmes such as Photoshop and After Effects. You’ll also be learning to create video, graphic assets and environments, and then continuing on to 2d animation, image retouching, motion design, matte painting and digital compositing.

Semester 2

In the second semester we’ll be taking on a whole new perspective on visual effects with the introduction of 3D Assets and Practical FX. After understanding and practicing the creation and combination of 2d elements in the first semester, we’ll start working on 3D Assets. Here you will get familiar with the 3D space, modelling, texturing and materials, lighting, camera, scene and animation basics. This module is also about the integration of 3D with topics such as camera projection, 3D tracking and 3D compositing. These new techniques can not come without structure and this is why you will also spend a fair amount of time exploring the history of visual effects, but also contemporary workflows, project management techniques, client interfacing simulation and the science of delivering on time!

To help to integrate this combination of aspects of the visual effects work we have professionals and practitioners from the industry coming as guests with their personal set of experience and tips to share. Everyone is conscious about the dynamic landscape of both the industry and the art scene when it comes to technological arts. This is how the curriculum was designed, challenging new practitioners with a holistic approach in order for them to develop their own practice and carve their personal path.

Topics

Study areas to look forward to:

  • Shoot live action, including fundamentals of cinematography and lighting
  • On-set visual effects supervision
  • Practical effects including in camera effects, vfx make up, animatronics etc…
  • Stop motion and miniatures
  • Green screen and 3d tracking
  • 2D assets creation and animation
  • 3D assets, including modeling, texturing and lighting
  • Digital Compositing and camera projection
  • Matte painting and image retouching
  • Post production and colour grading
  • Character Design
  • Image composition and visual narrative
  • Physics, light and the science of visuals
  • Fundamentals of fine art and storytelling
  • Training your eye
  • The visual effects pipeline
  • Filmmaking, camerawork and working on sets
  • Collaboration, giving and receiving critical feedback, and introspection

Software

Some of the software you’ll use includes:

  • Adobe After Effects, Mocha
  • Cinema 4D
  • Introduction to ZBrush and Substance Painter
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Premiere
Year 2

Overview

In the second year, the focus shifts from quantity to quality, as we go deeper into the art of visual effects and visual creation with workshops in mechanics and dynamics, VFX supervising and digital compositing. Learn new tools and interfaces, but also take time to explore other formats, spaces and realities and to work on the development of the self and one’s own creative voice.

Workshops

Mechanics & Dynamics and Live Assets

Following the first year workshops for “2D and 3D assets”, Mechanics & Dynamics is the space to dive deeper into 3D element creation and animation. With the introduction of ZBrush, Substance Painter, Marvelous designer and other specialised tools, this workshop addresses the advanced workflows and techniques underlying the creation of dynamic effects in production.

In addition, this module is highlighting the detailed work and the techniques required for high standard finishing of digital compositing. In Live Assets, budding practitioners are supported in the design of workflows and assets for real time rendering engines such as Unreal, Unity and AR/VR.

Creative Coding

This module is about creatively interfacing with the machine through programming, task automation and script & interface customisation. Introducing libraries for various functionalities, tools for motion detection such as kinect and leap motion, “Creative coding” is also the space for exploring interactive design and live installations from the back room perspective. 

This module introduces and explores the versatile software Touchdesigner with its multimedia integrations and the implementation of shaders with GLSL.

This module also addresses the preparation and overviewing of VFX during live action shooting and in post-production. Considering the constantly evolving landscape of Visual effects in production, in addition to traditional workflows the workshop integrates areas such as previz, motion capture and real time generated environments. VFX supervising is designed around workshops involving being on set and producing a variety of visual effects in collaboration to film teams and actors, while developing project management skills and tackling industry technical pipelines.

LAB

This module is focuses on the extension of Visual Effects to physical spaces, interactive installations and extended realities. By introducing new domains such as projection mapping, live installations, augmented/virtual reality, and interactive tools, like Arduino, Processing and Resolume, this module tackles the growing area of immersive and sensory experiences. A new technology is introduced weekly in the form a workshop, inviting practitioners to collaborate on practical installations and experience building by delivering a finalised live project with each session.

Art history & practices and Visual Effects analysis and Visual Storytelling

In the second year it is the time to reach the next level in terms of concept and level up the accuracy of your technical approach. Art history & practices provides background knowledge about art practices across various cultures and eras, and therefore allow you to enrich your perspectives and visions.

Through watching films and image sequences VFX analysis and Visual storytelling is the space for understanding and retro engineering the making of Visual effects and dynamic visual storytelling in multiple pieces of work. In support of this analysis we will address the adventure of VFX techniques, the evolution of software and companies throughout the history of visual effects.

Formats & Spaces

Formats and spaces are dramatically expanding and so is the panorama of visual effects applications. This module addresses the revolution happening in visualisation and virtuality in the domains of art and entertainment with, for instance, the new areas of XR, the fast growing support of artificial intelligence, and the evolution of machine interfacing. 

Some topics will include for instance “Performative visual arts”, “light and space”, “Digital avatars” and “Body movement in interactive art”. We will also address important thematics such as “Ethics & Technology sustainability”, “designing a desirable future” and “participative and social design”.

Creative Practitioner and “Entrepreneurship

This workshop is built on the idea of further developing the students' understanding of themselves as an artist or producer and their position within the ever-changing social and economic environment. Students will explore current niche markets in order to distill outlooks and opportunities for themselves and derive an understanding of what it takes to be an audio professional in contemporary times. Additionally this module will be the space for curated guests sessions with speakers and professionals coming from art, media and industry worlds.

Topics

Study areas to look forward to:

  • Visual Effects supervising
  • Fluids, particles and smoke FX
  • 3D Modelling and Rigid bodies
  • Materials, Texturing and UVs
  • Match moving and camera projection
  • Industry Formats and Rendering Farms
  • Dynamic environments & Digital compositing
  • 2d Realtime and Generative visuals
  • Coding languages and shaders (python, GLSL)
  • Midi Controllers and user interfaces
  • Motion Capture
  • Live cinema & Real time rendering 
  • Live Visuals & Performance
  • Augmented reality, Virtual Reality and Live Painting
  • Projection  Mapping
  • Multi camera and Live streaming
  • Technology Evolution and Future Perspectives
  • Digital Art languages and Formats
  • Creative and technical planning
  • Storytelling and visual narrative 
  • Collaborative projects and self management
  • Industry panorama and Entrepreneurship
  • Guest sessions
Year 3

Overview

During this final year you will craft the final project that makes it all real. You may be in the final stretch, but you’ll still have to drill those skills

Train up in your chosen specialised field to get ready for the big one. Work in short creative bursts focusing on improving specific skills in the context of the larger whole. 

Whatever your ambitions, our tutors supported by guests and specially chosen mentors will push you to reach even further in deep one-on-one consultations. However outrageous your goals, we will support you with our facilities, equipment and network as much as we can - and give you a friendly nudge out the door as well, to make your own connections in the industry.

This final year focusses on:

  • Individual specialisation
  • Development and production of a major project over the whole year
  • Collaboration with peers
  • Working with autonomy and self-management
  • Enriching perspectives through key guests and chosen mentors
  • Bridging the gap to entrepreneurship 
  • Making their first professional steps outside the school

Projects & Modules

MAJOR PROJECT
Your major project is covered by the following modules. The module descriptions provide a starting place for how this project will look and feel however the full picture is entirely reliant on the individual choices you will make as a result of your time with us.

  • PUSH1: Frame
    Produce and refine a proposal for your major project. Utilising skills and knowledge you’ve already acquired, set new challenges you don't yet know how to overcome. Be bold, be ambitious and take risks. Become a specialist in the area you are working, whilst producing a tangible outcome in a medium you can share with the world.
  • PUSH2: Invent
    An intensive production period working on practical research, exploration, production, refinement and completion of your project. Overcome inevitable roadblocks and issues along the way in order to complete a finished artifact and receive weekly critique and feedback sessions to support your journey.
  • PUSH3: Launch
    Develop and employ an appropriate strategy for getting your work out into the world. We want your project to connect with people in a way that is meaningful for you and that sets potential creative and practical foundations for your life after Catalyst.


MINOR PROJECT
Alongside your major project you’ll have a choice to make between two minor projects (PUSH4 or PUSH5) which will complete your honours year. 

  • PUSH4: Process (Option A)
    Define, develop and provide a service/skill for an external client or collaborator. Document and reflect on the process in relation to professionality, communication, self-development, standards and expectations. Engage in real life collaboration, networking, client acquisition, communication & negotiation to further your own professional growth. Thought of in another way, imagine your work life starts now. What do you need to start out in a profession of your choice as a creative professional?
  • PUSH5: Dissertation (Option B)
    A large scale research and investigation project culminating in a 10,000 word (+/-10%) written thesis. Define a topic/area that you’re passionate about and explore it with as much depth as possible, demonstrating an ability to understand the ideas of others, form your own ideas and opinions and present them coherently in a long form essay. 
Software

Some of the software you’ll use includes:

  • Adobe After Effects, Mocha
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe Premiere
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • Fusion
  • Cinema 4D
  • autodesk 3DS
  • autodesk Maya
  • Unreal
  • Blender
  • Substance painter
  • Zbrush
  • Vray
  • Fume FX
  • Meshmixer
  • Touch Designer
  • Resolume
  • Processing
  • Madmapper 
  • Spark AR
Hardware

Some of the hardware you’ll use includes*:

  • High powered PC’s with 10 bit displays (x2)
  • High powered gaming laptop for offsite work
  • Wacom drawing tablets
  • 4k projector and a range of mapping projectors
  • VR headset HTC Vive Cosmo
  • Kinect Azure 
  • Leapmotion 
  • A full range of midi controllers 
  • Arduino kits 
  • Fully packed filmmaking kits including Panasonic GH5, lights, stands, grip and accessories
  • Panasonic AU-EVA1 and Canon C100
  • VFX kits (chrome and grey ball, laser meter, trackers etc…
  • 1400 bookable items : other cameras on top of the ones mentioned above, lights and accessories for use onsite, fog machine, gimbals, dollies, gels, flags, stands, grip gear, cabling and expendables, props and costumes. 

* Our tech team aim to upgrade our hardware repertoire throughout the year, allowing us to keep up with latest technology trends.

Online resources

During the Visual Effects course you will also have full access to a curated selection of 50+ online classes around every topic approached in our workshops, including membership access to Skillshare’s extended catalogue of resources.

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What are Practical FX in the context of digital arts & filmmaking?

From the early years of cinema right through to the present day, a combination of practical approaches are used to make high-end visual effects for realistic images as well as animation films. At Catalyst we are preparing all-rounded practitioners with the knowledge and culture to propose multiple approaches to making ad-hoc effects and visuals. Practical Effects cover dynamic lighting, in-camera effects, stop motion, models and miniatures, VFX make up and prosthetics, animatronics and 3d printing.

Gain Access

Industry-approved facilities including high-powered and fully-equipped VFX workstations with professional software and accessories. Access to gear for digital arts and practical VFX projects, such as cameras, VR headsets, motion sensor detectors and more.

Collaborate on Real Life Projects

Gain relevant experience by working on real life projects in collaboration with our film, acting and music students. Expect to engage frequently hroughout the year with our creative network and your peers to realise both academic and personal creative projects.

Creative Freedom

Join a buzzing community of creators, artists and like-minded visionaries. Our team are ready to support you in turning your bold ideas into creative opportunities. Build a portfolio of relevant work while you tailor your projects to your own personal interests and design your future professional output.

A safe space to dream big

Maximise your hands-on access to state-of-the-art visual effects facilities and equipment.

Progression

Your success

Your success depends entirely on you – what you bring to the course, your approach to learning, and the grit, passion and sheer determination with which you complete the course and start to build your future.

Your initial progression choice will be whether to make your first foray into the visual effects industry or to continue your self development and opt for further specialised study.

There are many progression routes into the industry and it often makes sense to develop a portfolio of roles.

Testimonials
Professional outcomes

After your time with us, you’ll be eligible for many positions in the industry, including:

  • Visual effects artist
  • Visual effects supervisor
  • Visual effects producer
  • Production designer
  • Media artist
  • SFX technician
  • 3d Animator
  • Matte painter
  • Motion designer
  • Rotoscoping artist
  • Matchmover
  • Digital compositor
  • Digital preparation artist
  • 2d Animator
  • DIT (digital imaging technician)
  • Color grading artist
  • Post-production engineer / supervisor
  • VFX education

* Warning! This list of positions is not exhaustive! There is an endless catalogue of positions in the various industries concerned with visual effects and animation, and more new positions are created every day. From there, the only limit is your own determination and grit. 

Our tutors are industry experienced with a passion for passing on their knowledge to others. Here are a few of the experienced and friendly tutors that will be supporting you throughout your learning process.

Structured Play

Engage and adapt to the industry of today and the future by collaborating on projects with film production, screen acting and music production students. By learning how to apply these tools and methods used you will define your own artistic approach and style as you gain first-hand experience and start to build a unique portfolio of your own work and from other collaborations and real-life projects. 

Essential info

Entry requirements

Academic qualifications equivalent to ‘A’ level, Baccalaureate or Abitur are normally required to enter our degree programme. These may be waived if students are able to provide proof of capability via a portfolio of work. More details can be found here.

For those students who have the capability but no proof of appropriate qualifications or portfolio we have also designed a new accelerated access course (primer workshops) which runs as part of our short course programme.

The most important prerequisite for attending any course at Catalyst is that you must be passionate about building and developing your skills as a creative practitioner.

For more information please contact a member of the team. We love to chat!

Info hub
Course dates and application deadline

Start - September 13, 2021
Term (year 1) - 13.09.2021 - 21.05.2022
Term (year 2) - 09.2022 - 05.2023
Term (year 3) - 09.2023 - 05.2024

Application deadline: 30th of April 2021 for priority/ VISA applications

More info
Tuition fees

From € 975 a month

More detail
How to apply

Our admissions team has prepared a handy little map of your journey to studenthood with us. Take a look and be in touch if you have any questions.

Admissions map PDF
Open days and taster workshops

Get a feel for our school from the comfort of your home with our Virtual Open Days and skill-focussed Taster Workshops.

Hosted by our team and students, these online events will give you a sense of what it's like to come and study with us in Berlin.

We look forward to meeting you online soon!

Learn more

Student work

In the end it doesn’t matter what we say or do. What matters is what our students are doing during their time with us. Take a look at a selection of work by our visual effects students.

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